I couldn't believe it--the guy let me through. He let me right through, and I walked right down and there I was, sitting three rows behind home plate for the top of the eighth.
I've always known they were the best seats in the house. But I never knew to what extent.
The difference between our seats for the game and being in those home-plate seats was almost as big as the difference between watching the game on TV and actually being there. The pitch came right at you--you could see Varitek's tricep flex as he gloved it, and the smack of it in his glove was vivid indeed. When Travis Lee singled to right center, the crack of it off his bat was like an explosion--you could hear the way the impact resonated in the wood. You could hear the scratch of his cleats as he took off for first base.
Last night at Fenway, there was something sweetly nostalgic about the mood there for me, as I sat in these prime seats surrounded by my Dad and several of my friends. I can distantly remember Fenway being more like this when I came as a kid -- a more casual place. And in some ways a more comfortable one.
As the game wore on, the audience in the stands distilled itself still further, until there were at most just a few thousand left in the ring of seats closest to the infield. But as it dwindled in numbers, the crowd seemed to concentrate and intensify rather than fade away -- what fans were left packed in as close to the field as they could. And they made the noise of twice their number when Darnell McDonald hit an ultimately meaningless home run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
At the very last moment I remembered the positive visualization encouraged by Edward Cossette and others in the Bambino's Curse days before the 2004 season; at the very last moment I looked out to the blank expanse of grass between the second baseman and the center fielder, playing deep, and tried to aim my thoughts in the direction of its vulnerability, willing the ball toward some uncanny sense I suddenly had about an opportunity there, at the thickest part of the outfield.
I had pictured a blooper falling into no-man's-land in shallow center, but what followed off Loretta's bat was a towering fly ball to deep center, which first appeared to be a home run, and for a disconcerting instant or two, a possible flyout to the warning track, another trudge toward Kenmore Square to the tune of "Goodnight, Sweetheart" on the Fenway organ.
And then--miraculously--it granted every wish by glancing off the wall, and plunking onto the dirt of the track behind the center fielder, while Mirabelli and Gonzalez sprinted home, pumping their arms and legs in urgency, and finally that footstep I've been waiting for came down on home plate.
7. The Sunset
Our seats were about two rows down from the Dunkin' Dugout. They weren't the priciest seats in the ballpark, but they were some of the best I've ever had, because they were so high up that the view was breathtaking. By the third inning, surrounded by the colors of twilight, and our commanding vista over the field, utterly drunk on the sheer beauty of it all, I turned to Sam and said, "It is just. so. beautiful."
6. Coco's Catch
I'll never forget seeing him leap, fly, dive, and roll on the warning track from my clear vantage point in Loge Box 150; I'll never forget how wide my father's eyes were as he put his hands up in surprise and celebration. All 36,000 in the ballpark screamed for minutes on end, screamed and screamed and somehow no screams of joy and gratitude seemed loud enough.
Who is Dennis Thomson? For starters, he is the fan in the red shirt on the far left in this photo:
Dennis' family had no idea, apparently, that his picture was going to appear on the billboard. The photo is from the aftermath of Trot Nixon's walkoff home run in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS. Dennis, meanwhile, was killed by a drunk driver on October 30, 2004, the day of the Red Sox' victory parade.
"Seeing the billboard, the Thomson family took it as a sign," intoned the Fenway announcer, as the park suddenly grew still, "That Dennis was all right, and watching the Red Sox, wherever he was."
Dennis' parents and siblings and the two friends pictured to his left in the billboard photo stood on the mound. Dennis' brother was to throw the pitch. Trot Nixon crouched behind the plate to catch it.
Beyond the Fenway facade and the Monster the sunset began to paint the clouds and the faces of buildings, visible beyond the walls from our high perch. Below us the park was spread out in perfect crisp greens. The crowd was hushed. The boy on the mound threw the ball as hard as he could to Trot, who gloved it after one bounce. The crowd gave the boy and the family a standing ovation.
Finally, finally, he comes loping across the outfield grass toward where my father and I are clutching the fence in front of us and peering over it like small children. Finally he swings the bullpen gate open, and the catcher goes into position behind one of the two plates. He's been dicking around over in left field for so interminably long that it has made me cluck my tongue several times in exasperation. Doesn't he know I'm here?!?!
But finally he's where he belongs, which is right in front of me. He takes off his hat and his hair springs out, standing practically on end, and deep dark eyes glower from under his heavy brow.
The catcher is ready behind the little plate at the other end of the bullpen.
He replaces the cap and strides to the faux mound. Swipes his foot to clear the rubber. Palms the ball, turning it over. Deposits it in his glove. He coils, drawing himself close, then opens up all at once, sprinter in full stride, bird in full flight, every kinetic thing that has ever happened, and the ball goes whistling by my feet. It hits the catcher's mitt with an explosive thwack.
I am agape. I am agape at Barry Zito. I've never been this close to Major League pitching before, even warm-up pitches, and I am simply amazed.
"He's not even throwing hard yet," my dad chuckles. He's the one whose idea it was, as we stood in the right-field concourse area, to explore the bleachers and visit the bullpens.
"This gives ya some appreciation," he goes on. "Now imagine trying to hit that."
"No." Is all I can think of to say.
I wish I could say I saw the throw to the plate and the safe slide by Bay, but by then all around me was such bedlam I lost sight of a good chunk of the field. I only knew that the sound around me was like its own great tidal wave crashing overhead, and I could see thousands of arms raised in triumph, and then the field came back into view again and the Sox were mobbing Lowrie at first base. And that's when "Dirty Water" started playing.
2. Wake's 200th
Seven times before, he'd tried and failed to earn the milestone W. Time and time again, he'd been let down by the bats or a member of the bullpen, but this time, the bats exploded, plating 18 runs to put an emphatic stamp on his ultimate win.
Fenway Park was pandemonium as we all waited for Wake to emerge to take his curtain call. When he did come into view, he made sure to salute every part of the ballpark. When he made his remarks, he made sure to mention how happy he was to have earned this milestone win at home, in front of the Fenway fans.
Iain came back. And because they knew what was good for them, the Red Sox did, too.