In mid-June, 2011 my girlfriend Sarah and I began a very temporary year of commuting back and forth between Annapolis, Maryland and Boston to see each other. The first 3 months of this have left me with at least 2 big sports-related moments, the first of which is presented below. I’ll keep it going as long as there are interesting, sports-related stories to tell from the experience…or until my girlfriend breaks up with me for being too smelly/hairy/generally disgusting. Hope you enjoy.
On the day the 2010-2011 Boston Bruins held their Stanley Cup victory parade I woke up groggy in a studio apartment in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston. Usually that grogginess (and waking up in a strange city) would mean I had had a particularly “good” time the night before with some friends and a veritable slew of libations. While I wouldn’t label the experience from this Friday as bad in any way, splitting a bottle of champagne after driving a U-Haul 10.5 hours and then unloading it at 8:30 P.M. on a Friday night with my girlfriend also couldn’t be labeled as a particularly epic night either. Nonetheless we’d done most of the unpacking and apartment organizing by early Saturday and needed to get the U-Haul truck back across town to a relatively dreary looking neighborhood 4 miles away. You can imagine my joy at the thought of sitting in traffic while watching Boston celebrate yet another fucking championship (regardless of how little I even watch or have a rooting interest in hockey). Still, it had to be done so I sighed heavily and we resigned ourselves to the thankless task at hand. In the luckiest of situations we not only got the truck across town in under 15 minutes but were left with a beautiful day to walk through the city back to the apartment. What transpired next can only be explained by one of two things. Either it was an incredibly rare occurrence where I wanted to walk into the holy grail of a team I’d rooted against above all other hated rivals for years, or it was a brunch-booze infused desire to go see one of America’s great sports landmarks. From this day forward I will deny anything but the booze story (and say I was nothing short of rip roaring drunk) but secretly I will tell my obscure current readership of my girlfriend, 10 good buddies and my dog that I actually wanted to enter the belly of the beast. That’s right, I went into my girlfriend’s first weekend living in Boston wanting to see the green monstrosity known as Fenway Park. The really crazy part? It wasn’t until I actually sat in the cramped right field grand-stand seats that we had bought on Stubhub that I realized just how good of a decision I had actually made…
I have always known Fenway Park, first and foremost, as the weird stadium that houses the “Green Monstah.” In my youngest days following the Yankees I was able to identify the near-mythical home of their hated enemies only by the strange 30 foot wall sitting behind left field. That it took me a while to understand just what this hated rivalry was and what it meant to both teams can simply be explained by the fact that, for most of my youth, the Yankees were winning championships, and the Boston Red Sox, well, sucked. This all began to change in the early part of the 2000s. A group of Yankees that had been more accomplished than anything seen in the franchise since Yogi Berra’s playing days (they won four championships in five years) was beginning to splinter either by retirement (Paul O’Neill) or trade (Tino Martinez). A young core remained (yes, once upon a time Jeter, Jorge, Andy Pettite and Rivera were considered youthful), but the team and chemistry fans had grown accustomed to seeing were beginning to fade.
Meanwhile, Boston was beginning something of a small dynasty in its own right, acquiring guys like Manny, Papi and Damon while watching the growth and emergence of Pedro Martinez. When the 2003 ALCS rolled around it featured a pair of rivals that had firmly re-awakened the vitriol of old. When the series ended in a game 7 Aaron Boone walk off home run for the victorious Yanks it only exacerbated the point, working the fan bases into an all out frenzy of hatred that probably hadn’t been seen since the days of Munson and Yaz in the 70’s. Consequently, that was the last time the two teams had been truly great at the same time as both clubs combined for 4 World Series appearances between 1975 and 1978. This would prove prophetic when, in the 2004 ALCS, Boston famously vanquished all demons after being down 3 games to none to the Yankees and stormed into their first World Series since 1986…and first championship since 1918. From there it was another championship in ’07 for the Sawx, the low point of the Derek Jeter era with a missed playoff run in 2008 and the Yankee’s subsequent resurgence with a new crop of players in 2009 that ended in a World Series victory.
Now, in 2011, both teams consistently stand near the top of the league (along with Philadelphia in the NL) and one of the greatest current (and past) rivalries going in sports. So, you can imagine my trepidation as a Yankees fan marching into the home of that big green wall as I walked towards Yawkey Way and the various (relatively speaking of course) banners celebrating their AL pennants and World Series victories. Indeed, the nervousness was only slightly helped by the fact that they were playing the Brewers, a team I knew little (and cared even less) about.
On the day the Boston Bruins celebrated a Stanley Cup victory with hundreds of thousands of Bostonians I walked down Yawkey Way, past the ticket scalpers, the beer vendors and the gigantic team store and through gates of baseball history…and I honestly couldn’t have scripted the experience any better. For one thing the Red Sox lost. John Lester gave up solo home runs to the first two batters he faced and, while he managed to keep the score close the rest of the way, Milwaukee did enough to pull out a 4-2 victory. On top of that it was a beautiful Boston summer night during which my girlfriend didn’t complain once about the temperature and we got to watch an un-impeded view (Fenway does have some obstructive pillars in front of the grandstand level seats) of the whole game. We also sampled plenty of good Fenway park cuisine including a Fenway sausage with peppers and onions, fries, peanuts, Coors Light (gross) and Smithwicks (awesome). Lastly, the park was simply breathtaking. You can’t be a fan of baseball and all it represents about nostalgic americana and athletic history and not appreciate Fenway for exactly what it is; a grand old ballpark without a bad seat in the house (unless of course you count the seats behind those damn pillars). From the old fashioned press box, to the Green Monster, to the classic Budweiser sign lighting up the Boston skyline it truly is one of the only magical sports stadiums left. Indeed, I was envious just sitting there thinking about the fact that the old Yankees Stadium had been replaced in 2009 by the nearly identical, yet somehow exceedingly more gaudy, monstrosity that became the new Yankees Stadium. It pains me to admit it, but Fenway Park is just awesome.
The best part of the night though? Walking home hand in hand with Sar completely full on beer and bar food after visiting a local Fenway haunt after the game, and only taking three blocks to make it back to her apartment. I’ve never been able to walk home to any major league ballpark, let alone take three blocks to do so. That I was able to make the trek in perfect New England summer weather with my girlfriend under my arm only made the night that much sweeter. Indeed, in the end I may never fall in love with the city of Boston, and I most definitely will never become a Red Sox fan, but I will have no problem going back to Fenway from here on out (you know, unless they’re playing the Yanks…that’s something I’m going to have to work up to).