> 1/18/2006 12:13:35 PM

(originally published 01 APR 1997 before I began my boycott of the sport)

I grew up in Boston, less than a mile from Fenway Park. Living downtown had its plusses and minuses. One of the plusses was living so close to Fenway.

I lived in a housing development built in the 1940s shortly after the end of World War II. Our building was on McGreevey Way. I learned later that the street was named for a local tavern owner and philanthropist whose nearby establishment was the hang out of the Red Sox fan club: The Royal Rooters (or some such silly name). I know that the Rooters started a riot during one of the World Series because their seats had been sold to out-of-towners. (In Boston parlance, that means New Yorkers!)

My dad started taking us to Sunday games in 1965 or so. He had visitation rights, and if he wasn't too hungover, too broke, or too busy, we would go to Fenway to see the Sox. We would never be on time, because we had to have a couple at The Baseball Tavern, on Boylston Street, before the game. That's where I learned to play that bowling game where you slide a metal disk the length of a table top bowling alley. It was cool to watch and hear the pins swing up on their hinges with a mechanical kwooosh!, and the disk bounce back with a thud off the padded backboard, but I preferred pinball!

Baseball was hard for my dad, at that time. The Sox were really bad, and as much as we all loved going to the game, he would always be angry at the end. The beers didn't help his mood much, but sometimes I thought he would cry from the utter frustration, and utter destruction of his hopes. How many years could you watch your team waste away at the bottom of the pack? (And it had become his ONLY team since the Braves had moved.) He loved Ted Williams, and then he learned to love Yaz. "But, he'll never be like Williams," my dad would say. I would roll my eyes, and shout a cheer through the cardboard megaphone you got with each purchase of popcorn.

Some Saturdays, a group of us from the projects would wander over to Fenway and get into the games for free. Either a youth group from the suburbs would take the poor kids in with their extra tickets, or a local cop would let us in a gate you never knew was there, or a ticket taker would turn his head with a wink and we'd walk in. At worse, you missed a couple innings, and walked in a delivery entrance or the emergency entrance on Van Ness Street. The team was bad, attendance wasn't great, the billionaires hadn't started fighting with the millionaires over the profits, and (I think) Tom Yawkey, the owner, would rather have kids in the seats for free than have empty seats!

I remember a game one afternoon against the Kansas City Athletics. Ken "Hawk" Harrelson was with them, but Reggie Jackson was not, yet (I don't think -- I don't really remember the year).

The A's drubbed the Sox 21-7. But the game wasn't quite as close as the score would make you think. It felt like KC had beaten Yaz, Tony, Rico, and the rest, by a score of fifty-seven gazillion to nothin.

I got separated from my friends early in the game and found a seat along the left field line, in the sunshine, watching the ball spray all over the park.

I was hypnotized by Fenway that day. The grass was really bright, the green monster was huge, the American flag flapped lightly in the breeze, the white home uniforms glowed in the sunshine, the green and gold highlights of the visitors uniforms seemed to ignite against the travel greys, the benches of the bleachers were dotted by people whose expressions of awe and dismay I swear I could see like they were right next to me, instead of on the other side of the outfield. Along the side of the really cool scoreboard at the base of the green monster was a panel that displayed the batting order of both teams in lights; but because of the angle of my view, I couldn't read it. I stared up at the press box with it's opened windows and wondered to myself how I might get up there to see the game. Who were those men? Were the Yawkeys in there? Was Ted Williams?

I was aware of the smell of beer and popcorn and hot dogs. I stared at the vendors in their white starched uniforms, paper caps, and brown aprons. How did they get to work at Fenway? A man behind me asked my name, and eventually bought me a dog and a coke. I forget if he was alone. He was nice, and he would offer explanations about what was happening. I don't know if he was talking directly to me, or to whomever would listen, but I was grateful. He was no bother; I had the sense that this was what you were supposed to do at the game: Talk Baseball! And Talk Baseball Like You Knew What You Were Talking About! I have learned that if you are talking about baseball, then you know baseball!

I fell in love with baseball. It was probably the only thing in my life that made me feel I was just like everyone else. Fenway Park became a haven, a refuge from the violence and danger of living in the inner city, and the insanity that I called home.

Today, in 1997, the ballpark remains that refuge.

Got my first job in the 4th Grade delivering newspapers before school. It was the mid-sixties, before the civil unrest that plagued every urban area from Boston to LA. The projects had trees and plants and grassy areas where we would play. I delivered about 30 papers around the western edge of the projects. My best friend gave me the route.
After school, a group of us would meet at the southwest corner of the projects and hang on a mailbox awaiting the arrival of the local newspaper distributor, in his station wagon.  He would drive us to his newsstand in Kenmore Square. Not the main newsstand on the busy side of Kenmore Square, but the quieter stand on the other side of the Square, right under the CITGO sign.

There would be some other kids waiting there, and we would be dispersed around the area with our stacks of The Boston Evening Globe, The Record American, and a couple copies of The Herald Traveller and New York Times (depending on your stand). During the cold weather, I had a stand in the lobby of the S.S. Pierce Building on Brookline Avenue, two blocks from Fenway's Gate A. During the Spring and Summer, I would be on a traffic island in Audubon Circle at the intersection of Beacon Street and Park Drive, about a quarter mile from the park.

Near the end of the summer of 1967, paper sales were great in the area around Kenmore Square and Fenway Park. The Sox were making a run at the pennant!

All the kids in the neighborhhod who were on the Red Sox Little League teams were in their glory. (I was on the Twins, I think. I hated Little League, but that's another story.)

As things got heated at the end of the season, the distributor convinced someone (either the cops or the Sox management, or both) that it would be a good idea to have kids selling papers at the gates of the Park.

I got Gate A for the last game of the season.

Gate A is near the corner of Jersey Street and Brookline Avenue. It is the entrance to Fenway that looks most like you are entering a ballpark. The brick archways lead past a row of little brick kiosks that serve as day-of-game ticket booths, and beyond that are the turnstiles that lead into the park. It is a singular spot on this planet. It is a place that feels like baseball, that smells like baseball, that looks like baseball. Next time you go to a game at Fenway, enter through Gate A, no matter where your seats are. Every baseball fan should enter Fenway through Gate A before they die (or before progress demolishes the park).

Not many people were buying the paper, but the excitement was amazing. Then, out of the blue, right there in front of me were my father and grandfather, smiling, aglow, lit. They had tickets to the game! But, they had only two tickets to the game, and my attending with them was never even mentioned. I don't remember being disppointed at that time. It was exciting enough to be there at Gate A, with my Boston Evening Globes, green and gold change apron, crew cut, Mission Hill Little League tee shirt, and my dad going to the most important baseball game of my entire life. Who was cooler than my dad? Boy, he was lucky!

I still have his ticket stub to that game:
Section 22, Box 134L, Seat 6
Box Seat
It was a magic and holy time to be a Red Sox fan! And then, the Sox became the American League Champions, for the first time in my life! Boy, my dad was lucky!

My mom wasn't much of a baseball fan. After Ted Williams retired, there was no reason for her to watch baseball. But, the World Series was coming to town! And she was just as excited as everyone else. And that included the nuns at school.

I didn't know that the nuns could be Red Sox fans, I thought they only prayed and taught. These nuns were the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and in the Autumn of 1967, I developed a new respect for them. I would diagram any sentence for a baseball fan, and Sister Nonna was a baseball fan! So was Sister Phillipa, and Sister Alberta, and Sister Loretta, and Sister Marie Peter! They were all baseball fans, and the school was abuzz with talk of the Sox and the dreaded Bob Gibson! Boy, it was great to be nine years old and in Boston in 1967!

Back to my mom!

My only memory prior to 1967 of my mom watching television upon my arrival home from school was when they closed school in the middle of the day in 1963. I was in the first grade, the nuns were crying, there was a lot of silent tension, and we were sent home because President Kennedy had been shot. When I got home, the ironing board was set up in the living room, but my mom was sitting in a chair, staring at the television, sobbing quietly.

When the games were in St. Louis, I didn't have to sell papers at Fenway. When I got home, my mom would be ironing clothes and Jim Lonborg would be pitching. My memory is that Lonborg and Gibson pitched every single game of the 1967 World Series. I know it isn't true, but it will always be that way in my heart and mind! The television picture was fuzzy and grainy, but it was THE RED SOX IN THE WORLD SERIES, and I watched.

I didn't see my dad during the Series, and when he picked us up again afterwards, we talked little about the horror that was the Sox' failure to bring it all home. But in the years that followed, we got to go to more and more Sox games! Along with more and more visits to The Baseball Tavern!

In 1969, I became an Orioles fan; I loved Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson. I thought it was cool that they had the same last name, but were obviously not related. At 11 years old, I was amused by such things. Also that same year, I saw Willie "Stretch" McCovey on television for the first time, during the All-Star Game. I guess my change in allegiance to the Orioles was part of my pubescent struggle with my dad. My appreciation of Willie McCovey grew from his consistency as a ballplayer. And, he was so tall! I stopped being an Orioles fan shortly thereafter, but have remained a faithful fan of Willie McCovey to this day.

In 1974, I got a job as one of those vendors selling coke, hot dogs, ice cream, and popcorn, to the fans. I loved that job. It was hard work, and the pay was bad, but I was at Fenway. The Sox weren't very good (again), but I was at Fenway.

I fell away from the game after the '75 World Series, and didn't return until 1983.

I bought a condominium in the Back Bay -- walking distance to Fenway. And I started buying tickets at the beginning of the year, when they went on sale. I have since learned to buy tix closer to game time, because baseball is a BUSINESS, not a sport, and the ticket sellers do not care if I have good seats, they only want to determine the expiration date of my Boston Red Sox MasterCard. In fact, they seem rarely willing to even chat about the possibility of seats on the third base side. But, there are plenty of seats in Section 4!

My dad and I managed to talk baseball. We hadn't had much to talk about in recent years. Sometimes we would drink together and he would do his schtick which consisted of racist jokes and fag jokes. It was not much fun, but if it was summer, I would turn on a game, and we would Talk Baseball.

My dad knew lots about baseball, just like your dad did, or does. All dads know how to Talk Baseball, even if they have been tricked into thinking that basketball is a sport and that the NBA is entertaining (we must learn to forgive our fathers).

Dads just seem to know how to Talk Baseball, even if they don't know that Tampa Bay and Arizona are about to get teams.

I never went to another game with my dad after the early 1970s. I'm not certain that he ever attended another game after the '75 Series.

In 1985, between frequent visits to Fenway, I would spend time at a hospital within walking distance of the park. One of the world's foremost medical centers is just ten home runs down Brookline Avenue from Fenway. My dad had drunk himself to death, and it was a slow, ugly, painful death he was dying. We couldn't Talk Baseball, anymore.

He died before the 1985 season ended.

The 86 Series would have killed him!

If you have a dad, make sure you Talk Baseball with him before one of you dies.

I attended my first World Series game at Fenway in 1986. It was Game Three, and Darryl Strawberry kicked ass.

I hadn't sat in the bleachers at Fenway since they added chairs and the huge, ugly, imposing scoreboard. My brother, Stephan, and our buddies, Chuck and Chico attended. I cried before the game started -- but I don't think anyone noticed. Fenway had me under the same spell it had during that game against the Kansas City Athletics twenty years earlier. I was in heaven, and if I hadn't been drinking and smoking, I may have been rocketed into a fourth dimension at the moment Oil Can Boyd threw his first pitch.

I watched the rest of the games on television. I was so happy during Game Six. It seemed so real. I thought of my father, and silently gave him this Championship as a gift.

I won't go into it here. If you do not know what happened, look it up. In this day of video technology, you can watch it again and again and again. I have.

I watched Game Seven at my office. I was alone. I cried. I sobbed aloud in a small office in a towering office building overlooking Downtown Boston.

I went to Opening Day, 1987. I cried when Jim Rice ran The Pennant up the flagpole; but, I don't think anyone noticed. The Pennant spent the year flapping in the breeze just below the stars and stripes.

I love baseball. Baseball has given me more happiness than any other earthly thing.

Surrounding my computer as I write are: a 1969 Topps 2nd Series Checklist with the dreaded Bob Gibson smiling under his redbirds cap; a 1964 Topps Coin of Willie McCovey; a stack of 1991 Score baseball cards with Eric Davis on the top; a pile of unopened packs of 1997 baseball cards; The Red Sox Report, Issue I, 1997; a yellow legal pad listing the draft order of current first basemen for my fantasy league draft; a 1997 Red Sox Schedule; all of the 1962 Topps Checklists; and various baseball magazines.

I hope baseball can bring you as much happiness as it has brought me.

Some of my other writings about baseball are critical. Some fans say they are downright mean. My criticisms of baseball today are actually criticisms of the cult of personality and the cult of money that has replaced baseball fun with baseball business.

I have received many angry e-Mails about my pages for Mike Greenwell and Roger Clemens. One criticism asked if I liked anything about baseball. I do. I like everything about baseball. I do not carry on a love affair with baseball, I carry on a lovers' quarrell. Please join me!

Let's Talk Baseball.

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