The Blog

Surviving the Dark Ages at Fenway

A citizen of Red Sox Nation tells what it was like to be there, when the walls fell and the Zim came tumbling down.

12:00 AM, Oct 24, 2003 • By STEPHEN BARBARA
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WALKING THROUGH FENWAY PARK before Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, one got a notion of what life might have been like in the Dark Ages, for the Boston fans in attendance displayed many benighted tendencies. There was, for instance, fanaticism in the air, a desire to see the Red Sox win at all costs. There were tribal passions and tribal hatreds--the hated tribe being the New York Yankees. There were fans that believed in the ghost of Babe Ruth, and fans that feared divine curses. One even saw necromancy, as many looked to heaven for signs that Boston would win. But more than anything else, one saw simple native pride, for Boston fans are as loyal as the dogs called Saint Bernards.

I am trying to give a sense of the zealousness of the Boston faithful. Many instances of their zeal occur to me, from the two days I spent in Boston watching Games 3 and 4. While the players were stretching out before Game 4, for instance, a man sitting one row in front of me tapped me on the shoulder.

"Hey," he said crossly. "My wife told me to take care of you."

"Huh?" I responded.

He nodded at me with his malevolent red face. "You a Yankee fan?"

I was wearing a red shirt, very big, very gaudy, with the words BOSTON RED SOX printed on its face. I pointed to the shirt and asked, "Does this say 'Derek Jeter'?"

He glanced at his wife, then looked back at our group suspiciously. His wife was a red-haired woman with small eyes. Like Voltaire's Candide, her soul--that of a miserly sow--was visible on her face.

"You guys look like Yankee fans," the husband continued. "You look Italian."

It was true. The four of us--my father, my brother Luciano, our friend Dino, and myself--must have appeared more like hit men from "The Sopranos" than typical Red Sox fans; we are from New Haven, a city with a large population of Italian-American Yankees fans. Yet the four of us are contrarians and Yankees haters.

After explaining this to the man, he became our friend, of course. By virtue of wearing a Red Sox shirt, you could have become friends with every man or woman in the stadium. If you went to the men's room not five minutes later and switched into a Yankees shirt, though, 35,000 fanatics would have instantly hated you quite as much as they hated the thought of death or taxes. That is what Fenway Park was like during the American League Championship Series.

WE TRAVELED TO BOSTON for Games 3 and 4 of the ALCS, but we did not get inside Fenway for Game 3. Few scalpers could be found on Yawkey Way that day, though dozens of sad fans like ourselves shifted about, calling, "Two needed here!" or carrying signs with rueful messages, like "Here from Maine, need 1 ticket!" Everyone wanted to be in Fenway for Game 3, even the scalpers. The one or two scalpers we did meet were selling tickets for $600 and up.

The atmosphere around Fenway before Game 3 was wild, joyous, as though the Red Sox had already won the series. Cars full of mad fans passed by, the drivers leaning on their horns, the passengers painted red and blue, and chanting the new Red Sox slogan, COW-BOY UP (each syllable stressed). Cowboys have no place in the history of Boston, but the slogan had been introduced by Boston's first baseman, Kevin Millar, and it had caught on.

Game 3 was supposed to be a lot of things: a contest of bitter rivals, a great pitcher's duel, great baseball, but it ended in anti-climax, for the Red Sox did not play or behave well enough to merit high praise. It is not that they lost, exactly, but how they lost. Even after blowing a two-run lead, and giving up four runs, Pedro Martinez might have collected himself and gotten his teammates back into the game.

By now everyone has seen a few of the inglorious images of Game 3--Pedro Martinez pitching at Karim Garcia's back, Pedro Martinez threatening Jorge Posada, Pedro Martinez throwing Don Zimmer to the ground. It was not a classic game, not a great game; indeed it was infamous and rather shameful.

The interesting thing about Game 3 is the way it revealed the character of the two teams and their fans. In the bar where we watched the game, the sight of Pedro Martinez tossing Don Zimmer to the ground was greeted so enthusiastically by Boston fans that one would have thought they were watching good baseball. It was a typical reaction, though, for the entire psychology of the Red Sox is one of hopeless resentment. Indeed, I spoke to Boston fans that cared more about seeing the Yankees lose than seeing the Red Sox win, and I spoke to others who said the World Series meant nothing: defeating the Yankees was the only thing that mattered.