Friday, August 14, 2009
A Day at Fenway
Early this month I had taken my avid moviegoing daughter, Jane, and her best friend, Katie, to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. For Jane it was her fourth time. Then I took them out to dinner at Olive Garden. During the summer vacation, I always try to do the things Jane has put on her list of fun things to do, and seeing Harry Potter with Katie and going to Olive Garden were big goals on her list. As we drove home, Jane said, “Now I only have one sadness in my life.” My heart sank. What deeply grave revelation was my daughter going to divulge? With a painful gulp, I said, “Uh, what’s that?” And she said, “I’ve never been to a Red Sox game.” Phew! Is that all!? (Let me say now that I am not a baseball fan.) Anyway, I assuaged Jane by saying that she could rely on her Uncle Ron (sports editor for the Eugene Register Guard) when it came to baseball, and that I would try to arrange for us to coincide our visit to my hometown near San Francisco next summer and get him to take us to see the Giants at PacBell Park. “Your Uncle Ron will take you.” She was content. “I have the Giants hat,” she said. Good!
You know, good things do happen to good people. The next day we got a call from her Cape Challengers coach, Kelvin Ing, a wonderfully generous and high-spirited man who leads a softball program for special needs individuals on Cape Cod, and he told us he had a special opportunity for us. To make a long story short, Jane, with her Cape Challengers teammates, including her friend Katie, with me as Jane's guardian, would be going to Fenway Park to have batting practice on the field, have a tour, watch the team’s batting practice, and then watch the Sox play the Detroit Tigers that night. I had feared the day would fall while we were away in California, but us luck would have it, we would be able to fit the long day into our schedule. We would get home late that night, get up at 3 a.m. for a ride to Logan for our flight at 6 a.m.. Little sleep but, hey, it's the Red Sox!
I am not a fan of baseball at all – but let it be known that I have had a lot of experience with baseball. I know the fine points of the game, and if I am forced to go to a spectator sport, I’ll take baseball over football or basketball any day of the week! And what a great experience it is watching a baseball game at PacBell in San Francisco – a sublime experience if you love the sport. Granted, it’s a noble game. I grew up in San Mateo, California, with an avid sports fan of a father and that older brother who dreamed of being a professional baseball player and ended up being a sports writer. My dad took my two brothers and me to games at Candlestick Park and I saw Willie Mays hit home runs and slap his mitt three times before catching a high fly ball. Willie McCovey. Orlando Cepeda. I saw them too. And as for movies about American sports – I’ll go for the baseball movies over all the rest. My favorite is The Natural. I love Field of Dreams maybe just as much as you sports fans out there because, you know, I had a baseball mitt and I played catch with my dad, too – even though while I was catching, mostly dropping, those balls, my mind was on the latest John Wayne movie I had seen.
Nope, baseball's not my thing, and I'm not a Sox fan like most residents of Massachusetts, and I have no idea how the Sox are doing. I know that the Red Sox recently won the World Series twice! I’m reminded of that every time I go to pick up the pizza at Papa Ginos! The Double Play Meal Deal! But when the games were on TV and all the students and teachers at my school on Cape Cod neglected their work and lost sleep, I, uh, watched a movie or read a book; I never watched one single game! When I made the mistake of saying that to colleagues, I got vile looks! And when the students dress up for the big Hallowe’en contest, and many of them dress up as a specific Sox players, and it’s my job as perennial MC of this function to introduce who everybody is dressed up as, I have no idea what specific player some 7th grader has dressed as, and I’m forced to say, “Uh, a Red Sox player,” or “Uh, who are you?” and the kid looks like he’s going to cry.
But I didn't need to worry about being found out as a non-fan as I escorted Jane to her CVS Pharmacy-sponsored program at Fenway Park on Wednesday, August 12. At 11:30 we were escorted through Gate D to the indoor batting cage where the Cape Challengers kids and young adults engaged in batting practice under the direction of Dave Magadan, veteran of quite a number of Major League teams.
After the Challengers teammates were warmed up, they got to go out on the field and bat from home plate, knocking balls onto the finely manicured grass of the infield. (We had to be careful not to put a foot on the sacred grass.) Jane and Katie really caught Mr. Magadan's eye. Katie did the whole bit of knocking dirt off her cleats before batting; and Jane had brought her batting glove - which really tickled Magadan. Jane managed to hit a ground ball past second base. Once everyone got to have a turn slugging four or five balls, Magadan could have called it quits, but then he let each batter have another turn.
Coach Magadan could not have been nicer to those handicapped young people. When he looked at each of them, he saw their potential for success. He didn't see their disablities. He saw them as individuals who understood the privilege and excitement of slugging balls at Fenway Park. Each Challenger came out of that batting cage glowing with pride.
After lunch in the Red Sox dugout and a tour of the park, we had to leave for a while, but we were allowed to return at 4:30 when we were led onto the sidelines to watch the Red Sox batting practice. I had to solicit the aid of the young baseball-fan son of one of Jane's coaches to identify J. D. Drew, Jason Bay (he would hit a two-run homer during the game that night), and David Ortiz as they slammed balls into the outfield.
It was turning into a long day, but after batting practice, Jane and her friend Katie waited patiently in their seats for the game to start at 7:10. Our seats, by the way, were the best I've ever had at Fenway Park (of the four times I've been there) - to the left of left field near the left-hand limit of the Green Monster. Between two girders we enjoyed a widescreen view that perfectly framed the entire infield. The left-hand girder and the Green Monster framed the outfield and an ominous purple blotch of storm clouds that never broke. A fine mist cooled the evening.
There was something epic about these side-by-side views. It was like watching two movies - nature's turmoil on one side; the contest of players on the other side. But how different the baseball game-watching experience is from the ideal movie-watching experience! The constant noise. The normal-volume conversations and commentary going on during the game. The vendors - including the famous Fenway water vendor who balances a crate of water bottles on her head as she negotiates the steep steps - barking their wares. Bags of peanuts flying across sections of spectators. Peanut shells scattered on the floor. The traveling undulation of thousands of bodies performing the wave. Singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" during the 7th inning stretch - "bom, bom, bom!"
Despite two homers for the Sox and one for the Tigers, the first four innings of the game were slow. By the bottom of the 5th, there had been the three homers but a total of only six hits. Things changed when the Sox got their turn to bat. They loaded the bases, courtesy of a number of Detroit errors, and then the Sox proceeded to bat in five runs, one after the other. In baseball, that's a classic setup, I think.
When Red Sox-fan colleagues of mine look at me like I'm weird when I reveal that I didn't watch any of the series games, I often reflect upon how different we humans are from one another - and from group to group. It's as hard for someone to understand that I would rather watch a movie than a baseball game as it is for me to understand that someone would rather watch a baseball game than a movie.
Jane and Katie had a classic time! They cheered for the Sox! They ate peanuts and popcorn. They sang "Take Me out to the Ball Game" and "Sweet Caroline." They were part of the undulating wave. Nothing disabled their participation. You could see no differences.