The Baseball Desert

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Pilgrimage - Day 3

Read "The Pilgrimage - Day 2"

I'd been in Boston all of two days, and I was already in the process of establishing a routine: up at some ungodly hour of the morning (ungodly for the East Coast, fairly godly for someone on CET) a bit of ESPN to catch up on what had been happening in the rest of the baseball world, and then a large Dunkin' Donuts coffee to get the day off to a good start.

The ESPN thing is also another example of how the little things helped make the trip great. To be able to switch on the TV and see not only highlights of games, but highlights of games I'd actually been at, was a blast. Almost nothing on the trip was taken for granted, and the "baseball desert" metaphor works perfectly - I was like a man who had been wandering in the desert for months, only to come across an oasis ("a rainforest" was how Beth described it). It was almost too much to take in - the key was to go slowly and not waste any of the sustenance provided.

In contrast to the 'easy' sights of Day 2, Day 3 was planned as a "serious tourism" day, given over largely to the Freedom Trail. But as every serious tourist knows, you can't do the Freedom Trail (or even the part of it we planned to do) on an empty stomach. And Beth scored some serious tour guide points by pointing us in the direction of Bennigans, one of those places where a glance at the menu had me wishing I was staying for 5 weeks rather than 5 days. I was about to go for a plain old Grilled BBQ Chicken Sandwich when Beth mentioned that every time guys opened up the menu here, they somehow felt challenged by the Monte Cristo:
A delicious combination of ham and turkey, plus Swiss and American cheeses on wheat bread. Lightly battered and fried until golden. Dusted with powdered sugar and served with red raspberry preserves for dipping.
I have to be honest - I hadn't felt especially challenged until Beth brought it to my attention, but a fried sandwich? I had to see this for myself. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, may I introduce to you the Monte Cristo, in its all its battered glory:

You can't tell from the photo, but the sandwich was taunting me as it sat there: "C'mon, ya English wuss - I betcha can't finish me!" Now, visitor to the city of Boston or not, there was no way I was going to let a sandwich talk to me like that. Although I admit that I had a helping hand from my good friend Sam - it was declared a "two-beer sandwich" by the end of lunch - I am pleased to say that I did get the better of the Monte Cristo. Chalk up a moral vistory for the Brit...

After such an epic battle a brief rest was in order before attacking the Freedom Trail, so we sat down for a little while and watched the world go by on the Common. Again, it gave me an opportunity to revel in the little things that others take for granted, in this case a couple of guys throwing a baseball around on their lunch break. An ordinary occurrence in parks across America, but, for me, a pastoral moment to take home and remember with pleasure:

Once the guys had tired us out, it was time to hit the Trail. Beth took her tour guide duties to the extreme on this particular afternoon, reading passage after passage of Boston history from the Freedom Trail guidebook. I'm not sure I took all of it in - chalk up a minor moral victory for the Monte Cristo - but I was able to appreciate a side to Boston that for once didn't involve baseball. Despite the less-than-rosy picture painted of the British, it was an enlightening afternoon of American history and a fascinating insight into how Boston evolved as a city:

Beyond the purely historical aspect of the tour, one of the things I enjoyed was the juxtaposition of the old and the new, the way the city seemed to have grown up around its historical monuments without erasing them completely. It's as if modern-day Boston decided to put a protective arm around the shoulder of its historical ancestor:

Beth really did a fine job of educating me not only in the history of the city of Boston, but also in the language of the natives. As the afternoon wore on we set up a tentative language exchange programme whereby I helped Beth with the odd word in French (Faneuil should not be 'Fan-yool' but something along the lines of 'Fan-oy') and she instructed me in the finer points of Bostonian greetings, beginning with "Howaya?" By four o'clock on a Friday afternoon, however, my body was starting to yell at my brain, and the main message seemed to be "Smoothie!!", which I was finally able to enjoy sat out in the sunshine opposite City Hall.

From there it was on to Fenway for my third game in as many days. When I got the tickets to the games, I wanted to get seats in different sections each night, but working on a budget meant that the night I had right-field box seats was the night I could only really get one ticket. It goes without saying that the baseball gods took good note of this and decided - on the only night I didn't go to the game with Beth - that it would be one of her personal favourites on the mound. I was delighted to be seeing Schilling pitch, but I did feel a pang of guilt as I left Beth in front of the Government Center 'T' station. All I could do was promise to take care of her boys in her absence. And it was reassuring to know that I wouldn't be the only one there keeping my eye on Schilling:

Once inside the ballpark, I was able to discover my right-field box seats. They were great seats, pretty close to the field, but here's what you see when looking out from them:

You see that little patch of brown dirt waaaaaay over on the left? That is where the game is going on. Clearly this part of the ballpark was designed by a team of French architects, who decided that the aesthetics of the Green Monster were much more interesting than the game itself. So basically, the choice facing the fan in these seats is: a) forget about the game and enjoy the views of the Green Monster; b) watch the game and endure a sore neck for the best part of three hours. b) won out in my case, but it wasn't always easy to do.

Before the game got under way, I was able to rub shoulders with a couple of Red Sox stars. First up was my man Coco:

but as exciting as seeing Coco was, it was nothing compared to what was probably the biggest thrill of the trip, provided by the biggest Red Sock of them all:

Without wishing to rub salt in Beth's wounds, the game itself was a thriller. I got goosebumps seeing the Fenway crowd rise to its feet to give Kevin Millar a standing ovation on his return to Boston, and the only thing I could think of at that moment was that I hoped a certain Yankee center fielder was watching and wondering where he went wrong:

Millar's ovation was a thing of beauty - a collective thank you from the Fenway crowd for what he brought to the Red Sox in general and the 2004 World Champions in particular. The ovation, which continued into Millar's at-bat, ended when Millar got a single, at which point the crowd gave him a round of gentle boos, much to the amusement of everyone present.

One of the other little kicks I got from the game was seeing Baltimore's first-base coach stood in his box, for the simple reason that his genuine major league jersey has my surname on the back of it (if you're having trouble reading the name, the person in question is former Pittsburgh Pirate Dave Cash):

Once I'd resigned myself to the fact that I was going to spend most of the game twisted round at a 45° angle, the seats actually seemed like a good deal - close to the field, with a good view of the game. What I'd apparently failed to notice, however, was the fine print somewhere on the ticket indicating that I was in the special "Musical Chairs" section of the ballpark. The seat I had was in the middle of a row, and I swear to God that the seats at the end of the row (the boxed-in end, not the end near the stairs) were occupied by about a dozen different people over the course of the evening. They were originally occupied by four guys, who went for beer in between the fourth and fifth innings and mysteriously came back as four girls. They in turn mutated into two girls and two guys, only to be transformed back into the original bunch of occupants later in the game, at which point I stopped really taking notice and tried to devise a system whereby they could get past me without me actually getting up from my chair. (In case you're interested, I didn't find one, mainly due to me being 6'2" and the Fenway seats having been built for leprechauns fresh off the boat from Ireland). The only silver lining I could see was that my chances of getting deep vein thrombosis from being wedged in the seat too long were virtually nil.

Back on the field things got pretty interesting in the sixth, but the report of the game's highlight comes with a word of caution: if you're going to partake of a beer or two at the ballpark, go easy early on, as you could be in for a long night. The guy sat two seats away from me hadn't been disturbed much by the comings and goings in our row, since he'd spent most of the first four innings going back and forth to the concesions for beer. However, when he finally sat down to watch the game, there wasn't much of him left that was still functioning. As a result, with the game on the line in the sixth inning - two outs, three men on, Papi at the plate wth two strikes against him and 35,000 Red Sox fans going completely batshit - this is what my neighbour was doing:
(Note the slightly-tilted-but-not-overturned beer glass - the man may be an ass, but respect is nonetheless due for keeping his beer upright).

Two seconds after I took the picture Papi whacked a three-run double, which, as it turns out, was the ballgame, and this guy slept right through it. Sir - Red Sox Nation salutes you!

Outside of Papi's superhuman exploits, honourable mention should be made of Mike Lowell, who was in the process of proving that he's an extra-base machine. This is what the scoreboard said when he came up to bat for the last time:

He may have scary facial hair, but you can't fault the man's consistency. What the photo fails to show is that Lowell also had a double the next time up - unfortunately it was a double-play (as in "grounded into inning-ending..."). Oh well - nobody's perfect.

The rest of the game went pretty much to plan: Timlin in the eighth, Papelbon in the ninth, Red Sox win, "theeeeeeee Red Sox win!" I also scored a personal victory when the guy sitting on the other side of me noticed my jersey: "Hey - Dave Roberts! Nice jersey, man!" That one comment made all the time and effort it took to get the jersey worthwhile. It also meant that there was at least one member of Red Sox Nation going home to tell his friends and family that he'd met a crazy English guy wearing a Dave Roberts jersey who'd travelled all the way from Paris to see the Red Sox play. It might only have been a small part of the bigger picture, but it was nice to think, as I left Fenway that night, that I'd managed to stand out from the masses for a second or two, a unique member of Red Sox Nation.

Read "The Pilgrimage - Day 4"