Monday, April 11, 2005

Eyewitness to History – A Report to Red Sox Nation

I just returned from attending the first World Series Ring Ceremony in Red Sox history. I was one of the lucky 33,000+ who got to ride the roller coaster of emotions that was better than any E-ticket ride that Disney Imagineers could conceive. I had heard about individuals paying up to $5,000 online for a ticket to this Opening Day extravaganza, so imagine my delight two weeks ago when Rod Oreste, Red Sox Manager of Publications and Archives, ended our luncheon discussion by reaching into his jacket pocket and handing me a Red Sox ticket envelope containing two ducats to today’s game. “Don’t let me catch you scalping these tickets,” Rod said with a knowing grin.

Sharing the tickets and the day with me was my friend, Darin Souza, currently an MBA student at Dartmouth/Tuck. Darin was one of the best hitters ever to play baseball for West Point, so it was fitting that he should be able to join me on a day when military veterans shone brightly on the diamond at Fenway.

The Red Sox threw open the gates to Fenway before noon – long before the traditional time for allowing fans access to the Park. Even the organization seemed to understand everyone’s need to milk as much from this special day as possible. Darin and I met for a quick gourmet meal at the Kenmore Square McDonald’s. We spent some time going over ideas for his nascent project – A New England Sports Hall of Fame to be built in Southeast Massachusetts. (Stay tuned for a full report on the NESHOF in the near future) We stopped so I could buy my obligatory bag of salted peanuts from the vendor on Yawkey Way. They taste much better out of a brown bag that was filled that morning with peanuts freshly roasted at Superior Nut in Cambridge than out of a plastic bag sold inside the stadium – a bag that may have been filled with peanuts and sealed when Jimmy Carter was still President!)

As we made our way to our seats, I stopped to share the time of day in Creole with several Haitian ushers I have come to know. Walking through the crowd, we fortuitously bumped into Red Sox President, Larry Lucchino, and exchanged a few words of congratulations. Darin and I took our seats and breathed in the electrically charged atmosphere. Around 2:15, the pre-game ceremonies began. My most vivid memories – in no particular order except stream of consciousness - included:

* Hearing the Boston Pops orchestra play in a steadily rising crescendo of strings, brass and timpani the haunting notes of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (known to most people as the theme music to the film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”) as one by one, banners were lowered from the top of the Green Monster – World Champions 1903, 1915, 1916, 1918 . . . and then an enormous banner that covered the entire wall was lowered that screamed: “WORLD CHAMPIONS 2004!”

* Out from under that enormous banner came wounded veterans from Iraq – all native New Englanders whom the Red Sox players had met a few weeks ago. After they visited the White House, the Sox had stopped by Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit with Red Sox fans that had been wounded in action in the Gulf. They invited them to come to Boston to participate in today’s festivities. So they marched towards the first base line where the Red Sox owners awaited them. They had been entrusted with the honor of carrying the wooden boxes that contained the World Series rings about to be awarded. As these men and women neared the infield, it became apparent that some were still recovering from their wounds – one pushed himself in his wheelchair, several walked aided by canes, the others walked unassisted and walked in a dignified cadence accompanied by the dulcet tones of James Taylor, who stood with his guitar at Home Plate intoning “America the Beautiful.” There could not have been many dry eyes in the house. I wept unashamedly, and my warrior friend, Darin, even seemed to have a few drops glistening at the corners of his steely eyes. The moment was transcendent.

* The members of the 2004 World Champion team came one by one – in order of their longevity with the Red Sox. Terry Francona, fresh from his sabbatical at Mass. General Hospital, led the way. He was greeted with a warm, enveloping ovation. Curt Schilling elicited a particularly enthusiastic response, as did the appearance of Johnny Pesky – who first joined the Red Sox organization 64 years ago! Derek Lowe, now part of the LA Dodger’s starting rotation, in a very classy move, paid his own way to be there today to receive his ring. The fans bathed him in adulation.

* A moment of silence in memory of Pope John Paul II, followed by an additional moment of silence in remembrance of Red Sox great and recently deceased Dick Radatz - the beloved "Monster."

* Once the ring ceremony was completed, the 2005 New York Yankees were introduced; all were inundated with boos, catcalls, jeers and other verbal and non-verbal forms of expression peculiar to sports fans – all, that is, except for Mariano Rivera and Joe Torre. In recent days, Rivera has done his best impression of Byung Yung Kim, so Red Sox fans showed their appreciation for Rivera’s generosity by cheering him lustily. He responded with grace and humor, tipping his cap to the crowd and grinning broadly.

* The members of the 2005 edition of the Red Sox were introduced. As they made their way from the dugout to the field, they ran a gauntlet of Red Sox legends – from Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr to Jim Rice and Yaz, Rico and El Tiante, Bill Lee and Jim Lonborg.

* It was time for the ceremonial first pitch to be thrown. Out from under the Left Field banner materialized Bill Russell – representing the best of Celtic World Championship tradition, Bobby Orr – the best hockey player ever to lace up a pair of skates and the greatest Bruin Champion, and New England Patriots Champs and Captains, Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi. Whatever reservoir of emotion we had kept in reserve was squandered in greeting these four as they made their collective way to the mound and threw four pitches that stitched together disparate franchises, generations, decades, venues and sports traditions into one vibrant crazy quilt that is Boston sports mania! How lovely!

Somewhere in there we sang the National Anthem, basked in the roar of Vermont Air National Guard F-15’s in a traditional fly-over, and heard 93-year-old Charlie Wagner implore: “Let’s play ball!”

Oh, yeah. There was also a pretty nifty baseball game. The defending World Champions rode the undulations of Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball to an 8-1 victory over the Evil Empire and Mike Mussina.

Wait ‘til this year!

I carried home a poster that WEEI was giving out that evoked one of my favorite lines from the film: “Field of Dreams.”

IS THIS HEAVEN?

IT’S FENWAY!!


AMEN!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Al:
Thank you for your usual colorful accounting of an exceptional experience. Although I could not be at Fenway today in person, after reading of your experience, I feel as though I was.

Arik said...

Hi Al

I was present in the centerfield bleachers, far fromt he game but clsoe enough to enjoy the moment. The ceremony was handled extremely well but my favorite part was the ring introductions. The Pops began to play as Davod Ortiz' name was called. The music was the theme from "Star Wars". A great day at the best ballpark..

Anonymous said...

Al,

I just wish Dad was alive to have experienced this!

Di

Anonymous said...

Where was Pudge?
Matt

Anonymous said...

Hi Al!
How have you been? Thank you for sharing your momentious experience! I've thoroughly enjoyed your blog over the baseball-less winter months! Hope to see you Wednesday?

Go Sox!
Soo Bee

Anonymous said...

Currently living in California but being a loyal and long time Boston fan (except for the Bruins - my heart now belongs to the San Jose Sharks), I could only watch the blowout game on ESPN and SMS and IM the rest of the clan with the score, to the point they all told me to shut up. It turns out that they were Tivo-ing the game and I was ruinging their evening.

Ike

JGM said...

Al,

I didn't know you were a poet also...

What a super day.

Thanks