A New York Yankee in “Friendly Fenway?!”
By Michael John Coluccio
It’s an oxymoron. It can’t be true….
Can a die-hard New York Yankee fan be convinced to attend not one but TWO Boston Red Sox Games in the same day?! Impossible as it seems, this is exactly what happened to me.
And I wouldn’t trade that day for the world.
The news of my best friends cancer diagnosis was a shock to me….the fact that he was barely in his 50’s made the pill that much harder to swallow but the reality truly set in when Tom approached me in as jovial a voice as he could muster and said, “MJ…would you consider a road trip up to Boston to see my beloved Sox”?
Any self-respecting Yankee fan would have greeted such a request with a mocking and dismissive laugh. I mean, this was 2009 and our team was in first place with the Sox squarely in second about 5 or 6 games back. So I responded the way any true Yankee fan would…..
“When do we leave”?!
I drove of course, and Tom provided the “tunes”. A creature of “old school” habits, he had carefully crafted a “mix tape” of some of our favorite “road trip” tunes….a lot of Beatles, Van Morrison, Eagles, Stones and of course, Dylan. The music though was secondary to the conversation….during which I finally got up the nerve to ask Tom the question that had been burning deep down inside me for years….
“Tom, how the hell does a boy from Bay Ridge Brooklyn, EVER become a Sox fan!?”
The twinkle in his eye started gleaming again as he began his reminiscent journey back to 1975. The Red Sox were having a great season in the American League East that year and the Yankees were frankly just not a great club then. As a younger man, Tom DID try to root for the Yanks and was huge fan of Mantle just like his dad was but the team…the TEAM just was not clicking for him and he needed something to root for….he needed and wanted to get behind a winner. So, he noticed players like Carl Yastremski and Freddy Lynn…Dwight Evans and Carlton Fisk. And he was sold.
Yes, the Red Sox would go on to win the 1975 AL East with a record of 95-65 but following a sweep of the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS, the Red Sox would lose the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in 7 games.
Little did Tom know, that the Yankees would “right their ship” and win the AL Championship for the next three years, taking it all in 77 and 78. By then it was too late for Tom. He was a Boston baby and there was no turning back now.
We pulled into the hotel when Tom and I were staying for the next couple of days. The Nor’easter promised by the weathermen became a reality and the chances of Tom seeing his “double-header” that afternoon and evening became as gloomy as the grey sky above us. As we began to unpack our bags, Tom’s ashen color worsened and his energy disappeared. Between the weather forecast and Toms dwindling health, it seemed our visit to Fenway was not to be that day. Tom was content to sit in the hotel room, his eyes half closed from pain and exhaustion just watching a “NESN CLASSIC” on the hotel TV that night. He slept like a log and the next day awoke feeling more refreshed and with a noticeably improved spring in his step.
The good news was that the double headed was re-scheduled for that next day and our tickets would be honored for both games! After a hearty breakfast, Tom insisted he show me the sights of Boston, his “home away from home” before heading to the park.
Finally, the hour of reckoning was here! The Yankee fan was now finishing up his pint at the Cask and Flagon and making his way down Landsowne Road and Yawkee Way….streets that were steeped in Red Sox history. “Wait one second MJ!” Tom bellowed. “We need to get you outfitted the right way!”.
Before I knew it, I was being dragged into one of the many huge souvenir shops outside the park where Tom tossed me into a red sweatshirt and cap. He knew enough to not insult me by having them read “RED SOX” but they did read “BOSTON” (as in the city) and I guess I was going to have to be ok with that!
Tom and I entered Fenway and my first reaction was my most lasting reaction…”WHAT A FRIGGIN DUMP!” I exclaimed.
“Ah yes MJ, but it’s a WONDERFUL old dump” Tom said as we proceeded down the way toward our seats. “The Yankees might have their “Stadium”…but the Sox have this wonderful BALLPARK!”
Then we emerged from the musty bowels of the building into the field level of Fenway Park itself. The grass and the seats were all still wet from the storm the night before but the kindly elderly usher who greeted us was only too happy to wipe them down. Our seats were right behind the Red Sox dugout where it would appear, my good friend Tom was quite well known by many of the locals. Tom delighted in pointing out to me the “green monster” marred with the “dings” of the hundreds of balls that smacked it over the years, the John Hancock sign over looking left field and the bullpen out in right field. I noticed how tiny the seats were and was concerned that big guys like Tom and I wouldn’t be able to even fit into them…but we did…and we stayed and watched as the Sox played and beat the Seattle Mariners in game one…and then again in game two. Tom delighted in giving Beckett the business when he couldn’t find the zone and in leading our entire section in the seventh inning singing of “Sweet Caroline”. If ever I’ve seen a man feel “at home” it was that day.
Yet through it all, my eyes were firmly affixed to the “manual” scoreboard watching carefully to make sure my Yankees were keeping pace (we were) and so…for that one day, everything was ok in the baseball world.
Little did I know that not two months later, my beloved Yankees would win the 2009 World Series, a fact that Tom reminded me about on his deathbed a mere six months after our adventurous trip.
“MJ….I know your boys won it all this fall…but it was a great battle! And we’re gonna get you next year!” Then he paused, took a deep breath and said, “thank you for taking me to see my guys up in Beantown. It was a trip I’ll never forget”
“No Tom”, I replied…..”Thank YOU….for teaching me what it means to be a true fan”
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