Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Since spring training has begun, my thoughts are naturally starting to turn to baseball/softball. As the real season gets underway in April, and progresses through October, I'll no doubt have many longer stories (and, of course, I'll blog about my own softball playing, as usual.) For now, though, I need a warm up before the season, so here are two small stories about my younger days at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.
I was reminded of this first story by My Darker Gray Friend, Michelle, during the course of some personal correspondence.
Those of you unfamiliar with baseball may not be aware of some of the merchandising gimmicks employed by ballclubs to fill seats that otherwise might go unsold. They will offer a prize or premium to go along with the ticket to the game. The ticket holder might be rewarded with a keychain, a t-shirt, a figurine, or some other inexpensive tchotchke bearing the logo of the team. Most often, these souvenirs are offered to kids, and then perhaps only to the first 3,000 to enter the park (or whatever number matches the availability of the tidbits.) More often than not, lesser clubs offer premiums. The good clubs, who sell out their games anyway, don't have to do so.
When I was 9, the Red Sox didn't sell out every game as they do now. They were a bad team, coming off of a ninth place finish. I loved them, anyway. And when I heard that the Red Sox were going to have a Bat Day, I had to go! The first 3,000 kids would all receive a baseball bat.
In those days of relatively normal salaries for athletes, a ticket to the bleachers - the cheapest seats, out in centerfield - cost only 75 cents. I was amazed that, for such a small expenditure, I would not only be able to see my beloved Red Sox play, in person, but also be given an authentic baseball bat. Just 75 cents? Heck, a bat cost 3 or 4 dollars, all by itself.
I went to Fenway, bought a ticket to the bleachers, and went inside. As I handed the ticket to the turnstile operator, he handed me my bat.
It was about 10 inches in length and weighed maybe 4 ounces. It was similar in size, and heft, to a policeman's nightstick, a billy club.
Of course, being a baseball playing kid, when I heard that they were giving out bats that day at the Sox game, I thought I'd be getting a real bat I could actually play games with, a Louisville Slugger of some 34 inches in length and weighing in at 36 or 38 ounces. When I got the little bat, I was disappointed, to say the least. Not that it wasn't a nice thing to have as a souvenir, but when you're expecting to haul some real lumber home, getting what amounted to a big splinter was less than exciting. Of course, now I realize that the cost of buying Louisville Sluggers for every kid in the ballpark would have been enormous, and it was ridiculous to expect such awesome swag for 75 cents. Still, that's what a little kid like me expected. Live and learn.
My other story concerns the closest I've ever come to getting an actual baseball while at a game.
I was very young - maybe still 9, as in the previous story. I was at a Sox game with my Mom and Dad. My Dad had scored some excellent seats in the first row, just beyond the third base dugout. As was the custom among kids from my neighborhood, I had brought my glove to the game, just in case I had a chance to catch a real major league ball.
Along about the fourth inning, Tony Conigliaro is batting, and he was my absolute all-time favorite player, my baseball idol. He's still my all-time favorite athlete, God rest his soul. Anyway, Tony swings and hits a vicious line drive, foul, coming right at me.
I had EXCELLENT reflexes in those days. I have no doubt I would have caught it, even though it was a 100-mph liner from about 100 feet away. I started to raise my glove.
Before I even got my glove above my chest, My Dad shoved my head down, out of the path of the deadly ball. He was only trying to protect me, but I was as disappointed as a starving dog might have been who had been shown a big steak and been given a kick in the ass, instead. It would have been a ball off of Tony C's bat, and everybody would have applauded me for making a great catch, and all the other kids in the neighborhood would have been jealous for weeks!
Oh, well. Maybe my Dad was right. Maybe it would have crushed my face and, instead of doing voice-overs for a living, I would have ended up talking like Elmer Fudd for the rest of my life. Still, it was a ball hit by Tony C. It might have been worth it.
Soon, with more batter stuff.
[Got the excellent Tony C. photo from an excellent tribute page - Now Batting 19 Sports Cards.]