I love baseball. I can’t say that enough. It is my favorite game to play by leaps and bounds and it is so gorgeous to sit with good company, food, and a fun game makes for a wonderful experience. I played for a while as a kid and Fenway Park still feels like home. I’ve been to so many Red Sox games in my life at Fenway, but I’ve never been to an opening day game. The Red Sox began their season last week with a series against the Philadelphia Phillies. They won that series and another 3 game series against the arch-rival New York Yankees. When they opened the season, their television network, NESN, aired this television ad. It brought tears to my eyes, because it reminded me of every reason why I love baseball. The connections between generations, families, friends, and strangers is magnificently shown.
However, there was one more milestone to hit before the season got into full swing: The Home Opener. The first game at Fenway Park is always full of buzz and excitement, and you get that sense watching the game on television, but it’s another thing entirely to see it play out live and in person. I got to go today as a volunteer with the Fenway Park Green Team. We pick up empty beer cans, cups, soda bottles, and anything else that can be recycled between innings of play. We rotate between the different sections of the Fenway seats to clean as many different parts of the park as we can. I’ve done the Green Team before and I’ve had an absolute blast doing it before, but today was special. Today was Opening Day. That means both teams were introduced in full. As in the trainers, videographer, coaches, players, and interpreters were announced. And there were heart touching opening gestures. Tom Brady threw the ceremonial first pitch to David Ortiz. He gacked the pitch, but I still love Tom Brady. I also love watching David Ortiz. To see those guys on the field together and to see them embrace was special. Those two are the pillar athletes of my childhood and helped get me hooked on sports in any capacity at all, let alone wanting to be a professional sportscaster. They led the way with winning championships and made me want to tell their stories for a profession. Thanks guys!
Then came a tribute to the creator of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that was so popular last summer, (even I did it), Pete Frates. He played baseball at Boston College and had professional baseball aspirations before ALS stopped him in his tracks. The Red Sox honored him today by signing him to a professional contract. They also had his wife give the invocation of “Play Ball!” alongside Red Sox great and Baseball Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez. Pedro’s my favorite pitcher by leaps and bounds. I loved watching him as a little kid and hearing his name announced gave me chills.
And then the game began. And then I got among the greatest pleasures possible in baseball. I was sitting behind home plate because there were open seats there before we had to do our volunteer work. I was looking around at the field and the crowd and I saw Peter Gammons sitting a few seats away. Yes, that Peter Gammons. I moved down so I could sit next to the legendary baseball writer, and be in the presence of the greatness that I aspire to someday be. I got to talk about the game that was unfolding before us, when Mookie Betts stole second and then third base on the same play, and we talked of Red Sox history, specifically the 1986 World Series. Mr. Gammons puts the blame on Bob Stanley while I put the biggest bit of it on Calvin Schiraldi.
Day made. And yet it got better! When I had to hop up, I wandered through the park, collecting bottles and cans as I went. While we wandered, I had several fun conversations with people there. Some form Natick, MA, who gave me trouble for being from CT, which to them means I should be a Yankee fan. I had another one with people on the Green Monster about the BU Providence Hockey game, and they were all from Rhode Island… But I still had a decent conversation with them at least!
We ended our volunteering work after the 7th inning or so, and I was the only one who stayed. I didn’t have a class or meeting to go to, while the other members of my group did. Since I didn’t have a ticket, I went to get some food, then to find a standing room section to watch the end of the game, which the Red Sox were winning big over the Nationals. While wandering through, I had a wonderful flash of memories as I walked through the stadium. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been to an uncountable number of Red Sox games. I’ve probably been to upwards of 35 or so games at least at Fenway. I’ve sat in so many parts of the ballpark, and to a certain extent, whenever I walk into the park, I feel as though I’m coming home. I walked over the Monster, where I’ve been on the Green Team and some guys taking some pictures of us also snuck in a selfie on my phone.
I wandered through the third base side, where I’ve seen many games with my family, most notably a game in 2004 when Orlando Cabrera hit a double off the Monster in left field and Johnny Damon came all the way around from 1st base to score the game winning run in a game that sparked momentum for a magical ending and lifting of the curse, and where I saw Tim Wakefield’s 200th career victory. I went down the first baseline, where I saw a Red Sox-Yankee game in 2006, when the Red Sox lost all 5 games to the Yankees and their chances of making the playoffs were effectively ended that weekend. I went upstairs to the right field box seats, near where I’ve seen games with my parents and good friends alike, and a few times last season, I might add. I found a standing room section to enjoy the end of the game from. I looked around and took a mental snap of everything. The dad holding his young daughter, the brothers bickering over ice cream, the young couple that’s enjoying the sunny day, the older couple basked in memories, the older brothers reminiscing games gone by over some beers. I looked into the right field grand stands, where I saw game 1 of the 2007 ALDS vs the Angels with my dad. I looked over at the bleachers and saw the Ted Williams seat, where I saw a game last year, near where I saw game 1 of the 2013 ALDS vs the Rays with my friend Wes.
I looked over to the bleachers where I saw Pedroia hit his 100th homer last year and had a great end to my year last year.
I was living part of James Earl Jones’ famous monologue from Field of Dreams, “The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.” I had to do that today several times over. I saw all stages of life and fandom. I was a kid with my dad and bickered with my brother. I’m older now and have been at games with friends the way the older brothers were. I’ve been a half of a young couple at a game. And I want to be a half of the older couple and the father holding his child.
Baseball reminded me why it is so beautiful, why I love it so much, and how it is both an escape from the daily struggles of life and a reflection of the best of life all at the same time. It was a magnificent showing. I laughed, cheered for my team in a smashing victory, enjoyed it with friends, met total strangers, enjoyed good food, reminisced in ways I couldn’t imagine, and had my eyes reopened to the beauty of the game and Fenway Park. The song in the NESN commercial I mentioned earlier in this post has a line “It’s just a perfect day.” There are few days we can apply that. Today was one of them. Thank you God for giving us baseball. We will play it well, honor our heroes, and not forget why we love the game so much.