It's 7 p.m. on a glorious Tuesday in a leafy suburb not far from Fenway Park and John Henry is in his home office, staring at a computer screen almost as big as the frame bordering Jane Swift's gubernatorial portrait. He's downloading some crucial information regarding Japanese markets, pork bellies, and other hedge fund data most of us will never comprehend.
Guess who's coming to dinner?
The Red Sox are out of town and Peggy Henry is at a magazine photo shoot and the house is darned quiet, like John himself. A nice, young man named Rob walks me from the driveway toward the kitchen, where he is preparing dinner for two. Earlier in the day, John's assistant called to ask if I had any dietary restrictions or allergies. I told her I was not allergic to Jack Daniel's or anything else, but thanks for asking.
Looking rested, ever pale, and relaxed in blue jeans and a short sleeve shirt, John greets me in the kitchen and I give him a signed copy of a Red Sox book I wrote a long time ago. What else do you bring when you go to dinner at a billionaire's house? A bottle of Kendall-Jackson? Fruit salad?
We sit outside on one of the few great nights we've had in this summer of dreadful weather. Larry Lucchino lives nearby. Bob Kraft, too. I mention that the Red Sox front office has become more Patriot-like regarding media availability this year. John laughs and agrees. He also chuckles at the distant memory of hiring a PR firm when he first bought the Red Sox. Like that made any difference regarding anything. He says Kraft has told him a thing or two about dealing with us: Say nothing. We agree that the Patriots are a little jealous of the Red Sox. Nobody's fault. They just are.
Dinner is delicious. Some kind of dark bean soup with corn and lentils, then a sumptuous piece of chicken covered with all kinds of carrots and designer food. Dessert is an almond cake/pie with whipped cream. I am allergic to none of it, but I am a little worried about the two cats -- big as turkeys -- prowling around inside. John drinks milk. I settle for Diet Coke. Probably not the night for Jack.
The Sox are going to be on TV playing the Royals within the hour and John talks about the time he almost bought the Royals. Then he talks about the time he almost bought the Angels. Peggy had already found a house in Newport Beach. Then he talked about owning the Marlins and not getting the stadium built and how Jeb Bush sandbagged one of his efforts.
We talk about how trendy the Sox have become -- how hot tickets are. He thinks the whole thing started during the nuclear A-Rod winter.
``We've had some amazing offseasons in our five years," he says. ``The A-Rod winter . . . then the Theo winter."
As yes, the Theo winter. I remember that. I ask him if he regrets sitting before Red Sox Nation in the hours after Theo Epstein resigned and telling us he questioned whether he was fit to be owner of the Red Sox.
``One of the things that happens in the position of leadership is the people seldom see anyone question themselves publicly," he says. ``One of the things that can be wrong with leadership is if you don't question yourself. If something happens that you consider a large negative, don't you think it's healthy to question yourself?"
Done with dinner, we thank Rob for his culinary artistry and go back inside, taking seats on a sprawling, L-shaped sofa that faces a flat-screen plasma TV embedded in a wall of the family room. I'm told there is a theater downstairs, but this 5-foot screen serves nicely. John works the remote and within seconds we see Tina Cervasio and her dazzling teeth reporting live from Kansas City.
``The HD isn't as good on road games," says Henry. ``We've got it perfect at home, but the definition isn't as good on the road."
I sit a respectful distance to Henry's left, but not too far away. The Sox owner is a notorious low talker and I don't want to miss anything.
And for the next three hours and 29 minutes, we watch the Red Sox struggle against the worst team in baseball. Other than the fact one of us is a billionaire who actually owns the Red Sox and Fenway Park, there is nothing remarkable about our TV game experience. We could be a couple of iron workers sitting on stools at the Cask 'n Flagon. We wonder why Coco Crisp isn't doing more. We think Jon Lester is getting squeezed by the umpire. We groan when Rudy Seanez gives up a bomb. We wonder if Terry Francona will pinch run for David Ortiz when Big Papi represents the tying run in the ninth.
John makes a lot of references to fantasy league baseball. He drafted young Nomar Garciaparra when Nomie was a rookie in 1997. He remembers David Ortiz struggling to hit with the Twins in 2002. This is not Jeremy Jacobs pretending to know hockey. Fantasy baseball has kept Henry current through the years. He knows all the numbers.
``Our people were really excited when we got Seanez," he says. ``He had a great year in the National League [with San Diego] last year."
He tells me of his passion for Diamond Mind Baseball. It's a computer game enabling him to recreate entire seasons using precise mathematical probabilities based on real data. The game allows him to make wild substitutions. True fantasy. He can put Babe Ruth on the 1929 Red Sox and see what would have happened. He can put Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson on the Red Sox of the 1950s and see how that would have worked out. John plays entire seasons on Diamond Mind. He started with 1927 and is working his way forward.
``The Red Sox were really bad in the 1920s," he says.
``How do you have time for this?" I ask.
I already knew the answer to that one. The Red Sox owner is a nocturnal creature. He stays up until 4 in the morning, then sleeps until 10.
When Manny Ramírez extends his hitting streak to 23 games I ask Henry if he knows who holds the Red Sox record. He guesses Nomar. I tell him it is Dominic DiMaggio -- 34 games in 1949 (Nomar is tied with Tris Speaker for second with 30 games in 1997).
Like any good sports fan with a clicker in his hand, Henry switches to the Yankees game during commercials. The Yankees are in a dogfight with the White Sox and Henry is rooting hard for Chicago. I tell him that might be a mistake. Seven weeks from now, he might be wishing the Yankees beat the White Sox on this night. That seems to be the way things are going. But like most Sox fans, he cannot bring himself to root for the Yankees. And he will not admit that the American League East is lost.
He says he talks to Bill James regularly. He says he thinks baseball should look into a bracketing system that would put wealthy teams in divisions with other big-market teams. Watching the White Sox at home against the Yankees, he wonders if the ChiSox are stealing signs. He's surprised, but glad there's been no talk about the imminent expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. When a hitter shatters a bat, Henry says there'll soon be a wood compound bat that will be almost unbreakable.
I tell him I heard the Sox were getting ready to sell NESN. He says no. In an unrelated ownership anecdote, he tells me he first talked to Lucchino in 1989 when he wanted to use the Orioles' minor league park in Fort Lauderdale for his team in the newly formed Senior Professional Baseball Association.
``Larry said `no' and that kind of ticked me off," recalls Henry. ``I didn't even know what he looked like. I pictured him being a short, bald guy."
At 10:30, I stand up and tell the Red Sox owner that polite company would be leaving right about now. He won't have it. We are watching the game and the game is not over, not even with Seanez on the mound.
At 11:40, Kevin Youkilis grounds out and the Red Sox are 6-4 losers. Henry switches to the Yankees game and is rewarded when Jermaine Dye singles to center in the 11th with Tadahito Iguchi on second base.
``Johnny won't throw him out," Henry exclaims as we watch Johnny Damon make a pitiful throw home while Iguchi scores easily.
The night is not a total loss. The Sox lose no ground to the Yankees.
That's all, folks. Time for me to go. Time for John Henry to return to his office, where he'll stare into the big computer screen for several more hours, recreating that memorable 1931 season, downloading the Bloomberg index, and maybe sending an e-mail or two to the bearded statistical guru in Kansas.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.