BALTIMORE — I was sure we had taken a wrong turn the first time my dad took me to Fenway Park. This old building made of bricks couldn’t be the ballpark, could it? It sure looked a lot different on Channel 38.
There were no colorful signs outside the park back in those days and Yawkey Way was just a plain old street. Can’t recall if there were sausage carts, but I remember a guy on the corner of Van Ness Street who yelled out “Peanuts! Pistachios! Popcorn!” over and over again.
(We always got peanuts, by the way. Never pistachios. I have no idea why.)
The ramps leading into the park were dark and it wasn’t until you walked up through one of the portals and into the grandstands that Fenway opened itself up. Two colors are indelibly burned into my memory from that day: the bright white home uniforms and the green grass.
We sat down the right field line in Section 14. The Sox were playing the Indians and I got a program on the way in because I read everything about baseball I could get my 9-year-old hands on. My dad told me to pick a red pencil out of the box, too. It was 10 cents.
Once the game started, he taught me how to score the game and by the seventh inning or so, I delighted in telling the people sitting around us that Yaz was 2 for 3 with a double and that Dewey had already walked twice. To this day, no matter whether I’m working or not, I have to score the game. It’s a force of habit.
At some point that day, my dad pointed up at the press box (which was a lot lower than it was now) and said that was where the guys from the newspapers sat. We got the Globe in New Bedford every morning and I’d read every word Peter Gammons wrote. Dad was a Ray Fitzgerald fan.
My dad explained the infield fly rule, why lefty pitchers were so tough to hit and told me to pay attention to how the infielders got in front of groundballs. We didn’t have box seats very often, but sometimes we’d sneak down closer at the end of the game.
I got Juan Marichal’s autograph in 1974. He was signing for kids one day and my dad told me to run over and get my program signed because that guy was going to be in the Hall of Fame some day.
Oh, and we never left before the last out. Never once. If the idea even came up, I’d complain. I was going to fill out that scorecard no matter what happened. Dad always patiently waited through rain, cold and lopsided games.
Those games and the love of baseball he instilled in me eventually led to a summer job at my hometown paper. I’d score Little League, high school and Legion games, write up a story and get $10. My mom drove me around around on weekdays, but dad liked doing it on the weekends. We’d sit there at games, talk about baseball and I’d keep track of how the kids from Fairhaven High were doing against Old Rochester.
Inexplicably, it led to a real job. I covered college basketball for a while then baseball in New York City for 10 happy years. When the Globe called, getting to write for the paper my folks read every day seemed perfect.
Every time I walk into a ballpark, I think about those games and buying those 10-cent pencils to keep score. It was a gift that changed my life, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a phone call to make. Dad is going to want to know if I think Jon Lester will pitch well today and whether his man Jose Iglesias is in the lineup.
Thanks, Pop. Happy Father’s Day.