I played Little League baseball, and was picked out for a spot on the team when I made a running catch in right field and threw out a base runner at second base who made the mistake of thinking it was a definite hit. With such a sure glove, I ended up a catcher through high school and college, but while the arm was good enough, the bat wasn’t there to go for the big time.
If you grew up on Cape Cod as I did, of course the Red Sox were the team one rooted for, even though in those days — in the late 50s and early 60s — they were a hapless bunch, with zero pitching. The routine on the radio was predictable. The Red Sox would go through their line up with pathetic strike outs and easy pop flies to the infield until you finally came around to either Ted Williams or possibly the third baseman Frank Malzone, and then there would be — finally! — a home run or possibly an extra base hit. Then the dismal cycle would begin all over again with the rest of the washed out lineup. But you were a diehard fan, and there was always next year.
I just turned 71 years old, and like most old timers, I have a bucket list. Guess what? I had never once been inside Fenway Park to watch the beloved and certainly endured (in those early years, at least ) Red Sox go at it. So last night, I took in my first live game, could actually see the likes of the famed Green Monster up close and personal, and get a feel for the place with my own eyes, as it actual is, not as it is projected on a flat TV screen and related secondhand through the radio.
When I handed the old codger taking the tickets my ticket, I mention it was the first time for me at Fenway. Without missing a beat, he replied with a heavy emphasis on the last word that was pure Bostonian, that is, more pawk than park: “Welcome to Fenway Pawk!”
The exact same game was there to be seen by virtually everyone in the stadium, yet, upon reflection, I realized that while that was true, it was also true that each person might well have seen the game quite differently.
The boys with their mitts at the ready watched the game in a kind of hero worship of Major League ball players they themselves could only hope to become. For these beaming eyed boys, the panorama of the game was a kind of aspiration for a magical future where they would make the game-saving catch or hit the dramatic 9th-inning home run to win the game — and all the laurels.
For the old men in the stands, the panorama was bathed in the nostalgia of their long lost youth when the game was played seemingly forever in an endless sunny afternoon — an afternoon that nevertheless did pass them by, unannounced and unnoticed, never to be enjoyed again, a love labor’s lost.
Many in the stands who had not been themselves baseball players — perhaps girlfriends or buddies who played the other sport, whatever that might be — were there simply to cheer and relish the roller coaster emotional symphony played out before them — the rising crescendo of the chorus from the crowd for a long fly ball that just might make it all the way out…or the collective groan for strike three and the third out with bases loaded, a la Casey at the Bat.
So, yes, there was just the one game for all to see last night, but I contend many games were actually seen. I know the game I personally saw in my heart of hearts was very different. That game stretched all the way back to my very first catch in right field and the instant glory it conferred. But while there were variable games observed last night, there was one thing that was fixed, irrefutable, unmistakable, even potentially immemorial like the Roman Colosseum — that would be Fenway Park itself, the stage upon which each generation of the very best ballplayers have their day in the sun.