By the next summer—1967, the year of the Impossible Dream—the franchise's doldrums had ended, and by midseason Fenway was at least half full for every game. There were no empty sections and no more roaming around, and the danger from foul balls seemed at least partly mitigated by the cushion of surrounding fans, limiting the chances of a near-death experience.
By Kostya Kennedy
MY FIRST VISIT TO FENWAY PARK occurred during a break from basic training. I was 11 years old and stationed in Lakeville, Mass., at an outpost called the Ted Williams Camp, a couple of hundred miles northeast of my home in New York. Our daily regimen included, in varying measure, fielding drills, batting practice, baserunning instruction, throwing sessions and playing actual baseball games (one, two or occasionally three a day). The three-week camp session was highlighted by two seemingly fantastical events: We would meet Ted Williams himself, and we would go, en masse, to a night game at Fenway, a place draped in mysticism.
Both events occurred on the same day. Williams arrived and we gathered around him as he stood (holding a bat!) beside a peculiar contraption that we knew well. Our hitting drills included swings at a thick rubber cylinder; it was a cross between a tire and a heavy bag and it hung from a gallowslike frame. Whenever I swung at it, my bat bounced back violently and my elbows went limp. But now Williams, at age 63, was getting into his famous stance and zeroing in on the center of the thing. He swung and—thwock!—nearly tore the cylinder off its rope. We stared silently as Williams talked about how to keep your head in and how to swivel your hips. "Then," he said, unleashing his swing again, "boom! You hit the ball 400 feet."
Afterward we were allowed to shake Williams's massive hand and he signed a baseball for each of us. My ball, for reasons I no longer recall, was bright orange. Williams signed in dark blue ink between the narrow stitchline. "Here you go, kid," he said, handing it to me.
I had the ball in my jacket pocket that night as we sat in the rightfield bleachers, in back of the bullpen, the Fenway field before us. "They call this area Williamsburg," one of our coach-chaperones told us.
I remember there was a big, noisy crowd that night and I remember the smell of beer and I remember Jim Rice smashing a baseball deep into the night, over the big green wall. "Boom! He hit it 400 feet," I said to the kid beside me. All game long I kept pulling that orange ball out of my pocket and looking at it. I showed it to the hot dog guy when I bought my Fenway Frank. I showed it to the man sitting in back of me—an overweight guy wearing a shirt that said OFFICIAL NEW YORK YANKEES HATER. I turned the ball over in my hands between innings. I took it out and held it in plain sight on my way to the men's room.
"Put that away," the coach-chaperone told me more than once. "It'll be worth something someday."