by Leile One
It is slated to be monumental. This is the first nighttime home game for the Boston Red Sox this season, and it’s boasting a special historical meeting of two of the biggest superstars in Japanese baseball history, right here in the center of The Bean. Daisuke Matsuzaka (“Dice-K”), recipient of a fabled $100+ million contract with the Sox last offseason, will be pitching to Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners…an international superstar match up of epic proportions. The local and national media have not forgotten to make the world aware of the grand significance of the event. Dunkin’ Donuts has erected a gigantic Japanese advertisement in the outfield of the stadium, to indicate the immense significance of the bridge between East and West that is being built with this ballgame. All corporations identified with Boston will capitalize in a similar fashion. I sit cross-legged staring at the muck filled pond down the street from the Prudential Building, a few blocks away from Fenway Park, awaiting first pitch, scheduled for 7:05 EST.
In case you haven’t heard, Boston is a baseball town. It’s the biggest baseball town in America, partly because there isn’t much else going on around here. The Red Sox victory in the 2004 World Series has merely accelerated an already-existent penchant for America’s Pastime that has been around here since Babe Ruth signed that traitorous contract and donned the pinstripes of the New York Yankees, hundreds of years ago. Local loyalty to The Sox reaches comical proportions daily; often one is unsure whether to laugh or whether to puke about it. Well, that’s how it is for an import, at least, like me. I find myself in New England rather accidentally, after about ten years in the San Francisco Bay Area. I guess the whole phenomenon isn’t so crazy for someone who grew up around here.
At any rate, it’s obvious that I don’t have the 200 necessary dollars to make my way into a bleacher seat for tonight’s game. Whatevs: I’m planning to do what I usually do, which is hang out around the streets and bars surrounding Fenway Park and scope the scene, ingest the spectacle. And yes, to watch the game. I have admittedly fallen victim to the hype frenzy surrounding tonight’s showdown, and am interested in seeing how this Japanese face off ends up going down in the annals of baseball. I rise from the ground I am sitting upon and make my way down to Fenway.
Upon arrival, the Japanese media is in full effect. Vans equipped with satellites and television cameras line the block, broadcasting who-knows-what to lord knows what time zone. The local white people are also in full effect, same as it ever was. They are on their way inside, for the most part. The rest of us will play the outsiders, relegated to the outskirts of the ballpark, thousands of miles from, say, the Oakland Coliseum, where a major league baseball game can be watched in person easily for ten bucks. You must plan in advance for tickets to Fenway, way far in advance, or else you must be a business client of some sort of season ticket holder. No matter how hard the Red Sox try and pose as a “blue collar everyman’s team”, the facts remain. Tickets to Fenway are reserved for the elite, while even Yankees Stadium seats can be obtained by us proles for a reasonable price by comparison.
I take a generous slug from the half-pint of V.S.O.P. which I have cleverly smuggled into the area within the lining of my sport coat. It is cold outside, an ancient cold which makes the prospect of a baseball game seem ludicrous. A pile of black snow stands like a statue across the street from Fenway Park’s beloved Green Monster, where a home run ball may very well end up later this evening. A hand-drawn sketch of Dice-K smiles at me from a lamppost: a local freelance artist has posted his renditions of the superstar’s mug around the premises, in an attempt to advertise his drawing skills and generate clientele. Everyone’s got a buck to pull out of this evening’s festivities.
It’s almost game time. Sausage salesmen on the Avenue are beefing up their sales pitches. The smell of the cart-meat is dizzying, relentless in its deliciousness. Expensive, savory scents assault us, the stuff that little boys dream of. Speaking of which, the kids are in abundance this evening. They grip the palms of their fathers, their important fathers with crisp collars and good tickets, on their way to a baseball game that will live in their memories forever. This is a New England rite of passage, the passing on of the Red Sox Virus which guarantees the sickness will live on in the tradition of a whole new generation. Enjoy your ice cream cone, young Whitey…
I step inside the Cask n’ Flagon, the traditional townie bar of the Red Sox Nation. I want to see the initial Ichiro vs. Dice-K match up as much as the next guy. A beer is procured from the bald-head guy at the counter, and I settle in to absorb the first at bat. Whoomp, there it is. Ichiro dribbles a nothing little ball bouncer into the glove of Matsuzaka, who throws him out at first base, no problem. Highly anti-climactic, but that’s okay. We’ve got another 8 and two-thirds innings of baseball ahead of us.
When it comes time for the Red Sox bats to come to the plate, all of a sudden, I become aware of something else. Felix Hernandez is pitching for the Seattle Mariners: he’s perhaps the best pitcher throwing in the game right now whose name isn’t Johan Santana. Why hasn’t more hype been generated around Felix’s involvement in this whole charade? Felix Hernandez, the phenomenal pitcher for the Seattle Mariners who just turned 21 three days ago. He’s a clear-cut candidate for the Cy Young award this year. And his annual salary rings in at a mere $420,000, pennies compared to what the bigass bankroll BoSox paid for Dice-K’s presence in 2007 (around $9 million, not including local business endorsements). And nobody from Boston has even heard of this kid. Their one-track minds revolve strictly within the orbits of Yankees and Red Sox solar systems.
An hour later, Hernandez has pitched six innings of no-hit baseball. He has made obsolete all of the nationwide and local press about the Matsuzaka-versus-Ichiro showdown this evening. And he’s done so humbly, at a salary exponentially smaller than his huge-hype counterparts. He’s a kid from Venezuela, a People’s Republic devoid of the ridiculousness of the American and Japanese media worlds. The Red Sox Hype Machine: unsightly, merciless, a slobbering behemoth whose hunger knows no rational limits of satiation. It stumbles along and makes meaningless any sort of national or worldwide news on the cover of the local daily papers, with oversized portraits of grey-clad pitchers on the mound or batters in the box. The big news always centers upon what the Red Sox did yesterday.
David Ortiz to the plate, with predictable cheers from every Bud Light swallower in the room. “Big Papi gonna hit the ball haahd,” I am assured by the gentleman occupying the bar stool next to mine. Likely he would punch the face of anyone who told him otherwise. Big Papi, spokesperson for the Lobster Sandwich at D’Angelo’s, the local chain equivalent of a Subway or Quizno’s (yes, we also have both of those. But any true-blooded Bostonian goes for the ‘lo’s, brudduh). Papi swings gallantly, with every ounce of strength he could be expected to muster, thwacking a fistful of dead air. He is sent back to the dugout with the bat between his legs. Lobster Sandwich sales remain unaffected at the time of this publication.
The famous Citgo sign watches over Fenway, sees it all. There is a local movement to boycott Citgo, since it is supposedly run by communist Venezuelans. Paradoxically, the Bostonians harbor a special fondness for the Citgo sign; it represents us, for better or for worse. We will never turn off that sign, it stays lit like the torch of liberty, despite a local politician’s suggestion that we unplug the fucker in a show of disapproval for international happenings. Hugo Chavez laughs at the whole spectacle, with glimmering eyes indicating the looming Latin uprising brewing down south, so far south that it might as well be another planet. But the fear remains. We shall boycott Citgo gasoline, but keep its sign illuminated as a Boston landmark. We shall represent Patriotism by all means, in the face of logic and rationality, while being safely blanketed under the guise of “We’re a fucking Blue State, hence liberal.” We are Boston, hear us roar.
I sit at the bar nursing a Sam Adams lager, considering these as well as other things. How am I going to write a story about this evening? I will attempt to avoid mentioning the other aspects of Boston which provide so much daily annoyance. I will intentionally omit details of the horrifically stagnant local music scene. I’ll be polite to neglect the discussion of how the city shuts down at 2am, without diner or coffee shop to wet the late night appetite of those of us who like to roam the wee hours from time to time. I won’t even bring up the weak ass clam chowder, the staple food of the legendary New England kingdom. Yeah, I said it – I for one prefer a sourdough breadbowl of thick wonderfulness from San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, when it comes to that. The stuff around here is watery, flavorless at best. But I’m not planning to bring that up in the piece. For this is a story of baseball…
Final score: 3 to zero, Seattle Mariners. But tomorrow is always another day in the Red Sox Nation, the sun growing warmer as summer approaches. The mania will rise as the thermometers redden, and the city grows more and more unbearable as the days go by. Loud working class town folk, quiet white collar yuppies…both increase their stranglehold on the city in subtle ways. The Birthplace of America stands as the representative of everything that sucks about it. And the game goes on, rest assured…