If you’re like me, you do two things with great precision: drink and attend Red Sox games. Lately, we haven’t had a lot of the latter, and if you want to know just how much of a toll baseball withdrawal has taken on me, you need only ask the army of Don Orsillo statues I’ve carved from the trees outside my home.
So for today’s post, I’m retreating to my happy place, and revisiting the greatest Red Sox game I ever attended. And by the greatest, I mean the greatest. Also, it was the greatest.
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Dad got the tickets, because that’s what Dad did. He just waved his hands like some goddam illusionist and suddenly, bam!, there were tickets. To Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS. Against Oakland at Fenway Park.
I remember it was cold. Way too cold for October. And we were sitting in the bleachers, which I found surprisingly more accommodating of my goofy-ass, six-foot-plus frame than the grandstands. And I had on my gloves and Dad had his hat and I don’t think anyone sat down for a single minute. Because we’d already dropped the first two in Oakland and this could be the end. The last time we got to see Pedro and Nomar and Mueller and Millar in action. So we stood. And we screamed. And we begged for something magic to happen so we could all tune in again tomorrow. That communal vibe was in effect. People passing around bottles. Strangers high-fiving strangers on every hit and enemy strikeout. And did I mention that we stood up, for like the whole game? Because we did.
Thankfully, Oakland was in a giving mood. Because what could have been a season-crushing rally in the sixth went awry when Eric “Spicoli” Byrnes missed home plate after colliding with Tek, then felt compelled to restore a little testosterone to his reserve tank by coming after Tek to shove him back. Tagged. Owned. There’s your seat on the bench, pally, and thanks for coming. A bit later, practically the same thing happened again, with Miggy Tejada running into Mueller while rounding third, then stopping to bitch about it before hitting home plate. Here’s your tag. And there’s your seat.
“It’s all going our way,” I told Dad. And he agreed. And we sat there, munching popcorn and swilling hot chocolate and without saying a word, the two of us remembered that walking into Fenway Park was like going through a friggin’ time vortex. No matter how old I got, when we walked through those gates, I was a goddam ten year old kid, grabbing my dad’s hand and pointing at the players and the lights and the wall and getting all swept up in everything. And it was awesome.
Even though the whole thing was knotted up at 1-1, I had a weird — and at that time, quite rare — feeling that it was all ours. And when Trot Nixon came up to pinch hit in the bottom of the eleventh, the last thing I was expecting was a miracle. I just wanted contact. Anything. Get on base and get the rally going.
And then he hit it. And it kept coming toward us. Closer. Closer. Closer.
Cue madness. Cue “Dirty Water.” Cue screaming college girls and grandpas and kids on their dads’ shoulders. Suddenly, there was a tomorrow. And everything was right in our world again.
And it’s important to remember that this was 2003. The Red Sox were still the buck-toothed step-kid who never gets invited to the dance. Our last flirtation with anything resembling a playoff run was having our asses handed to us by the Yankees in the 1999 ALCS. We were all just hopeless dreamers, locked in our “maybe next year” mentalities but so willing to be led on. To believe that anything was possible.
Filtering out onto Brookline Ave, Dad and I were walking alongside a drunk girl shouting into her phone: “We fuckin’ won!” I smiled and told him that that was the single greatest game I ever attended.
And it was.