The Season That Almost Wasn't
For thirteen years I’ve been a Red Sox season ticket holder, though last season, which began with tantrum, almost was the season that wasn’t.
It was the third Sunday in March, and like every third Sunday in March we were to gather at Jim’s apartment in the South End to divvy up the tickets. A decade ago, when the South End was still gritty and Jim lived in a cluttered split-level, this process had been easy. There were six of us, and four seats, (Section 41, Row 17, Seats 20-23; perched atop the upper lip of the concourse entrance, they were the best cheap seats in all of Fenway, a short hop to the beer stand and nothing before you but a railing and more legroom than anywhere else in the park, except perhaps the luxury skyboxes), but over the years, things became complicated. Jim upgraded to a penthouse loft. His girlfriend’s father moved to New Hampshire, bequeathing us (Jim, the pool) two pricey box seats, and, as Jim’s entrepreneurial ventures started to take off, it was not unlikely to find one or two new guys at Jim’s on that third Sunday in March. They essentially amounted to generic, J. Crew goons with over starched collars, who got in because they fed Jim’s bottom line. I was never consulted about such additions and hated paying double for two cramped slots under the batter’s net (and the rules of our draft deemed you had to pick them) when I could be out in the spacious wilds of the bleachers. By 2004 we had six seats, seventeen shares, a complicated draft process, and rules, on top of rules, on top of rules. In short, the one-hour booze fest had blown up into a three hour, consult my wife on the cell phone, pissing contest.
To be fair, Jim was generous. He floated the green for the tickets and catered the draft day festivities with a spread of fancy finger food and a chest full of beer on ice. He even hosted a website that listed who picked what games so we could easily swap within the group. Of course this was primarily implemented to avoid the pratfall of scalping—loss of season tickets. We all had to vow to keep the tickets safe: if you couldn’t trade or sell them within the group, you could sell them to family and friends, but never above face value, and never on the street—or worse, eBay.
Sometime at the beginning of March 2004, I got the email informing me about the logistics of the draft. I didn’t need to save it, or re-review it; it was already committed to memory—the third Sunday in March at seven pm, same as it had always been. It was also during this time I was dating a leggy blonde named Alison. We had only gone out three times, and while we had little to say to each other (she was training for the marathon so the conversation always came back to running), her exuberant emails and dandy gams kept the ball in play. I wasn’t ready to dive into a Friday or Saturday night date quite yet, and figuring it would be a good way to kill two birds with one stone, I booked Alison on draft day: her favorite bar—a chichi cocktail lounge on Newbury Street with a pretentiously silly name, that if you looked it up in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, meant good fortune or buxom—five pm, one martini. Should it turn into another tooth-extracting ordeal, I had an out—at seven pm, I’d hop on my bike, jet down to Washington Street, pray that the karma gods were with me and score Yankees tickets—and if things went well? She’d understand that this was the Red Sox: a rite of spring and a necessary evil. And if she couldn’t see the dividends of noshing on a juicy frank in the glow of fabulous Fenway, then it was best that it ended then and there. She didn’t have to be one of the faithful, but she did have to understand it.
Things did not go well that day. My karma was bankrupt. Bad luck might actually have been preferable. The only glimmer of fortune was the short skirt Alison wore, but in the end, that too only added insult to injury. The first martini when down easy. We were still talking about running by the time the second round came up. I couldn’t remember the names of the recent Kenyon or Ethiopian winners and was already digging up Bill Rogers, Joan Benoit Samuelson and John Kelly to keep the conversation aloft—realizing that if you’re talking about running with a lovely lady and you’re not an avid runner, you’re done for.
“If you had children, would you raise them religious?” Alison asked as I was extracting Amby Burfoot, Frank Shorter and Toshihiko Seko from the recesses of my memory.
The question caught me. Not because it came out of left field, but because I was an atheist and had no idea how I would negotiate it even if I were having a life planning discussion with a woman I was considering marriage with—let alone a fourth date. It did however lift the veil of my martini haze. My response—a feeble attempt to deflect and redirect—was to ask what time it was. In my grand folly, I never wore a watch, didn’t carry a PDA and my cell phone was always off. I possessed a reliable sense of time and because I could just simply memorize addresses, telephone numbers, times, dates, places and appointments, I didn’t need a PDA, calendar or address book. It may sound a tad over-the-top, but it’s true. The only problem was that when I drank, my facility went south.
“Seven-oh-five,” Alison replied.
Panic hit. I jumped up, slapped down five tens and nearly lost my balance as I leaned over the table to land a harried peck on Alison’s cheek. The wistful smile and a glimpse of her high riding skirt gave cause for a third martini, but the call of Pedro, Nomar and another agonizing season was stronger.
When I got to Jim’s cavernous loft, it was just about over. Stabs of “Where have you been?” and “Why don’t you answer you cell phone?” echoed off the fifty foot high ceilings.
I was in shock.
“Don’t worry,” Jim said, “Scott did your picks.”
Scott was Jim’s sister’s on-again, off-again boyfriend from North Carolina, who seemed to harbor a homicidal sociopath behind his good ole’ boy grin and “Hey, buddy,” slap on the back.
“Did I get any Yankees games?” I asked, hoping the answer would stem my mounting rage.
“Sorry dude, you picked last.”
“Last? But I’ve got seniority.”
Jim cited the rules and informed me that I had to have put down a deposit or physically be at the draft with check in hand to even get in the order, and that under normal circumstances I should have forfeited my shares for the season, but since I told him I was in and had been in for years, he had Scott do my picks.
“It’s barely past seven,” I protested.
“Draft’s at five this year, it was in the email.”
“People had conflicts, so we started early.”
“Some people have families and commitments. Five was better.”
This was bullshit. Who were these guys? If the third Sunday in March gave them scheduling fits, what would happen if a game went into extra innings? Would they just scoot? I was damned if I was going to settle for Devil Ray tickets while they got the money games against the hated Yankees. Talking to Jim in an intentionally audible tone, I pointed around the room at the those in pressed business shirts on a Sunday evening—guys whose names I didn’t know, or care to know—and branded them fair-weather posers, pencil-necked geeks, and fainéant shitheads. I prayed for one of them—anyone of them—to take exception. My frustration needed a face. But none of them bit. They just stood there blankly and unaffected as they always had—which pissed me off even more. I grabbed my bike helmet and told Jim I was out. Out for the season, out of the pool and that he and his bottom feeding cronies could have a jolly good time divvying up my Tampa Bay, Toronto and Kansas City scraps.
Now I’m not going to say that because I saved Jim’s ass in a bar fight and nearly got strangled unconscious for it, or, when he was put on disciplinary leave—under suspicion of using company resources for personal gain (running a tourism business out of his office)—and I broke in (after much pleading from the guilty) and alleviated the evidence against him, that he did me any favors, but as I was on the way out the door, Jim thwarted me with a couple of cold ones.
On the roof deck, in the graying darkness, we looked out at the lit columns that were the Hancock and Prudential towers as Jim laid it on about sticking together, the highs and lows of our fifteen years as friends (the vodka fueled road trip to Buffalo, the con man who dated Jim’s sister and stole his truck, the money made, the money lost, Jim taking hallucinogens for the first time and going to a Dead show at the old Garden, a few weddings, a death, and the women that came and went), the bond that persisted between us—with the team—and how this would be the year. At first it sounded like more noise, then the realization of what I had known all along sank in like the cold March dankness: the responsibility for the debacle was mine, and mine alone, and by trying to pin it on someone or something else, I had turned a simple disagreement into a monstrous spectacle. Shame suffused me. I suddenly felt I had betrayed Jim, and wanted to do something—anything—to atone, but Jim, ever prideful of his integrity, and a man to back up his words, beat me to the punch. In his outstretched hand were the four bleacher seats to the season’s first conflict with the archrivals. The Yankee tickets were mine, contingent that I took Jim as one of my guests. Jim even offered to swap a night in the bleachers for box seats against the lowly Devil Rays. It wasn’t a big gesture, but a gesture that spoke to the significance of the years between us. “Lou Piniella’s down there,” he said with a shrug that was supposed to convince me he was serious about the matter and not doing me a favor, “so who knows?” But we all knew.
The rest is history. Nomar got shipped to Chicago. The Sox came back from three down to beat the Yankees, improbability and eighty-six years of the Curse. I sat in my beloved bleachers for Game Five of that unearthly series (extra innings and Ortiz does it again!). And for Game One of the World Series, I sat right behind the Sox dugout with Jim’s sister. It turned out that the cramped seats under the batter’s net got moved for the playoffs. I’m not sure why. I didn’t ask. I was right there, in the middle of it all, watching Johnny, Manny and Papi pop in-and-out of the bunker like gay children, and sitting fifteen yards away, was the diminutive rocker, Steven Tyler (sang the National Anthem) and one section over, the Bay State’s over-coiffed Mormon Governor. It was a strange juxtaposition made stranger by that fact they were both wearing the same flame-red, satin Sox jacket. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Another third Sunday in March has come and gone. This time I double checked the logistics and offered to put down a deposit early, but Jim, citing that the number of shares had dropped to twelve (two people moved away and another said that they could now die happy and were done being a Sox fan), said that since the group had been reduced to a manageable and trusted core, deposits were not required. It was news to me, and I kindly informed Jim that this was a rule change that he had failed to mention in the email or post on the website.
Alison never followed up with her usually chatty email. A week later I tossed her a brusk one liner asking her how things were. Her reply was perfunctory. She told me she was fine and thanked me for the martinis. Then there was the PS telling me that I wasn’t the kind of person that she hoped I might be, that I lacked family values and a devotion to God. I don’t know how she arrived at such conclusions. I wanted to protest, but—to a degree—she was right. I didn’t share her exact devotion, but I did have faith