By Phineas J. Stone
This past week I was able to take my two kids to the Red Sox game for the first time, and though it cost more than two month’s of car payments, there were some great memories.
While neither of them are baseball fans in particular, the joy of yelling out loud and not having to quiet down was true freedom. They were excited to cheer for David ‘Big Papi’ Ortiz, and copy me yelling at the pitcher – who was a bum by the sixth inning – to get out of the game. It was a shock to them that you could do such a thing, yell at a player or the umpire from the stands.
We sat in the bleachers, and it brought back my own memories.
First of all, the bleachers are not the bleachers I remember, and Fenway isn’t the park it was back then either.
Everything is family oriented, made to order for kids, painted and cleaned – the tourist attraction that it really should be. It doesn’t smell rotten anymore.
Pardon me for saying, but at my first game, Fenway was a dump. And not just the stadium.
I remember my father had told me we had to be careful once we got near the Park. It wasn’t safe back then. My grandfather had said before we left it was full of pickpockets, stick up artists and con men. I saw none of the former two characters, but the con men were everywhere.
The scalpers nowadays are incorporated business people, well-dressed guys and gals, clean cut and wearing cologne – ready to give you the best deal they can. Today, they’re even somewhat sanctioned by the team. Cops don’t care, and any law that still exists against scalping has either been repealed or overshadowed by the financial benefits.
At my first game, I remember the scalpers being guys who appeared to be from the old Charlestown and had just come out of jail – and they probably were. After all, it was a cash business with no background checks or job interviews required, and done secretly and quickly. A negotiation with them for tickets was more like a standoff. If you looked weak, you might get robbed or given a fake ticket. If you held your ground, took out your money with certainty (and appeared to maybe be armed), it was a square deal.
The Red Sox were terrible back then. They were always kind of competitive, but never a World Series winner or a playoff regular.
The bleacher seats were cheap stuff, and the antics were not the family theatre we’re presented with today. At my first game, I was a bit older than most kids there today, and for the very reason that Fenway Park wasn’t a place for little kids back then, especially in the bleachers.
I remember getting to our old wooden seats, which were more like lawn chairs, and being greeted by a couple of middle-aged dudes smoking a joint and sitting in our seats. My dad asked if they minded, and pointed to me – a naive kid wearing his baseball cap and carrying a mitt. They didn’t put out the joint (which is what my dad was talking about), but they did move up to the seats right behind us.
The Beach Ball came out soon into the game, and that was illegal back then. There was a Boston Police officer constantly chasing the ball around the bleachers as fans played a game of chicken with him. He always caught it eventually and would bring out a pocket knife and slice it right there on the spot. Then another one would emerge in a different section…and it would start all over again.
By the fifth inning, people in the lower rows were screaming incoherent things at Tony Armas, the center fielder at the time. Someone threw what looked like a balloon onto the field in sixth, hitting Armas in the back as he warmed up in between innings.
“Hey kid, look at that!” said the man behind us, still smoking reefer. “Someone threw a prophylactic on Armas.”
I turned to my dad and said, “What’s a prophylactic?”
“Thanks you jerks,” my dad said to them as they laughed at us hysterically, calling for the popcorn guy and the beer vendor.
For more than an inning, there had been a melee going on about two sections over. I can recall seeing a fist fight between a couple of guys. The cops broke it up, and eventually they took one guy and brought him over to our section. The cop deposited him two seats in front of me and told him he’d better behave or they’d arrest him.
Now, the reason that was a bad idea was that sitting next to him were three loud-mouthed Detroit fans. (FYI, Detroit fans continue to be some of the worst fans in baseball, as they were back in the old days too).
The scrapper was primed, and the gas was sitting next to him.
Suddenly, popcorn started to fly into the air and the scuffling sounds of grown men moving fast and aggressively unfolded.
A beer spilled.
Someone yelled, “Sit down you (expletive deleted).”
Finally, a punch came and the Boston cop was back in a flash. As he approached though, the Boston scrapper reached behind him and grabbed a full beer from another fan. He turned and tossed the entire thing into the face of the Boston cop.
It was genius.
The cop muscled him around, unleashed a string of curse words on him that I’d never heard before, and began to escort him out.
“Don’t worry folks, he’s just from Southie; he can’t help himself,” boomed the voice of the cop as he took him out.
The Southie guy cheered his own arrest. Lifting his hands up high in victory, he extended both of his middle fingers and let out a string of ‘f-bombs’ that I haven’t heard since as the cop roughly dragged him off to the Fenway brig.
“What’s wrong with people from Southie?” inquired the gents behind us, exhaling another long drag of their marijuana cigarette. “I mean, for goodness sakes, there are tourists here.”
I remember smiling; what a circus.
And in regards to the game, to this day I have no idea who won or what happened.