News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

July 11, 2010

The Off Season: It’s not heaven; it’s Fenway…

TERRE HAUTE — One of the gratifying things about getting older is that if we are lucky, we get to fulfill a few dreams. Chalk one up for me; I watched the Red Sox play in Fenway Park last month.

To the historically challenged among you — at least when it comes to baseball — Fenway sits on arguably the most hallowed ground in the game (yes, I have heard of Yankee Stadium, but it isn’t “The House That Ruth Built” anymore), particularly if you happen to be a Boston Red Sox fan, which I inexplicably have been since the sixth grade. That’s when my teacher dragged a portable black and white television into our classroom, wrapped a little aluminum foil around the antennas, and let us watch the day games of the 1967 World Series. Seeing that this story is the third installment of what I guess is my “New England Trilogy,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my adventures in mid-June at 4 Yawkey Way, Boston.

My family had come to Massachusetts for something not quite called a “working vacation.” I was there to partially fulfill the requirements of a grant that had already taken me just up the road to Concord to see where Henry David Thoreau had lived his life. That done, and knowing that my two kids are avid Red Sox fans, and that my wife quietly tolerates the three of us whooping it up in front of televised games, I knew we had to see for real the place Hall of Famer Tom Seaver calls “the essence of baseball.” We were in town as the Sox hosted the Arizona Diamondbacks.

We took no guided tours, which may have been a mistake, but seeing that we had other things to do downtown before the game, we knew that we would have just enough time to get to the bus that took us to the subway that took us to the spot where we could hoof it to the famous ballpark. We made it with plenty of time to spare, walking on air through Gate C to the aroma of dogs on the rotisserie, freshly popped popcorn and nearly $10-a-cup beer.

With that in mind, I have to digress for a moment: We found out that going to Boston is one thing — driving in Boston is something else. Downtown Boston driving resembles a real life-and-death version of “Frogger.” The city is more than 350 years old — which is about how long road crews have been working on their current re-paving projects — and it has to be one of the most confusing places in which to operate a motor vehicle on the planet, particularly for someone like me, who spends most of his driving time gazing across soybean fields.

Anticipating a rough experience prompted us to quickly get acquainted with mass transit, specifically the “T,” Boston’s efficient, moderately priced subway system. We stayed in Waltham, just outside Boston, so we drove about 10 minutes down I-95 to a T-station, parked our car, then rode the train into town. Had one merciful transit worker not filled us in on how to get what is called a “Charlie” card from the ticket kiosk and given us the Reader’s Digest condensed version of where to get on and off, we might still be wandering the parking lot there.

Our morning trips into Beantown, post-rush hour, were actually enjoyable; the subway cars were nearly vacant, the seats plentiful, the conversation easy. On the other hand, the trips back to our hotel in the evenings, particularly between 4 and 7 when Boston was emptying itself into its suburbs, helped us empathize with sardines. I now know why most T riders sit or stand emotionless, like store mannequins, staring off into space, listening for their monotone-recorded stops like automatons. It’s a real armpit and backside festival in those cars.

After being released from the subway on the evening of the game, we emerged from the underground to see the huge neon Citco billboard that is often on display during televised games. We were pushed along by a considerable crowd to a point where we found ourselves behind the famed “Green Monster” of Fenway. Street hawkers were selling “almost-official” game programs and “cheap” water, but we paid little attention to them. With our camera bags and awed faces, I think we all looked like innocents abroad at the pyramids of Giza, but we were far from alone in that regard.

After a relatively quick stroll through the “official” gift and shirt shops that surround Fenway — the typical price of a T-shirt involved giving up one’s first-born male child — we emerged onto the third-base side of the field, just between the Red Sox dugout and the famed Pesky’s Pole (you have to appreciate something named after a guy who hit only six home runs at Fenway). My son and I watched batting practice for a while, awed by the incredibly green grass, the stupendously green 37-foot-high wall in left field, and the outrageously simple, manually operated scoreboard that sits just above the warning track. Despite being gone for years, I could almost see “Duffy’s Cliff,” the 10-foot rise in left field that sat just beneath the monster; it was named for Sox outfielder Duffy Lewis and was in place until 1934.

Our seats were in right field — not the most desirable spot in Fenway, but seeing that every game at the place since May 2003 has been a sell-out, and that it is intimately small and there’s few bad seats, we felt lucky to have them. The sun — on holiday for most of our time in New England — actually beat down on us for an hour or so before it began to gloriously drop behind the “Monster.”

Fenway actually was named for the one-time swampy areas — the fens — that plagued that part of Boston. It opened in April 1912, just a few days after the Titanic sank, and it remains the smallest ballpark in the Major Leagues. There is virtually no foul territory there, and it seems that every inch is used or reserved for some historic shrine. For instance, there is one red seat among the thousands of green oak outfield chairs at Fenway; it sat just four rows behind us. Ted Williams, the great Sox slugger, hit the longest measurable home run ever seen at Fenway — 502 feet — in 1946; it supposedly ripped a fan’s straw hat on impact. Not far from us, as well, attached to the right field façade, were the numbers of retired Red Sox stars: Bobby Doerr, Joe Cronin, Pesky, Carl Yastrzemski (my sixth-grade hero), Williams, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, and Jackie Robinson (his No. 42 hangs in all Major League stadiums).

The Sox played well — I had never seen them win in trips I had made it to St. Louis and Chicago — and David “Big Papi” Ortiz hit a home run into the Boston bullpen just below us. We ate cotton candy and nachos and brats and even put up with an obnoxious drunk a row back; nothing was going to ruin our Fenway experience.

As I sat in class that fall so many years ago, with Larry Sweet on one side and Danny Cooper on the other, I thought watching the Sox on TV was great. But after sitting in Fenway that warm late-spring evening, all I can say is that the view from right field sure beats the picture that aluminum foil gave us any day.

Mike Lunsford can be reached at hickory913@aol.com, or by regular mail c/o the Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Mike’s webpage can be found at www.mikelunsford.com.

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