We got off the T at Kenmore and walked over the Mass Pike on Friday night. After a 4 a.m. wakeup call. After 6 hours of loitering in Logan Airport’s Terminal B. After flat Diet Coke and McDonald’s hash browns and overpriced Sam Adams. Finally, there it was. Fenway Park.
To call it home would be a stretch. I’d made one visit to Fenway in 2007. I never even got to sit down for the game. My ticket was good for standing room and a view of right field that didn’t exist when the park opened nine decades earlier. It didn’t matter. After years of lurking out of state, I got to see where the Red Sox played their home games. It was love at first pitch.
The trip back was the product of years of talking and a few hasty credit card swipes. A group text messaging thread between three Red Sox fans sparked a simple question: Why not take in a series this season? Why not see the Blue Jays? Maybe they’ll be playing for something in late September. Maybe this team is something special.
That’s what got us to Fenway last Friday night with a magic number in mind. It was the hope that maybe this team can do something worth watching. We all came to the conclusion that the Red Sox could have it at different times during the season. I pushed my chips to the middle of the table sometime in early June. After the comeback wins started to pile up and the facial hair got longer and longer. This feels right. Let’s go be a part of it.
We left the park and walked down Yawkey Way close to midnight after the game on Friday, smelling like champagne and basking in an American League East championship. Mike Napoli was still punting half-empty cans of Bud Light into the crowd, but we had to grab a drink at the Cask and Flagon before the T stopped running. We were a part of something, all right, and we had two more games to go be a part of.
Being untethered from a “hometown team” in baseball has been one of the great joys of my sporting life. It’s allowed me to exist outside of the desperation and sorrow that can overwhelm Bills and Sabres fans. It’s taught me that good things can happen in sports, and that a win can completely transform a franchise. The anxiety and misery of my childhood Red Sox has all but evaporated thanks to a pair of World Series sweeps in the last decade. That perspective made even last year’s nightmare campaign somewhat bearable. It all changes when you finally win something. It even makes you look forward to the seasons with low expectations.
After more than a decade of following the Red Sox from afar, visiting Fenway Park in 2007 only reconfirmed that belief. Last weekend was a recapitulation of purpose. Friday night’s crowd was magical, and the aftermath was as memorable a live sports moment as I’ve ever had. It’s up there with Campbell hitting Umberger, Dumont putting the Sens on the brink, and the Bills beating the Patriots. It might be better than beating Montana’s Chiefs in 1993, if only because I’ll remember more of last week’s game than what I saw as a 6-year-old. Feeling Fenway come alive after a big hit, watching people get to their feet on a 2-strike count and feeling the buzz in the streets before and after games reminded me of all the things I miss from afar. It made me appreciate the value of proximity for the big moments.
Most of all, it finally made me feel at home with the Boston Red Sox as my team. I had done the Fenway thing before, I had watched obsessively for years, but watching a significant bit of Red Sox history unfold in front of me brought it to another level. I had a story to tell but, more than that, I finally had the chance to experience something with thousands and thousands of Red Sox fans. No repeater delay. No buffering. There we were, three long-distance Sox fans getting sprayed in the face with alcohol and high-fiving strangers and friends alike. Sports have always helped me feel like I belong in society. Last weekend, in Massachusetts, no less, I truly felt comfortable with it all.
I bought a retired Fenway seatback before Saturday’s game. A red seat. No. 24. You know, for Manny. One friend bought an old Fenway Park brick. On Sunday evening it’s likely we set a record for the most pieces of Fenway Park hurtling through the sky in a metal bird. It felt right to bring a part of the park home. It made sense to stuff those pieces of a 101-year-old ballpark in a bulging suitcase and make them a part of our everyday lives. Boston isn’t home. It never really will be, but—for three days at least—Fenway Park sure was.