Saturday, Aug. 18—(continued from Aug. 17 post) Bob and I were on our way by 9:30 a.m. up I-395 from our motel in Moosup, CT, through a variety of intermittent sprinkles and steady rain. We took a break from the interstates in Worcester, MA, to have breakfast at a McDonald’s on U.S. Route 20, where I enjoyed my second Egg McMuffin of the year (the first was in February when I went to Delaware for the annual luncheon of the Fort Delaware Society). I like Egg McMuffins but McDonald’s stops serving them long before I am usually out and about.
From McDonald’s it was only a few miles to the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), which we followed east into Boston, where we got off at Exit 18 for storied Fenway Park, which is celebrating its centennial this year. A few minutes after 11 and 236 miles from The Dutch we pulled into a parking lot literally across Yawkey Way from the ballpark, where we paid $25 to park for the day (we keep the keys, we’re not blocked in and can leave any time) and had a nice chat with a couple of friendly parking attendants.
Pete Cassidy had arranged for tickets for his family, Bob and me at the will-call window, which did not open until noon for the 1:05 p.m. game. That gave us plenty of time to refresh ourselves and wander around the outside of the stadium, where banners around the brick ballpark honor Red Sox championship teams and players. Yawkey Way is closed off to vehicular traffic to become a pedestrian mall and grand entryway to the stadium, with ticket takers, bag checkers and portable turnstiles in place at each end of the block. Fans are free to come and go between the stadium and the shops lining the street but not go beyond Yawkey Way.
In our wanderings we met up with Candice and John, parents of Renegades pitcher Sean Bierman, and a young couple from the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, who were on their way to a wedding in Quebec and expanded the trip to include a few major cities along the way. We had enjoyable chats with all of them.
The will-call window finally opened and we soon had tickets in hand for the third-base grandstand. However, since the place wasn’t exactly crowded (attendance for the day was listed at 8,907, less than 25 percent of capacity), many of the Hudson Valley faithful had agreed to congregate around the Renegades dugout on the third-base side, where Bob and I took up residence without mishap in the second row directly behind the dugout. Despite the prime location the bright-red seats were narrow compared with those at Dutchess Stadium, the rows were closer together and even the aisles were narrower. As somebody put it, people weren’t as big (tall or wide) a century ago as they are now.
Another difference between stadiums was the network of ramps leading to various levels. It had been many years since I had been in a major-league baseball park, so I had forgotten about such networks; at The Dutch, you just walk straight through the gate to the concourse, no ramps involved, and for the skyboxes there is a choice of stairs or elevator. Just one of the differences between a venue seating more than 37,000 fans as opposed to one that seats fewer than 5,000.
As I passed a food stand I thought of a scene in the movie Field of Dreams, in which Kevin Costner asks James Earl Jones what he wants. Jones’ character, a one-time leading activist, now wants merely to be left alone, wants people to find their own answers to the problems of life and not turn to him. But what do you want?, Costner asks as the camera shifts to a stand featuring Fenway Franks. “A dog and a beer,” Jones replies without missing a beat.
The theme of today was Futures at Fenway, an annual day of baseball in which some of the Red Sox minor league teams play a game in the home park of their parent club. Today featured the Lowell Spinners hosting the Renegades in Class A-short season, followed by the Triple AAA Pawtucket, RI, Red Sox (PawSox) welcoming the Buffalo, NY, Bisons, a New York Mets affiliate. It’s a nice event for the players, one that might even inspire a few of them to strive harder to get to The Show, and I wish a few more teams would implement the idea where geography permits.
The Renegades made the most of the opportunity, scoring three runs in the top of the second, extending their lead to 6-1 after six and holding off a four-run ninth-inning surge by the Spinners to win 6-5. Catcher Jake DePew led the Gades with his first home run of the season over the Green Monster, Fenway’s fabled left-field wall, a double, two singles and three runs batted in. Please click here to read the game story on the Gades’ Web site.
Manager Jared Sandberg asked Bob if he might be able to track down the fan who caught the home-run ball and exchange another ball for it, since the original would mean a lot to Jake. Bob, accompanied by Dave the Beer Man (a Dutchess Stadium fixture), promptly headed for the seats atop the Green Monster to carry out their mission. The fan proved obstinate, rejecting an even swap and an offer of $20, but finally settled for an autographed bat.
A moment of silence was observed before the game for Johnny Pesky, a player, coach, manager and broadcaster in the Red Sox organization for 61 of his 73 years in baseball, who died Aug. 13 at 92. The Red Sox honored him in 2006 by naming the right-field foul pole “Pesky’s Pole” and retired his number 6 two years later.
The game started on a scary note when Lowell pitcher Brian Johnson was hit in the face by a line drive on his second pitch to leadoff batter Joey Rickard. Johnson was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with multiple orbital bone fractures on the left side of his face; I hope and pray he will be OK. Third baseman Mike Miller picked up the deflected ball and threw Rickard out at first.
As in Norwich last night, the Renegades really seemed to appreciate our presence and support. Jared waved at our contingent before the game, and we shouted encouragement to the players as they came and went throughout the contest. Our efforts were enhanced by Renegades staffers who had come up in a stretch limo and were established in a top-floor suite.
The Chicken Dance got me and many other folks moving in the middle of the fifth inning, and Canaligator, Lowell’s mascot, was stirring up the home team faithful on the first-base side. I was particularly taken by Bristles, who has a toothbrush for a head and used a small broom to clean the dirt off the bases midway through the game. Most stirring, though, was the opportunity, late in the game, to sing Sweet Caroline, a song long associated with the Red Sox, right there in Fenway Park.
After the victory we celebrated across Yawkey Way in a sports bar with the appealing name of Who’s On First, where I bought a round of beers for Bob, Pete and myself. Music blared from the sound system and, while it was difficult to carry on a conversation, we had a great time.
The sprinkles that had annoyed us intermittently were replaced by clearing skies as we headed back to the stadium for the second game, in which the Bisons defeated the PawSox 2-0. Lured by food and more space, Bob and I accepted an invitation to join the folks in the Renegades suite, which afforded a view of baseball from on high that simply is not available at Dutchess Stadium. I had a great time up there and particularly enjoyed the ballet-like gracefulness of the action (not always evident at field level) although at the same time I missed the closeness to the field and found myself more easily distracted than usual—in part, I’m sure, because I did not keep score in the absence of comprehensive rosters. Thus, the nightcap became more of a social affair instead of my usual intense focus on every pitch, every play—an interesting change of pace for me.
Ambience in the suite include a bunless Fenway Frank (thicker than your average hot dog), salad (most welcome), a large souvenir can of popcorn, a basket of potato chips, a lone chocolate chip cookie and assorted cold soft drinks. Most of the folks left around 6:30 for the limo’s return trip, leaving Bob and me with the suite to ourselves midway through the game. We put a respectable dent in the remaining food supply, dumped the remaining chips into the popcorn can and took it with us. We also tidied up the suite a bit and had a nice chat with the suite manager, who graciously gave each of us an insulated pouch bearing the Fenway 100th anniversary logo.
We joined Hal, Grant and a few other remaining Renegades folks back behind the dugout for the final couple of innings and a more familiar perspective. We also got to enjoy a better view of the activities of Paws and Sox, the home team’s mascots.
As the setting sun spread some nice colors among the remaining clouds, we finally bade goodbye to Fenway and headed back across Yawkey Way to the parking lot, where Hal and Grant joined us for refreshments. Conversation ranged across a variety of sports and venues. There were no signs of foxes or skunks in this urban setting, but we did see a couple of rats scurrying into and out of gaps between the stones of a retaining wall and we thought we saw a couple of bats scooping up insects early in their nightly flight.
Hal and Grant were staying over for the Sunday game in Lowell (about 45 minutes away) between the Renegades and the Spinners. After they headed for their hotel Bob and I climbed into his car and were on our way home at 9:05 p.m. We retraced our route back to the Mass Pike, where, 20 miles down the road, we stopped at a service area for gas for the car and a copy of The Boston Globe for me. (Veteran newspaperman that I am, I always enjoy seeing and reading how other newspapers report and present the news.) Beyond that, it was clear sailing along I-90 and I-84 with just a couple of stops to stretch and walk around for a few minutes. We arrived at The Dutch at 12:45 a.m., 197 miles from Fenway. After loading my gear back into my car, we were on our way to our respective homes. I arrived home, exhausted but safe and sound, thank God, around 1:30.
Next home game: Tuesday, Aug. 21 vs. Connecticut Tigers, first pitch 7:05 p.m.