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How the Red Sox Explain New England
By Jon Chattman, Allie Taratino
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Jon Chattman and Allie Tarantino
All rights reserved.
America's Park: Fenway
Coming to Fenway Park as a visiting player was awesome, but there was nothing like being at Fenway Park playing for the Red Sox! The passion you feel from the Boston faithful in such a storied landmark as Fenway was second to none. I'm forever grateful for getting to experience playing for the Boston Red Sox. You could feel the history in that park every single night.
— Sean Casey, 2008 Red Sox first baseman/designated hitter
On April 6, 1992, the Baltimore Orioles hosted the Cleveland Indians in their brand-new ballpark, Orioles Park at Camden Yards. Camden was a new, supersized stadium but with a retro feel. The move from Memorial Stadium to the shiny happier place along the Inner Harbor in Baltimore made other owners follow suit. Among the ballparks that took after Camden's model were Coors Field in Colorado, Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and most recently Citi Field in New York and arguably New Yankee Stadium — home of the Yankees. Yes, despite the lure, the magic, and the memories, the Bronx Bombers opted to tear down their history in place of a new, bloated stadium that includes a Hard Rock Café — and probably a Tiffany's. Longtime Yankees fans felt a connection to the other stadium more than this imitation, an inflated one that lacks any history. Perhaps that changed when the Sox's rival bought their World Series in 2009 — the first year in their new digs — but some old-school fans still balk at the new park. And that brings us to the Red Sox. They have called their park home — and will continue to do so — since their first major league game on April 20, 1912. "When you walk up the ramp, see the field and the Green Monster with the city in the background, there is nothing that compares to it," said Randy Adams, general manager of McGreevy's 3 Base Saloon. "You walk in, you smell the sausages, you hear the Boston accents saying 'selling tickets,' and you see it's always packed. It will make the hair stand up on your arms. I still get chills."
Even Yankees fans would probably agree that the park located at 4 Yawkey Way represents all that is good and holy about baseball and its rich history. It's a classic that has been altered. (There have been additions and renovations. Seats atop the Green Monstah are new school.) In 2012 the park celebrated its 100 anniversary by being added to the National Register of Historic Places. "Everybody who's ever been to Fenway," said Larry Callahan, chief judicial marshall in Hartford and Cromwell, Connecticut, "when they walk through the tunnel, the green of the place just startles you. I've always gotten that feeling. It's a great old park. It's a national monument."
Every major league city should have a park like Fenway, but let's be honest: we're glad they don't. It's fitting that a little more than a decade into the 21st century that the oldest American League ballpark resides in America's first frontier, New England. While several states (California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Texas, Florida, Missouri, and Ohio) have more than one franchise located within their borders, the entire region of New England sinks its collective teeth into their Boston Red Sox.
Most New Englanders remember the movement in the 1990s to replace Fenway Park in Boston. Many major league teams had succumbed to what Rick Reilly described as "bulldozing real vintage ballparks like Tiger Stadium and Fenway Park to put up fake vintage ballparks." The sentiment to keep Fenway Park vital was shared by many, as online ventures to save the stadium endlessly popped up. It led Bob Costas to declare on a Game of the Week in 1999, "When we lose Fenway, we lose the sense that somebody sat here and watched Ted Williams hit." As fortune would have it, new owners would come and not only keep Fenway, but also pave the way for a Red Sox renaissance similar to when the stadium opened 100 years ago. Fenway Park has inspired all comers to wax poetic at the 100 anniversary in April 2012. "When you walk and come to Fenway, it's just like it was 30 years ago," Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "The beauty and stability here is why the park means so much to many generations."
Two of Selig's predecessors spoke fondly of Fenway, including Bowie Kuhn, who oversaw the game from 1969–1984. "As commissioner, you're supposed to be objective," Kuhn said. "It wasn't much of a secret, though, that I loved Fenway Park, especially how it made you a participant." The late A. Bartlett Giamatti served briefly as commissioner before his untimely death in 1989, but he was a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. "When I was seven years old, my father took me to Fenway Park for the first time," he said. "As I grew up, I knew that, as a building, it was on the level of Mount Olympus, the pyramid at Giza, the nation's capitol, the czar's Winter Palace, and the Louvre — except, of course, that it was better than all those inconsequential places." You'll be hard-pressed to find any baseball fan or player (okay, maybe those of the Chicago Cubs) who disagree with those sentiments.
During his three years with the Red Sox, pitcher Bronson Arroyo lived in the Back Bay of Boston and used to walk to Fenway. Arroyo, who played on the 2004 championship squad, moved on to the Reds in 2006. He has enjoyed success in Cincinnati, posting double-digit victory totals five times and twice reaching the postseason, but part of him yearns for those walks to Fenway and the atmosphere of the historic park. "I definitely miss the excitement of Fenway," Arroyo said. "There's such a long history — generations after generations have been going to this place ... Baseball is closer to football and soccer fans there. They act almost like they're playing 17-game seasons instead of 162. It's a life-or-death feeling every time. As a player, you feel that. It's part of what drives you."
The Fenway atmosphere not only drives the players, but it also provides lifelong memories for the Red Sox fans. The beauty of sports is that you remember exactly where you were when a noteworthy or historic event happened. Each generation has its own top pivotal moments that become mythologized and rhapsodized beyond a lifetime. These events have even more sizzle when you watched them inside the ballpark where they actually transpired.
Long before Matthew P. Mayo became a published author and editor who has written fiction, nonfiction, and has contributed to countless anthologies, he was a Fenway and Sox fan. Loving the home team was just something that he gravitated to before he wrote his first manuscript. He'd often visit Fenway while living in Rhode Island, but when his family moved him to Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, a piece of him stayed there. "I loved it there, on a riverside farm way out in the country. I fished every day and played pickup ballgames with other farm kids. But I missed my old friends, my Red Sox-loving grandma, and my occasional forays to Fenway," Mayo said. "I went to Montreal a few times to see the Expos play, and while the dome was impressive when you first walked in, even as a kid I knew it didn't hold a candle to Fenway's historic grace."
A few years after he moved to Vermont, Mayo received Sox tickets from his parents. "My mom; my best friend, Johnny; and his mom all went to Boston," he said, noting the BoSox played the Cleveland Indians on that day. "The game started out great, and, as I recall, it just kept getting better — one of the Indians swung, let go of his bat, and it helicoptered at Dennis Eckersley's legs. Eck jumped, and it missed him. But he was not pleased, his teammates were not pleased, Fenway fans were not pleased."
It didn't end there. The same thing happened an inning or two later. "I seem to remember Eck stripping off his glove and hurtling toward home plate before his feet landed back on the mound. Dugouts emptied. There was a bit of a brawl on the field, and two kids [and their moms] from northern Vermont, sitting along the third-base line, thought the entire affair was so very cool."
Yes, the game was cool, but the day got better afterward. "We waited by the players' parking area and saw a Caddy, I think it was, parked outside the gate with Rice 14 on the license plate. Alas, it was a decoy. Jim Rice blew through those gates in a different car, right past everyone. But Dennis Eckersley stopped, climbed out of his van, and signed autographs and posed for photos, smiling the whole time." It was quite a day for Eck and quite a birthday weekend for Mayo. The next day, Mayo and his family were checking out of their hotel, when they saw Indians player Ron Pruitt hanging around the lobby. While he was too shy to go up to him, nothing could stop Mayo's mom. "She came through for us. It turned out Mr. Pruitt was very kind, not at all how we'd pictured those bat-chucking Cleveland players ... Oddly enough, I would, many years later, marry a Cleveland girl who harbors a lifelong love of her own home team, the Indians. To date, she has not thrown a bat my way. However, I've kept Eck's technique in mind, should the situation arise."
Mayo's Red Sox adoration remains a fixture of his life. "I write books for a living, all sorts, Westerns among them. Yep, cowboys, and six-guns, and cattle drives, and range wars. But I do it from my home in Maine, wearing my old Red Sox cap and, in season, I listen to games radioed in from Fenway. And I'm always planning my next drive down the coast to Boston to catch another game ...
"A visit is a singular experience: Emerge out of any Fenway passage and see the bold red, white, and green of the perfectly tended field before you, then spot the squat might of the Green Monster, see the billboards and the lights, hear the vendors yelling, 'Ice CREAM! Get your ice CREAM here!' (No matter where you sit, those guys can land a treat snack smack-dab in your lap) ... the smells of hot dogs, beer, and pretzels, watching all those other fans looking for their seats, hear the rising hubbub of voices....
"Then come the warm-ups, the organ impossibly loud, the scoreboard, the players' uniforms as they take the field, the announcer's voice, the national anthem, the thunder and roar of the crowd, then ... play ball! And that never gets old."
Yes, even today Mayo's heart is at Fenway and with the team he used to follow religiously when he lived in Rhode Island and when he moved to Ben & Jerry's country. Mayo was at a convention out West a few years back, and another author whose work he had long admired, looked at him and said, "Them's fightin' words."
"What are?" Mayo said, genuinely worried. "What had I done to offend this titan of writin'?"
"That hat," he said, cracking a grin and nodding again ... at his trusty Red Sox cap.
"Oh?" Mayo said, squaring off. "Then bring it on.
"You can toy with my writing, mock my diminishing hairdo, even laugh at my dog, but do not mock this man's home team. Because while you might take the boy out of Fenway, you can't take the Fenway out of the boy."
Reliving the Dream
Like Mayo and so many others, Vincenzo DiGirolamo isn't simply a Red Sox fan. He lives and breathes for the team. You might even say he was born into it. Raised in Medford, just 10 minutes outside of Boston, the now 27-year-old, recalls being taken to Fenway Park with his brother countless times by his avid Sox fan dad and immersing himself in all things navy and red. DiGirolamo's father came to America from Sicily when he was just seven years old and instantly fell in love with the game of baseball — specifically the Red Sox. As a matter of fact, his dad went to games at Fenway before he knew much English and before he understood any of the rules of baseball. "He used to think it was an out when the left fielder caught the ball off the wall," DiGirolamo said. "Needless to say, he quickly learned that wasn't the case and developed an understanding of the game."
Because of his father's undying love for the game, Vince said he can't remember a time in his life that he A) wasn't a baseball fan and B) wasn't a Red Sox fan. "He got me started with baseball and the Red Sox at a very young age. And for that, amongst many other things, I'll always be grateful to him," he said.
As Vince's big brother, Bernardo, recalled, "My dad's a chef and has been working in restaurants and kitchens his whole life. And every season, I would look forward to seeing, where he would tape up his Red Sox schedule in the kitchens or restaurant office. Seeing that small, unfolded schedule taped to the wall meant Opening Day was coming up. A new beginning. Another chance. He would mark off every game with a W or an L, and soon I was doing the same thing with my own schedule in my room. I would meticulously mark Ws and Ls, like I was the official wins and losses keeper for the team. When there were a few Ws in a row, I was happier; things in Boston were happier. On the flip side, when the Sox would get knocked out of the playoffs or not make the playoffs at all, there was the 'there's always next year' feeling that Sox fans got very familiar with throughout the years before 2004."
Over the past 22 years, DiGirolamo has immersed himself in Sox lore: the Curt Shilling sock highs and the Bobby V. lows. "It's a roller coaster ride I will never get off," he said. DiGirolamo's earliest memory of this wild ride dates back to when he was five years old and learned everything about the players. "My father would throw out a name, and I would know the roster number," he said. He doesn't know why he enjoyed memorizing the names and numbers, but it was important to him. Red Sox tickets may be hard to come by now — especially since they won World Championships in 2004 and 2007, but DiGirolamo recalls a time when tickets were a lot easier to get. As a result, he said, he and his family went to countless games together. Although he can't pinpoint the first game he went to, he said it's probably around the time he started the game of "throw out a name" with his dad.
His favorite name — or player — was Jody Reed. He wasn't a star player, but the infielder hit well in Beantown, and he loved him for that. Reed made his major league debut with the Sox in September 1987 and stayed with Boston through 1992. His best year was in 1990, when he smashed 173 hits and led the American League with 45 doubles. DiGirolamo was drawn to Reed because he played his little league positions of middle infield and third base. That Reed's jersey had his favorite number, the No. 3, on the back also helped. He was also of the right stature. "He wasn't the biggest guy, and neither was I," DiGirolamo said. "He was smaller and scrappy, and I could relate to that. And today that's translated into being a huge fan of Dustin Pedroia, because he's built and plays the same way." Pedroia is about 5'8", while Reed was listed as 5'9".
DiGirolamo and his older brother were huge card collectors back in the day, and to this day, his uncle gives him a hard time about some of the terrible card trades he made just so he could acquire Jody Reed cards. Needless to say, by 1993, when Reed was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the expansion draft, DiGirolamo was crushed. "I was at my grandparents' house when I heard this. I immediately started crying and locked myself in the bathroom. I was devastated. I remember my grandmother yelling in half-Italian, half-English for me to come out and saying how everything would be okay. Granted, yes, it turned out it was not the end of the world. But it took me a while to realize that," he said. Reed finished his career after 11 years, playing for the Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, and Detroit Tigers.
DiGirolamo took solace post-Reed by knowing he'd be having a birthday party at Fenway with or without his favorite middle infielder. "My birthday is in October, and my brother's is in November, so that's not exactly baseball season," he said. "But that didn't stop my parents. I remember several times being at a game, and then all of the sudden getting an overwhelming smell of smoke. Before I could even say anything, my parents put a small cake or cupcake in front of us and sang 'Happy Birthday.' It didn't stop there. The whole section would even join in on the singing. To us this was the coolest thing ever. We felt as though Fenway Park was singing 'Happy Birthday' to us."
Excerpted from How the Red Sox Explain New England by Jon Chattman, Allie Taratino. Copyright © 2013 Jon Chattman and Allie Tarantino. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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