As you may be aware, my previous attempts today to write about my experiences at the game Thursday night went awry. I've found another free moment, and so I'll give it another go.
So we were at that Who's on First? joint on Yawkey Way about three hours before game time, because my dad has a whole system for parking that requires we get there early (about said system I will say no more, for fear of giving away the "secret"). And we were talking about Jonathan's dominance, because who isn't talking about it nowadays? And my dad said something that took me totally aback.
"I don't think he's all that bright," he said. "Let's just say I don't think his MENSA card is in the mail, or anything."
He said it mildly, almost affectionately, but my eyes widened. "How do you figure?" I demanded.
"Well," he said around a swig of Bud. "He said he won the bet, but he had to cut his hair?"
I laughed. "Come on, that was a joke."
"Maybe," he said. "But I think it's fairly certain that if he couldn't throw a ball 100 miles an hour and with good location, that lad would be doing paper or plastic."
Of course I was incensed to hear the suggestion that Jonathan is anything but a totally brilliant and saintly character, but at the same time, these arguments between my dad and me about this or that player are one of the joys of the game. He's something of an iconoclast, relentlessly seeking out the underdog (he still talks wistfully about "My boy Edgar" and this season has been insisting that Alex Gonzalez's average is "deceiving") and belittling the golden boy. Meanwhile, I have a tendency to be riveted and awestruck by the big stars. So this argument may soon join our other perennial favorites including Manny Ramirez: Completely Useless Sack of Crap or Misunderstood but Loveable Space Cadet? and Peyton Manning and Alex Rodriguez: You'd Love Him if He were On Your Team vs. The Hell I Would.
When we finally made our way out of Who's on First? we headed over to Rem-Dawg's, where my dad got one of the self-titled dishes, which is basically a hot dog the size of a policeman's nightstick. I got the more modest Rem-Puppy. We sat down at a plastic picnic table under an umbrella and were soon joined by several other fans, each with their own Rem-Dog in tow, and almost immediately extended our circle of good-natured argument to include them, on such subjects as whether or not Coco would come back healthy, whether or not we would get another starting pitcher, whether or not we or anyone East of the Mississippi would get the Rocket, and whether or not Trot Nixon would play with the Red Sox next year.
As we kept up our munching and banter, I thought of Iain; we were just across the street from where he and I had spent our last moments at Fenway, watching the players roll out of their parking lot. The kind of involved discussion of the team among strangers like the one my dad and I were having with these random people at Rem-Dawg's was the kind of thing he enjoyed most during his pilgrimage, though it's something I took mostly for granted before his visit. No more.
After finishing our Rem-delicacies, we headed into the park.
Once inside, I mounted what was probably my most concerted effort yet to stay by the bullpen while the starter warmed up. Ever since being awestruck by Barry Zito's warmup two summers ago, I've tried virtually every stalling tactic possible to keep Fenway Security off my tail so I can hear the hum and zip of a fastball through the air again up close.
This time, I got to a spot on the other side of the fence from the bullpen mounds about half an hour before Beckett even made his appearance out of the clubhouse. There were many empty seats around, but I stood there clinging to the fence for the duration of the wait lest I lose my prime viewing spot. I had my camera out, fresh batteries in. I watched the bullpen catcher, bullpen attendant and pitching coach Al Nipper report to their posts. I watched the bullpen attendant open a black bag containing towels and other necessities and then open a box of balls, withdrawing them two at a time, two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve. Then the bullpen catcher came along and picked one of the balls out of the bag. I watched Varitek come out and begin his stretching routine; I observed the tomato plants they have growing in a sandy corner of the pen this year. Finally, Beckett came out and began jogging back and forth across the field and performing various stretching routines, some with the help of a trainer (these last looked very painful and seemed to last forever).
Finally, Beckett was playing long-toss with the bullpen catcher while Nipper played long toss with Varitek--that's pictured above. And just, just as he was about to glove the ball and step into the pen, along came Fenway Security with the droning command to get to our seats.
This time, I was so determined to stay, and my dad had sat and watched my dedication to getting to watch the warmup, that we asked the man earnestly why we had to leave. His answer was that there are people who buy the tickets in the first row of the bleachers specifically to watch what we wanted to watch. Uh, except there was no one in those seats.
So the real reason, which of course the security guy didn't bring up because it would probably invite argument, is that they just plain don't want anyone bugging the SPs while they warm up, in particular the visiting starter (they start their shooing from the visitors' end of the bullpen first). Obviously there's been an idiot or two somewhere in the past, that have ruined it for the rest of us. And it's not like it proves anything to say to the security guy that we don't want to bother anyone, Beth just happens to have a near-morbid fascination with pitchers and just wants to hear the ball hum through the air. The policy obviously has to be applied to everyone--and so I might just have to concede that the time I got to watch Barry Zito up close was a fluke, not to be repeated, at least not often.
But I plan to keep trying. Because one of these days I might get just one pitch in.
This time, though, at the security staff's behest, we retired to Loge Box 150 to settle in for the game.
I had purchased a scorecard and pencil, as I'm hoping to make keeping score a habit at live games, and from the very outset keeping score at Fenway was a breath of fresh air. I know my opinion can't be objective about the atmosphere differences between other parks and Fenway (though I will submit as an example the fact that I startled a little bit at the roar that went up for a first-inning strikeout with nobody on and one out Thursday night), but one empirical proof that Fenway takes the game a little bit more seriously--or at least makes it the true centerpiece of the experience, not a hot tub or swimming pool in the outfield or scoreboard races and T-shirt tosses between innings--is scorekeeping. At the other ballparks at which I've tried to keep score this year, the lineups were read--if at all--in the beginning like the narration from that old Micromachines commercial. Where names were given for the lineup, quite often positions were not. Wrigley Field was home to woefully inadequate scoreboardage that didn't even show errors; at the Clippers park I had to rely on guesswork to figure out who was playing what position as after the first Micromachines-style reading of the lineup the positions were never announced or shown on the scoreboard again. Certainly none of the other parks I've been to in the major or minor leagues would be caught dead flashing "SCORE THAT PLAY..." on their Jumbo-Tron, let alone also giving as many statistics as one could handle on separate digital scoreboards dedicated to that purpose.
Armed with the glut of information, I highly enjoyed keeping score at Fenway, the place where I first learned how. I didn't really study how to keep score before starting again; I just started up from what I remembered. There's probably not any one correct method, anyway.
I hadn't gotten to watch him warm up, but Beckett seemed none the worse for wear without my watchful eye pre-game; he was truly dealing that night, putting in six rock-solid innings peppered with K's. One of the things I did on my scorecard about halfway through was to start keeping track on each K of the type of pitch and the speed as flashed on the scoreboards for strike three. I was tickled to see after the game that beneath every K, whether looking or swinging, I had written down "FB 95". Not 94, and not 96; for every strike three I had thought to keep track of, the pitch had been a fastball at precisely ninety-five miles per hour. It makes me wish I'd kept track of them all.
The Devil Rays had little in the way of an answer to Beckett's relentless heat, managing to plate just one run to the Red Sox' four. There were some adventures on the basepaths for the Rays, though that's normally their chief strength as a team--in particular one play that I scored as 8-6-3-5, an adventure in which Willy Mo let the ball richochet around in center for a while before tossing it to Gonzo, who inexplicably chucked it to a far-ranging Kevin Youkilis, who fired to Mike Lowell as Julio Lugo dug for third, sliding in to the rising roar of the crowd as Youkilis' throw beat him to the bag. The play was also scored as a double with a baserunning error at third. It's been said before that baseball is a game that has been played for centuries without being exactly the same way twice. Here was a perfect example.
David Ortiz had a similar romp on the basepaths, this time rumbling into third safe as my father yelled "GET OUT OF THE WAY, AUBREY!" to the Rays' third baseman.
"He's lucky he didn't end up in the dugout," was my dad's observation following the play.
Foulke worked an uneventful seventh. That's the best that can be said for him right now, poor man. More on him when I get around to writing up a post about Friday night's game. Timlin put a few ducks on the pond in the eighth before Francona went to his sure thing, the lovely and miraculous Jonathan.
MENSA candidate or no, the boy was once again lights out, though he did struggle a bit more in terms of fouled-off pitches and long at-bats than early in the season when he was crisp and new. But such was to be expected. Still, he made it 16 for 16 in save attempts, two short of the Sox record to begin a season (which he would tie Saturday night).
I suppose it was a compliment to him in a way that fans began to stream for the exits after he got Toby Hall to fly out to right for the first out of the ninth, even after he had given up a sharp single to center to first baseman Greg Norton. But I was astonished--even if you think he's a sure thing to close down the inning...why would you not want to stay just to watch him work?
I'll always be glad that, though I had no way of knowing it was a rare opportunity, I relished watching Barry Zito warm up that one afternoon; in much the same way, even without knowing what lies ahead, I would never consider "beating the traffic" a fair trade for missing out on seeing Jonathan work his magic.