By Tim Layden
FENWAY MEASURES TIME. NOT JUST THE TIME between the first inning and the ninth or between the first championship banner and the most recent. It measures the passage of time in a man's life. Stadiums bear witness, making us feel young and old, always taking us back to the beginning. Always preserving the memories. Here are three visits, separated by 38 years.
MAY 1968 My first trip to Fenway, in the year after the Impossible Dream season. I am 11 years old and a fan of the Mets. My family lives in a small town in upstate New York, hard by the Vermont border in one of those New York--Boston battlegrounds. My younger brother loves the Sox, and my cousin too.
Here on a spring afternoon my father loads three boys onto a Mohawk Airlines flight from Glens Falls, N.Y., to Boston. We stay in a Back Bay hotel and walk up to Fenway in a cool, misty rain. Ray Culp pitches for Boston. My dad keeps score in the game program with a little pencil. Can't remember who won. The pale green paint on the Monster, the intimacy of the seats, the light bulbs indicating balls and strikes in the scoreboard—all of those I remember.
OCTOBER 1986 Eight months into a job as a writer for the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, I have been assigned to cover the '86 World Series between the Red Sox and the Mets. I am no longer a fan of any team, instead anesthetized by deadlines and narrative needs. Games 1 and 2 are played at Shea Stadium before the series shifts to Boston on a Tuesday night.
I have set foot inside Fenway just once since that rainy night in 1968, for a beer-soaked afternoon in the bleachers with college buddies that I can barely remember. Auxiliary press for the '86 Series are seated in a grandstand section behind home plate, where seats are fitted with wooden attachments for writing, like exam chairs in college. This is an important event for me. Assignment to the World Series means that in some small way I have a foot in the big time.
But the mind wanders, seeking comfort. There is the Monster, still standing tall. There is that same intimacy. There are those lights on the scoreboard. In the 18 years since I last truly experienced this place, I have gone through high school and college and gotten married. I have gone from adolescent to grown-up. I am different, yet Fenway seems so much the same.
JUNE 2006 The family has grown. A daughter, then a son. We are living in northern Connecticut. Another New York--Boston battleground. The son has became a fan of the Red Sox, and I have tepidly joined him. We buy tickets to several games a year at Fenway, beginning in '05. On this night the Mets' Tom Glavine battles Curt Schilling, and the Red Sox take a 3--2 lead into the eighth.
In this era Fenway is full and modernized. Suites. Seats atop the Monster. With two outs New York's Carlos Beltran singles, and then David Wright launches a shot into the left centerfield gap. Red Sox centerfielder Coco Crisp gives improbable chase and then dives straight out near the warning track. He seemingly has no chance, yet he makes the catch and the ballpark explodes and then, of course, drifts straight into Sweet Caroline. Son high-fives father. Son high-fives surrounding fans, including Pistachio man, the guy behind us who had been absentmindedly flipping pistachio shells at son for seven innings. It takes a mighty force to induce a teenage boy to high-five strangers in public. Even more so, to high-five his father.