Tuesday, October 5, 2010

American Party - Fenway Park

“Fresh lemonade! Git your lemonade hee-ah!” Oh yeah! Throughout our section, hands fly up and wave as if to snag a wayward ball. The sun is savage, seemingly purposeful and angry, in radiating a heat so oppressive. The vendors drip sweat as they trot up the aisles, swinging coolers from atop their shoulders to set them on an armrest while passing drinks down the rows hand-to-hand.

Our son, Tucker, and his girlfriend, Lisa, have joined Dave and me for this sweltering day at Fenway Park. Lisa has curly blond hair, blue eyes and skin so fair the sun laughs at her 75 SPF sunscreen. So she is swaddled against the blistering heat in a white cardigan sweater, long pants and a baseball cap. Tuck adjusts his camera. I lather on the Coppertone. My husband is deep in conversation with the guy sitting next to him who, like Dave, was a pitcher while in high school.

A patter of talk ripples through the stands about such personal pinnacles of baseball glory on campuses around the country. Also recalled are moments of Red Sox history, past heroes and plays witnessed first hand. “I remember when…,” “My grandfather told me...,” “Did you see…?”

“Did you ever catch a game ball, Dad?” says Tucker.

“No, but you did, when we were here with Grampy in ’92. You got Walter “No-Neck” Williams to sign it. Remember?”

“Of course!” responds my thirty-year-old boy. “I still have it.”

Tucker was six years old when he first went to Fenway with his grandfather and Dave. With seats so close to the field that Tucker’s call to the first base coach - “Mr. No-Neck! Mr. No-Neck!” – got a smile and a promise, later fulfilled, to sign his ball.

On the field, the Sox are garbed in white and red, and around us, the crowd is in uniform too. From those stooped and white-haired to those tiny and wide-eyed, the uniform is jeans and jerseys of red or navy blue, each emblazoned with Varitek, Papelbon, Ortiz, or Lowell. A smattering of vintage shirts say Yaz and Fisk, for this park is about tradition as much as the game. Those who once came to Fenway with their fathers or grandfathers, now hold the hands of their baseball-capped little ones as they point out players or explain the score. To them, the park is as familiar, venerable and snug as a well-worn catcher’s mitt.

Maybe sixteen rows away from us, and a scant stretch of grass beyond, first baseman Kevin Youkilis hitches up his pants and scratches his nose. Wow! Youk! No one would ever call me a sports fan, but still, this close, I’m excited. And since 2004, I’ve been tearfully grateful to this team.

We’d received a midnight call from Dave’s Aunty Cam, to inform us that his father, Colombo, had had a stroke. We picked up Dave’s brother, Steve, and headed to Memorial Hospital in Worcester, not knowing what to expect. Despite a history of heart trouble, Colombo had been healthy. He’d retired a year before, played golf every week and was diligent about his exercise routine. Sure, he loved his Sapphire Blue martinis, but a drink is good company during the evening news or while watching a game.

The play-offs were underway and the Sox were holding their own against the Los Angeles Angels. As we crossed into Massachusetts and onto the Mass. Pike, signs hung on the overpasses read “Go Red Sox!” At the hospital, doctors, nurses, visitors and patients were abuzz with updates and every television suspended above an ailing loved one was tuned to the game.

As humming machines and bags of clear fluid worked to restore Colombo’s body, the Sox lifted his spirits and those of his sons. And when the team won the World Series, Dave’s dad was able to celebrate.

Today, announcements light up the big screen with birthdays and anniversaries and we applaud and whistle with our fellow party-goers. “Courtney, will you marry me?” flashes on the DiamondVision in center field, big and bold. TV cameras pan the crowd then zoom in on the couple as they kiss. A good sign. The four of us scan the stands…and there they are two sections over! 30,000 of us whoop our benediction, sharing the joy of a successful proposal. Underfoot, peanut shells crunch as Dave cracks, chomps and tosses them. I grouse a bit about littering, but he only laughs.

What do I know? At Fenway Park, that’s how it’s done.

In front of me, the neck of a woman in a Bucholtz jersey flames red. Should I say something? Of course. I offer my Coppertone and she takes it with a smile. Meanwhile, up on the screen, a family is featured. We meet the Dunns of Connecticut, a graying patriarch, his son and his toddler, plus assorted female members of the clan. Their legacy of Red Sox support passed from father to son or daughter is acclaimed with thunderous applause.

Despite the heat, it’s like a party for 30,000 – actually for 37,974, as this day is the 600th consecutive sell-out crowd. We drink our beer and sweet, icy, lemonade, snack on Cracker Jacks and peanuts, and sing “Oh-Oh-Ooooh” and “So GOOD, So Good, So good...” as the organ booms “Sweet Caroline.” We leap from our seats, arms upraised, when a cheering wave passes through. Doing one for the team.

“Colombo loved the wave,” says Dave. “He was always such a softy for that stuff…”

And so am I.