I rant with some frequency about how the experience of going to Fenway Park disappoints me these days. The interminable sellouts... the disinterested cliques of season-ticket holders... the video saturation... the absurd prices... all of it. It's because, well... I'm spoiled.
You see, I'm old enough to recall Ye Olde Towne Team's home field as it once was --- rarely packed but full of nothing but real baseball fans, most of whom had actually played the game as kids at least. It wasn't a movie theater... it wasn't a theme park... and it didn't take a week's planning and a week's salary to visit. It was a real, vibrant, live ball park with real, vibrant, live fans who cheered, jeered, booed, yelled and --- most in contrast to today --- paid rapt attention to every pitch. Not a cell phone on the planet. No season-ticket cliques. Just fans.
It seemed that every trip to Fenway back then was an experience worth writing a book about. Indeed, I'm going to have to ransack the basement where my Mom and Dad once lived to see if a mimeographed high school literary magazine (a brain child of my English teacher, with whom I'm still madly in love) is still there for it contains just such a venture, though it's just a brief essay about a game between the Sox and Angels in 1967, at a point when the Angels were still the fifth team in what became a four-horse race that season. I have to find it because, it saddens me to realize, I no longer recall the details of the game. I guess that's what age does to you.
I do, however, happen to have handy a different flashback, both in time of occurrance and in time of authorship. I wrote it a few years ago. It involves a late-season doubleheader in yet another close pennant race, a mere five years past that Angels game. Hopefully, it will do. I want to wisk everyone to a time when going to a game was a simple exercise in joy.
1972 was the year of the shortened season due to an early player strike, as Marvin Miller began to flex his terrible muscles. Bowie Kuhn decided that any games lost were not to be made up, and ultimately that decision would cost the Red Sox the AL East division (which they lost by 1/2 game to Detroit, being unable to make up a midseason rainout). But before they flopped in Detroit they played a critical series against the mighty Orioles who were neck and neck with the Red Sox and the Tigers.
I had just graduated college that year directly into a recession, and was broke and unemployed. My eternal friend Ralph (on whom I could write another book) suggested that he, our late friend Joe, and I go to the twi-night doubleheader against the Orioles that late September afternoon. The Red Sox needed to win both, and were pitching Marty Pattin and Luis Tiant. Off we went to Fenway, knowing the twin-bill was likely to be sold out except for the bleachers. When we got there, seats in right field (the worst seats in the place, and costing $4.50 to boot instead of $2.25 for the bleachers) were available. To my dismay, Ralph bought three right-field tickets. I told him "I don't want to sit out there", to which he replied "I have no intention of sitting out there." When I asked what he meant, he explained. The grandstands and boxes at Fenway weren't accessible from the bleachers It was going to be a cool evening, and his prediction was that a lot of people would arrive late, and some not at all.
So, in a park free of ticket-checking swat-team wannabe ushers, we sashayed over to the first-base line and bagged three grandstand seats just behind the boxes (the dividing line between the two was very close to the field back then). We saw Pattin hold down the O's for about 8 innings before the actual ticket holders showed up. We said "oh, sorry, wrong seats" and moved out... to even better seats. Now we were on our own, but three separate great seats beckoned from the third baseline, and there we watched Pattin finish off the O's in the opener, then gazed in awe as Tiant mystified the Orioles (and the crowd) through seven innings or so of the nightcap.
At that point it was getting pretty cold, and some number of fans had vacated their seats to head home. We spent the last two innings directly behind the plate, front row, clinging to the screen (you can't believe how close that is unless you've sat there), watching the best players in the world from high school distance right up until Tiant fanned Boog Powell on a monster swing to knock the Orioles out of the race!
Those right-field seats were worth every cent!