As much as you might want to tell yourself otherwise, it’s not really difficult to choose a favorite Fenway opener.
There was the 1992 opener when a handful of us skipped our senior year high school classes (sorry Mrs. Dougal) to wait in line on Yawkey Way for standing room tickets. One of us accidentally dropped our sunglasses on the field during batting practice, and Brady Anderson tossed them into the stands haphazardly instead of simply handing them back. Frank Viola got rocked, lasted only three innings, and the Red Sox fell to the Orioles, 8-6. I also purchased the cassingle for XTC’s "Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" at Strawberries. Big day.
I was in Boston University’s journalism graduate program in 1999, when I made the last-second decision to skip afternoon classes and ran around the corner, purchasing a single grandstand seat just in time for pregame introductions. Troy O’Leary homered twice, and Bret Saberhagen got the win as the Sox shut out the White Sox, 6-0. Later in the evening, my girlfriend (now wife) and her roommates made fun of me for going solo. I think they were watching “Suddenly Susan” or something at the time.
One year earlier, it was the infamous Good Friday opener, when the Red Sox deemed the sale of beer unholy, leading to an early-morning onslaught of the bars and taverns in the immediate area, all open early for suds relief. We made it through the eighth, and the return of Dennis Eckersley, but with the Sox down 5-2, made the ignorant, youthful decision to fight for a cab earlier rather than later. It was only when our ride pulled up to our Medford digs, and we saw our neighbors across the street high-fiving each other that we learned what had happened.
“Mo won it with a grand slam,” they exclaimed.
“We were just there,” I whined.
“Well, you [expletive] up.”
To date, that may have been one of the greatest Opening Days that Fenway Park had ever witnessed, even I didn’t. But clearly, nothing will ever top 2005, when the Red Sox received their World Series rings, and Mariano Rivera tipped his cap to the crowd, a genuine, unscripted moment that even the lame Terry Cashman couldn’t ruin.
Isn’t that perfect? For all the pomp, circumstance, and Broadway-style shenanigans the Red Sox brass continually insist to top themselves with when it comes to the home opener, the most memorable image came in a split-second of self-effacing humor from the enemy. Rivera may have forever endured himself to Red Sox fans for his performance in the ’04 ALCS, but that day showed a mutual respect that crossed the Evil Empire boundary. No home opener, at Fenway Park, or the future yard on the waterfront in 30 years or so, will ever top that day.
The game that afternoon was an afterthought, but Tim Wakefield was nails in shutting down the Yankees in an 8-1 win. Dougie went deep too.
In 2011, the Red Sox came into their Fenway Opener seeking their first win of the season after The Best Team Ever started the year 0-6. Down 2-0 in the bottom of the first, Dustin Pedroia defiantly hit a 1-1 pitch over the Wall in left, and rounded the bases with a determination we haven’t seen since…well, last week? Is that too hyperbolic?
It’s been nearly two years since there was a baseball product worthy of getting excited about in Boston, and though it’s only been a week, these 2013 Red Sox seem to have captured a certain percentage of the rooting population if only because of their approach to the game. That’s not to mean the way they work the count, pitch effectively, or navigate the bases, but if you saw the reaction to Koji Uehara’s dominant escape in Toronto Friday night, you saw something we haven’t seen here in some time: An excited group of players that seemingly have each other’s backs, playing and – gasp – enjoying baseball.
Yes, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor character to point out six games into the season, and of course, re-building chemistry was a primary mission for Ben Cherington in the offseason. But to see it come together so quickly and seem so genuine at this stage speaks to something. I don’t exactly remember the 2003-04 Red Sox bonding this immediately, if only because they themselves weren’t quite sure what or who (hello, Jeremy Giambi) they were.
These guys may not know “what” they are, but they may already have the “who” part down pat.
Fenway Park opens for its 102nd season Monday with the Sox taking on the Baltimore Orioles in what will likely be the final game of the long-standing, duplicitous “distribution” streak. It will be a new beginning on Wednesday evening, when a less-than-capacity crowd will be announced. Sox brass will pop champagne for the moment. Nobody else will care.
Not so for the product. Six games do not make a season, but fans are falling in like with this team, a difficult hurdle to propose after the disaster of 2012. Indeed, there may be hope after Bobby V.
Monday will be a home opener much like dozens upon dozens of others at Fenway, an anticipated afternoon that will likely be forgotten by the masses somewhere along the way. But maybe it’s your first. Maybe your Mom or Dad kept you out of school for the day so you could attend. Maybe you’re leaving work on a whim right now to see about grabbing a last-second ticket.
Opening Day in Boston is always worth it. But every single one will play second fiddle to Mariano. No over-the-top production can ever beat authenticity. And after two years of bloated cartoon characters, maybe the team has finally picked up a little bit of that trait as well.