Nun Day at Fenway Park. Circa 1967.
Love the shades.
Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox---properly pronounced Fenway Paahk and Bahstin Red Saks or Bawstin Red Sawks, depending on whether you’re from Southie or Eastie---celebrates its 100th birthday today.
Photo above courtesy of the Boston Red Sox by way of the Boston Globe which has included it in a slideshow of pictures of iconic moments from the past century. Oddly, no pictures of Bucky F. Dent or Bill Buckner. Also, oddly, I’m not in any of them.
I was there often enough. Almost any given shot of Dewey Evans firing one in to second from deep right field or Bob Stanley warming up for another late-inning shellacking in the Sox bullpen could have caught me in the crowd in the right field bleachers.
For four happy summers (and the tail end of a fifth), Fenway was part of my neighborhood. Boston proper is so small and compact that you can make pretty much the whole town your neighborhood. But one year I had an apartment that was three blocks from the park and another year I actually worked inside it. I didn’t sell hot dogs or beer. You had to know someone to get one of those gigs. I had a job as a stockboy for an office supply company that operated out of one of the several storefronts built into the park’s red brick facade. It was a dusty, Dickensian little place owned and staffed and patronized by characters out of novels by George V. Higgins. I spent most of my day loading and unloading delivery trucks but that was fine because the loading dock was on the far side of the park from the store and I had to push my hand trucks along ramps that ran underneath the grandstand with branches that led up to the field. If there was no game that afternoon those side ramps would be left open and that routinely meant, if the Sox were in town and playing at night, I could stop along the way and stroll up to the entrance ways to watch the team take batting practice. Boston had just acquired Tony Armas from Oakland. Armas was supposed to give the Sox some needed power to protect Jim Rice and Dwight Evans but he had a reputation for hitting a lot of pop flies and one afternoon early that season I watched him drive pitch after pitch into the top of the batting cage.
Boston went 78 and 84 that year and finished sixth in the East. Armas hit .218 but he had 36 homers and drove in 107 runs. I wasn’t too happy because Boston had traded Carney Lansford, my favorite player after Evans, to get Armas. But the Sox had this new kid at third they were pretty high on. Had a funny name, Tom Selleck mustache, ate a lot of fried chicken.
Dade Frogs? Cade Logs?
At any rate, in those faraway days, you could walk up to the ticket window on Landsdowne Street a few hours before game time and buy bleacher seats without thinking about it, the game was not going to be sold out. I forget how much tickets cost but it couldn’t have been more than a few bucks. And I always had a hot dog and a soda. Sorry. A tonic. Pronounced tawnic or tahnic, again depending on whether you’re from Eastie or Southie. Back then I could make it through a weekend on ten or fifteen dollars, have had a good time, eaten and drank well, and still have some change in my pockets come Monday morning. Of course it helped that I had another job as a movie usher and one of the perks of that job was free tickets at every theater in town, which made a lot my dates cheap dates, though I didn’t tell the girls that. On Saturday mornings---the Sox still played most of the Saturday games at home in the afternoons---I’d go to the park early and pick up tickets for myself and any friends who were going to meet me later and then wander over to a nearby diner that had a baseball themed name, the Batter’s Box, I think, and have breakfast. Life wasn’t so hard for a poor student then.
Still, I probably didn’t get to more than ten games a season and the Sox were relentlessly mediocre. Yaz wasn’t even in the twilight of his career anymore. The moon was rising. Jim Rice was entering that phase of his career that explains why it took the sportswriters so long to give him his plaque in Cooperstown. He was still hitting, but the ball wasn’t coming off his bat as hard or as fast or traveling as far as it used to, and he didn’t seem to be playing with any intensity only with irritability. Dennis Eckersley, the pre-Hall of Fame reliever Eckersley, and Mike Torrez were Boston’s best pitchers. Oil Can Boyd was fun to watch but he’d have been a lot more fun if he’d, you know, won some games. Roger Clemens was still in college. And it was just beginning to sink in that the team had something special in that kid at third, what was his name? Frayed Toggs?
So I don’t have many good baseball stories from my Fenway days. I did see Yaz’s 2,994th, 2,995th, and 2,998th hits while hoping to be there to see his 3,000th. He hit that one on a night I had to work at the movie theater. I saw Rice hit a lot of home runs and I didn’t care that they weren’t as hard hit or carrying as far as they “should” have. In a game against the Blue Jays he tied it up with a homer to deep right and then won it with another homer that I swear landed in the exact same spot in the bull pen as the first one. And I was there when what’s his name---Trade Clogs?---played his first game at Fenway. He hit a home run, giving fans a very wrong impression of the kind of great hitter he was going to be.
I do have one great story about Fenway, though, but it isn’t mine. It’s my friend and fellow Red Sox fan Steve Kuusisto’s, who, as many of you know, is blind.
Ok. One summer, Steve’s in Boston on business but he has time to take in a game. He’s there early and his guide dog Corky’s getting a little restless, so the security guards give him the ok to take her on a little walk around the warning track. As you know they still have a hand-operated wooden scoreboard out in the left centerfield fence. Steve and Corky are walking along and they find the door to the scoreboard open. They poke their heads in.
“Hi,” Steve says to the two operators inside. “I’m the umpire for tonight’s game.”