>April 2011, April 2009 & October 1975


[The past week has been a big one – tonight, the Bruins go up against the Canadiens for their 33rd playoff series, Manny Ramirez retired after testing positive for PEDs again, and the Boston Red Sox officially have the worst record in baseball following Dice-K’s implosion on Monday night.   Those, right there, are three things I am itching to talk about.  I’m going to break schedule and publish this odd, sentimental-type post I’ve had in the wings for a while a few days early and a more topical post on Sunday.]

I was twenty years old the first time I saw Fenway Park.  In the early hours of an April morning I quietly – no… piously – let my fingertips glide and bounce across the gritty brick facade all the way up Lansdowne Street.  The Yankees were in town for an afternoon game but it would be several hours before that magnificent game day atmosphere would ebb in like a tide and consume absolutely everything – I had it to myself.

It’s a memory I can call up whenever and recall with stunning clarity.  I remember first noting the peculiar ways in which Fenway is capable of manipulating light.  How it forever seems to be cast in it’s own shadow – an effect owed in large part to the endless, heavy, red bricks and a muted green color scheme threaded throughout.  I couldn’t help but think of how quintessentially timeless that ballpark is.  Boston is not the perpetual noise machine that other cities can be and there are several places within the city limits that feel a million miles away, affording a sacred kind of quiet.  Fenway Park, 8am, is one such place.  Absolved in the silence, it wasn’t difficult to fade out everything else and imagine walking the same path, up towards the C gate, rounding around back towards Yawkey Way, in the queer morning hours before a game, circa 1955, ’38 or 1912.

“More horses.”

As it often goes, there wasn’t any way for me to understand, at that time, the significance of that morning.  But that was the moment I decided to move to Boston – one of the most important decisions I’ve made yet.  I was utterly enthralled and knew I’d sell everything I owned to make it back and that I’d be signing a lease in the city before the end of the summer.  Which I did – back on July 1st, signing at 1607 Commonwealth Avenue. 

Another important decision, I went back to school three months ago.  Actually, no – to say that isn’t entirely accurate because I’d never gone to college before in the first place.  Since then, I’ve kind of, sort of, basically been incredibly fucking stressed out.  I’ve simply not felt like myself an awful lot recently, so consumed with the drag of working forty hours a week while going to school three nights of the five.  I hate complaining, but I was seriously struggling with the whole thing and by the end of March, I knew something had to give.  And it did – when halfway through the semester it was divulged to me that I was failing my biology course (three assignments, weighed equally, and I failed two so no coming back from that).  It was a course I didn’t have to take, but took for the sake of the challenge.  Now, having dropped that course like a bad habit, my GPA is salvaged.  But I won’t qualify for financial aid next semester either.  So it’s another loan, another schedule virtually identical to the one I have now.

So, lesson learned.  I’m man enough to try new and difficult things because they are new and difficult and man enough to know when I was simply never capable of succeeding at them.  Either way, it’s probably going to cost me a lot of fucking money.  But I digress.  I promise there’s a point.

The night I realized I had failed, I crawled into bed and absentmindedly turned on an installment in the Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary.  I just wanted to click off for a few hours and not think about anything.  Not how badly I’d fucked up or how unbearable the stress was becoming.  And when I want to be just a step above actual unconsciousness, I turn to Ken Burns.

“It’s what I’m here for!”

It’s somewhere in the middle of the series (which, jokes aside, is remarkable).  About an hour and fifteen minutes into the thing, they’re talking about the 1975 World Series.  Game Six, specifically – which is generally regarded as one of the best games of baseball ever played.  Some of the era’s top players, in top form, playing against each other in the World Series. 

You’ve got Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Ken Griffey playing for the Big Red Machine.  Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans, Yaz and Carlton Fisk for the Sox.

Rose talks about this magical moment where he realized late in the game just how special it all was.  And, ever a man for amazing quotes, remembered what he said, playing in the World Series on a great team against another great team: “Now this is fun.”

You know what happens next.

The game goes into 12 innings, tied at six.  The Reds went through eight pitchers, sending in Pat Darcy to face Fisk.  On the second pitch passed, Pudge slams a line drive high over the left field line.  Tossing his bat and running sideways to first, Fisk threw up his arms and with his entire body begged the ball to stay fair.

It really plays like he willed that goddamn ball.  It is one of the most iconic images in the history of sports, and for good reason.  It’s magic – the ball never should have had a chance, the wind should have dove in and killed it or it should have hit the foul pole and pang! gone left into the stands.  Instead, it hits the foul pole, pops right over the Green Monster. 

I’ve seen that tape countless times before.  I’ve seen the game in it’s entirety a couple of times.  But that night, my mood had it that it was like I’d come unstuck in time, watching the thing on a live feed.  The grandstands spill over.  By the time he’s rounding third, Fisk is dodging fans left and right, bouncing over the stark white line along those final ninety feet.  Slams his spikes into home plate & the Red Sox win the game on a miracle home run, forcing a game seven.

I close my computer.  Lace up my Sambas.  Head outside into the cool air to pick my girlfriend up from class.  And for a few blocks, I just think about that home run.  I play it over and over in my head and note how my heart skips when Fisky’s arms go up – you can’t help but see it in slow motion.  I feel weightless – at some point the stress just bled away and while I’m vaguely cognizant of how little I suddenly care about the class I failed, I also know it’s not going to stop me.  I failed – I tried and I failed.  But I’ve two other classes to focus on now and three and a half more years of classes ahead of me after that.  There’s no point getting stressed.  None.  That night, it’s all so very clear – that happened.  Moving on.  Still going.

Throwing myself into sport for a moment when I really needed something to grasp onto, I felt pure and I felt secure.  It’s funny – funny ha ha funny -that it took Carlton Fisk to beat down a debilitating sense of dread in me but to his credit, dude did it in one night, thirty six years after the fact. 

I was just in awe of everything.  That moment in history was just so perfect and so wonderful.

The three family homes lining the walk seemed like perfect pieces of architecture.  The music clinging to the air for a moment as a car passed sounded wonderful.  The air was sweet.

I thought about my life and the myriad of ways in which it’s changed – damn near every one of them dramatic as all hell – since that morning in April two years ago.  It’s staggering when viewed as a panorama.  It took that one visit to Fenway to alter the course of my life.  I wonder what my life would have been like if I’d happened to have been born a Cubs fan? 

I think now, several weeks after the fact, watching that home run again will be something I’ll always remember as another turning point.  I’m in school for a reason – because I wasn’t happy with the path I was sprinting down.  One of dead-end job after dead-end job.  Less because of a lack of a degree, more because I really didn’t have any ambition.  That’s changed since I’ve moved here. 

“Now this is fun.”

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