Sam, brandishing her scoresheet and pencil, craned her neck toward the scoreboard expectantly, hunching and scribbling as the booming PA voice gave the names, one by one.
"Batting fourth. The left fielder. Manny. Rrramirrez..." It cracks me up how this announcer starts to put on this thick Latin accent whenever he announces an Hispanic last name.
There were faint boos from somewhere in the distance (thankfully for them, no one I could see or reach), and then all around us people started to cheer and clap emphatically, and we joined them.
But then, when the Sox fanned out to take the field, we saw a familiar figure ambling across the right-field grass, and it wasn't Kevin Millar, who had been announced at that position. It was Gabey. Millar, instead, took left field. And the panic began.
My phone flashed. A text message from my dad: "Manny isn't in the lineup! Mom just heard. Will keep U posted!"
I felt actual adrenaline burn in the pit of my stomach, squinting into the awkwardly angled setting sun. Were we witnessing something extraordinary? Had Manny left without fanfare or goodbye? Was he flat-out refusing to play the game? Had the situation escalated that far?
All around us cell phones were put to work. Everyone had the same thing on their minds. I called my dad and made him promise me he'd call me if NESN said anything.
"Everyone I know who'd know more is either at this game or at a wedding tonight," lamented one of the guys near us. "There isn't anyone I can call."
After that the next highlight of the evening was Gabe Kapler's first at-bat. It was the first time I'd ever been to a game where something of that significance had happened. What a refreshing thing it was, amid the day's drama and sniping, to be able to stand up and applaud and holler for a player without controversy.
They played the theme from "Welcome back Kotter" on the sound system for Kapler's first plate appearance, and he stopped a few feet from the batter's box to raise one hand in greeting. You could feel the way people wanted to reach him, actually touch him, but had to settle for bathing him in noise instead.
It's not like Gabe Kapler is, well, Manny Ramirez. He's been a solid utility man, but a utility man nonetheless. I don't recall really paying attention to him much before last season, and of all the participants in last year's run, he is the one about whom I don't have a single standout memory, with the possible exception (and I just had to think about this for a few minutes) of his sidebar hostilities with WOTS during the July 24 brawl game.
Later, playing "Welcome Back" again, the Sox showed a montage of Kapler footage between innings. My favorite part was Kapler flailing in ecstasy amid a downpour of champagne following the World Series win. I was also amazed at how many different numbers have appeared on Kapler's uniform over the years. In a sense, he has literally filled whatever roster spot needed filling. Interesting how last night's celebration of Kapler - the ultimate team player - contrasts with the brouhaha over Manny.
And I think there's a kind of self-important satisfaction in welcoming Kapler back so enthusiastically. Because his return means he literally could not leave us. He could not find happiness or success anywhere but Boston, and has had to make a somewhat sheepish return. This satisfies us, because I think when any player leaves Boston and continues to have success, many of us feel somehow betrayed. Kapler left, but remained loyal - that is to say, awful outside of Fenway. Last night, though, he had an excellent night at the plate, including at least two RBI base hits, and he came around to score after his first at-bat. Further proof of Boston's importance - or at least that's how we'd like to look at it.
I would like to acknowledge that the cameraman gave us some sweet, sweet love in the form of his documentation of a Bill Mueller at bat. Considering that (as Sam insisted on reminding me) last night could have been his last game as a Red Sox, it was a bittersweet sort of drooling we did over a lingering shot of Billy's backside pre-at-bat, and a magnificent shot from the visiting dugout of Billy's dismount onto third base following his triple.
Oh, Billy, have mercy.
Midway through the game, the information came through that Tito had sat Manny just before the game started after a private, hurried conversation. That John Henry hadn't even known why Manny wasn't on the field. That there was no trade.
David Ortiz was then walked four times.
I don't know who to be mad at about it, but rest assured I'm pretty pissed at the situation in general. Especially when I saw what happened to Big Papi. Luckily, John Olerud made the Twinkies pay for passing Ortiz to get to him, but like I said, whenever I see anything whatsoever irritate, annoy, fluster, thwart, hurt, anger, bewilder, and frustrate as lovely a man as David Ortiz, I can't help but think someone should answer for it. Even if I haven't chosen a guilty party yet.
Aside from Kapler and further Manny drama (and Billy's hotness), the game was, as it seems to always be with me, fairly middle-of-the-road. David Ortiz was walked four times, a sight that filled me with an aimless rage. David Wells was rock-solid as he had been the last time I saw him pitch in June, preserving a shutout until his last inning of work and leaving to a standing ovation. ChadBrad and Mike Myers held the line.
But then there was that...other thing.
Schilling eventually came out (along with Dougie and his wheelie bag) to the bullpen and spent most of the time leaning against the forward wall of it, batting the breeze and standing in an alarmingly awkward (or at least it appeared) posture with one foot up on the wall and the other flat on the ground, and the foot up on the wall was always but always his left foot, meaning he was standing for most of the end of the game with all his weight on his bum ankle, which, huh?
Anyway. Of course I'm into Schilling enough to notice, gawk at, and worry about this. And enough to go down to the bullpen with my camera with the goal of snapping several photos, because yes, I am an unabashed stalker and unrepentant Schilling sycophant.
I jumped up and bounced down the stairs, marched myself right up to the bullpen fence, and raised my camera.
Catching me out of the corner of his eye, Schilling turned around. He looked directly at me. He lifted his chin a little in my direction and nodded to acknowledge me. He stood still for at least a good two seconds, looking in my direction.
Okay, in order to understand this - okay, maybe not understand it, as it's fairly incomprehensible, but at least to put it in context - I have to give you a little background. I'll try to be brief.
I have a long history of being absolutely, idiotically starstruck by even the most minor celebrity or person I even remotely admire. I can remember vividly attending an Indians game as a kid with my dad and some family friends who live in Ohio and being taken to a little promotional setup where kids could get their picture taken with a player. I still don't know who that player was, and he was probably just some Quadruple-A utility guy thrown to the sticky-faced masses, but I remember having to be physically and verbally shoved towards him. In my mind, the guy was a ballplayer, and as such, any contact between myself and him was blasphemy.
In fact, I can recall a number of times in which my father dragged, pushed, cajoled, fumed, and insisted that I approach a person like this to get an autograph or a handshake back when I was still a doll-like, adorable little girl who could get away with such things. I remember being so distressed by this at times as to have been sick to my stomach.
Now that I no longer have a parental authority figure accompanying me at all times, it's a lot easier for me to indulge my own cowardice. A great example of this would be my freshman year in college.
That year, a huge adjustment as it is for everyone, my coping skill was a hideous, monstrous, slightly ridiculous obsession with a senior BMOC who I still think is among the most physically beautiful human beings I've ever encountered. I absolutely could not get over how breathtaking he was, and pretty much stalked him throughout the course of first semester. This was the kind of guy who's used to having girls breathe down his neck, and so if I'd thrown myself at him or tried to be one of his groupies, he probably would have rejected me without a second thought. Which would have been okay by me; somehow, any actual interaction with this boy was the last thing I wanted.
In a way, he was like a drug. I'd take one look at him and my mind would go blank. I kind of needed that. And I didn't need it cluttered by some kind of interpersonal involvement. His beauty alone was therapeutic.
Unfortunately, the fact that I was addicted to the sight of this person and yet phobic of any conversation had the opposite effect to what I had intended - for a BMOC used to getting any girl he wants, having a girl appear not to want anything to do with him makes him very interested indeed. Rather than letting me blend into the background, my mute omnipresence made me stand out. As perhaps someone less stupid than I was at the time might have anticipated. But oh, no, not me. I ran into a chair, a desk, many other people, and in one memorable instance, the doorframe of a classroom ogling this guy, but actually speaking to him was out of the question.
How do I know? Because eventually, my behavior was so bizarre that he did try to talk to me. On two separate occasions. I'll spare you the details, but essentially, I absolutely shut down mentally both times. I completely panicked and froze like a deer in the headlights. I could not have said a word if you'd put a gun to my head.
When Schilling turned and acknowledged me, the same thing happened. I utterly froze. Someone could've hucked a grenade into the vicinity and I probably wouldn't have flinched. Rooted to the spot, my camera halfway between my waist and my face, I just stood there like a complete. goddamn. moron. and looked back at Schilling.
The problem with me is, I very rarely appear outwardly as scared as I am inwardly. So while inside I'm essentially screaming bloody murder, the only outward sign of my distress is a slow, gradual widening of my eyes, an expression my mother describes as my "deer in the headlights look." To anyone else, it probably looked like I didn't give a crap about Schilling, or maybe didn't like him, and when he turned around, I wanted to no part of him.
Hey, maybe I'm misunderstanding his turning around and nodding, but I saw him conversing throughout the rest of the game with fans around the bullpen, even waving goodbye to them when he left like, "I enjoyed our chat. Have your people call my people." Knowing Curt, it's not surprising that he'd acknowledge his adoring public whenever given half an opportunity. And anyone else as much of a dork about him as I am would at least have waved when he turned around on the off chance he was looking at them.
Not me, though. Not only did he turn and look, he nodded and then waited. By my count that's not one, not two, but three chances for me to at least raise my hand in acknowledgement and for fuck's sake, what did I go down there for?
As soon as Schilling turned around, I snapped a picture. Then I ran away.
As the game wore on, the bleacher creatures around us got steadily more glassy-eyed and steadily friendlier. The bleachers are a place where you can make instantaneous friends, at least in the later innings. One of the guys around us was extremely enthusiastic about "Sweet Caroline". He started singing it during the top of the eighth inning, in fact, stood and gesticulated broadly while it was actually going on and refused to stop when the game resumed.
After that, the only real highlight I can remember was Adam Stern being thrown out on an absolutely horseshit call by the second-base umpire. I mean, even from where I was sitting, that call was just such a miscarriage of all that is good, holy and just. Especially since it would have been the first and only time I've ever seen a runner escape a rundown. I really thought it had happened, and stood with everyone else to holler blue murder about it, and soon after was standing in a mob of beer-full, bloodthirsty Red Sox Avengers, all of whom would probably have separated that umpire from his genitalia at that moment if given the slightest opportunity.
The bleachers are a place - again, at least by the later innings - where a guy next to you will scream, "I hope you fucking die you son of a bitch motherfucker!" and someone else will holler, "Yeah!!"
Another guy in front of me reacted with a body gesture that looked like the cover art I've seen for Platoon:
But no more than two seconds later, the crowd that had been calling in earnest for someone's, anyone's blood to be shed in atonement, began to deflate, too slap-happy to continue with the rage.
"So good," slurred the "Sweet Caroline" guy. "So good, so good."
It was pretty much the only thing to say.