For months, 8-year-old Gordon had besieged his mother and me with a lobbying effort that would have made an Augusta insider proud. It started with a question: “Can we go see the Red Sox?” Gradually, subtly and incrementally it advanced to the more pointed, “When are we going to go see the Red Sox?”
“Here’s the deal,” I said one day. “You’ve got to prove that you’re ready to go to Boston and see the Red Sox. You’ve got to show me that you’re really interested. That you care.”
My girlfriend, Karen, chuckled.
“OK,” Gordon told me. “What do I have to do?”
“You have to be able to answer questions,” I told him, explaining that true Red Sox fans know a lot about the team, its players and its often-heartbreaking history. To cement his status as a true fan and earn a trip to that sacred ground, I said, he’d have to listen. He’d have to learn. He’d have to join the club.
“What’s the question?” he asked.
“Where do the Red Sox play?” I countered.
“Boston,” he said, grinning. I frowned. Perhaps my questions would have to be more specific. “Well … good. But I’m looking for the name of the field.”
It took Gordon a few days to come up with that answer, and other questions followed over the coming months: What is the left field wall called? Who plays second base for this year’s team? Who wore number 8 … and number 9, and why doesn’t anybody wear those numbers anymore? The two questions I never had to ask: Who wears number 34, and what’s his nickname?
David Ortiz, “Big Papi,” has always been Gordon’s favorite player, you see. Those questions, as they say, were in his wheelhouse. He’d have turned on them and whacked them over the Green Monster, out onto Landsdowne Street. Or, more likely into the adjacent parking garage.
Over time, Gordon learned all kinds of Red Sox trivia. Well, perhaps “all kinds” isn’t entirely accurate. I did leave out a few pieces. We never talked about Bucky Dent. Or Ed Armbrister. Or losing to the Mets in ’86. Or Aaron Boone. There will be plenty of time for all that, I figured. No sense in ruining a perfectly good Sox fan right off the bat.
And finally, bright and early on Sunday morning, he and I boarded a bus and joined others on a Bangor Y trip to (as Gordon could proudly tell you) Fenway Park, where the Sox would battle (as he could also tell you) the Oakland Athletics. We would explore the park. We would watch the game. And most important to him, we would get souvenirs and eat “ballpark food,” the fact that he hates hot dogs not dampening his spirits at all.
We walked Landsdowne Street and I pointed out the back of the Green Monster. I told him that home runs — the ones that are really “whomped,” his favorite description of particularly good hits — sometimes make it into the parking garage. He was impressed.
We strolled down Yawkey Way and waded into a souvenir shop, emerging with a Red Sox yearbook, a new Big Papi T-shirt and a long-armed Wally the Green Monster plush toy that turned out to be the biggest hit of the day.
“I love my Wally,” Gordon said, a couple dozen times, over the course of the game and the bus ride home — and again on the way to school the next morning.
Then it was time to head into New England’s baseball shrine itself. “We’re going into Fenway Park now?” he asked. I told them we were. “Can we get some chow?”
We could. And we did. Gordon’s favorite “ballpark food” turned out to be pizza. And root beer. And peanuts. And, eventually, cotton candy. Mine? Well, I’m a bit of a purist. Fenway Franks, please. Mustard only.
Emerging from the darkness of the concourse behind home plate and stepping out into the light is always awe-inspiring for me. Expecting Gordon to share that emotion was, I knew, unrealistic. He is, after all, just 8.
But when he took those final steps up the ramp, the playing field and the Green Monster finally in view, he surprised me. He stood still, stared out toward left field, and said the only thing he could think of.
That’s right. Wow.
Over the next hour we explored a bit. I took him to Pesky’s Pole, and explained what bullpens were used for. I showed him the red seat in the right field bleachers where the longest home run in Fenway history landed.
A friendly usher showed us to our grandstand seats, but not before leading us to a Fenway ambassador stationed on the concourse. I had mentioned that it was Gordon’s first Fenway experience.
As such, the ambassador explained, Gordon was entitled to a few goodies. Like a vial of Fenway soil. A certificate with his name and the date on it. A Kevin Youkilis photo. And at the end of the fourth inning, we were told, Gordon’s name would be displayed on the Fenway scoreboard.
During the game, Gordon did the wave and had a ball. He greeted the Red Sox third baseman with the trademark chant, “Yoooouk!” and he sang the chorus to “Sweet Caroline.” He hopped up and down each time Big Papi came up to bat, and Ortiz delighted his young fan by getting hits in his first three trips to the plate. Peanuts were eaten. Root beer was quaffed. Cotton candy was messily devoured. He noisily celebrated a Carl Crawford home run, even though he generally hates loud noises of any kind.
By the end, Gordon was, officially, a Red Sox fan. Unofficially, he’d earned that distinction before the first pitch had even been thrown.
During our informal tour of the park, I pointed at a distant facade. Lined up were the magic numbers. 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 27, 42.
“Those are the retired numbers,” Gordon said, proudly, as a couple of nearby adults perked up their ears.
“Who’s number 8?” I quizzed.
“That’s Captain Carl,” he answered.
The nearby adults were paying even closer attention now.
“And what’s the 42 mean? It’s a different color.”
“Oh. That’s Jackie Robinson,” Gordon replied as our observers’ eyes bugged out. “He didn’t play for the Red Sox, but his number is retired for the whole league.”
Lessons learned. Trip earned. Memories made.
And, I’m sure, a fan for life created. All in all, not a bad way to spend a Sunday.