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2002: Diary of a Season
Braves 4, Red Sox 2
I'm a member of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, and this year their annual convention was held in Boston. It started Wednesday night with the showing of the Red Sox/Twins game of September 30, 1967, the day before the Red Sox clinched the pennant. It would have been fun to see, but I skipped the film because Pedro Martinez was on TV that night pitching for the 2002 Sox. The convention continued through Sunday, and consisted of research presentations, committee meetings, and panel discussions on a wide variety of baseball subjects. A lot of people think SABR is purely about statistical analysis, but while that is one interesting aspect of baseball research, there is so much more. I attended presentations on quantitative ideas like "Do Base Stealers Help the Next Batters?" and "Clutch Hitting"; historical things like "The 1903 World Series" and "The Curse of the Bambino: A Nice Hook, But It's Not History"; societal issues like "Songs of Baseball," "What Happens When Women Write About Baseball," and "Saints, Relics, and the Pilgrimage to Cooperstown: The Persistence of Popular Religion in Contemporary Culture." I also found presentations on "Changing Trends in Hall of Fame Voting" and the Hall of Fame's "Baseball as America" traveling exhibit particularly interesting, because I had a trip to Cooperstown planned for the following weekend. There were six panel discussions, featuring members of the Boston Braves, media, scouts, umpires, GMs and owners, and Latino players. It was a fascinating few days, and I'd highly recommend the experience to anyone who has the chance to attend a SABR convention. 2003's will be in Denver; for more information visit www.sabr.org.
What turned out to be the least interesting part of the convention for me was the game Friday night. I had been looking forward to seeing Derek Lowe pitch, because he had been responsible for the majority of the wins I had been to so far this year. Unfortunately, a rainout on Thursday night pushed him to Saturday, with John Burkett going in Friday's game. It wound up being a rematch of the Burkett vs. Maddux game I had been to six days earlier in Atlanta. The result was the same, too - another 4-2 loss. This time the Red Sox had actually tied the game in the seventh inning, but Tim Wakefield gave it away in the ninth. I was beginning to get depressed about seeing so many losses, when overall the team was still doing so well. But I was also careful to remind people that I was not jinxing the games. I knew I wasn't a jinx because I had seen the no-hitter. My current streak was just bad luck. There was always a rainout or a suspension or something else that caused me to see whoever was doing worst at the time. Here it was half-way through the season, and while I had had the dubious pleasure of attending three Darren Oliver starts, I hadn't seen Pedro pitch since Opening Day.
It was interesting to attend the game with other SABR members. Although some people sat in other parts of the park, there was a large group of us in Section 41 in the bleachers. Everyone nearby was keeping score, most on paper, some on their PDAs, like the man next to me. When players' stats were shown on the message board, they listed OBP and slugging percentage, which are better indicators of a player's success than batting average or home runs and are becoming more and more mainstream. They also displayed everyone's OPS (on-base plus slugging) which combines the two. The SABR members seemed impressed - I've never noticed these stats used in any other ballpark - but I had never seen them at Fenway before either. I thought this would be a one-time thing, but I was happy to see the trend continued throughout the rest of the season, with OPS listed along with all the players' other stats. And when it came time for the kids in Sections 35 and 36 to start the wave, none of the baseball purists in our whole section moved. It must have looked funny from other parts of the park to see the wave skip an entire section and then continue on!
During the game, an announcement came on the Jumbo-Tron that there was a problem with the subway tracks on the Green Line's "D" branch between the Fenway and Longwood stops. (The Green Line has four branches - "B", "C", "D", and "E". No, there's no "A".) I had parked at Riverside, at the end of the "D" line. We were told that if we were headed to any of the "D" stops between Longwood and Reservoir, there would be buses. For the rest of the "D" stops, we were told to take a "C" train, which would switch over to the "D" track after Cleveland Circle. I sensed the outbound trains, which are normally full-to-overflowing after a game, would be more chaotic than usual, so I headed inbound to Arlington to go back to the SABR convention. There was a meeting to discuss the game for participants of The Fenway Project, author Bill Nowlin's project to document a game from as many different viewpoints as possible. SABR members had been stationed in the Green Monster, in the clubhouse, and in the pressbox, and everyone attending the game from SABR was invited to send in a write-up. I had orignally thought I would do a comparison of this game to the ones I had been to in Atlanta, but I was too depressed about both to ever be inspired to write anything. I left around 12:30 am to make sure I caught a train before the T stopped running at 1:00. I ended up waiting half an hour in the Arlington station while "B" and "E" trains came and went. Finally one labeled "D" came by, so I got on. Like they had said, the train made all the "C" stops, then switched to the "D" tracks at Reservoir and eventually made it to Riverside. It all added up to plenty of confusion, and I wondered how many people had missed their "C" stops because the train was labeled "D". It was 2:30 by the time I got back home.
Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 4
Today the Red Sox were playing a split-admission doubleheader. The afternoon game was the makeup of the rainout on April 3, which would have been the second game of the season. I had considered using my rainout ticket to go to the afternoon game, since I already had a ticket to the nightcap, and I could make a day of it. But since it was the week of July 4th, I had Thursday and Friday off from work, so it seemed weird to also take the Tuesday off. Instead I had traded the ticket in for a game in August. I followed the afternoon game online at work, and watched Lou Merloni's two-run triple in the seventh give the Sox a 2-1 win. The official temperature was over 90 at game time, and a thermometer on the field measured 104. Sitting for several hours in direct sunlight in the bleachers on seats which had been baking all day must have been brutal! Over 20 fans had been treated for the heat.
I arrived shortly after the gates opened, but had no intention of going up to my seat in the bleachers right away. As hot and muggy as it was underneath the stands, I knew it would be worse in the seats until the sun went down, so I wanted to wait until just before the game started to go up. I took the opportunity to fill out a credit card application so I could get my free "Red Sox '02" shirt, since I hadn't bothered to do that so far this year. I went to the ladies' room and gladly accepted a plastic bag full of ice cubes from the attendant on my way out. I ate a hot dog and wandered around for awhile, but I still had half an hour to kill before going up to my seat.
I found a spot between one of the concession stands and a ramp leading up to the seats where there was a hallway leading presumably to the back rooms. The door at the end of the hallway was open, and there was a breeze. It was the only place under the stands that air was actually moving, so I leaned up against the ramp's railing and stayed there for a few minutes. As I stood there, I watched people entering the ballpark and looking for their seats, but my mind kept going back to the door at the end of the hallway. I wondered where it went. Perhaps it was the entrance to the concession stand or the kitchen or a storage room. I also know Fenway is famous for having rats. There's the legend that Carlton Fisk was captured on film waving his 1975 World Series homer fair because the cameraman inside the Green Monster had moved the camera to get out of the way of a rat. Then there was the rat that ran across the field during a game I went to in 2000. And I recalled reading in Rob Neyer's book Feeding the Green Monster that he had seen several rats when he spent the night at Fenway one time. I am completely afraid of rats, and I was worried that there must be some down that hallway into the bowels of Fenway. I told myself, "Don't be silly. They wouldn't come out here in the middle of the concourse during the day with all kinds of people around. Relax and enjoy the one spot in the ballpark with a breeze." Just then, I felt something brush up against my ankle! I jumped and gasped (and fortunately didn't yell out loud). As I leapt away from where I had been standing, I looked down and saw... a hot dog wrapper. Whew! But it was too close for comfort, and I headed up to my seat.
I was back in the front row of Section 35, which meant I'd get to yell "Johnny! Johnny!" all night. Damon was one of five American League players to choose from in fan voting for the 30th player to go to the All-Star Game. I'd been doing my patriotic duty of voting early and often for him all week long, and the winner was supposed to be announced tonight. Once the sun went down, the heat wasn't bad, although it was still very muggy. It had been a long time since I had seen the Red Sox win at home, so I was happy when they scored three runs in the first. They added three more in the fifth for a nice, comfortable 6-0 lead, which made me forget all about the heat and humidity. When Johnny Damon came to bat in the fifth inning, the scoreboard flashed the announcement that he had won the 30th Man vote for the All-Star Game, and he received a standing ovation. Some people behind me were not only having fun cheering for Johnny, but shouting at Blue Jays centerfielder Vernon Wells. "You shoulda had that, Vernon!" they'd say every time a hit dropped in, and he would turn around and wave. Between innings, one guy shouted, "Nice shoes, Vernon!" and Wells turned around, lifted up his foot, and pointed to it with his hand as if modeling. I think I was missing something, because unlike Manny's patent leather spikes, Vernon's shoes looked perfectly normal to me. Later in the game, one of the same guys yelled what ended up being my favorite line of the summer. Looking for something to say to a player on a Canadian team, he shouted, "How's that universal health care working for ya, Vernon?" I'm pretty sure it'll be awhile before I hear that one again!
Sunny Kim was pitching for the Red Sox that night, with Mike Smith going for Toronto. Both pitchers had been called up from Triple-A just to pitch in the doubleheader, and both already had ERAs of over 7.00 in the majors this season. But Kim was pitching well. He didn't give up a run through the first six innings, although 14 of his 18 outs were fly balls. He ran into trouble in the seventh, surrendering a home run and two singles before giving way to Rich Garces, who opened with a double. By the end of the inning it was 6-3, and the Blue Jays added another run off Chris Haney in the eighth. The guy sitting next to me started rooting for Toronto to get a hit. He had already told me he was a Mets fan in Boston on business, and he was rooting for the Red Sox to win the game because he hated the Yankees. Now he said he just wanted them to "make it interesting." I answered with my usual diehard diatribe: "Interesting? 6-0 was interesting! I was interested then. Winning interests me; happiness interests me; lots of runs interest me! Feeling sick to my stomach like this does not interest me!" But I needn't have worried, because the Sox closed out the game in the ninth. After Eric Hinske walked, Carlos Delgado represented the tying run with two outs. Alan Embree was summoned from the bullpen, and struck Delgado out to end the game. Embree had pitched an inning and a third in the first game, too, and wound up with two saves that day. Best of all, I got to hear "Dirty Water," the song the Sox play after every win, for the first time in a long while.
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