Some day? No, it was worth something that day. I was at Fenway Park, Ted Williams in my pocket. I showed that ball to everyone.
By Stephen Cannella
DEEP IN THE RIGHTFIELD STANDS AT FENWAY Park sits an auxiliary press box, a roped-off swatch of seats and folding tables where media members sit and work when the usual booth high above home plate is full. It's in the outer reaches of the grandstand, a healthy fly ball farther from home plate than the famous Red Seat marking Ted Williams's epic 1946 home run, the longest ever at Fenway. Sitting there is roughly akin to standing on the surface of Pluto. Technically, you're still part of the Fenway solar system—but it feels as if the pitcher's mound is a few light-minutes away.
I was sitting in that aux box for the 1999 All-Star Game. Hardly the best seat in the house, but it didn't matter where in the park you were in the hour or so before the first pitch. There was something in the air. It was the first Midsummer Classic at Fenway in 38 years. The evening before, Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. had put on a show in the Home Run Derby; baseball was looking the other way about its steroid problem—and many of us were blissfully ignorant of it—and the missiles those sluggers sent screaming into the Boston night were wondrous. The homer high was kept alive 24 hours later by a pregame ceremony announcing the nominees for baseball's all-century team, a promotion that sent more than a dozen Hall of Famers strolling onto the Fenway infield to wave to the fans.
A few minutes later Williams himself appeared, sitting in a golf cart that rolled out of a door in the centerfield wall. It wasn't a total surprise: Word was out that the Splinter—80 years old, in failing health and rarely appearing in public—would throw the ceremonial first pitch. But the sight of Williams sent a jolt through the crowd. This was before the World Series of 2004 and '07, a time when Boston fans' lone point of pride was a history they could wrap themselves around as both security blanket and hair shirt. No one embodied that legacy as well as Williams. Everyone in the park knew this was a chance, probably the last one, for Red Sox Nation to bond with its icon.
And bond they did. Williams, frail but beaming, motored slowly around the warning track, the crowd noise growing more thunderous and heartfelt with each wave of his hand or hat. (Yes, the Kid tipped his cap to the Fenway faithful.) He then was driven to the pitcher's mound. After tossing a pitch to Carlton Fisk, he sat back in the cart, and that night's All-Star players gathered near Williams, introducing themselves one by one, shaking his hand, chatting him up, paying their respects. The scene lasted 10, maybe 15 minutes, with Williams laughing and seemingly having the time of his life, and more than a few players wiping tears from their eyes. Afterward we learned what some of that conversation on the mound was like; Ted leaned into McGwire's ear and asked the slugger if he ever smelled burning wood after fouling off a pitch. "When the announcer asked everybody to go back to the dugout, everybody said no," Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra said after the game. "It didn't matter. What time was the first pitch? Nobody cared."
The players formed a tight ring around Williams, but that circle might as well have surrounded the entire stadium: Even from my perch far away in rightfield it was impossible not to feel part of a special moment, a bridging of the game's past and future, a spontaneous outpouring of love from 34,000 people for a man and a sport.