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Worldwide Ace » Throw It Back

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Throw It Back

31 August, 2009 (16:14) | Growing Up, Sports

Fenway Park
Fenway Park during a night game.

When school let out on a game day, there was always a desire to take my allowance for the week and wind my way down to Kenmore Square for a Red Sox game. At only eight dollars, bleacher seats were downright affordable, and those lovable losers, always in the shadow of the Evil Empire, could entice me with promises of witnessing the unimaginable: a victory.

I could see every major league team in the bright hues painted in the foliage whipping by the subway windows. The speed of the train only compounded my excitement as we dove into the inky blackness, a promise of next stop Kenmore rasped over the PA in a thick Boston brogue. The crowd would sway and part as I ducked and dove, swimming to the surface in the midst of the city’s madness, surrounded by a sea of bright reds and deep blues, all flowing toward the massive green container that could bubble over with teeming joy or leak slowly with disappointment.

It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be child, that ever trusting, nubile mind. I would sidle up to the ticket window and part with my money for a stiff piece of paper that granted me viewing rights to a dreamworld. The gate keepers always smiled as I slipped through the turnstiles and traversed the echoing concrete halls. Every time, I would stop at doorway to my section, the bright blue sky glowing brightly through the threshold. Several deep breaths later, I would walk out, my mind reeling so fast that it seemed a slow motion march into the light.

There’s something magical about an open patch of grass and dirt. The smell alone is intoxicating. In the eyes of a child, every possibility plays itself out right there when the field appears, and each possibility is more fantastic and amazing than the last. Every pitch could be a strike out or a home run. Every hit could lead to an amazing defensive play or an exciting race to the bag. Every fly ball could be the greatest souvenir I’d ever gotten. Probability, scandals, drugs, egos; none of these things mattered. All that mattered was scent of fresh grass, the roar of crowd, and the chance to see some baseball.

Though I’m a third generation Red Sox fan, I can hardly call myself a life-long fan. Growing up in San Francisco, my father’s allegiance to the Red Sox led to my becoming an A’s fan. After all, the only chance to see the Sox play in San Francisco was against the A’s. When I moved to Boston, my allegiance slowly shifted.

Despite this, every time the A’s came to town, I was merely sedate and observant, unwilling to choose sides between my favorite teams.

mark mcgwireIt was during one of these A’s-Red Sox series that my friend Andy and I found our way into the cheap seats at Fenway, well before opening pitch. We stood atop the centerfield wall, watching the teams take batting practice. My heart leapt with excitement when Mark McGwire stepped up to the plate. He quickly fired the first several pitches off the Green Monster to our right, pounding the ball farther than any of the previous batters. The night before, McGwire had hit two home runs in the game, and my imagination ran wild with the thought of catch one myself.

“McGwire is awesome!” I said as a ball flew over the 40 foot tall Monster.

“Shh,” Andy replied. “We might get lynched if someone hears you.” The usher nearby began to laugh.

With a crack, a ball flew directly towards us in center. I ran to the wall, carefully extending my glove and waiting. Two other kids came up and began jostling for position. We craned and pushed and readched with everything we had, but the ball fell a good ten feet short below us.

“They never make it out here,” said the usher, our dismayed faces eliciting his sympathies. “Maybe one’ll make it. It is McGwire. But don’t be too disappointed.”

Another ball didn’t come close. Not when Rueben Sierra was up. Not when MoVaughn took his swings. Not once.

The stadium began to fill as we closed in on the opening pitch. The usher sent us to our seats as the national anthem played and the ceremonial first pitch was thrown. As usual, the crowd in the bleachers was rowdy and cement risers beneath seats were already crusty with stale spilled beer and peanut shells. We were well back of the wall, at least 15 rows up. It was hardly home run catching seats.

The first inning was uneventful: a couple baserunners, a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play. McGwire led off the second, and my heart was pounding faster than Rickey Henderson on the basepaths. On the very first pitch, McGwire connected, the crack echoing over the corwd and immediately disappearing into the deafening shock as the ball carried over the Green Monster, giving the A’s the lead. A huge grin spilled over my face.

“Wow,” I said.

“Too bad he won’t hit another,” said Andy. “That’s why the Sox’ll win.”

The next two two innings were once again uneventful. The Sox couldn’t mount any offense, but neither could the A’s.

As the third inning ended, I decided to run to the bathroom.

“Here’s my glove. Catch anything near you, ok?”

“You got it,” Andy reassured me.

I ran down the stairs, the usher yelling at me to slow down, and skidded into the tunnel toward the bathroom. I quickly found a trough and did my business, giving my hands a quick rinse just in case anyone was watching. As I ducked out the door to the bathroom, I heard McGwire’s name over the PA system. I rushed to get back to my seat, but the first pitch, a ball, had already been announced on the TV’s by concessions before I made it through the exit.

As I came out the doorway, I decided to duck to my right along the top of the center field wall instead of cutting left and up the stairs. At the very least, I could wait out McGwire’s at bat up there and then go back.

I didn’t even have a chance to turn to the field when I heard the crack. The ball flew into the air, its silhouette hazy against the blue afternoon sky. More shocking, it was head right toward me.

The ball dove for the stands and I leapt, feeling the leather slap against my hand in perfect unison. I stood there, staring at the ball, completely oblivious to the cheers, the boos, and the general fervor. My mind was racing. I had caught a home run ball! I had caught a home run ball from Mark McGwire!

baseball

“Good catch,” I heard an usher say to me as I came back to Earth, “but you can’t stand there. It’s a hazard. Go back to your seat.” His voice reached me over the excitement and the chanting.

“Hey kid,” came another guy, “aren’t you gonna throw it back?”

It was then that I heard just what the chanting said.

“THROW IT BACK! THROW IT BACK!”

I felt lightheaded as my quandary became clear. If I kept the ball, I would be vilified by my fellow Bostonians. If I threw it back, I would be lauded, but I would be out the souvenir of a lifetime.

“THROW IT BACK!”

I stared at the small white orb, its surfaced marred with a dark spot where the bat had connected.

“THROW IT BACK!”

The small red laces were frayed very slightly, but knowing it was hit was part of the allure.

“THROW IT BACK!”

“Come on, kid. Get out of here,” the usher urged, grabbing my shoulder.

“Throw the ball, kid,” cried the man.

“THROW IT BACK!”

I felt the warmth of the ball, my palm still stinging from the catch.

“THROW IT BACK!”

I imagined my children and grandchildren  staring at the ball on my mantle with reverence.

“THROW IT BACK!”

“Take the ball and move it, kid!”

“Throw the goddamn ball, you little bastard!”

“THROW IT BACK!”

I held the ball in my hand, thinking one last time about what I should do.

“THROW IT BACK!” cried the crowd. “THROW IT BACK!”

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  • 1izzie

    what HAPPENED?!?!?!?

  • AceHarmon

    What do you think happened? What would you do in a situation like that?

    It doesn't really matter what I chose to do. The point is that you can be caught between desire and tradition and your name doesn't have to be Romeo.

  • AceHarmon

    What do you think happened? What would you do in a situation like that?

    It doesn't really matter what I chose to do. The point is that you can be caught between desire and tradition and your name doesn't have to be Romeo.