It felt last night like I was seeing Fenway through new eyes. Little has changed about the park itself, but this was my first game with my new camera, a Christmas present, in tow.
My previous camera was an Olympus advanced compact I bought in 2002. It was my first digital camera and first with any optical zoom to think of. It was top of the line in 2002, and lasted me a long time. But by 2008, it had gotten very old in more ways than one. Today's digicams can take up to 20 megapixel photos at the professional level; "prosumer" models usually run about 10 to 12. The Olympus took...drum roll...one megapixel shots. It had even gotten to the point where I had offers to buy photos for publication, which were rescinded when I revealed the shamefully low resolution.
That wasn't the only problem. By the end (and to be honest, by about week 2 of owning this camera), if you weren't me, you essentially couldn't operate it. It had nothing in the way of image stabilization, and in fact seemed to add blurriness to all but the rarest of shots. That meant this was a camera I couldn't just hand to someone and ask to take my picture in front of a landmark.
Over time, two problems got worse and worse: battery life and response time. It could take up to 10 minutes to format a memory card, could go through nine--count 'em, nine--double A batteries in the course of one baseball or football game, and times it responded when I asked it to during, say, a dramatic moment at a sporting event, were the exception rather than the rule.
So it wasn't just a new toy - it was a totally new experience. From 10x optical zoom to a six-inch, 300 millimeter telephoto lens, so powerful that it was actually too close to get the John Hancock tower and 111 Huntington Ave in the same frame from the third-base-side grandstand if I framed a shot in portrait. It was like a camera and binoculars in one - I got an up-close view of this thrilling game, and at my leisure, could lightly press a button and take three shots per second of whatever I saw.
I've been to a playoff-clinching game at Fenway. I've been to Yankees games, in April and July. I've been to comeback, walkoff wins. Maybe it was the camera, but this was one of my more intense Sox game experiences ever.
It started looking like the Sox were going to regress to the limp offense they'd exhibited on the West Coast swing earlier this month. I lost track of how many runners they stranded on base; it seemed to happen every inning.
I've been at Fenway Park when, for no discernible or rational reason, a comeback was palpable in the air before it ever happened. I've been at Fenway Park when that comeback seemed to have consciously been created from the hive-mind of the fans in attendance, times it seems the place decides collectively, you know what, actually, we're not leaving here without a win. This was not one of those times. In fact, by the time there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth, I was busier scrolling through the hundreds and hundreds of shots I'd taken on the new camera's viewing screen than watching the game.
Once again, a man stood in scoring position, and once again, the Red Sox seemed entirely prepared to strand him there. Kevin Youkilis had singled after David Ortiz struck out to open the inning; JD Drew had advanced him with a groundout. The Yankees led, 4-2. Jon Lester had been mostly solid, but struggled with walks, and Joba Chamberlain had been even better. Now Mariano Rivera was slowly squeezing the life out of the Sox; he'd come on in relief of Damaso Marte with one strike on Nick Green the previous inning and shut down a budding rally on a questionable called strike three to Dustin Pedroia.
It had not been Boston's night. Calls had been iffy, the offense had suffered from a power outage, and on top of it, their luck had sometimes been rotten. By no means was I expecting or even looking for a comeback.
An explosion of sound jolted me to look up, and when I did, there went the ball off the bat of Jason Bay, rocketing toward the Monster. "No way!" I cried into the thundering din around me. "No way!"
It was just barely over the edge of the Monster, just barely inside the yellow line. A two-run homer to blow the save for Rivera and tie the game.
Normally, there's an audible syllable to the Fenway crowd's yell, a "YAHHH" or "Awww...." this time, it was just a wordless, deafening blast of noise.
Maybe it was the seats I had - in the front row of the grandstand almost directly behind the plate, as opposed to the left-field family section, where I saw the playoff game against the Angels last year. But it was an uncharted level of volume for me.
I thought it had peaked with Bay's homer, but when Kevin Youkilis hit an absolute, Manny-vs.-K-Rod-in-the-2007-ALCS-style bomba gigante over the Green Monster and onto Lansdowne St, it intensified to a level that was bordering on painful.
I didn't even see most of Youkilis's post-homer trot. It was obscured behind hundreds of waving hands raised in the air. I jockeyed for position, and raised my camera again, just in time to see Youkilis diving into the welcoming arms of his teammates at home.
There's just nothing like it. Nothing in the world.