Fenway Park

Fan at Work

by Cecilia Tan

What a night, what a night. That's all I could think as I made my way home from Fenway Park on the train. I came aboveground to find my entire neighborhood quiet, the houses dark, people either gone for the holiday weekend or asleep -- it was close to 1 a.m. on a Sunday night.

It was a night of firsts for me. It was business as usual for the Yankees.

This was the last of a four game set between the ancient rivals, the Sparta and Troy of baseball. The Red Sox had surged out of the gate in 2002, and Boston media were calling it "The Year To Be Here." I was more concerned about just the one night though, the day before Memorial Day, when I found myself at loose ends, but with no ticket. As a Yankees fan born and bred, I hate to miss any opportunity to see my boys in action. I figured I'd put some cash in my pocket and see if I could get lucky.

I printed up a small sign that read "I NEED ONE" with the Fenway Park seating chart on the back, for purposes of keeping scalpers honest. I wore red sweatpants, a black turtleneck, and my long black rain coat, topped with a navy blue "61*" cap. At a quick glance, you'd never be able to tell if I was a Yankees fan or Red Sox fan -- in fact, you might even mistake me for a Red Sox fan since the day the caps promoting the Mantle/Maris movie were handed out at Yankee Stadium the Sox were the opponent. Some thousands of Sox fans were given them that day along with the Yankee faithful. (Thanks, Mom, for the red sweatpants. Normally I'd never wear red anywhere for anything, but I finally found a use for them!)

I packed my bag with the following:

-generic pinstripe jersey, in case I got a ticket from Yankees fans so I could coordinate clothes with them if needed
-copy of Yankees magazine (with my article on Luis Sojo in it)
-Yankee photo album, in case I got in early enough to get autographs
-binoculars, in case I sat far away
-copy of "A Legend In The Making: The 1939 Yankees" by Richard Tofel, to read in case I had to wait in line for tickets
-two extra Yankees pins -- when I buy tickets from Yankees fans on the Internet, I often mail them a pin or button with my check. Why do I do it? The only explanation I have is: I'm a fanatic. I decided if I bought my ticket from Yankees fans on the street, I'd give these to them, too.

Despite all my planning, I forgot to get some of that green monster (little g, little m) -- money. I had about $60 in my pocket and meant to visit the ATM on the way, but I spaced out. Thinking about Mike Mussina and not about money...

At 4:30 I arrived at Kenmore station. A man who looked like a newspaperman was standing there, but he wasn't selling newspapers. "Free Rally Hats," he said, referring to the cardboard thing on his head. He handed me one. You know those crowns they would give you if you had a birthday party at Burger King as a kid? Like that, but it says "Boston Red Sox" on it, along with the "two socks" logo and "sponsored by The Boston Globe." (Which explains why he looked like a newspaperman.) A young couple in their early twenties emerged from the station with me. They held one ticket between them. "Are you selling one?" I asked.

The guy -- thin goatee, sheer black nylon shirt -- answered. "I want to sell the one and then try to buy two together. Bleachers, Row C. Row C seats are really good," he informed me. "I'll take fifty bucks. I'm not a scalper or anything."

I told him, thanks, but...I wanted to look around. I did not want to sit in the bleachers unless I had to. Given the number of people I'd seen dragged out of there by the police, and given my previous experiences at Fenway (getting my hair pulled, my hat pushed down over my eyes, that time when some woman poured her beer on us -- in the expensive seats!), I wanted to avoid the bleachers if I could. And fifty bucks for a ticket whose face value was $18? I held out. Maybe I could find some Yankees fan whose friend was sick and needed to unload a ticket.

I walked toward the park. The usual scalpers, mostly white, working class guys in their thirties with thick South Boston accents, were gathered on their usual corner on the bridge over the Pike. "Anyone got one?" I asked. They shook their heads. "We haven't got anything," one of them said. "Nobody thought this game would be that big." Uh, hello? Sox/Yanks, holiday weekend? And the Sox traditionally surge in May and make it look like there is a pennant race. The kid who was looking to unload his one got into a negotiation. I chatted with his girl while the deal was going down. It looked like he sold it for at least $40. The scalper turned around and sold it a few minutes later for $100. Wow. And me with only sixty bucks in my pocket.

I took one circuit of Yawkey Way, displaying my "I NEED ONE" sign. No takers. Three hours before the first pitch, and plenty of people were walking up and down, holding up one or two or even three fingers. A Yankees fan stopped me, said he had four to sell. I told him I saw people looking for three, but he didn't want to sell just one. I thought about bribing him with the pin but that seemed ridiculous. I kept on walking then, and wondered about the possibility of getting last minute tickets turned in by the teams at the box office. There were signs in the box office windows saying "TODAY'S GAME SOLD OUT." I went in to see what there was to be seen.

The Fenway box office, like the park itself, is old, cramped, irregularly shaped, and green. A mustached employee with thick glasses kept trying to separate the twenty or so people doing what I was doing -- hoping for tickets for that night -- from the people trying to buy tickets for future games. "Keep to one side, keep to one side..." The tickets available were displayed on a huge magnetic board above the ticket windows. Unless you wanted a midweek bleacher or rear grandstand seat for a Devil Rays or Blue Jays game in July or August, you were out of luck. June was completely sold out. I got in line.

It was hot in the ticket office, and muggy outside, and I began to feel thirsty. I didn't want to lose my place in line and didn't want to have to get in line at a sausage stand to buy a drink, especially if I might need every dollar I had for a scalper. Then I noticed what was going on right outside the window on the sidewalk of Brookline Avenue. Fleet Bank employees had set up a cart and were handing out bottles of water. I made friends with the guys next to me, then left my coat and bag with them and ducked out to snag a bottle of water. While I was there the Fleet people foisted a mouse pad on me -- hey! guess what! It's got a photo of Nomar and Jeter on it! Well, I'll take it then.

The cosmic requisition system provided me with free water when I was thirsty. Now, would I get a nice ticket, too? It was only 5:30 pm, with the gates due to open at 6:30 for the 8 o'clock game. I sat down and tried to read the Yankees book, but found I couldn't concentrate. A TV above our heads showed the Lakers/Kings basketball playoff game, so I watched that and hobnobbed with the other people in line. An hour went by. Meanwhile, they stopped letting people into the box office. The security officers started making a line of people outside the doors on the sidewalk. Things were getting desperate out there.

At 6:45, a miracle occurred. Our line moved forward. Someone must have turned in some tickets. You know, Derek Lowe's wife decided to stay home, or Derek Jeter's parents were stuck on Amtrak or something. Outside, the gates were due to open, but they had not yet, and the crowd on Yawkey Way was thick. People searching for tickets elbowed their way through, holding fingers indicating how many they needed high in the air. Our line inched forward. I began to get excited, thinking I might be able to snag a ticket and even see batting practice. Team tickets tend to be very good seats, too.

The line moved forward again. There were two men in front of me, a father and son, and behind me the father of a large group of kids. They were eight altogether, had four tickets and were trying to get four more. His wife had called him every five minutes on his cell phone to tell him they'd still had no luck outside and to stay in line. There were no tickets to be had out there at any price.

Unfortunately for us, there were only seventeen tickets turned in. I had been person number twenty. Damn, I thought. If I had just gone straight to the ticket office, instead of dickering about the bleacher seat, and then walking Yawkey Way, I might have got one! Well, they say it is a game of inches...

I fought the tide of people to return to the T station. My only chance was to be the very first desperate person someone would see as they came out of the station. There were dozens if not hundreds of people trying to get tickets around the park. The scalpers were gone. It was a waste of time to wait around for nothing. There was also the fact that now, at 7 p.m., there were cops everywhere.

A uniformed officer stood about every thirty yards or so in Kenmore Square, yet I saw a young man, a Southie yout' by the look of 'im, holding up one finger right in front of a cop. Battered Sox cap on backwards. Slouching, one hand in the pocket of his overize shorts. "So, what's the deal?" He explained it was fine to buy or sell at face value, "but there's tons of undercovers trying to sell them at higher prices. Buy one of those and you go to jail." Just then his friend came running up with two tickets in his hand. "Dude! I scored! And just as a cop was walking up, too!"

"How much did you pay?"

"Just face value, man, the cop watched the whole thing!"

So the men and women in blue might actually be to my advantage, I thought. That is, IF anyone came along with tickets. I resolved to stay until 7:15, and if no one came, I'd find a nice bar somewhere to watch the game.

About fifteen excruciating minutes went by, while a steady stream of people came out of the T, most looking at my sign and then looking quickly away, the way they do at people whose signs read "Homeless Please Help." But then came a dad and about four ten year old boys, and the dad caught my eye, then looked at one of the kids. They were about to walk by, but I kept looking at him intently, somehow beckoning him with my eyes.

The kid had two tickets in his hands. "You only need one?"

"Yeah, just one," I said, worried he'd say no. But he was just a kid, not a scalper. He glanced at the cop nearest us. I explained the face value thing. The price printed on the ticket was fifteen dollars.

"I got exact change for you, buddy." I peeled a ten and a five out of my wallet, we traded off, and I thanked him. Within thirty seconds I watched him sell the other one. "Now you have money for hot dogs," I told him as I went past. His dad smiled. They went off to the souvenir shops on Yawkey Way. I went straight for Gate C.

It was 7:30 by the time I got in, batting practice long over. After a leisurely trip to the ladies room, I bought myself a plate of chicken fingers and found my seat. When I sat down I was amazed at what a good view I had from smack dab in the center of the bleachers -- which are actual plastic molded seats, not benches -- about halfway up, in Section 39.

How ironic, I thought. I always thought I'd sit in Section 39 at Yankee Stadium first.

The place was filling up and yet right around me it was empty. So I ate my chicken and pondered what type of people I'd end up sitting with. Would it be the guy and his kids? They came up a while later, laden with souvenir bags, but they were two rows in front. A nice young couple who looked and sounded like college students from India went past my knees and sat two seats over. Then a group of college boys, seven of them, came and sat behind me. They were getting beery, but were quite friendly. We had a good laugh about Brian Daubach's loss of his "Abraham Lincoln beard." Yes, I can talk Sox. Three Hispanic men, two older, one younger, came and sat to my right, but these were not their seats. They had seats somewhere that were not together and were hoping no one would come. And in front of us sat four college-age girls. By the first pitch, our neighborhood was complete. No one seemed the brawling type. But as I would later learn, you can be doing nothing and get ejected from the Fenway Park bleachers, at least when the Yankees are in town.

I spent the first inning getting to know my neighbors. Someone came to displace one of the Hispanic men, but I offered to move over into the one empty seat so they could stay. The younger one sat down next to me and thanked me. I had a feeling the guy whose seat I was in had snuck into the main boxes. And with good reason. Now that the players were on the field, I realized just how distant home plate was. It was so far, I had trouble telling whether the umpire called a strike! Thank goodness for binoculars.

Just before the top of the second inning, we had our first ejection. Not among my neighbors, but right above us. It was black Red Sox jersey versus pinstriped Yankee jersey -- not fighting per se, but having words. Hundreds of people turned to see what was going to happen. A swarm of security guards and some uniformed cops came up, and at first it looked like they were going to take only the red-faced Red Sox fan away. The Yankee fan proclaimed his innocence, but then they took him, too. There was a brief chorus of "Yankees Suck," but the old chant doesn't have the vigor it had before September 11th. The Sox fan's wife and daughter got up and left a few minutes later. The Yankee fan's family, if he had any, remained incognito.

I started talking baseball with the Hispanic guy, who it turned out was named Jose and was from the Dominican. Jose was a Braves fan, but since he lived in Boston, he rooted for the Sox (except when the Braves were in town). I shared some beef jerky with him. And it turned out the Indian guy off to my left was a Yankees fan. I noticed when Brian Daubach led off the bottom of the second with a homer off Mussina and he was less than pleased. The guy, not Mussina. Two pitches later, Shea Hillenbrand homered, and I thought of a game I saw Moose pitch in Oakland last year. He gave up only two hits, but both back-to-back homers. So much for hopes of a repeat of the near-perfect performance Moose had given the last time he had taken the Fenway mound for an ESPN game.

The top of the third arrived and it was time for another ejection. Some guys stood up and pointed to a guy near them who was wearing no team insignias at all. Just a guy, minding his own business. "It's him, it's him!" they yelled, pointing. Eventually security came up to see what the ruckus was, and sure enough, they took the guy away. "That is messed up," Jose said. "So young, so angry!"

The game on the field progressed. Did I mention the Red Sox were winning? For a short while there, I began to worry that an unpleasant experience lay ahead for me. But the Yankees tied the score in the fourth, and I started to get excited, though I didn't show it in my usual ways. With Darren Oliver's control wavering (two hit batters in two innings), I figured it was only a matter of time before my boys got to him. This was a year when the Bronx Bombers were living up to that name, blasting a lot of round-trippers. I bided my time.

The ejection treatment was not reserved only for men, as we watched a young woman in a Yankees sun visor escorted out after people in her section took exception to it. Still no brawls, we hadn't even heard shouting. But this far from the action of the game -- where it was my job, me being the one with binoculars and a scorecard, to tell the people in my immediate area what had happened recently, how various runners reached base, and who that was at the plate -- the "sport" of getting people kicked out was one of the main amusements.

Another one was the batting of beach balls back and forth. I always wondered, why beach balls? I've always thought of them something like The Wave. Not for baseball fans. Not for real fans who are there to watch the game, not have a picnic. But I noticed in the bleacher concourse, where the food vendors are, large signs saying that the possession or handling of "inflatable objects" was punishable by ejection. It fits the mentality of the bleacher denizens (and Bostonians) to thumb their noses at authority and dare the cops to toss them for hitting around a contraband beach ball. I saw no inflatable object ejections that night.

The Yankees' pummeling of Darren Oliver commenced in the fifth. Soriano led off with a home run, which Trot Nixon got a glove on, only to have the ball drip heartbreakingly into the bullpen. "Ah! Soriano!" Jose cried. "He's so wonderful, he does a lot of charity at home in the Dominican, and he's such a nice guy! But he's KILLING ME!" Indian Yankee Fan and I quietly banged fists. Nixon looked like he broke a rib on the bullpen wall and was trying to ignore it.

Jose bought me an ice cream. Sweet!

Then the blowout began. Giambi hit a three run shot that hit the wall at the deepest spot in the park. A few feet to the left and it would have been a wall ball double. But it hit the right of the line demarking the home run area. At least, we're pretty sure that's what happened. "Was it a ground rule double?" one of the guys behind me asked. "I don't think so," I replied. "Since the bases are clear and it's now six-to-two." I banged fists with my neighbor again. "Hey, are you a writer?" he asked, as he saw me jotting down notes on my scorecard and in my notebook. I told him yes, in fact, I just did a piece for Yankees Magazine. The young woman directly in front of me turned around then and just smiled and smiled. Positively beamed at me.

In came Tim Wakefield, who was perfect against the Yankees a few nights earlier. Not tonight. Before we could blink, Ron Coomer hit the second pitch he saw into the screen for a two run shot.

The Red Sox answered with three more runs off Mussina in the fifth, but what would have seemed like an upstart thrashing of Moose seemed rather harmless in the face of the 8-2 lead. Another woman was taken away from our section. One guy, Red Sox fan, just too intoxicated to stand straight, punched one of the cops trying to lead him out.

That was the only punch we saw thrown, unless you count what Soriano did in the sixth. Leading off again (since the Yankees had sent nine men to the plate in the fifth) he again faced Tim Wakefield. Wakefield must have hung the same knuckleball as the first time because Soriano hit another one, this one over the Green Monster onto Landsdowne Street. We were quite impressed when several minutes later, the ball came sailing back over the wall and onto the field! Someone out there must have been trying for a while to throw it back -- maybe they went to the roof of the parking garage to do it.

Moose pitched his sixth and final inning, while the folks in our section tried to start The Wave. I've always been against The Wave at Yankee Stadium, especially with the home team at bat. But here, who cared? We were winning, the Sox were at bat, and baseball spectation in the bleachers was clearly a sport unto itself. In case you've never been at the start of a wave, everyone among the instigators shouts "One, Two, Three" and then jumps up and puts their arms up, and shouts (optional). If you get enough people to do it, the people to your left notice it, and they do it too, and it propagates. But our wave kept dying out around third base, and after about ten tries, soon even the people in right field grandstand wouldn't do it, and then even the people in Section 41 of the bleachers wouldn't do it. But hey, we tried. So now I can say I've done the Wave. (But I still won't do it at Yankee Stadium. Feh.)

Meanwhile, Moose was striking out Daubach for the second time since his second inning homer, which now seemed rather inconsequential. "He might have to grow that beard again," I told the guys behind me. Another 1-2-3 for Moose. With the clock now around 10:30 p.m., people began leaving, some waiting until after Ron Coomer led off the seventh with a hit off the wall, and then was awarded third base when Nomar, taking the relay throw, tried to nail Coomer hurrying back to first. Coomer was stranded at third, though. What, did they think they had enough runs?

The Yankees, as it turned out, did not think they had enough runs. Now facing Sun Woo Kim -- since Wakefield was not going to tempt Soriano a third time -- Sori singled to start a rally and two more runs came in. The game was officially a blow out. Then Robin Ventura pinch hit for Ron Coomer. I was just beginning an explanation to Jose about how Ventura was just amazing everyone since the trade from the Mets. "His batting average is a weak .240 but he's hitting so many home runs..." Oops, three-run home run. Yankee Fan and I banged fists with silent smiles on our faces. More and more people were leaving, and Jose's father was agitating for them to leave too. So we said goodbye. After he left, I noticed the college guys behind me had left. Blowouts make Sox fans meek. The crowd was starting to get quite thin, and we stretched out.

I asked the Indian couple if they were both Yankees fans. "Just him," she said, with a slight roll of her eyes. I gave him and the silent, incognito girl in front of me the pins I had brought. "I think it's safe to wear these now." They both affixed them to their hats, and then left. Sunny Kim eventually got out of the inning (Spencer, 0-for-4, darn it) and found his groove in the top of the ninth, setting the Yankees down in order.

With the score 14-5, it hardly mattered. I was pretty sure a nine run rally was not coming in the bottom of the inning, and with plenty of room around me I was able to eat sunflower seeds in peace. Spitting shells wherever I wanted to. Content. As predicted, the nine run rally did not materialize. Lou Merloni, the Pride of Framingham Massachusetts, was the last hope. He popped a ball foul, and Posada made the catch leaning into the $200 seats next to the Sox dugout. Ballgame over!

I had been the first to arrive in the immediate vicinity of my seat, and was the last to leave. The game took three hours, twenty six minutes to play, and the attendance mark cracked 34,000 at 34,096. The Yankees would leave town the same way they entered, only one game back in the AL East. It was a lucky night. But as George Will would say, luck is one of those things in baseball that comes to you in concert with preparation, planning, and the ability to seize the moment and react to circumstance. I had done just that, and the baseball gods had rewarded me with a glorious night at the park.

I had sat in the bleachers for the first time. Done The Wave for the first time. Gone to a game without a visible Yankee insignia on for the first time. I would leave Fenway having spent only $15 on a ticket and $6 on chicken fingers, or about a dollar per run scored. I'd be going home with a pile of free stuff, the rally "hat", free water, the mouse pad, even ice cream. But the best part was the one thing I couldn't buy, which was the Yankee win. I got into no fights, was not singled out for ejection by the rabid bleacherites, and even if Mussina wasn't perfect this time, I had a damn near perfect time.

©2002 by Cecilia Tan

Cecilia Tan writes about her many passions (baseball included) from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has been a contributor to
Yankees Magazine, Isaac Asmiov's Science Fiction Magazine, Ms., Penthouse, and Best American Erotica, among others. See more of her work at her Web site.

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