I begin roaming the stands in the first inning and by the second settle in at the back of the grandstands on the first base line. I kneel down between two Yankees-capped guys, one of them in a wheelchair. Kurt Lustofin is a 45-year-old with a traumatic brain injury. His 36-year-old aide, Pete Archard, had driven them from Albany to Boston that morning for their annual pilgrimage to Fenway. Red Sox fans aren’t rude to Kurt, Pete says, but he’s not so lucky — a woman once yelled at him, “I should spit on you!” He and Kurt also attend a game at Yankee Stadium every season. When he calls the parks to line up handicapped-accessible seats, he says, the Red Sox are always a lot more accommodating.
Through the fifth inning, the Sox fans seem to be treating the pin stripes in the stands more as curiosities than threats. It’s easy to do that when you’re up 9-0. But then the Yankees get on the board in the sixth and build up explosive momentum in the seventh, and suddenly the future feels as predictable as the bah-bah-bah chorus in “Sweet Caroline.”
I decide to take in this gathering storm of ugliness from the worst seats in the house. I climb the stairs in section 37 of the bleachers, heading for the last row. The afternoon heat has been displaced by a cool wind, which makes the media badge hanging around my neck flap in the air. Then I hear a loud, aggrieved voice: “Media? What the eff are you doing up here?” (Of course, he doesn’t actually say eff but rather the 100-proof version of the expletive.) I turn to see a beefy guy wearing a chin-strap beard, a New York Giants cap, and an outrageous shirt emblazoned with images of Mariano Rivera on the front and back.
His name is Frankie Pomilla. He’s 32 and works in construction. He tells me he’s from the Bronx, though I knew that as soon as he began talking. He’d driven to Boston that morning with his buddy Phil Alberga, the guy sitting next to him wearing a Jeter T and Yankees hat. When I ask Frankie why he’s wearing a Giants cap, he laughs. “Just in case anybody here wants to forget what happened in the Super Bowl.”
It’s unlikely anyone could miss Frankie’s Yankees bona fides. He flicks his left pinkie in my face to reveal a tattoo with the team’s NY logo. Tattoos, Frankie’s had a few. There’s a giant skull on his left forearm, and his right arm is fully sleeved with images of menacing clouds, Saint Francis, Jesus, and Marlon Brando. After we’ve been talking for a while, he turns to his buddy and asks, “Should we show them to him?” Phil shrugs. Then Frankie pulls down his lower lip to reveal two words permanently inked inside. Eff you. Phil follows suit, to show off his companion tattoo. Eff off. (Again, picture the 100-proof version.)
In the seventh, when Mark Teixeira follows up an earlier solo homer and a Nick Swisher grand slam with a three-run blast, Frankie and Phil spring up. Banging on the empty seats in front of them, they begin chanting, “Let’s go, Yankees!” A doughy guy in an Ortiz shirt a few rows in front of them turns around and gives them the finger.
You can see the ecstasy flash in their eyes. “Eff you!” Frankie yells.
The Sox fan offers up another pegged finger.
“You’re just mad you blew a effin’ lead,” Phil shouts. “Come up here!”
The doughy guy’s girlfriend wisely intervenes, wrapping an arm around her man to pull him back down into his seat. He registers a mild protest but mainly looks relieved.
Frankie looks disappointed. For more than a decade, he’s been coming to Fenway at least once a year to take in a Yankees-Sox showdown. More than a few of those game days ended with the police pulling him aside, but Frankie says the fights have become a lot less common. “Since the Red Sox won in 2004,” he says, “Boston fans have become soft.”
I ask if they plan to stay over. “Nah,” Frankie says, “four hours up, four hours back. If we lose, we go straight home. If we win, we go and party.”
As Bobby Valentine heads out to the mound during the eighth to make yet another pitching change, he’s greeted by the loudest boos of the day, courtesy of his team’s own fans. With his rapidly whitening hair and still-dark eyebrows, Valentine looks like a walking black and white cookie. He appears to have aged eight years in eight innings. The Yankees have turned a 9-0 deficit into a 12-9 lead, and they’re hardly done. But many Sox fans have seen enough.
“Look at all the Red Sox fans leaving!” Phil says, jabbing his pointer in the air.
“Let ’em go,” Frankie snorts.
“You’d never see that in New York,” Phil tells me. “We stay till the end.”Continued...