It begins as a notion in the afternoon.
I’m deskbound at a call center, listening to irate and distraught insurance policy holders and informing them of their limited rights under the settlement of a class action lawsuit for $11 an hour. I have a 70 page script of legalese before me, and not one page bridges the gap between the answers that exist and the answers they want. I feel like a monster and want to visit every last caller and kick puppies in their presence, for all the good I’m doing them. 200 calls in queue throughout my floor. No let-up.
The Globe sits on my desk. I scan the box scores from last night, the news and notes, the predicted starters for tonight.
I step out of the air-conditioned nightmare into blissful east coast summer humidity. Gonna be a beautiful night, the kind you want to be outside for.
On the train, I grab a seat on the left so I can get a view of Dorchester Bay and the rainbow mural on the Boston Gas Tank. It’s the largest copyrighted piece of art in the world, and it’s a reproduction from the demolished original tank. Supposedly the artist painted a profile of Ho Chi Minh in one of the rainbow bands, but I can’t see it. Maybe that’s intentional. If I can I’ll grab a seat on the right as we approach Charles St. so I can take in the view of Boston when the train crosses the Longfellow Bridge.
If I’m still on the train, that is…
Yeah, why not? Ballgame tonight.
At Park St. I abandon my commute and switch to the Green Line. The buzz in my stomach grows as I get closer. Five stops away.
Boylston, Arlington, Copley, Hynes Convention Center, Kenmore Square.
The Greatest Walk
The train is packed. Game night crowd. I get off at Kenmore, hit the top of the stairs and step into an electric summer carnival.
The Vet who plays Hendrix tunes (right-handed) is set up, case open for donations. Unlicensed vendors sell woefully cheap t-shirts, caps and pennants, and the Boston Baseball hawkers do a brisk trade. I love their scorecards, so I hand over a buck for a copy. A kid plays drums on an array of plastic buckets and salvaged industrial parts. Rocker kids heading to see the latest and greatest bands at The Rat sneer, and I pass them by and rejoin the game crowd.
The Citgo sign does its synchronized neon dance across Commonwealth Ave. The sign – removed from its regular spot on top of the left field wall on a television screen – takes on an entirely new persona: night watchman for the square, guardian of the gate to the suburbs, all-seeing electric eye of Back Bay. It sits atop the BU Bookstore with no context, a relic from a distant era, now risen from darkness during the 80s energy shortage. It is cheap and vulgar, and beautiful and perfect. It is Fenway, it is Boston.
The game day crowd veers left onto Brookline Ave and approaches the bridge over the commuter rail tracks and the Mass Pike. And suddenly there is Fenway. The lights on the towers slowly turn on and John Fogerty plays on the PA. I look left and see the pike, the Prudential and John Hancock towers and all the lights of downtown dancing in the early twilight. I look ahead and see pre-game revelers streaming out of The Cask and Flagon.
Another bucket drummer is set up on the corner of Brookline and Lansdowne, and the air is heavy with the blissful smell of sausages, peppers and onions. A batting practice ball clears the wall and bounces on Lansdowne, and a group of kids with gloves chases down their treasure. The buzz of excitement in my stomach is out of control.
I get in line at the ticket office on Yawkee Way and scan the huge seating map. Outfield Grandstand seats available. Score! I buy one, head back outside and enter through the turnstile at Gate A.
Into the dark, down the ramps under the grandstands behind the plate. It is cooler and dark in here, with peanut shells crunching under every step. T-shirt stands, beer stands, chowder stands, Fenway Franks and ice cream helmets. I buy two dogs, smear on Gulden’s mustard and head up the ramp.
And there is the field and the wall and everything I’ve dreamed of all winter. The sun catches the edge of the roof above the right field grandstands, casting a glow across Fenway. The organ plays, the whites of the hometown team uniforms pop, the kids go crazy. I take my seat under the roof, scarf my dogs and fill out the lineups on my scorecard.
This is the oldest part of the park, with wooden slat seats that may date to the first game in 1912. The seats face center field, thus I have to crane left to see the mound and plate. They are narrow and hard, and there are poles in my line of vision. Because of the roof I can see nothing above the wall in left. And yet they are among my favorite seats in the house, just because of this coziness and feeling of originality.
A game at Fenway is a collage of a thousand moments that I treasure:
The pause just before the pitch. The pitcher holds the ball, just before the windup. The batter finishes cocking the bat and settles in his stance, ready, waiting. Infielders stop fidgeting and crouch in position like soldiers at attention. It feels like the air has been sucked out of the park. Then the tension is broken with the pitch…
The moment when the BALLS and STRIKES lights on the scoreboard snap off. End of inning, end of rally. Finality. Turn the frame, go get ‘em next time.
The slant of the sun across the field, and the approaching night.
The cry of the vendors and the linguistic joy ride that results from a heavy Massachusetts accent. HEY, HUT DUGHS heeeAAAHHH! FRESH POPPED PUP KAHN HEAH!
The feeling that somebody sat in this very spot and watched Babe Ruth hit. Somebody sat in this very spot and watched Ted Williams and DiMaggio. The connection to that history and the history of Boston just outside the walls.
The final out and the exit from the park to a changed world.
Night has come and I wish I had a coat. And I still have to get home. But I have spent the night at Fenway Park, and for a few hours I have left the day, the call center, the irate and the distraught and the trappings of the real world behind. It begins with a notion in the afternoon and ends with the warm glow that comes from a surprise gift. I go home with the feeling that there is nowhere else in the world I would rather have been, and no greater adventure than the one I had getting there.
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