Note From Jon


Thursday, June 12, 2008

The 500 Club at Fenway South

We’ve got it easy. Jump on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, grab free parking (or worst case $2), buy cheap food from the vendors in front of Pickles Pub, and scalp prime seats to the game for well less than face value. That’s the routine for most of the nine games that the Sox play here at Fenway South each season. Really I feel bad for the fans in Boston, the families we meet at each game who have realized they can fly the whole family down for a weekend of Sox games in Charm City for less than it would cost them to stay at home and watch. That’s the great thing about Fenway South, it’s not just geographically-challenged fans like Jeffrey and me making the O’s feel like they have 9 extra road games a year, the seats around us are usually filled with extended families of vacationing New Englanders. Ironically, I’m pretty sure we get to see more Sox games than they do each year.

I got an early start on my Sox watching this year with the trip in April to Yankee Stadium. That was quite an experience. I was in section 39 of the bleachers out in right field. It’s the home of the “Bleacher Creatures” and many of the Yankee fans there wore “Section 39” t-shirts. The “Roll Call” originates in this section, where the fans chant each player’s name during the top of the first inning until they get some acknowledgment from that player and move on to the next. The few Sox fans (at our game exactly 4 in the whole section) are generally welcomed with a collective chant of “Ass-Hole… Ass-Hole” as we walk to our seats (or in any way move around or draw attention to ourselves). When YMCA plays on the sound system, they encircle a Sox fan and sing “Why are you gay?” Nonetheless, I proudly wore my Sox cap the entire time.

That’s not as bold as it seems because of one important development in recent years: the bleachers are now alcohol-free. The Yankee fans I was with told me stories of the good old days when a Sox fan would be ruthlessly confronted by the chanting fans and often kicked out of the bleachers by security “for their own safety”. The situation has mellowed and I never felt any genuine hostility. That’s probably because I was with several Yankees fans, cheered for the Sox but not excessively loudly, and because two vocal Sox fans a few rows in front of me did an excellent job of drawing all the wrath in their direction. At one point the fan behind me tapped me on my back and asked “How is it that everyone is leaving you alone?” Even the Ass-Hole chant I got en route to my seat died half-heartedly after a couple of rounds. Even still I was a bit nervous as Joel took a photo of me after the game in front of the Yankees logo… giving a big thumbs down. With some drunken Yanks fans around I’d likely have been taking a rather different route out of (well over) the bleachers. It probably helped my cause that the Damn Yankees had crushed my Sox that night and everyone (but me) was feeling festive… But scoreboard aside it was a fun trip to Yankee Stadium and I thank Joel for organizing it. I especially enjoyed learning about the boltbus service which I rode home from Penn Station NYC to Metro Center D.C. for $15 (it could have been $1 if I booked far enough in advance)

I expected a better result for the Sox on May 13th at the Fenway South season opener. After all Jeffrey and I had never witnessed a Sox defeat there since our tradition began a couple of years ago. I should have known something was amiss when we had to pay face value for our tickets ($50/$50 for Sec. 34 Row JJ Seat 5 - Home Plate) and for once there actually seemed to be a few more Orioles fans than Red Sox fans (quite literally, we usually outnumber them considerably). Beckett got shelled, Manny stayed stuck on 498 HRs, and—other than it marking our first defeat—the most memorable thing about the game was that someone had followed through on the idea of a Fenway South poster that Jeffrey and I had often discussed but never executed.

Two weeks later the Sox were back in town on Friday May 30th. I made the mistake of assuming that $55 tickets would have to be good seats and snagged them for $20 a piece ($55/$20 Sec. 43 Row J Seat 8 - Press Box). They weren’t horrible (behind home plate next to the press boxes) but they were considerably farther away than we were used to. I did determine that it is easier to scalp tickets for the weekend games for some reason as there were far more sellers in the designated scalping area than there had been for our Tuesday night game on the 13th. Our seats may have been worse but the results were much better. It took 13 innings but the Sox finally broke it open and Papelbon locked down the 5-2 win… probably because by that time we had moved all the way down to the second row behind the plate. After managing only a single HR in the past two weeks, Manny was still stuck on #499 and stayed that way through this game.

We nearly skipped Saturday’s game. The forecast was for storms and Sarah was having a dinner party. We went anyway. We might not have forgiven ourselves if we didn’t. The evening started well, with second row seats just past third base for $30 ($32/$30 Sec. 62 Row BBB Seat 8 - 3rd Base), and it kept getting better. No rain ever came, the Sox won again, and everything was completely overshadowed by Manny finally crushing HR #500 in front of as noisy a crowd as he’d have found at Fenway (North). After taking photos of nearly every pitch Manny had seen for the past two days, the one pitch he finally got a hold of turned out to be the one that my focally-challenged camera managed to blur. But we were there for the memorable moment, probably the most historic sports moment Jeffrey or I have witnessed (though I did see Big Mac’s final four homers in his record-setting 1998 campaign—that might have won out had Barry not broken* that record only a few years later). Fans were so excited we were literally clamoring for the ball girl to toss us the piece of trash that Manny had dropped on his way into the dugout (we assumed it was a sunflower seed bag or somesuch—the zoom on my camera revealed it was only a crushed muddy cup that had gotten stuck to his cleat)

At this moment the Sox hold the best record in the AL East with a 7 game lead over the last place Os and Yankees. Hopefully that’s how things will look at Fenway South when the Sox return to finish the season series in the middle of August. Until then, Go Sox!

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