Thursday, May 04, 2006

Some Diamond Vignettes From Fenway – On The Field And In The Stands

Let me share just a few random thoughts and observations from last night’s events at Fenway Park. Jonathan Papelbon’s pristine armor was finally dented as he allowed a run – the winning run – to score in the 9th inning. He remains a fan darling and hope for the future. This was the first run he had allowed since last September – a string of scoreless outings spanning 25 innings.

Before the game, as I was volunteering at Autograph Alley, I had a rare opportunity to share a relaxed conversation with Luis Tiant, Red Sox Hall of Fame member and perennial fan favorite. The former player who was designated to sign autographs last evening was Ted Lepcio, former teammate of Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky and middle infielder for the Red Sox teams of 1952-1959. Ted was busy autographing hundreds of photos of himself in his Red Sox uniform. El Tiante, who owns the Cuban Sandwich Shop on Yawkey Way, just around the corner from the location of Autograph Alley, was also in the neighborhood. Luis often sits at his sandwich stand signing autographs for those who buy his delicious sandwiches. On this rainy evening, Luis came in from the damp and the drizzle to spend some time at Autograph Alley. Current Red Sox staff member, Henry Mahegan, and I were talking about the current Red Sox team and the chances that the evening’s scheduled game would be played without another disappointing rainout, when Tiant joined the conversation.

El Tiante radiates baseball charm and atmosphere, emitting insightful gems, bon mots and anecdotes like an aromatic cloud of smoke wafting gently from the Cuban cigars that he favors. At one point in the conversation, I asked him why, in his opinion, young Papelbon is experiencing such success. Luis’ answer was pithy and classic. In heavily accented tones he replied:

“It’s simple. He has skills . . . and he has balls! He’s not afraid of anything. He is a warrior – like Clemens, like Pedro . . .”

I quickly added: “. . . and like Tiant!”

The corners of his mouth turned up in a wry smile and a twinkle glinted from his dark eyes as he nodded in tacit agreement and acknowledgement of his status in Red Sox history and in the hearts of Red Sox Nation.

* * * * *

The Red Sox were waiting to come up to bat in the third inning. The big screen above the bleachers in center field was feting those celebrating birthdays at Fenway that evening – youngsters and oldsters from Acushnet to Agawam. Just as the first Red Sox batter of the inning was being announced, the message flashed on the screen: “Lauren V., will you marry me?”

I have seen hundreds of Fenway proposals flashed on the screen over the years, but this was the first such event that I was privileged to be part of. My friend, Craig Balben, grew up in New Hampshire, and maintains his fierce loyalty to the Red Sox, despite the fact that he currently makes his home in San Diego. Craig began plotting many months ago the details of this special night. As far as Lauren knew, they were coming to New England to see a Red Sox game, visit family and friends, and for a few days, trade that balmy and boring San Diego 80-degree weather for the extreme adventure of braving spring temperatures in New England!

As the break between innings progressed, I had been able to find a seat right behind Craig and Lauren. I saw him surreptitiously reach into his jacket pocket for the ring box. He was able to direct Lauren’s attention to the birthday announcements that were scrolling on the screen. And then her name appeared. She was looking at the screen, but it took a moment for the reality of what she was reading to register. Her hand instinctively flew to cover her mouth – pretty even while agape! - as she looked in utter disbelief and wonder at Craig. Their friends, sitting in the seats next to Craig and Lauren, beamed. I leaned over to Lauren and said: “What’s your answer?!” With tears and embraces all around, Lauren gasped, “Yes,” and Craig slipped the beautiful diamond ring onto her tremulous hand.

The surprise was not over. Craig had orchestrated an elaborate romantic evening and sequence of surprises for his bride-to-be. Up the aisle of Section 8 came Lauren’s mother and aunt. They had flown in from California to join in the celebration. Next came Craig’s mother and sister, and other family members who had been scattered and hidden in plain sight throughout the park.

A summer 2007 wedding is planned in Temecula, California. I’ll be there. I can’t wait!

Romance is alive and well!

Congratulations, Craig and Lauren. I love you guys.

Play ball!

Al

1 comment:

Lauren V. said...

All, this was such a sweet gesture. I felt like I was reliving the moment all over again. Thanks to you and your eloquent words, one of the best days of my life has been documented perfectly. I can't wait to see you at our wedding. We are very fortunate to have you officiate our big day! Talk to you soon!