Keeping Score: Meal Call
The Red Sox were trailing the Texas Rangers by one run with two runners on base in the bottom of the eighth inning on Wednesday when David Ortiz hit a 1-1 pitch deep into the right field bleachers. Ortiz stayed in the batter’s box until first base umpire Jerry Meals signaled it was fair, causing radio announcer Dave O’Brien to blow the call and Rangers manager Ron Washington to appeal it, but replay central upheld the decision.
The 429-foot home run was the 433rd of Big Papi’s career and his 375th with the Red Sox, and it meant Ortiz and I had something in common: we were both headed home. I’d stayed for six innings, my first trip of the season to Fenway Park. First to arrive and first to leave, something to do on a spring afternoon.
Tuning into baseball chatter got me in the mood, be it a caller on WEEI ranting that Jackie Bradley Jr. should play center field — “This guy is a magnet to the ball! It’s a no-brainah!” — or hearing the SportsHub’s Scott Zolak fret about Clay Buchholz’s OCD issues: “It’s the weather, the sun can’t be in my eyes ... and God forbid if I get a sore neck from sleeping wrong cuz I ain’t pitching. You think John Farrell wants to punch a wall?”
Maybe they were right. On Thursday at Yankee Stadium, Bradley Jr. did indeed start in center field and made a nice over-the-shoulder catch off Carlos Beltran, and Buchholz nervously bit his pinkie finger after he gave up a home run to the Yankees’ second baseman with the fine-tuned name Dean Anna.
Considering that finding a parking spot in Boston would be like getting a life raft on the Titanic, I parked at Trader Joe’s in Cambridge. After leaving the grocery receipt on the dashboard, I walked behind an elementary school on Granite Street and past an empty Little League field to the BU Bridge where below me a crew team was oaring upstream on the Charles River.
The Boston sidewalks teemed with joggers, cyclists and students talking on cell phones or listening to music, people in their own world and oblivious to eye contact. Near the Student Union building two students beckoned me to sign a petition stopping human trafficking (another no-brainah), and from there I crossed onto St. Mary’s Street where a food vendor was selling Greek lemon soup for $3.50 a bowl.
Fenway Park’s looming light stanchions came into view on the Expressway overpass and I turned left onto Mountfort Street. After an MBTA train roared past, I stopped and pulled a parking ticket off a blue Corolla, read that the fine was twenty-five dollars and slipped it back under the wiper blade.
On Lansdowne Street I observed Red Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione holding a smart phone and carrying a duffel bag. He looked relaxed, taller and thinner than I remembered, well-tanned and confident after being named to the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
I was in the mood for ballpark food. Recently the Huffington Post reported that the Arizona Diamondbacks were selling 18-inch corn dogs for $25 and the White Sox had twelve-scoop banana splits for $15. What, I wondered, did the Red Sox have to offer? Alas, it was a $4.25 package of hummus. “I never thought I’d be able to buy hummus at Fenway Park,” I muttered to the cashier and settled for a $7 meatball sub that wasn’t nearly as good as Village Pizza’s.
Underneath the third base grandstand was a collection of Red Sox jewelry that included a $5,899 Red Sox “Ultimate Fan Ring.” The salesman, Frank Dignard, said he’d taught at Pioneer 30 years ago and was the school’s football coach its final season until Mike Duprey resurrected the sport. “Mike and I are good friends,” he said.
Across the way from Dignard near the old brick ticket booths, the Boston Public Library was selling old Red Sox photos from its archives and I paid $50 for three black-and-white glossies: of Carlton Fisk jawing with Thurman Munson, Ted Williams taking hacks inside a batting cage and Carl Yastrzemski lining a single against the Twins in the 1967 pennant clincher.
This was back before the Red Sox hit the big time and baseball was a sport for purists, when Sherm Feller announced the starting lineups, John Kiley played the national anthem and the ump yelled, “Play ball!”
Nowadays we have Wally the Green Monster hugging honorary bat boys, or “bat kids” as they’re called for political correctness. Blood donors, season ticket holders and group leaders of 100 or more ticket purchases are on the field because every day is special, for a price.
Wednesday was Japan Day at Fenway Park and Consul General Akiru Moto threw out the first pitch followed by a Japanese rendition of the national anthem. One week it’s a helicopter flyover, the next it’s all about planting cherry trees.
Finally, the Texas Rangers leadoff hitter stepped to the plate, Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy looked in for the sign and thankfully the Red Sox promotions department was done for the day.
Squibbers: Southpaw Henry Owens is mowing ’em down in Triple-A, where he’s thrown 12 2-3 shutout innings, struck out 18 and given up six hits. ... Baseball insider Grant Paulsen says right-hander Matt Barnes is the next star-in-waiting. The 2011 Big East Pitcher of the Year at UConn was signed by Ray Fagnant, the same scout who inked Leyden’s Brad Baker. ... Greenfield’s Phil Courtemanche stayed till the last out of Saturday’s 11-inning loss to the Brewers. “I got home around 2:30 a.m.,” he said. Two others at opening weekend were Tim Farrell and Bob Provost, the latter of whom had one word for the experience: “Cold.” ... The winner of last week’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct is owned by Centennial Farms of Beverly and named in honor of last year’s Patriots Day victims: Wicked Strong. ... All but four players on the University of Minnesota hockey team that plays for the NCAA title tonight hail from the Gopher State, and isn’t that what it’s all about? ... Newly acquired Red Sox infielder Ryan Roberts is such an ink freak that his wife gave him his own tattoo machine. ... Xander Bogaerts’ twin brother Jair has become a baseball agent after washing out of the Cubs organization, where he’d been sent as compensation for Theo Epstein’s front office switch. ... Through their first 11 games a year ago the Red Sox were 7-4, in first place and in the midst of a seven-game win streak. ... A half century ago the Millers River was so polluted that canoeists who capsized got tetanus shots. Today’s River Rate Race will be cold, wet and nasty but the river’s clean and that’s a healthy tradeoff.
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.