Baseball


O'Hara's renamed Uehara's

Yesterday I took a slight detour from my usual Friday afternoon routine to photograph a banner outside O’Hara’s Pub in Newton Highlands, which now reads “Ue’Hara’s” in honor of Red Sox closer Koji Uehara. I’d seen a photo of the banner on Universal Hub and figured I’d walk an extra block or two to photograph it while I was in Newton Highlands getting takeout at the Newton House of Pizza as I do most Fridays. It’s not every year that your team wins the World Series, and it’s not every year that your Japanese closer has a last name that can so easily be adopted by an Irish pub.

Red Sox lawn jockey

Uehara has been a pleasure to watch this postseason: he’s a veritable strike-throwing machine. The typical experience of being a Red Sox fan this postseason has been as follows: keep your fingers crossed that the starting pitcher is having a good night, pray that the Red Sox bats provide enough run support to get you through the sometimes spotty middle relief, then breathe a sigh of relief when Uehara takes the mound, because that means it’s lights out for the opposition.

Lights out, indeed. After I’d walked the few extra blocks to O’/Ue’Hara’s, walked back to the Newton House of Pizza, ordered and waited for the calzones we had for dinner last night, and was walking back to my car, the sun displayed its own version of “lights out,” dappling the western sky with glowing patches of pink and orange.

Sunset

My photo here doesn’t do last night’s sunset justice: the sight was so striking, the woman walking in front of me stopped in midstride to snap a picture on her phone. Koji Uehara might be a strike-throwing machine, but when it comes to guaranteed lights out, Mother Nature is still the best closer in the league.

This is my Day 2 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Catcher's helmet

Now that the Red Sox have won the World Series, there’s an odd sort of emptiness: a great space that this year’s baseball season used to fill. Now that J and I aren’t staying up late to watch postseason games, what exactly will we do with ourselves? Last night I watched a Bruins game—one of the few hockey games I’ve seen this year even though the NHL season is nearly a month old—and it seemed strange to be watching hockey, already. Wasn’t it just yesterday that J and I sat in the outfield bleachers on a sunny September Sunday watching the boys of summer play? Now, already, it’s November and time for football, hockey, and basketball, each of them seeming to arrive too soon.

Foam finger

But it’s not too soon: it’s never too soon. It’s my perceptions that are out-of-season, not the games currently in play. Baseball is a quintessential summer sport, ushered in with spring training and played on impossibly green fields, so there’s already something strange about a postseason that stretches far into October, long after the natural seasons have turned. October baseball games are the most exciting, with the competition heating up as the nighttime temperatures clearly cool, but October baseball games are also the most bittersweet, the nip in the air proclaiming that your playing days are numbered. It somehow seems unnatural to watch baseball in scarves, coats, and winter hats: shivering in the stands is what you do at football, not baseball, games. Wearing anything heavier than a windbreaker to a baseball game seems to go against the natural order of things, like wearing summer whites long after Labor Day.

Victorino makes a run for it

It has been difficult not to fall in love with this year’s Red Sox with their scrappy scruffiness and bearded exuberance. There have been lots of shallow platitudes (and some wicked satire) about the Red Sox’ playoff run bringing healing to Boston in the aftermath of this year’s bombings, but it’s true: baseball in Boston has felt more important than ever this year. J and I went to a game at Fenway Park less than a week after the Marathon bombings, and the simple act of stepping out in public only a few days after a citywide lockdown felt both therapeutic and proudly defiant: a kind of civic duty. In the face of fear and trauma, fans continued to show up in the stands, refusing to surrender even an inch of our fucking city. It seems entirely fitting that the players on the field returned the compliment, never backing down on a post-season run that seemed as long and improbable (at times) as a dark horse marathon finish.

Bullpen catchers

Now that the postseason is over and I have no need for playoff superstitions, I’ll swap the Red Sox ballcap I wore all summer for a Bruins cap that will see me through spring. I’ll change my Facebook cover from a panoramic shot of Fenway in all her green glory to something more autumnal, and I’ll reacquaint myself with the Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics teams I’ve recently neglected. Tomorrow the Red Sox will ride duck boats down the streets of Boston and into the dirty water of the Charles River: the fairytale end to an improbable season. J and I will be nowhere in the thronging crowds, however; instead, we’ll be sitting in the bleachers at a Boston Colege football game, the postseason of one sport giving way to the midseason of another.

Today’s photos come from the last Red Sox game J and I attended this year: a sunny September game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Felix Dubront started the game, Koji Uehara closed it, and the Red Sox won, 5-2.

This is my Day 1 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Boston = Strong

On Sunday, J and I went to an afternoon Red Sox game. It was a picture-perfect day with a cloudless sky and comfortably cool temperatures: the kind of day when you can’t think of anywhere you’d rather be than sitting in the centerfield bleachers, watching a ballgame on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Flag at half staff

When J and I bought tickets to this particular Red Sox game months ago, we had no idea the timing would be significant. Happening less than a week after the Boston Marathon bombings, Sunday’s ballgame was the first time after the attack that J and I went to a crowded public event. When J and I bought tickets to this particular Red Sox game, in other words, we had no idea that simply showing up and sitting in the centerfield bleachers surrounded by strangers would feel like an act of purification: proof that life in New England can return to “almost normal” in the aftermath of heartbreak, and proof that we can still gather in a crowd with anonymous others—a big, teeming throng, just like Marathon Monday—without anything bad happening.

Big Papi at bat

When you go to a Sunday afternoon ballgame at Fenway Park, it’s easy to feel like you’re attending a kind of grassy, open-air church with a diverse community of baseball “believers.” There’s something inexplicably wholesome about watching a ballgame on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with everyone’s eyes fixed on the same Field of Dreams, and on Sunday I craved the quiet calm of this kind of secular fellowship.

Playing catch

Today I read a news story about a local priest who spoke at Marathon bombing victim Krystle Campbell’s funeral on Monday, then attended a Red Sox game with his father later that night, and something he said resonated with my own experience:

“Sports has been so important in the past week,” Fr. Hines said. “You’re gathering a lot of people in one place, whether it’s at the Garden or Fenway Park, and it allows them that sort of civic moment where we’re all together. It’s kind of a concentrated moment. Sports in Boston is so important. We’re indoctrinated from a young age. We follow them and bleed their colors and offers us an opportunity to come together and have some enjoyment even if it’s just a moment for us to get together and talk and laugh.”

Grounds crew at work

Fr. Hines talks about the communal feeling fans experience when they’re gathered to root for the same team, and on Sunday, it felt good to feel that kind of fellowship again. Given that I sometimes feel claustrophobic in crowds, I’d wondered if I’d panic when I found myself surrounded by strangers so soon after the Marathon attack, but the familiar atmosphere of “Friendly Fenway” helped quell that reaction.

Jacoby Ellsbury at work

When you go to church on a sunny Sunday, you expect to sing hymns, and I’d wondered whether I’d get weepy when we sang the national anthem before the start of the game, “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch, and “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning. Instead, it was a song I hadn’t expected to hear—Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” piped in on the public address system—that caused my eyes to mist when I heard a handful of fans join together to sing the chorus:

Don’t worry about a thing
’cause every little thing gonna be alright

B Strong poster with peanut shells

I don’t know if I believe in that Field of Dreams enough to say that every little thing is going to be all right: it certainly was bittersweet to enjoy a ballgame on a sunny Sunday with the memory of those who were killed, injured, and traumatized in last week’s attacks. But it felt good to feel like every little thing might be okay, eventually, the fellowship of a ballpark full of fans feeling as close to “back to normal” as I could have hoped for.

Click here for more pictures from Sunday afternoon’s ballgame between the Boston Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals. Enjoy!

Pedroia at bat

Several weekends ago, J and I went to a steamy Sunday afternoon Red Sox game against the Kansas City Royals. The forecast said the day was supposed to be partly cloudy with temperatures in the 70s, but it felt much hotter in the shade-free centerfield bleacher seats.

Too sunny

Whenever J and I go to sunny summer ballgames at Fenway, I remember the Red Sox games we’ve attended in Atlanta, which were far hotter than anything we’ve experienced here in Boston. Watching the crowd at an Atlanta ballgame, you see fans who are acclimated to heat: they know how to deal with it, just as Boston residents know how to deal with snowy winters. Watching the crowd at an Atlanta game, you see spectators who focus all their energy on merely spectating, conserving as much energy as possible while sheltering under any source of shade they can muster: game program, fielder’s mitt, or any kind of hat.

Almost-empties

In Atlanta, we saw seasoned baseball fans–obviously veterans of many hot games–who arrived with frozen bottles of water, soda, or Gatorade that they’d slowly sip as as they melted: a long-lasting ice-cold beverage. We saw fans who, oblivious to fashion, draped their heads and necks with towels soaked in cold water–or, lacking a towel, water-soaked T-shirts. Atlanta fans, I learned, don’t fight the heat: they lean into it. You don’t worry about looking sweaty at an Atlanta game, because everyone is sweaty. You ease into the heat the way you’d settle into a sauna, letting the warmth loosen your muscles and unlock any residual tension in your body. Instead of recoiling against the heat, trying to resist it, you consciously relax, allowing the sun to bake the sweat from your skin, leaving a rime of salt: a gritty residue that makes you feel like you spent the day at the beach, not at a ballgame.

Luigi's Italian ice

The other secret I learned from Atlanta ballgames? Eat frozen lemonade, Italian ice, or whatever similar refreshment you can find. In Atlanta, they sold yogurt-sized cups of frozen Minute Maid lemonade, and at Fenway, they sell cups of lemonade-flavored Luigi’s Italian ice. Thoreau once said that if you chop your own firewood, it warms you twice: once while you chop it, and again when you burn it. Taking a phrase from Thoreau, I’d argue that eating frozen lemonade cools you thrice: once when you hold it, again when you eat it one melting spoonful at a time, and once more when you drink the melted liquid that’s left when you’ve finished: ice-cold citrusy, syrupy goodness.

Frozen lemonade

Going to a ballgame on a hot day is a return to life at its most elemental. It’s just you, the sun, and your own sweaty skin: the beer, hotdogs, and ballgame itself are almost incidental. You could be sitting in the bleachers, or you could be sitting on the beach. Either way, you come home sun-baked and sweaty, as ready to head to the showers as any of the players you watched competing on the field.

Click here for more photos from last month’s game between the Boston Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals.

The pitch

Two weekends ago, J and I went to a sunny Sunday ballgame at Fenway Park, where we saw the Boston Red Sox beat the Atlanta Braves, 9 to 4. It was a perfect day to catch a game at Fenway: hot and sunny with low humidity, the sky offering only an occasional spot of shade from a passing puff of cloud.

Amateur papparazzo

The last time we’d caught a game between the Sox and Braves was in 2009, when we traveled to Atlanta to see three sun-soaked games. (You can see photo-sets from those games here, here, and here.) In my two blog posts about those three Hotlanta games, I talked about how interesting it is to watch other spectators watching a ballgame. At any given sports event, there’s action on the field and action in the stands…and at any given sporting event, the action in the stands is often just as interesting as the actual game being played.

Funky balloon

At that sunny Sunday ballgame two weekends ago, J and I sat in the outfield bleachers, with a panoramic view of action. One of the most exciting highlights of the afternoon, however, happened behind us when a guy proposed to his girlfriend, hiding a (boxed) engagement ring in their shared bag of popcorn. “Collective effervescence” is the term sociologist Émile Durkheim used to refer to the charged emotional energy shared by participants in a communal experience, and collective effervescence is as good a term as any to describe the buzz in our section of the bleachers as word spread that yes, that happy, relieved-looking young man in a Red Sox jersey had just proposed to that happy, glowing girl in a Braves jersey…and she said yes.

Kevin Youkilis leaves the game

Collective effervescence is also a good term to describe the moment late in the game when fan-favorite Kevin Youkilis ground out a triple and was replaced by a pinch-runner on third base. Rumor already had it that Youkilis was going to be traded, so fans knew that when Youk was taken out of the game, this would be a final farewell. The walls of Fenway Park all but shook with a thunderous ovation as fans bellowed “YOOOOOOOUUUUUUK” from the bottom of their bellies, making it clear that the decision to ship Youk to the Chicago White Sox was made by the management, not the fans. Youk will return to Fenway in his new uniform when the White Sox play the Red Sox later this month, and I’m confident that fans in attendance will welcome him as warmly as we sent him off two weeks ago.

Fenway in summer

Did I mention that the Red Sox beat the Braves, 9 to 4? The win was almost an afterthought: happy icing on a collectively effervescent cake. On a sunny Sunday, it feels nice simply to sit outside with other folks enjoying a beer, some popcorn, and a leisurely game. At any sporting event, there’s the action on the field and the action in the stands, at at the end of the day, both kinds of action are pretty enjoyable to watch, regardless of who wins. On that hot and sunny Sunday, even if the ballplayers hadn’t shown up, I suspect those of us in the outfield bleachers would have found some reason to cheer.

This is my belated contribution to this past week’s Photo Friday theme, Sports. For more photos from Fenway Park, click here. Enjoy!

Iced tea

There’s nothing like watching a ballgame on a sunny summer day to put you in the mood for some liquid refreshment, which might explain why I shoot so many photos of beverages at the various sporting events J and I regularly attend.

This is my quick, day-late contribution to this week’s Photo Friday theme, Liquid. For a photo set from the San Diego Padres vs. Pittsburgh Pirates game that J and I attended with a group of family and friends this past August, click here. Enjoy!

Hotdog & peanuts

Today’s Photo Friday theme is fast food, so here is an image of the all-American combination of hot dogs, peanuts, and baseball, which I blogged this past July after a June pilgrimage to see the Red Sox play the Braves in Atlanta.

Tomorrow, J and I have our own day-night double-header as we have tickets to see a Boston College football game in the afternoon and a Bruins hockey game in the evening: two times the chances to get a weekend fast-food fix.

Click here for my most recent batch of New England Revolution soccer photos, from last weekend’s win over the Seattle Sounders FC. There are, of course, a few food shots: enjoy!

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