Wekend Edition: To Boston and back

James Bornemeier

James Bornemeier

This pertains to a trip to Fenway Park, so Yankee fans are strongly urged to turn to the legal ads further back in the paper. There might be some nuggets in the columns of fine print more interesting than pondering how your season is going, slogging along hoping for the second wild-card spot.

Of course the Red Sox season is officially over.

Dead last in the American League East, the front office traded away the cream of the pitching staff last week, picking up a slugging outfielder and bringing up some young arms from the farm system. The Yankees just took a three-game series from the Sox, coming from behind relentlessly. As has been pointed out ad nauseum, the Sox could be the first team ever to go, in back-to-back seasons, from worst to first to worst in a division. Of course the first place finish last year includes winning the World Series. With three championships in the last decade, I will go to my grave a satisfied fan. But enough about that. Let’s go back to July 20, a sun-splashed day in Boston, pre-evisceration.

I took the train up to South Station to reunite with two old newspaper pals from my Montpelier, Vermont days. We rendezvoued under the Boston Beer Works sign outside the ballpark. One of these guys, mostly for business purposes, has some spectacular seats, about five rows up from the playing field and just to the left of home plate. I’ve never sat in seats that good before.

When you watch a game on the tube, you don’t focus on the foul balls. In these seats you would take your eyes off the batter at your peril because we were in the line of fire. And sure enough, a boy nearby got whacked by a foul ball, although not seriously. The Sox security staff gave him lots of attention and when he was led away to be checked out, we gave him a rousing ovation. He smiled broadly at that, holding an ice pack to his shoulder.

The Sox had a good game. Their ace pitcher, Jon Lester, hurled a shutout and their bats were lively, collecting numerous extra-base hits. It’s a wonderful sound when a bat crushes a fastball for a home run.

Lester, of course, is no longer on the club, having been traded to Oakland as the Sox ran up the white flag.

It still seems vaguely impossible that this actually happened. A left-hander, he is fun to watch with his classically smooth pitching motion and his continuous glower toward home plate. The Kansas City Royals hitters never had a chance.

To Sox fans, Fenway is a shrine. With myriad structural eccentricities and its dusty green paint, it is a unique baseball icon. Over a decade ago, when the team was up for sale, all the bidders, except one, planned to tear it down to make way for a new park. Sometimes we get lucky.

A very touching thing happened at the start of the game. A mentally handicapped teenage boy sang the National Anthem. When he started, I (and probably everyone else in the stadium) feared this might be painful to endure. But he got his musical bearings right away and gave a rousing if offbeat and occasionally off-key performance. A man, presumably his father, stood in front of him and provided silent vocal cues and kept him on tempo. You could feel a surging anticipation in the crowd as it yearned to praise this remarkable performance. As baseball crowds do, the clapping started well before the closing phrases were sung and when he belted the final words, we went crazy and gave him thunderous applause.

He went a little crazy too, jumping up and down as though on a pogo stick. I will never forget that Star-Spangled Banner.

The only negative aspect to the trip was the return train schedule. We had dinner after the game, which meant I didn’t want to take an earlier train to New York. There was only one other: at 9:30 p.m., so I didn’t get back to Manhattan until 3 a.m. I have trouble sleeping on trains and planes, and for four hours I morosely looked around the train car at every single other passenger peacefully asleep, as if accidentally doused with nerve gas.

It was a long trip home.