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.

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.

One runner loves V-Tek!

You might remember me mentioning that Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek lives in Waban, the village of Newton, Massachusetts where I spend my long weekends. Although the fan-edited sign that re-named Varick Street “Varitek Street” is now gone, Varitek’s fans and neighbors here in Waban have transformed the Beacon Street bridge over the T tracks into a sort of shrine covered with encouraging signs. Whether or not the Sox sweep the Rockies in tonight’s World Series game, we know that Tek will be in his usual place behind the plate earning his stripes as the captain, and his fans here in Newton (yours truly included) will scream ourselves hoarse in the meantime.

Elsewhere in Waban, Red Sox Mania is reflected in the breakfast specials at Barry’s Village Deli, where this morning I did my loyal duty by ordering an optimistically named “World Series Winner Special”: two eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, and two slices of challah French toast.

Wishful eating

Call me superstitious, but I’m a big believer in Wishful Eating, especially in a deli where the walls are covered with Red Sox and Patriots memorabilia, and one of our regular waitresses was wearing (of course) a Jason Varitek T-shirt. With signs and omens like these, things are looking good for our beloved Sox…fingers crossed.

Click here for a photo set of the Jason Varitek/Boston Red Sox fan signs on the Beacon Street bridge.

Let's update this for 2007, okay?

Here’s hoping the kids at the John W. McCormack Middle School in Dorchester, MA have reason to update their playground billboards. (They could do us all a favor by painting over Johnny Damon with a portrait of Dustin Pedroia, for starters.)

I think NH blogger Amy Kane summed up the morning-after mood in Red Sox nation nicely in her post “Papi ate my homework“:

Boston Red Sox billboards

So we won and here we go again. Red Sox Nation (dark green, on this map, plus Japan) will effectively secede from the union for the next week and a half, all because of some guys who play a sport in their pajamas, have weird hair, and spit a lot.

We will be overexcited and overtired. We will get less done. We will pay little attention to national and local news. We will ignore politics. We will be poor citizens. Meetings will end early. Term papers and newspaper articles will be turned in late. Test scores will drop. There will be less charity and volunteering. On sidelines and in auditoriums parents will be tuned into small high tech devices rather than the strivings of their kids.

Production will be down! Emotions will be up! And oceans of cheap beer will be quaffed! (With fistfuls of Halloween candy.)

Painted Red Sox players

Amen to that second paragraph particularly! In the middle of an overloaded semester, I already feel “overexcited and overtired”; I’ve already been ignoring politics along with national and local news. Now that the Red Sox have clambered their way out of the almost-eliminated hole they’d allowed the Cleveland Indians to dig for them, I have an excuse for my grading backlog. How can I keep up with grading, for heaven’s sake, when the Red Sox are heading to the World Series?

In Newton, I watch baseball games on an enormous HDTV; in Keene, I have a tiny TV that doesn’t get any channels other than E! Although I’ll miss Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday, I’ll be in Newton for Games 2, 3, and 4…and I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to catch the remaining games should they be necessary, even if that means getting up at the crack of dawn on the morning after a game to drive back to Keene for my 8am class.

A girl has to have priorities, after all, and I for one find weird-haired men in pajamas particularly persuasive.

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!