One may ask when I became such a sports freak. It came on slowly but writing for the footyalmanac.com.au certainly seemed to turn an interest into an obsession. It must be hanging with all those other Knackers and reading their writings on all sorts of sport and their lives that revolve around it. I felt I had found a home, of intelligent people who wrote well and who are all slightly mad. My perfect milieu. My spiritual home.
Today was the Boston Red Sox vs Yankees game at the famous Fenway Park. Andre and Elizabeth had booked tickets for the four of us to go to the afternoon game, Denise and I drove to their place, Andre took possession of the wheel, and headed down the freeway to Quincy Adams station. He is a confident driver, seeing that’s been his job here for 35 years, driving trucks and delivering. So he and Elizabeth had researched the best way to get into what would be a busy Boston. We left our car in the multi-level car park, and bought day passes from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority terminal. Andre was antsy to get onto a train, and once on, we had fun talking to other passengers. Andre made a comment like “Just don’t talk to any of those Yankees” and a couple across the way laughed and we started talking. We took a few photos of us and then asked the other couple, also Red Sox fans, to take a photo. Picture this (sorry for any damage the image may cause to your lasting memories). I had on black jeans, black shirt, Andres blue Red Sox large t-shirt, my St.Kilda 2011 scarf, my hand bag and camera slung across my neck/shoulder and my jacket tied up around my waist. Not the best fashion look for 2013. As the guy was taking the shot, I pulled on my t-shirt down so they could read it (about the Red Sox), thrust out my chest, and said, “Don’t miss my Red Sox Boobies” as they were taking the picture. The photographer and the people around us looked shocked. What was I thinking? I was in the land of the Puritans! Andre apologied for his sister, saying I was “Australian”. We were all laughing so hard. It wasn’t quite what I meant to say but I had said it. He managed to take a great picture, without the boobies gesture, nevertheless, instructing Denise as we left the train, “Watch out for your sister, she’s trouble.”
Meanwhile, Yankees had entered the train and both Andre and I started chatting with them, as they were standing right in front of us. The banter began with the group. There were two older brothers, one a local and the other and is two daughters who have driven up the 3 ½ hours from New York just for the game, and they were decked out in their Yankee gear and proud of it. Andre was able to awe them with this question. “On April 2nd 1931, who was the only pitcher to strike out the first batter Babe Ruth with five pitches, and then strike out the next batter Lou Gehrig with three pitches? They walked the next batter, and after that were pulled from the game and never pitched again?” Andre had them stumped, and they knew their baseball. The answer was Jackie Mitchell, a 17 year old girl who played with the Chattanooga Lookouts, and was part of an exhibition match with the New York Yankees. She was the only woman playing that day, was booed and taunted and women were banned from playing ever again with the men. Who would dare to strike out the male heroes of the time? She must have been some pitcher. The guys and the daughters couldn’t work it out and Andre had the satisfaction of sharing this story again. Everyone he tells it to, is stumped for an answer.
An interlude From Wikepedia:
Mitchell was born August 29, 1912 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  to Virne Wall Mitchell and Dr. Joseph Mitchell. When she learned how to walk, her father took her to the baseball diamond and taught her the basics of the game. Her next door neighbor, Dazzy Vance, taught her to pitch and showed her his “drop ball”, a type of breaking ball. Later, Vance would pitch in the major leagues and eventually be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
When Mitchell was 17, she played for a women’s team in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and attended a special baseball school in Atlanta, Georgia. There, she attracted the attention of Joe Engel, the president and owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts, who offered her a contract to play for the 1931 season. On March 28, Mitchell signed the contract and became an official member of the Lookouts, a Class AA minor league team. citation needed
Against the New York Yankees
The New York Yankees and the Chattanooga Lookouts were scheduled to play an exhibition game in Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 1, 1931. Due to rain the game was postponed until the next day. Seventeen-year-old Jackie Mitchell, brought in to pitch in the first inning after the starting pitcher had given up a double and a single, faced Babe Ruth. After taking a ball, Ruth swung and missed at the next two pitches. Mitchell’s fourth pitch to Ruth was a called third strike. Babe Ruth glared and verbally abused the umpire before being led away by his teammates to sit to wait for another batting turn. The crowd roared for Jackie. Babe Ruth was quoted in a Chattanooga newspaper as having said:
“I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball. Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.”
Next up was the Iron Horse Lou Gehrig, who swung through the first three pitches to strike out. Jackie Mitchell became famous for striking out two of the greatest baseball players in history.
A few days after Mitchell struck out Ruth and Gehrig, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided her contract and declared women unfit to play baseball as the game was “too strenuous.” Mitchell continued to play professionally, barnstorming with the House of David, a men’s team famous for their very long hair and long beards. While travelling with the House of David team, she would sometimes wear a fake beard for publicity. She retired in 1937 at the age of 23 after becoming furious since her story about playing baseball was being used something of a side show – once being asked to pitch while riding a donkey. She refused to come out of retirement when the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League formed in 1943. Major League Baseball would formally ban the signing of women to contracts on June 21, 1952. The ban lasted until 1992 when Carey Schueler was “drafted” by the Chicago White Sox for the 1993 season.
Back to our day out. I found the train journey just like going to the footy in Melbourne where if you strike up conversations, it can be entertainment in itself.
Once at the Park Street station we hit another like to Kenmore Station near Fenway Park, and made our way to the ground with the hordes of others. I stopped to buy a program and a flag and sticker that came with it, we decided to eat at the ground as there wasn’t enough time to eat anywhere on the way. We passed security. I had water and apples and nuts and my sugarless chocolate in my bags, Andre had warned me security don’t usually let you take these things in, but I told them I was diabetic and needed the food and they weren’t fussed even before saying that, so all was good. I don’t eat any sugar because I am a candidate for diabetes and do need to make sure I can take food with me when I am not sure of what I can get at the games.
So we were in the sectioned off area, stadium to the left and with shops to the right selling baseball stuff, and we went in there to see if I could buy a hat. And I was looking for something specific, a Boston Red Sox hat in red, black and white. And of course, I found it. I looked like a total dork, but it was in my colours. We met up again and headed for the seats, and walked around the stadium. There was such a buzz, the excitement palpable, well, mine was, and we hit the bathrooms and split up. Denise and I bought rolls, mine a chicken salad, and Denise lobster one. They were actually OK. Denise bought chips in a big plastic cup shaped as a Boston Red Sox helmet. Cool as. We then headed to our great seats sitting just past first base, but up twenty rows in PP 1-4. Great views. Wonderful stadium. Unbelievable atmosphere as time ticked down for the 1.05 start of the game.
We had professional photos taken outside (they give you a card and you look online afterwards) and inside as well, with the stadium in the background. We’d eaten, got more water, and watched the pre-game goings on. The person being honoured for being a great blood donor, some injured survivors of the Boston Marathon being honoured and pitching balls to two of the Red Sox catchers, the Mascot Wally who was wearing a beard and looking like he’d escaped from Sesame Street.
Now, an interlude about the bearded mascot. The Red Sox are mostly bearded and some, especially the first baseman Mike Napoli, looked like Ned Kelly. Really full on beards happening, and there is a story behind it, as Billy White wrote in the program. I will quote some of it here:
“Every successful baseball team had an identity: something that the team and the city they represent can rally around. The 2003 Red Sox rallied around the phrase “Cowboy Up”. After one of their most successful seasons ever, they came heartbreakingly close to the World Series trip but falling victim to the Yankees. Yet “Cowboy Up” was a great identity and the perfect moniker for how they acted, dressed and played.
In 2004, the identity of the Red Sox was a group of “idiots”. This bunch of bearded, unkempt, loudmouthed, blue-collar idiots went out of their way to clash with the rival Yankees’ clean cut, clean-shaven, upscale tradition. With the wounds from the 2003 ALCS still fresh, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry came to a head I July of 2004, when Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez had some choice words for the Boston nine after getting hit by a pitch. Red Sox lifer Jason Varitek immediately put his fists through A-Rod’s jaw, inciting a benches clearing brawl. The Yankees labelled the Red Sox as “idiots”
Red Sox embraced the term.”
So with that bit of history of the rivalry and hatred between these groups, and the fact that the same Alex Rodriguez who was banned for steroid use just months ago but is playing because of his appeal, meant that the feelings were riding high at this game. The Red Sox were doing very well this year, according to Andre. To make the playoffs, they need to win most of the 12 games left, they were on 91 wins for the year and need the 100 to go to the playoffs.
The national anthem was sung by the cast of a local musical and must be the best rendition I have ever heard. And the game began, and Elizabeth answered all my questions because she was the closest. And perhaps the unluckiest.
Nevertheless, I was completely taken by the game now that I understood, and I watched as the Red Sox played better, pitched better and striking better. And I loved Mike Napoli first base, he just kept catching the ball cleanly when thrown to him and one after another of the Yankees just walked. Rodriguez was booed by the whole stadium (of Red Sox fans, who knew how his own supporters felt) and he got no scores at all. Neither did their star recruit from Japan, Ichiro Suzuki, do any better. In fact, they scored one run for the whole game, and the Red Sox won with only 5. That meant it went to the 9th inning and it was over, a much shorter game that Andre and Elizabeth had expected.
It had gotten colder during the game and rain seemed to loom. On a walk I found a big jacket for my underdressed brother and bought a throw rug for Denise and me, Boston colours of course. I can use it when I go to Doggies games with Denise next year.
In the middle of the game, all sorts of interesting things happened, like the ground staff re-smoothing the pitch and different music being played on one of the last remaining live organ playing in baseball. There were 35,000 fans there. The Mexican wave started late in the game, went around three times. On the 8th innings, with the game waiting, those in the stands all stood up and belted out “Sweet Caroline” with the boom boom booms, ah ah ohs, and other specially refrains belted out by the fans, the obligatory beach ball bouncing around and the guys carrying food and produce, balanced finely on their heads, hollering out and selling throughout the games. Bought back memories of Australia, “chips, lollies, pies and potato chips”. We bought hot dogs, just had to have a hot dog at a baseball game. Andre befriended the people in front of him and the young men to his right. He reminds me of my father, and of myself, we’ll talk to anyone, but he is amazing, so friendly and open and just loves talking ad chatting and laughing with others.
It was a great game if you were a Sox fan (which I was for the day) and the Yankees were very disappointing. They play again on Sunday night at 8.
We hung back in our seats once the game was over, waiting for the crowds to disperse, then as the ground staff started hassling us, we went down the stairs. There we visited the bathrooms again, and looked at the change of Red Sox symbols over the years and got photos, and in front of the Fenway Park internal signs, got more photos of the group of us.
I took a photo for a Japanese tourist with very poor English in front of the symbols and a couple in front of the Fenway Park sign. That one was not focused to my eyes, so I just aimed and shot, and they were so pleased with the shot I’d made. They’d asked several people before but they kept cutting out parts of the signs or of them. I made a great photo and some happy people kept thanking me.
Outside, we slowly walked through the crowds and down towards North End, a section like Lygon Street in Carlton, full of people and restaurants, small narrow roads, past the statue of Paul Revere on a horse, too much traffic and headed for Hanover Street to “Nico”, a place well researched fine by our research guru Denise. (If anyone needs to employ a great researcher with library technician qualifications, Denise is your woman!)
The first table they gave us (we were two hours earlier than our booking) was downstairs and near the loo’s, so we asked to be shifted upstairs and were actually prepared to leave the restaurant if they couldn’t shift us. But they did and we had a wonderful meal, a table looking out to the street, and fabulous food. I have been enjoying all my favourite foods, a calamari pasta to die for, Elizabeth had shrimps and pasta (prawns to us Aussies) and Denise and Andre had veal chops and pasta (Denise had lamb shanks and pasta) covered with lobster sauces. They loved it, we were all happy with the food and recommended wine (for the others) and we sated ourselves. As I read the menu, there was an item from the owner which said if you mention his name, something special would happen. So when our wonderful waiting cleared our plates, I asked him about it, and he said, he will arrange it. And he bought out a free dessert, tiramisu that the other three shared. I dirtied my spoon so he would think that I had some too. It was wonderful, and then Andre couldn’t resist the chocolate mousse and the three shared that too. Three different layers and some crunchy biscuit inside there too. Andre was in piggy heaven. Elizabeth treated us to the meal, I had treated us all to the game, so it was a fabulous day all round
We headed back the same way that we came, thankfully Andre still awake enough to drive us back, reaching Andres 9.30 and home and in bed at 10.30. We were stuffed but happy.
Go Red Sox for the Championships for 2014. Go Bearded ones!
PS For any Almanackers who want to read any of the other chapters (be warned, there are many), please let me know and I’ll include you in the general email I send out regularly.