“Put it right ovah heah. C’mahn, kid!”
“Jus’ ground it. Thass all yah gahta do.”
At the plate stood Big Papi — David Ortiz, the already legendary designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox, a surefire shoo-in future Hall of Famer — readying himself for retirement following this season. I’d seen him once before at Yankee Stadium. And New York hates him.
But here, the crowd appreciates him as much as the whole of the Bronx despises him.
“He’s hit 210 home runs here,” said my friend Kevin. “He knows how.”
Ortiz had a chance in the bottom of the ninth to break a 7-7 tie and clinch a win for the home Sox on June 23 in a mismatch against the Chicago White Sox.
I’d looked forward to this day for seeming countless months. I was at Fenway Park, the greatest and grandest survivor in the history of baseball, surrounded by friends I’d known for years but had never met.
Back in December, I’d booked tickets for Chochachocon, an annual gathering of fans of the web comic Achewood, which I endorsed in these pages last year. If you haven’t read it, well, that’s your fault for missing out. Anyway, we fans all joined a Facebook group dedicated to Achewood some years ago, and that group became a whole web community, inspiring impromptu meetups and splinter subgroups based on different interests. I belong to dozens of the subgroups, because I am a gigantic nerd and love the internet.
But even nerds love sports. There’s a group dedicated to sports talk named, “Let no man put asunder what I believe thee proper attyre for footballe” — an obscure Achewood reference, of course.
Kevin, a native New Englander and group member, posted back in December if anyone would be interested in attending a Red Sox game. He’d booked two whole rows of bleachers. Immediately, I commented, “As a sportswriter, I require one (1) ticket.” A quick $28 later and it was so.
All I had to do was wait.
After all the anticipation, being in Boston itself barely felt real. Some of us Chochachos rode the T in town — the Orange Line, lovingly dubbed by train nut Kat as “That ’70s Train,” decked in fake wood paneling and tour-bus upholstery with faux red-marble flooring, sans digital displays.
Even when we stopped on Massachusetts Avenue and started our final approach to the stadium, I couldn’t really believe I was about to see the Sox play at home.
When we rounded a corner on Ipswich across from Lucky Strike Lanes and someone asked, “Anybody wanna go bowling instead?” we all laughed, but I forgot who said it, because all memory ceased at the moment I saw the green backside of Fenway looming before my eyes.
I felt shot through the heart with feelings. I grinned like a maniac and giggled giddily. I was here, finally.
When I went to Wrigley Field only a month ago, I related a wash of nostalgia as my mind ran through the events which had transpired there. But Fenway Park’s history overwhelmed any recall.
I ate a hot dog before the game in the Bleacher Bar, literally in the belly of the Green Monster, the infamous wall where thousands of potential home runs became long singles and doubles after smacking impotently into its high face. I sat in the right-field bleachers, and I could stare right into Williamsburg, the bullpen built to enable Ted Williams — Teddy Ballgame, the Splendid Splinter, the greatest hitter of all time — to tally more home runs. Catcher Carlton Fisk made an appearance at the game, 40 years after engraving himself in national folklore by willing a fly ball fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, keeping the Sox alive for another letdown.
And I was there with fast, long friends, on a beautiful, partly cloudy June day.
Loyalties ranged from BoSox faithful like Kevin, White Sox rep Kat, St. Louis Cardinals follower Kyle, Oakland A’s devotee Laura, Toronto Blue Jays confidant André and even a Yankees fan, Art, who bravely wore his Bomber hat in enemy territory.
“Do you think I’ll be okay with this on?” he asked before we left.
“You’ll be fine,” I reassured him. “It’s midday on a midweek game.”
No matter who we rooted for, we all heckled the visitors, especially the White Sox pitching staff. They all looked like they’d just gotten out of prison, graduated from middle school or were stoned out of their minds.
The pitcher who inspired the greatest zingers was bespectacled closer Matt Purke, who came up in the 10th inning.
“That guy was in ‘Tim and Eric,’” pal Stephanie said.
“I didn’t know Stoned Lightning was a White Sox feeder team,” said Red Sox fan Kenny, referring to Achewood protagonist Ray Smuckles’ blazed-out slow-pitch softball league.
We had a damn blast.
Speaking of blasts, the Red Sox won off shortstop Xander Bogaerts’ Texas leaguer, batting in right fielder Mookie Betts to best the Chicago Sox 8-7.
No, Ortiz didn’t get to be the hero in his final at-bat that day. A long single fired into right field became a ground-rule double after it bounded past Pesky’s Pole and into Williamsburg. Just another day in Fenway.