I finally used 'The Google' to look-up the first Red Sox game I ever watched on television. It was opening day, April 4th 1977 at Fenway Park. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and a little warmer than today. I watched the game at a friend's house, in a paneled entertainment room complete with a brown, woven plaid sofa and a bean bag chair. Boston hosted Cleveland, and lost a heartbreaker 5-4.
I distinctly remember the introduction of the team to the Fenway Faithful as voiced by Sherm Feller. I remember cheers for Jim Rice and Dewey Evans, and plenty of boos for manager Don Zimmer. And there was something about it that drew me in. It would be another 3 years before I knew the rules of baseball, but somehow I felt like this was something I could consider 'mine,' just like the fans on TV did. I had found a place where I could belong. OK, that's bullshit, but I became a fan. By 1988 I was reading Sox stats daily.
I've got time to kill before the first pitch, so I'm going to try a few tangents.
I applied my assimilation into baseball to other sports, notably Cricket, Soccer, and auto racing. And the assimilation process was similar in some respects, as the more I learned about each sport, the more I loved it. Unlike baseball, however, I couldn't claim to have a local team or local sports hero. I was coming-in from well outside the sport's local area.
Cricket is not supposed to be part of my world. Drinking wine while eating cake, and wearing a checkered, woven dress shirt and a pink tie while sitting in a members-only grandstand is not really me. Even eating a meat pie, drinking ale, writing down stats on a scoring sheet, and reading a newspaper in the public grandstand is not really me. Celebrating Victorian colonialism is not me either. And yet, I felt that if I gave it a chance, I could find a lot to love in the sport, and I did. Since it is played year-round, Cricket has satisfied my craving for hardball sports when baseball is not in-season. And when I discovered I could see the sport in a more contemporary way, through the lens of the old colonies like Jamaica and India, I loved it even more. I can't wait to see it live again in any of the 5 continents in which it is played.
Soccer drew me in for its universal, global appeal. The nationalism, the broad appeal to girls, boys, men, and women, and the different playing styles in each region on Earth are all good. Soccer has the most fit athletes in the world, with high stamina and incredibly low body fat (compared to Cricket where a beer belly is OK). It is the first professional sport, from the nation that helped give us the industrial revolution and the modern workday. Such a new, mechanized world needed a modern form of entertainment, and since late 19th century, soccer has been it. In 1993, the English Premiership was re-organized and re-marketed, and I somehow noticed while using the pre-browser Internet. I gravitated towards Newcastle United for their history, distinctive uniforms, big stadium, drunk fans, and Geordie culture, which is like a blend of urban Scotland and hard-core industrial England. It also helped that they were not Manchester United, as I am not a bandwagoner. And since I tried hard not to be an uninformed American, the more soccer I exposed myself to, the more worldly I think I became. I'd have to go back over 200 years to find ancestors in northern Scotland or central Ireland, but I feel that English and Scottish soccer are an ethnic and cultural 'fit' for me. One of many joys is standing for 2 hours, singing songs, drinking pints, and eating meat pies, in front of a 42" plasma TV with 20 English blokes (or Scottish lads) you hardly know.
Auto racing....far more strange. It is the most expensive sport in the world, requiring obscene amounts of corporate sponsorship. Like any sport is has many rules (it actually has the most rules of any sport). It has 7 flags that mean 7 different things. It involves elements of physics like aerodynamics, downforce, torque, temperature, friction and traction. It has the whole playboy / sex fantasy culture of winning a race, getting a trophy, kissing the girl in a Lycra dress, and then spraying her with champagne (and if you're a young Mario Andretti, you take her home too). It involves travel to a different city or country every week (where each stop brings a new trailer full of girls). It is seen live by more people worldwide than any other sport, except soccer and baseball. It is particularly popular in Mexico, the USA, France, England, Germany, Italy, Australia, and Japan. But since I wanted to absorb it all, I ended up liking the kind of racing most of the world likes - road racing, with twists, turns, bumps and elevation changes.
Race car drivers are like Jedi Knights. They have superhuman reflexes. They are fearless. They only want to win. And the best ones have this aura about them, like they have the greatest job in the world, and if they were to die, they would say it was all worth it. They can't inspire more than a few people to become drivers themselves (compared to say, Arnold Palmer, who helped inspire middle class white Americans to play golf in the millions). Most come from upper-middle-class and wealthy families, and get into kart racing at an early age. Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Germany, Finland, and Spain have produced the most talented drivers in the last four decades. Despite the many egos, my favorite driver ever is the most humble, friendly, and nice guy in the sport - Jackie Stewart. He won many races. He won the F1 World Championship twice. He was gracious in many defeats. He made millions. He advocated safety and the death toll dramatically dropped ever since he retired in 1973. He got the tall blonde 40 years ago, and has remained married to Lady Helen ever since. I don't believe in role models. But I believe in Sir Jackie.
And after years of knowing the famous names and watching only the biggest races, I finally got into auto racing full-time on September 15h, 2001. Still reeling from a near-death experience, I watched the Champ Car race from Germany in which Alex Zanardi (another nice driver and quite a colorful character) lost his lower legs in a horrific crash. And instead of being frightened away, I was drawn-in. Now I can't miss a race on TV, especially if it is an open wheel race like Champ Car or Formula One.
We've got Jeff Weaver and the Mariners visiting Josh Beckett and the Red Sox at sunny, friendly Fenway! I can't do play-by play, but I can do updates....
14:09 Josh Beckett strikes-out Ichiro Suzuki. It's on.
14:13 It's a 1-2-3 inning for Beckett. Boston's turn to bat.
14:20 Julio Lugo walks, Kevin Youkilis singles. Sox have 2 men on and no one out.
14:24 David Ortiz makes contact. It's a single. Bases are loaded. Here comes Manny Ramirez. You up against it now, Mr. Weaver.
14:27 Manny makes contact! It's a single. Lugo scores. Boston takes a 1-0 lead and the bases are loaded.
Pinch me. This is a dreamy home opener so far.
14:31 JD Drew pops it up. Sacrifice fly. Youkilis scores. Sox up 2-0.
14:34 Jason Varitek walks. Bases are loaded again. 2 out.
This is what the Sox since 1998 do best - get the opponent's pitch count really high from the start. Weaver is just missing the strike zone an awful lot, filling the counts.
14:38 Full count to Coco Crisp. 2 out. Bases loaded. And a hit! Ground-rule double. Ortiz and Lowell score. Sox up 4-0. End of the 1st.
14:47 Another 1-2-3 inning for Josh Beckett
14:51 Lugo doubles, Youkilis doubles. Sox score again. 5-nil Sox.
14:59 JD Drew homers! Youkilis scores. Sox up 7-0. End of the second inning.
15:06 First test for Josh Beckett. Two in scoring position. No one out.
15:06 Jose Lopez grounds out. Kenji Johjima scores. Mariners are on the board.
15:08 Josh Becket strikes-out Ichiro Suzuki again. Impressive.
Pitching change: Jake Woods replaces Jeff Weaver.
15:17 Dustin Pedoria walks. Jason Varitek moves to second. Here comes Lugo, and he singles. Varitek scores. Boston up 8-1. End of the third inning.
15:29 Josh Becket loves 1-2-3 innings. Sox up again.
15:34 JD Drew hits again with Manny on first. Fielding error means everyone is safe. Sox threaten again.
15:35 Mike Lowell doubles. Manny scores. JD Drew to third. Sox up 9-1.
15:36 Jason Varitek singles deep to center. JD Drew and Mike Lowell score. Sox now up 11-1. Had enough, Seattle? Who's your daddy?
We were waiting for this performance by the Sox. Their bats are alive today. They are hitting like it's 2004.
15:41 Julio Lugo is up. Two out. Coco on first. He is intentionally walked. Julio Lugo is one hot lead-off guy. He's 2-2 today. And he was just walked like he was Johnny Damon in his prime. It's up to you Youkie...
15:43 Youklis at the plate. Two out. Full count. And the inning ends with a fly out. 11 runs off of 11 hits. End of the fourth inning.
15:44 A fourth 1-2-3 inning for Josh Beckett! Just seven pitches. He's going to go 8 full innings at this pace.
Pitching change: Brandon Morrow replaces Jake Woods.
15:52 David Ortiz walks to start the bottom of the fifth. The Sox are going to score again. Mas! Mas! Deseamos más runs.
15:56 Eric Hinske walks. And here comes....Willy Mo Pena? I assume JD Drew is okay and Terry is just giving Willy a chance to hit one. Willy is intentionally walked! No wait, 3 balls and then he is hit by a pitch. Oh my. Someone is a quitter. Brandon?
15:59 Mike Lowell. Nobody out. Bases loaded. And contact! Double play ball, but Ortiz scores. Sox up 12-1.
16:02 Jason Varitek doubles! Hinske scores. Sox up 13-1. Um, they have scored in every inning of the ballgame. Sweet. End of the fifth inning.
16:10 A fifth 1-2-3 inning for Josh Beckett! Two strikeouts this frame (Suzuki and Beltre - yet again)! Only two hits given-up in the game. Can you say 'gem'?
Pitching change: Julio Mateo replaces Brandon Morrow.
16:15 Kevin Youkilis doubles. Can the Sox score in a sixth consecutive inning?
16:17 Doug Mirabelli pinch hits for David Ortiz. Smart move. He strikes out. End of the sixth inning. Sox post their first goose egg on the scoreboard today. Everyone can relax now. We got this win in the bag.
16:25 Make this a sixth 1-2-3 inning! Josh Beckett is on cruise control. This is All Star stuff today. He has eight strikeouts, and no walks. That's Pedro quality. The fans must be standing, cheering him on. One more inning, Josh.
Pitching change: Chris Reitsma replaces Julio Mateo.
16:34 Mike Lowell hits a sacrifice fly with Eric Hinske on second. Sox up 14-1.
Pitching change: Brendan Donnelly replaces Josh Beckett. Take a bow, Josh.
We're done here. The Sox have come home. Red Sox 14, Mariners 3.