Prior to the 2005 season, I had never attended a baseball game outside of Pittsburgh other than in 1999, when my brother, uncle, and I went to see a Pirates/Reds game in Cincinnati at the old Riverfront Stadium.
And, before that year, I had also never bought a ticket to see a baseball game that didn't involve the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Well, that all changed in late-August of '05, when my uncle Eugene and I traveled to Fenway Park to watch a game between the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox.
For whatever reason, my uncle is a huge Red Sox fan. He doesn't like them as much as the Pirates, but he likes them, nonetheless. Hey, when you're a Pirates fan, sometimes you just have to do whatever you can to fill the void of winning. I personally cannot stand the Red Sox, but I am a huge sports fan and never thought I'd actually have a chance or reason to watch a baseball game in one of the sport's most famous venues, so when the opportunity was presented to me, I could not resist.
The reason why my uncle and I had the chance to see a game at Fenway park was because my uncle's wife, my aunt Laura, has relatives in Massachusetts, about two hours outside of Boston.
My aunt and her relatives all grew-up in Missouri and are Cardinals fans, but for whatever reason, my aunt's relatives decided to become Red Sox fans once they moved to the New England area. The Cardinals are perennial championship contenders (see this year), so unlike my uncle, my aunt's relatives don't have an excuse. Maybe it's mandatory to cheer for the Sox if you live in the state of Massachusetts.
Anyway, my aunt's brother-in-law bought three tickets online and invited my uncle and aunt up to watch the game. My aunt couldn't make it, so my uncle asked me if I wanted to take the drive up with him.
The game was on a Friday, and I thought we were going to leave Thursday evening after work for the nine-hour drive from Pittsburgh to their home in Mass. I think that would have made sense. You leave work early, get on the road around 5 o'clock or so, and then get to their house around 2 in the morning. But, for whatever reason, my uncle had this thing about not wanting to arrive at their house in the middle of the night. He thought it was rude or something. My opinion was, "hey, they invited us. I'm sure they wouldn't mind." Long-story, short, my uncle decided it would be a good idea to leave around midnight so we could arrive at their house around 9am or so.
Well, I don't know if you've ever tried to get your body to sleep during a time when it's not accustomed to sleeping, but it isn't easy. I left work early so I could pack and maybe try to force myself to sleep, but predictably, I could not sleep for even a second.
We left around midnight, and my uncle and I took turns driving. When I wasn't driving, I would try to sleep, but I could only doze-off for a few minutes at a time.
We arrived at the relatives house around 9am to basically check-in and say our "hellos." We then stopped off to have breakfast before heading back to the guy's house to meet the rest of the family. My uncle and I then joined the dude and his two little girls for some pitch and putt golf. It was a fun time, but man, I was starting to really feel exhausted. And since it was so hot outside, that made it even worse. We then went back to their house and decided to try and catch a few winks before making the two-hour drive into Boston for the 7:05 game. I think I slept about an hour or so, and thankfully, that allowed me to catch a bit of a second-wind.
Once we arrived in Boston and were outside of Fenway Park, I had to pinch myself. Partly because I was sleepy and partly because I couldn't believe I was standing outside of one of the most famous baseball parks in the entire world.
We did the usual touristy things like take pictures and buy souvenirs. I bought a mini-Red Sox bat at some place right outside the park. It was my first time in Boston, and I always wondered if the accents were a bit of a myth and exaggerated on television, but nope, listening to everyone talk as they milled around, the R's were being dropped like crazy.
When we finally went inside the park, well, it looked just like it always did on television. My uncle and I decided that it would be cool to make our way over to the Green Monster just to see what it was like up there. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed access. You have to have a ticket just to get in there. Oh well, we took some pictures just outside the Monster.
We met back up with the relative, Ray, and headed for our bleacher seats in section 41. By the way, looking at the old stub, I'm amazed that the tickets were only $23. However, I'm pretty sure I paid at least three-times that much since they were purchased online.
Anyway, the first thing I noticed when I sat down was how cramped the seats were. This did not surprise me, however, since I heard Fenway was more than a little "cozy."
The second thing that I noticed was how much I really didn't want to be there. Not because the park sucked or anything, but because I was so damn-tired. I felt like a walking zombie. I got up for work at 6am the day before, and I was working on an hour's sleep by game-time some 37 hours later. That's not a very good recipe for enjoyment. As I was sitting there in this historic ballpark, the only thing running through my mind was "man, I wish I was back in Pittsburgh sleeping in my bed right now."
However, I did manage to stay awake and watch the game. I didn't tell my uncle or Ray this, but I was secretly rooting for the Tigers. Tim Wakefield, a blast from the Buccos' past, was pitching for the Sox that night. I thought that was kind of neat.
As I was taking in the game, something that really impressed me was how into the game the Red Sox fans were the entire time. I mean, this was a Friday night at the end of August the season after the Red Sox finally ended their World Series curse, yet, the fans hung on every pitch and were vocal the entire time. If there was a big hit, they went nuts. If there was a bad call, they let the umpire know about it. It was amazing.If I ever had any doubt about how dedicated Red Sox Nation was to its team, the fans in attendance that night made a believer out of me.
When it was time for the "7th inning stretch," the entire park stood up and sang "Sweet Caroline" in unison. Now, that's what I call a love-affair with a team. A love-affair that is passed-down from generation to generation. It reminded me of the love-affair that Pittsburgh has with the Steelers.
Towards the end of the game, I overheard a guy in the row in-front of us arguing with his wife or girlfriend over the phone: "Look, I don't want to hear this right now! What I'm going to do is watch the rest of this fu**in game, and then we will discuss this when I get home. Do you understand me!" Wow, I guess he had his priorities in-order.
It was a close game, but the Sox won, 9-8.
Everyone was standing and cheering at the end of the game, and that same guy who was arguing over the phone, decided it was a good time to light-up a cigarette. Well, as you probably know, it's against the law to smoke at most sporting venues, and my uncle decided he was going to take it upon himself to enforce the ordinance. He said, "excuse me, can you please put that out?" And the guy would have none of it. He put it out, and then lit up another one. He was a real jerk. My uncle then said, "why do you have to be an asshole?" And the guy retorted, "I'm not being an asshole. You told me to put that cigarette out, so I did." I thought there was about to be a fight. I remember thinking to myself, "please let it go. My legs are like jello right now. The last thing in the world I want to do is get into a rumble." Thankfully, it didn't go beyond just some words, and everyone exited the stadium peacefully. Whoever the guy was, he certainly didn't represent the City of Boston very well.
Anyway, on the way out of the park, Ray and my uncle were discussing going out for a few beers, but all I wanted to do was just sleep. Fortunately, we didn't stop at any night-spots and just headed back to the house. I finally got into my little bed around 1am, and after getting virtually no sleep in almost two-days, I couldn't wait to close my eyes and drift off. The family's cat decided to pay a visit and came in bed to snuggle with me. I let the cat snuggle for a bit, but since I was a stranger, I had visions of the cat clawing my eyes out as I slept and eventually put the cat in the next room and shut the door (I am not a cat person, and I don't know if they really claw people's eyes out, but I didn't want to take any chances).
I woke up around 9am the next day feeling somewhat refreshed. I was more than ready to hop in the car and go home. Thankfully, my uncle was feeling the same.
We made it home around 6pm, but not before encountering a bear on route 22 just outside of State College. I was driving at the time, and my uncle said, "you were acting like you didn't see the bear." And I said, "I saw it, but didn't think it was that big of a deal." See, when you're exhausted, even bears crossing a road don't impress you very much. I was never so happy to be back in Pittsburgh. It took me days to finally build my strength back up. Today, my uncle concedes that it was probably a mistake to leave for Mass when we did. Oh well, live and learn.
It was still a fun time, and in the end, I was glad I had the experience.