Fenway Park is a cramped, antiquated place to watch a baseball game. Fans in left field sit atop a 37-foot tall Monster, fans in right field face the wall in left field instead of home plate, and fans taller than 5’5″ weighing more than 150 lbs have serious trouble fitting into seats built for people 101 years ago. It’s a physically uncomfortable experience that can leave you bruised and sore long after you leave the confines of Updike’s “lyric little bandbox.” Simply put, it’s a ballpark that often matches the awkward and tumultuous Red Sox organization to which we pledge ourselves for life.
I’ve been a Red Sox fan for 33 years and never been to a home opener. My son just turned 5 and now — thanks to the overwhelming generosity of my parents — he can add it to his Red Sox resume.
Bringing a little kid to a Red Sox game is — well, it’s difficult. Especially this time of year, since April in Boston is generally an extension of winter. Usually it’s 40 degrees and raining, which makes baseball crowds look like Patriots fans in November. But at least the football folks expect that, whereas the Boys of Summer are generally associated with the aforementioned season of the same name. Which is a long way of saying people are effing IRATE when spring hasn’t sprung on time.
But sometimes the baseball gods grant you a perfect day, bestowing upon you 70-degrees of sun-shiney awesomeness in which to bask. It was a day you’re lucky to get in June, forget April. And despite the usual difficulties involved with taking a 5-year-old to a sporting event in which he has to stay in the same seat for hours on end, it was one of the best days of my life. Here are a few highlights:
— On the green line heading to Kenmore Square, Will was enjoying the train ride. Then the conductor — sporting a ridiculous Boston accent of course– said “Next stop, Kenmore. Exit here for Fenway Pahk.” Will’s head snapped around with a huge smile on his face as he started jumping up and down yelling “Fenway Park! Fenway Park! Dada, the Red Sox. We’re here!!” Needless to say he was a train favorite among our fellow riders.
— There is nothing — and I mean NOTHING — like sharing a Fenway Frank with your son for the first time. We also had fries, orange soda, a pretzel, M&Ms, cotton candy, popcorn, and ice cream we ate out of a miniature batting helmet. Everyone knows calories and healthy eating don’t exist on opening day.
— We sat in a section of the bleachers right up against the right field roof deck. There are many fans who stand along the railings, so if we looked up and to the left they were hovering over us and within shouting distance. I was watching the game with Will on my lap so I didn’t notice him gesticulating and making faces. Finally he tapped me on the leg and pointed up to the roof deck. Turns out he had been communicating with a very attractive 20-something woman, and all of her friends had taken notice. Will then blew her a kiss and the roof deck went absolutely NUTS! That’s when she screamed down “Oh. My. God. You are so cute. When you turn 18, you call me!”
Of course, it wasn’t all fun. Will is, after all, only 5 years old. That means his attention span is still — well, it’s crap. I really wanted to make it to the 7th inning stretch so we could at least sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and fulfill my Field of Dreams fantasy. So you can imagine my disappointment when he turned to me in the top of the 2nd inning and tearfully told me he wanted to go home. Even after all the treats I got him he still wanted to leave in the 5th inning, so I reached deep into my parenting toolbox and came up with the best weapon I could find — bribery.
Will now has a new stuffed Red Sox Rally Monkey. I died a little inside buying a stupid gimmick that originated with lame west coast Angels fans, but it bought me two more innings and led to the best part of the day.
Will’s favorite player is Will Middlebrooks, the up and coming Red Sox third-baseman who wowed everyone the day before by hitting three home runs in one game. But Will likes him because they share the same name. The Red Sox were tied with the Orioles 0-0 in the 7th with runners on 2nd and 3rd. And who else strides to the plate but Will’s favorite player. His interest in the game was intermittent at best, but when I told him Will was up and the game was in his hands, he suddenly became laser focused. He started shouting “GO WILL! YAY WILL MIDDLEBROOKS!” at the top of his lungs. It drew some smiles and stares from the people around us, and I quickly explained his name is Will too. My son’s enthusiasm became contagious and suddenly everyone around us began to join in the chant. Suddenly half a section was chanting “WI-LL, WI-LL!” in the middle of Middlebrooks’ at-bat, to the point it wasn’t clear if they were shouting for Middlebrooks or my son. It was actually pretty damn cool and gave me chills.
A hit right then and there would’ve absolutely brought the house down and been a fairytale ending, but the baseball gods can’t ALWAYS come through. Middlebrooks struck out, which devastated my son and sent him into a tearful fit.
Then, as I was trying to calm him, Daniel Nava blasted a 3-run homer over the Monster giving the Red Sox a lead they would not relinquish as they went on to beat Baltimore as well as giving us reason to smile, high-five and celebrate.
I get the people who say it’s a waste to bring kids this young to the game. They never make it to the end, the tickets are ridiculously expensive, and you can easily drop $100 for food, drinks and stuffed bribery monkeys. The kids never sit still, they whine about everything, and you barely get to watch any of the game. It’s all true, I can’t deny it. So why did I bother bringing Will?
Years from now when he’s proving his Red Sox pedigree to someone, he’ll talk about this day. He won’t even remember all of it, but he’ll remember something. Nava’s homer, the outfield grass, the Green Monster…he’ll recall the details with youthful and nostalgic rose-colored glasses. He’ll remember that his old man took him to opening day at Fenway Park, and in time he’ll come to recognize and appreciate what that means and the tradition behind it. He’ll know he didn’t just sit in the same park where Ted Williams painted a seat red with a 502-foot home run and Dave Roberts stole a base from history, but that he was in the same place where my dad took me countless times. And his grandfather took him. It’s a place and a team that ties generations together — even when the Red Sox rope forms a noose.
Will fell asleep on the train ride home. He was curled up against me and I had my arm around him while he rested his head on my shoulder. I just watched him fondly for three stops, smiling at his cuteness decked out in Sox gear and noticing how the sun brought out a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose.
I looked up and saw a grandfather with his grandson sitting diagonally across from us in roughly the same position. He nodded at me and smiled. I nodded back. Then he leaned in and said “Remem-bah this. This here is the good stuff brotha.”
I will always remember my first opening day with my son, because yesterday the game became far less important than the moment and the memories.