BOSTON -- I remember my first visit to Fenway Park like yesterday -- because it was.
During the eight years I've worked at The Berkshire Eagle, I've shared quite a few of my firsts with you, dear readers: My first time skydiving, my first trip to Haiti, my first time eating alligator.
Here, I share with you another monumental first: My inaugural trip to Fenway Park for a Boston Red Sox game.
As I mentioned last week in a column, I recently turned 31. I've also lived in Massachusetts nearly my entire life. I wear my Bay Stater status with pride.
But I will admit, there are a few seemingly American/New England traditions I've not yet taken part of: I've still never been to Maine. I've never been to a Disney theme park. Up until Monday, I've never been to a Major League Baseball field to see a game.
A couple of months or so ago, my friend Todd Robert asked me to join he, his mom Connie and his aunt Ann to their annual pilgrimage for the Boston home opener. At first, I suggested he bring a better baseball fan than I.
Having grown up having hockey-loving and hockey-playing family members, I've always been a Boston Bruins fan. I own their gear. I jeer at the Habs and the Penguins with the best of them.
My earliest memories of the Boston Red Sox had to do with listening to the games on the radio on car rides with my grandfather from Pittsfield to Millbury to visit his parents.
Later, while roaming the halls of the S.I.
Later on in life, on warm summer nights, I'd still listen to radio broadcasts while driving around in the car or sitting on a friend's porch.
Otherwise, that's my only tie to the Red Sox.
But Todd insisted.
"Opening Day at Fenway is something I think everyone should experience in life," he said.
So I gave in and took the time off.
Monday's trip east included passing a Kayem truck, the official manufacturer of ballpark franks for Fenway. I considered it a good omen.
We made great time, arriving in Beantown around 10:30 a.m. After checking into the Hotel Buckminster (our room had a view of the Green Monster), we went to grab a bite and some beers at the Cask ‘n Flagon on Brookline Avenue, another first for me. I've been to the area of Brookline and Yawkey Way quite a few times, to visit a friend hospitalized at Beth Israel and to see a concert at the House of Blues, and to grab a bite at Bertucci's.
After lunch, we headed over to Yawkey Way where I was wooed by a street magician and a small crowd that cheered me on for attending my first opening day at Fenway.
We went through the ticket and bag check lines, entered the concourse and then the moment came -- my first glimpse of the field.
"You couldn't have asked for a better day for baseball," was a phrase I overheard more than once as we walked up the ramp to Right Field Section Box 91 and Row GG. I couldn't have agreed more. We had blue skies, warm sun and a beautifully manicured green field before us. The day was nothing short of perfect.
The game itself, for those who watched, was more of a pitching match between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, with a 0-0 score until the bottom of the seventh inning when Daniel Nava hit a crowd-rousing three-run homer. Clay Buchholz impressed me, and the park, pitching a solid seven shutout innings.
In the meantime, I enjoyed the social ambiance of the historic field.
For me, other highlights of the day included the guy sitting in front of me who introduced himself as Mick. He had a Syracuse hat on, so we made small talk and I soon learned he and his wife have a timeshare in Lee and we both hold Moe's Tavern near and dearly to our palates.
I got to see the return of Pedro Martinez to the field and hear the 150-member Jimmy Fund choir sing ballpark favorites and the National Anthem, in honor of their 60-year partnership with the Red Sox. I couldn't help but feel choked up when former Jimmy Fund patients collectively threw first pitches to Red Sox associates like pitcher Tim Wakefield and current third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
I cheered ecstatically when the ballpark cameras focused on the incomparable NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who I remember from when he visited my elementary schools in the 1980s and ‘90s in the Berkshires.
I will also forever remember the sweet and stalwart park staff member and seat usher Kathy Gould. At the start of the game, after mentioning it was my first time at Fenway, I inquired about the red carnation pinned to her jacket. "It's something they give us for opening day," she explained.
At the end of the ninth inning, she came over to me unprompted, unpinned the flower and handed it to me. "I usually put it in between wax paper to preserve it," she advised.
I asked her how long she had been with Fenway. "Thirty-three years," she said, "Even before you were born."
My experience on Monday, though my first day at Fenway, has convinced me to return for many more.
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