Sports Nut

Hub Fans Bid Bling Hello

Plus, who’s the dumbest guy on the Red Sox?

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David Ortiz 

Outside Fenway Park, four hours until game time: A young man is standing on Lansdowne Street with a pile of bloody socks. He hands the socks out one by one and an eager crowd gathers around him, their palms outstretched. People will line up for anything if it’s free. A white tube sock stained with human blood? Give it!

Granted, the blood is not real. (It’s smeared paint. The sock, a reference to the hosiery worn by an injured Curt Schilling during the 2004 playoffs, is a promotional gimmick for yet another Red Sox book.) Still, the scene is a tad macabre. For some reason, I picture a crowd of people outside a cathedral, waiting for handouts of replica relics. A pile of fake knuckle joints and tibia fragments and whatnot.

On the field, Red Sox batting practice: As the Sox take their cuts, comedian Tom Arnold cavorts down the first base line with a camera crew in tow. They film him conducting “interviews” with players in which the “questions” seem composed entirely of hearty guffaws and backslaps.

I myself have an urge to slap Tom Arnold really hard on his back. But more in the kidney region, and more with my fist than with an open palm.

Otherwise, though, this is a fantastic afternoon. I’m standing on the grass in Fenway Park on a sunny day. I’m watching David Ortiz crack missile shots into the right field stands. At one point, a large, beautiful hawk flies just 10 feet above my head and then swoops up onto the Fenway roof. It’s a crystalline moment in which nature (the airborne raptor, the sunny skies, the infield soil) somehow seamlessly melds with the world of man (microphones, cameras, batting helmets). No one else around me appears to notice the hawk. It’s my own private, soulful moment. I hope the hawk pecks out Tom Arnold’s eyes.

Still on the field, Yankees now taking batting practice: I fall into a conversation with a couple of reporters. These guys do lots of clubhouse interviews, and they’re discussing which Sox player is smartest and which is dumbest. Consensus: Johnny Damon is easily the dumbest, while Kevin Youkilis (you may remember him from Moneyball as the “Greek God of Walks“) is quite clever and funny. But it’s Pedro Martinez who was by far the smartest of the Sox. The beat reporters are immensely saddened by Pedro’s departure for the Mets. Because Pedro chooses his words carefully, speaks in well-crafted metaphors, and actually looks you in the eye. Your average player will look down at the ground or flip through a magazine—as though you were a faraway voice being beamed into his head, not a live human being standing right there in the room with him.

Inside the Red Sox clubhouse: The last time I was in a major-league clubhouse—it was Yankee Stadium, for Pedro’s legendary 17-strikeout game—the scene was pretty wild. Rod Beck, the corpulent, fu-manchu’d relief pitcher, was puffing on a cigarette next to his locker and ashing into an empty soda can. Scott Hatteberg (then a Sox catcher) and John “Way Back” Wasdin (the former Sox pitcher with a penchant for serving up home runs of galactic height and distance) sat at a video machine, delighting at a clip of Jason Giambi brutally bashing one of Wasdin’s pitches. Hatteberg wound the slo-mo back and forth, over and over. “Ohhhhhh! Look at that!” he shouted with glee as Giambi savaged the ball once more. “Baaaaam!”

By contrast, nothing much is happening today. Trot Nixon gives some advice to a clubhouse attendant who’s shopping for a used car. Guess it’s time to head up to the press box.

Press box, just before the ring ceremony: The windows here are closed. The beat writers are perhaps the most depressing collection of humans I’ve ever seen. And I don’t even have a seat because it’s too crowded. Screw this, I’m going back outside.

Right field upper level box, beginning of ring ceremony: I grab a kosher dog with mustard and find a perfect spot to watch the celebration. Here is where I should describe for you my mixed emotions as a Sox diehard, how my very nature as a fan has been transformed, how much this means to me on countless levels both as a Red Sox obsessive and as a human being. But I won’t force you to endure that. Suffice it to say the ceremony was a thrill. Blah blah Johnny Pesky blah blah rings.

Oddly, the loudest cheers of the day are for former team doctor Bill Morgan. Dr. Morgan is famous for sewing up Curt Schilling’s ankle, using a technique he developed by experimenting on the severed leg of a cadaver. (The bloody sock legend grows.) Morgan is no longer with the team. (The bloody sock legend diminishes.)

By the end of the ring presentation, they’re calling up seldom-used players that no one has heard of. Guys who pitched in a mid-season game and then disappeared forever. “Who’s Phil Seibel?” asks a fan near me. “Is he the DHL guy who delivered the rings?” Much drunken laughter ensues.

The Yankees, to their credit, stand in their dugout for the entirety of the proceedings. Sox fans keep peeking in at them, hoping to catch some hint of resentment or deflation. It’s not happening, though. Which is fine. This day is about love and closure, not about rubbing it in the Yankees’ faces.

Still, it would have been nice to see their placid facade crack just a tiny bit. Damn you, you worthy and gracious competitors!

Back in the press box, pre-game introductions: Someone’s pushed open the windows to gauge the relative volume of the cheers. Dr. Morgan’s gets bested by the ovation for Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who has blown four straight saves against the Sox (including two in the playoffs). Rivera’s a good sport about it, tipping his hat and smiling. You’ve got to respect the Fenway fans for their astonishing mix of memory and bile.

After Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield goes three innings without giving up a hit, several of the New York media launch an elaborate betting pool. As best I could tell, whoever picks the player who breaks up Wakefield’s no-no gets 50 bucks. So, there’s no cheering in the press box, but apparently there is plenty of gambling.

Friendly wagers aside, the press box is a joyless place to watch a game. The writer standing next to me—a Boston columnist who shall remain nameless—audibly groans each time an inning gets extended. “God, throw a strike!” he moans at Yankees reliever Felix Rodriguez. “It’s 7-1, the game’s fucking over!” Later, he mutters, “There we go,” as Johnny Damon pops up.

The Sox dominate the game and the crowd goes home happy. I stop in the men’s room by the press box. Who should I find there but Tom Arnold, standing at a urinal. The perfect end to the perfect day.