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!

Off season

Atlanta Braves' superfan

I’ve blogged before about the importance of donning team colors when you go to a sporting event, but this Braves super-fan has everyone beat. This past weekend in Atlanta, J and I saw an almost equal number of Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves fans in attendance at Atlanta’s Turner Field for the teams’ three inter-league games, but none of them were as elaborately dressed as this fellow with his pseudo-deerskin tunic and turkey feather headdress. If you’ve wondered where the Braves’ former mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa went after he was retired due to complaints of racism, I might have found your answer.

Even if you aren’t in the market for a colorful Native American costume, it can be expensive to wear your team affiliation on your sleeve, particularly if you buy an officially licensed team jersey with the name of your favorite player. And if said player subsequently leaves your favorite team, you’re left with a conundrum: what to do with your outdated jersey? When Johnny Damon left the Red Sox and signed with the Hated Yankees, true-blue Red Sox fans found all sorts of ways to “recycle” their old Damon jerseys, including this bit of sartorial revision:

Johnny Damon = Demon

If your favorite player left your favorite team under friendly terms–or if he at least didn’t sign with your arch rivals–you can get away with wearing his old jersey proudly. After the Red Sox recently acquired long-time Braves’ pitcher John Smoltz, J immediately bought one of Smoltz’s old Braves jerseys on eBay, figuring he’d wear it if we got to see the future Hall of Famer pitch for the Red Sox against his former team. As luck would have it, Smoltz didn’t pitch in Atlanta, so J didn’t taunt any Braves’ fans by wearing his John Smoltz shirt with his Red Sox cap. We did, though, see several Boston fans sporting jerseys for the Red Sox’ former short-stop, Nomar Garciaparra, with the lamentation “No-Mor” added above his name:

No-Mor Garciaparra

If buying jerseys old or new is still too pricey for your budget, you can always make your own fan-wear. If you do, though, be sure to double-check your spelling. Whereas a misspelled Washington Nationals jersey raised $8,000 at a charity auction earlier this year, wearing a home-made Jacoby Ellsbury T-shirt that misspells the name of your favorite Red Sox is just plain embarrassing.

I think you mean "Ellsbury"

Big Papi swings for the fences

J and I are leaving this morning for a weekend getaway to Atlanta, where we will attend three Boston Red Sox games just as we did two years ago. Today’s picture is from last year’s Red Sox pilgrimage to California, where we went to three games against the Oakland Athletics while I was in San Francisco for an academic conference. David “Big Papi” Ortiz unfortunately struck out during this particular at-bat, and the Red Sox unfortunately got swept by the A’s. We’re hoping for better luck this year against the Braves.

Spring training

It’s another cold, bright day, with tightly furled crocus buds emerging but not yet daring to open. The light still angles deep, as in winter, and it retains a cold, sharp, colorless intensity. But you can almost feel the looming fecundity of the earth underfoot, even in places where the bare mud has refrozen to concrete hardness. Even through the earth’s obdurate solidity, you can almost feel the subtle rumbling of a tangled universe of roots awakening: spring in training.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might recognize today’s photo as being the inspiration for this morning’s Tweet.

Spring mud

T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruellest month, but in New England at least I’d argue for March. Now in March, Massachusetts ballfields are bare…and muddy. Imagine being a New England kid who’s just itching for the Little League season to start, and all you see in the place of a field of dreams is a field of mud.

Got game?

As I explained this time last year, “March madness” in New England doesn’t simply refer to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; it refers to The Big Itch we all feel here in the Northeast as spring is in the air but not yet entirely arrived. This morning, the sun was shining and suburban birds were singing…and the temperature was hovering around freezing. Yes, we can see the ground; yes, the snowdrops and crocuses are poking tentatively out of the earth…but at any moment, we New Englanders know the weather will turn, we’ll get one (or two, or three) more snowfalls, and it will feel like January or February again, not the “spring” announced on our paper calendars.

Rhododendron buds

But, hope springs eternal, especially in spring. In the process of making travel arrangements for the May conference I’d mentioned earlier this week, J and I discovered that the 2008 ALA conference in San Francisco perfectly coincides with the Red Sox road schedule, so we’ll be able to continue last year’s tradition of seeing our hometown boys on the road (this time in Oakland), where we can actually buy face-value tickets rather than paying an exorbitant amount of money to set foot in Fenway Park.

So while Curt Schilling and Kevin Youkilis are blogging in Japan as they continue to train for the Red Sox international season opener against (yes) Oakland, I’m spending the in-between days of March looking forward to May, when the Red Sox once again face Oakland in Oakland, and spring will be here for real.

Gooooooooooooaaaaaaaaal!

Today’s Boston Bruins’ match-up with the New York Rangers came down to a single goal as Phil Kessel scored during the game-ending shoot-out. As I type this, I’m home from the Bruins game and watching the Red Sox trying to avoid ALCS elimination during a do-or-die match-up with the Cleveland Indians. If you’re a Boston sports fan this weekend, you’re going to be stub-nailed by Monday from the ulcer-inducing suspense of it all. Go Sox!

UPDATE: Click here for more pictures from Saturday’s Bruins game. Enjoy!