August 22, 2006

My First Game At Fenway

At about 6:00 AM on Sunday, August 22, 1976, my father and I got on a bus at the Vermont Transit terminal in Burlington, Vermont. I was 12 years old and I was going to Fenway Park for the first time.

The Red Sox were in fifth place in the six-team AL East (for you youngsters, the East included the Yankees, Orioles, Tigers, Brewers, and Cleveland). They were 57-63, 15.5 games behind the Yankees, quite a drop from their near-win in the World Series against Cincinnati the previous October.

I know I watched some of the seven-game battle against the Reds. What I distinctly remember (as opposed to having seen subsequent clips that now feel somewhat like memories) was watching Looie Tiant's 6-0 shutout (and his single and baserunning!) in Game 1 and Fred Lynn's hard crash into Fenway's centerfield wall (padding was added the following spring) early in Game 6.

1976 was my first year as a serious Red Sox fan. I learned to score games and did so every night, listening to Ned Martin and Jim Woods on WJOY.

My father worked at IBM and employees were offered transportation/tickets to about four or five Red Sox games every season. (The price of $25 per person sticks in my mind.) I assume that my father saw how much I was into the Sox that summer and picked one of those weekend games for us to see. The Red Sox were hosting the Oakland Athletics, the team they had swept in the previous year's ALCS. (Oakland had won the 1972, 1973, and 1974 World Series.)

I will never forget walking up the ramp and coming out into the park, on the first base side, and seeing all that green. We had a black and white TV at home and seeing for the first time the green expanse of the outfield and the Wall -- contrasted by the gleaming red seats -- was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. An older man was smoking a cigar to my left and even now -- 30 years since that day -- a certain type of cigar smoke will bring me right back to that moment.

We sat in Section 17, about halfway up in the grandstand. I wish I still had my scorecard from that afternoon, but nothing from that trip (or from my subsequent trips the next two years (I was also there on September 9, 1978, Game 3 of the Boston Massacre)) survives.

I did get a copy (via eBay) of the program they sold that day (in which the first six innings of Boston's 9-6 loss to the Yankees on September 29 are scored), and thanks to Retrosheet, I know exactly what happened.

Oakland              Boston
Billy North, CF      Rick Burleson, SS
Bert Campaneris, SS  Denny Doyle, 2B
Don Baylor, RF       Fred Lynn, CF
Billy Williams, DH   Carl Yastrzemski, LF
Sal Bando, 3B        Cecil Cooper, 1B
Gene Tenace, 1B      Jim Rice, DH
Cesar Tovar, LF      Carlton Fisk, C
Phil Garner, 2B      Dwight Evans, RF
Larry Haney, C       Butch Hobson, 3B
Paul Norris, P       Fergie Jenkins, P
Finding out that Jenkins was pitching annoyed the hell out of me because it seemed like every time the Sox were shown on Saturdays on Channel 22 (the only time to watch a game besides Monday Night Baseball) Jenkins was pitching. I wanted to see someone else.

The Red Sox had won the first two games of the series, 2-1 on Friday night behind Tiant (and Hobson's sac fly in the bottom of the ninth) and 5-2 on Saturday. With me, my father, and 27,524 other fans in attendance, the Red Sox took a quick 1-0 in the first inning, when Doyle scored on Yastrzemski's single. It was Yaz's 37th birthday.

Oakland took the lead with two runs in the top of the fourth, but they also had two runners thrown out at the plate in that inning. As soon as Tom Murphy replaced Jenkins in the sixth, the A's scored four times and led 6-1.

Boston came back immediately, tying the game in the bottom half of the sixth. Yastrzemski singled and after Cooper was hit by a pitch, Rollie Fingers relieved Paul Lindblad. After Rice struck out, Fisk singled to left, loading the bases. Pinch-hitter Rick Miller doubled to left, scoring two runs. Hobson grounded out to shortstop and Fisk scored. Burleson doubled in Miller and Doyle brought home Burleson. And at the end of a very long sixth inning, we had a 6-6 tie.

Each team had several two-out hits -- Wayne Gross's single in the 8th and Baylor's double in the top of the 9th for Oakland, Rice's single in the seventh, Burleson's single in the eighth, and his double in the 10th for the Sox.

In the top of the 11th, Garner singled to left, and was bunted to second. Campaneris's fifth hit of the day moved him to third. Don Baylor laid down a suicide squeeze bunt, which was fielded by Willoughby, but his throw home was too late. 7-6. With one out in the home half, Yaz got his fourth hit of the day, but two force plays ended the game.

And it was back on the bus for the five-hour trip home. I made the trip another two (three?) times before I finally saw the Red Sox win.

Two notes: Both relief pitchers who came in during the sixth inning finished the game: Fingers threw six innings and Willoughby tossed 5.1. ... Several players left the game early, and I don't know why. Norris left after 1.1 innings, Evans was pinch-hit for in the 4th inning, and Jenkins was pulled after five innings, trailing 2-1. (I know I have a microfilm printout of Peter Gammons's game story from the next day's Globe, but it's buried in a box somewhere.)


allan said...

My 11 year old son just excoriated me for saying that I was through with the Sox for '06.

Someone had to do it!

Sometimes being a fan is a pleasure..other times, it's a duty.


Remember: things certainly look bleak now, but we really have no idea how the season will end.

We may think we do, but we don't. (And you may think they'll fold, and they might, but that doesn't mean you knew. It simply means your expectation matched one of the myriad outcomes.)


I get that same warm rush of excitement every time I go to Fenway -- it feels like home.

After the game, I always stand and just look around the park for 5-10 minutes. I'm always afraid that (for whatever reason) it'll be my last time there.

laura k said...

Thanks for sharing that memory.

I wish I knew when my first time at the Stadium was, but I was undoubtedly too stoned to have recorded it. (Just a fact.) I've never been to a ballgame with either of my parents. I had to wait for teenaged friends to introduce me to the experience.

I have some great memories of sitting in the bleachers during those crazy late-70s days.

I also remmeber my first time at Fenway, but then, so do you - you were there. I was absolutely knocked out by the brick, and the Wall, and the scoreboard. I had seen it on TV a million times, but I was truly seeing it for the first time.

Ever since then, Fenway has been my favourite place to see baseball.

laura k said...

Jack: I'm glad your son pulled you back in. Maybe Redsock's steady (obsessive) habits - "there's a game on, I'm watching" - will do the same for me.

allan said...

I believe that first game was this one:

Mothers Day, May 10, 1987
Boston 7, Angels 0
Bruce Hurst 5-hit CG.

The one thing I remember from that game is that at one point in the first few innings, a guy came walking up the grandstand steps wearing wearing a Mets World Champs t-shirt (from the previous fall, obviously).

I was a bit shocked and figured he would get some abuse as he walked along, but he didn't. (Upon further review, maybe he was just an asshole.)


And my first game at Yankee Stadium was in September 13, 1986, when Rice went into the stands to retrive his stolen cap, though I was out in the beer line when that happened.

laura k said...

And my first game at Yankee Stadium was in September 13, 1986, when Rice went into the stands to retrive his stolen cap, though I was out in the beer line when that happened.

Oh my god, I remember that game well. Remember those bruisers we met, went to a sports bar with them after the game? Oy.

Someone said that he was going to score the game, til he saw that you brought your own pen, and was too intimidated.

9casey said...

Great Stuff, redsock,Your flair for writning and your love for what it means to be a Sox fan are unmatched. This blog is the first place I go to every morning......

BrianTheOC said...

My first game at Fenway was June 21, 1989, Red Sox-Rangers - my 8th birthday, and what a present!

Accompanying me (or rather, driving me), was my dad, uncle Mike, cousin Mike, my brother, and my friend Jesse. I was decked out head-to-toe in Sox appare: hat, t-shirt, wristbands, Roger Clemens glove, and a souvenir Sox helmet for good measure.

Although we had bleacher seats, I still made a sign for Wade Boggs that read "Hey Wade, hit one for me - it's my birthday!" Lo and behold, though my memory is foggy of which inning it took place, he proceeded to do just that with a single midway through the game. I remember trying to get Ellis Burks' attention as he patrolled center, and Julio Franco hitting a shot into the net above the monster.

The Sox lost the game, but what a night...all of the people sitting next to me kept wishing me Happy B-day.

allan said...

Here is the box and play by play.

Red Sox led 3-0 after the first -- but lost 10-3. No Franco HR, but Boggs singled in the 8th. Burks DNP; Kutcher did.

For Texas, Geno Petralli went 5-for-5.

s1c said...

My first trip was opening day 1983. By that time I was well on to seeing a game at various parks.

My first game ever was in 77 at KC. Parks visited were the old comisky park in chicago, Jack Murphy in SD (Rose was close to breaking the Record), Wrigley field, Tiger stadium (the old one), Candlestick, Dodger Stadium, the old California Angels park, Memorial stadium and Camden Yard, Yankee Stadium, Metrodome, The Kingdome, the old Toronto ball park and that beast in Oakland. One thing about being in the navy and traveling all over the US was it gave me a chance to visit a lot of parks, the teams usually didn't matter just the fact that it was Major league Park. Some day after I retire I think I will just go on a long road trip, visiting as many parks as I can.

frozen tundra said...

not my first game at Fenway, but certainly my most memorable:

July 6, 2002 vs Detroit - my wife was given a pair of seats by a season-ticket holder (Field Box 45 Row L -directly behind home plate)

2 innings into the game I couldn't help but notice that an attractive, athletic brunette with funky sunglasses had sat down across from me. after what was probably 5 minutes of staring it dawned on me that it was Mia Hamm taking in a game to watch her future hubby Nomar! I said hello and got her autograph. turns out Ms. Nixon & Ms. Varitek were also sitting in the row in front of Mia.

of course I couldn't tell you who won or what the score was...=)

allan said...


Boston won 8-0 that day behind Pedro.

frozen tundra said...

thanks, I knew you would have that stat available!

Unknown said...

My first sox game came in the early summer of 1984..a friend and I rented a van and drove from west central minnesota to see a game at Fenway....I know they played the Yankees, and before the contest Dave Winfield and one of the Red Sox participated in the home run hitting contest...I also remember it was very, very hot when we were in the city....another memory is that is the night the Celtics won the NBA when the game got over, we got to experience that as for Fenway, it was always a favorite...the trip just solidified it! We sat down the third base line in the rooftop seats....the citgo sign...the hancock name it...I loved it...a few years ago I had the opportunity to take my 10 year old nephew out to boston for a Twins-Sox was an absolute thrill for me to watch him take in his surroundings at fenway...we did the stadium tour, which is an absolute must for any sox wife has never been to fenway...I am hoping that her and I can make the trip this summer!!!

Unknown said...

nice story...

i remember my first time at Fenway, i was 10 and I was super exited!!! we had grandstand tix. It was soo cool. then in the 7th a bunch of drunks got thrown out of them game!! they were yelling at the tigers centerfielder saying "I was better then you in t-ball i was a t-ball ALLSTAR" it was so funny!!! i remember walking in and seeing the fenway green oo the memories!!

Anonymous said...

My first time at Fenway was actually not a game.

It was January 18, 1991... I remember because the previous night i had been in NYC on business and watched the initial bombing of Iraq in the first Gulf War on TV. I had headed up to Boston for a meeting and also visit my college roommate. I was driving into town from the airport and saw Fenway off to my right off of the highway. I got off... circled back around and found a place to park.

Most of the entrances were boarded up - but I found an open entrance and explained to the guard on duty that I was from Texas, a Red Sox fan and just wanted to see the field (I had been a Red Sox fan since - of all years - 1986 when there were three former University of Texas players on the team... Clemens, Schiraldi and Spike Owen). He told me how to get to the seats and I wound my way around the inclines until i found the opening.

I stood at the top of the stairs and saw Fenway for the first time. I walked down the steps and was actually at the opening of the gate leading onto the field by the third base dugout. The gate was open and - with one step - could have stepped onto the field (which was covered in snow).

Instead I stood there and looked at the green monster, at home plate (where Ted, Ruth, Gehrig, Yaz, Freddie Lynn, Pudge, and every other great American League player had stood), into the dugouts, at the big CITGO sign over the green monster, and began to cry. I'm not sure why... but I'm not ashamed... it was a wonderful experience.

I never stepped onto the field - it seemed more like some sort of sacred ground to me and I couln't bring myself to do it.

Since then - I have probably been to 30 games there... I try to bring my wife and / or kids (all Red Sox fans too) to at least one game a year... and i still get a little choked up when i go.

It's a very special place.

BritneyG said...

I remember my first time at Fenway Park, it was when I was ten years old and I was with my Dad. I remember him telling me when we were walking in, “now Britney this is sacred grounds, more sacred then church.” I remember laughing at him and not understand what he meant by it, but now that I have aged I see what he means. I love the seventh inning stretch, or the crowd singing, Sweet Caroline, by our beloved Neil Diamond. Every time I walk into that ball park I get an overwhelming feeling of excitement and true representation of what the Sox are all about. I like to go to as many games as I can a year, and my dad finally purchased season tickets, but there is not one thing in this world that can take away the feelings I first felt at Fenway Park so many years ago. I love hearing about other people’s experiences at the famous park, it really goes to show that Sox fans are the BEST fans.