RICHMOND

The season almost escaped, and then serendipity walked in. First an email arrived from Fort Myers, Fla., winter home of the Red Sox, with an invite to join a group for a Red Sox vs. Blue Jays game. It would be the final regular game at Fenway this year.

But you can't just pick up and go to a Red Sox game. The difficulties swayed back and forth. Then serendipity arrived in a No. 10 envelope: Beth Israel in Boston sent a reminder of the regular cardiology visit.

The game was Sunday afternoon, Sept. 22. The appointment was Monday morning, September 23. We reserved a hotel room in walking distance to both places and gave a cheer.

Another piece of good fortune was that we missed the Sept. 21 game when the boys of summer were so overwhelmed by winning their division that they celebrated very, very late and were playing fatigued. They had proved once more that what appears to be grown men in a chosen profession on the field is really just a bunch of kids.

But they are fun to follow, to watch and to stay with even when they lose or disappoint. While my husband chose to watch the game on TV in a nearby hotel, I was perched high above third base in a section vertical enough to make me hang on every time I stood up.

We stood up often -- to watch Big Papi circle the bases, to watch Pedroia dirty his uniform, to watch and listen to a rabbi from Canada deliver an eye-watering rendition of his country's national anthem.

While we love the companionable -- and sometimes funny -- back and forth with Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy - and enjoy Dennis Eckersley's cheese and paint -- on TV, it's not the same as being there. For one thing, looking down on the field makes you very aware of how tricky it is to play outfield with so many nooks and crannies. It's strange that a game so based on order and symmetry is taking place in a shape never seen in geometry class.

In addition, Fenway crowds are mannerly, partisan, very loud, rarely rude. At other stadiums, the fans start to trickle out toward the end of the ninth. At Fenway, most seats stay warm to the end. It is always a grand experience to be among the faithful, either here or at the new spring training field in Fort Myers. Being there means not being hostage to a TV producer's choices. When a hit comes, you watch it soar and see the runner, or runners, at the same time. When it's time for a commercial, it's invisible to you.

You get to hear (and sing) Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" in the eighth inning. You see the dance of the sweepers when a large crew of men comes out to fix up the base lines. They make no noise, nor do they leave any footprints, apparently because their special sneakers have absolutely smooth soles.

"They're on their feet at Fenway," Jerry Remy used to say, time after time when the Sox were down to the last strike in the ninth. Orsillo teased him about the phrase and one night in the last of the ninth, Orsillo made some crack and Jerry said, quite primly, "They rise as one at Fenway."

My only sad moment was when a boy of about 12 moved into the row in front of me. He had a terrible birth mark on the whole left side of his face, and it took me several minutes to realize he had the same mark on both sides - a painted-on beard for oneness with his Red Sox.

One thing you can't tell on TV or at the park, however, is whether those beards are real or whether they hang in the players' lockers between games. They do all sort of look alike.