This is strange, because I was sitting 20 rows in the section directly behind said bullpen. I tracked the path of Ortiz’ ball and watched it sale over Hunter’s glove, but I missed the Tigers’ right fielder sailing over the wall. I missed the cop raise his arms in victory, and I missed Ryan Dempster and others helping Hunter to his feet.
This is because about a half-second after the collective brains of those of us in the bleachers realized that Hunter did not catch the ball, those same collective brains shut off. I hugged people I had never met before. I slapped furiously at the hand of a man I had wanted to exile from Fenway Park only innings before. I watched as my roommate kicked over his beers and roared in triumph, and as my girlfriend jumped up and down in the small space allotted to her beside me.
And for a split second, before my hat was knocked off and I continued with the chest bumping and the screaming and the fist pumping, I just held my head in my hands, because I knew I had just experienced my most incredible in-person moment as a sports fan.
If you’ve ever sat in the bleachers at Fenway before, you know what to expect. The majority – let’s say 80 percent – of the fans there just want to have a few beers and take in the game without needing to refinance their mortgages just to afford tickets. There’s a pleasant mix of passionate fans and casual fans, seasoned Fenway vets and first-timers, and fans of all ages.
Then there are the 20 percent or so who seem more determined to bankrupt themselves on $8 beers and get kicked out by the fourth inning. But let’s not waste time on them, for this is a happy column about a happy occasion. Let’s just say that those people got what they deserved yesterday, because they missed one of the most dramatic postseason events in recent Boston sports history.
If that last paragraph comes across as grumpy, that’s because I am grumpy. I am, by my own admission, not the easiest person with whom to watch a baseball game. I don’t engage in “let’s go Red Sox” chants when the Red Sox are pitching and I dislike Sweet Caroline. I don’t like getting trashed before or when I go to Fenway, because I’m there to see the game. I’m disinterested in making small-talk, and if you want to stand up for every 3-2 pitch I want to hire Jeff Gillooly to convince you to sit down.
My friends often cite me as a pessimistic baseball fan, but I don’t think that’s true: I just think I’m realistic. The Red Sox had less than a 4 percent chance of winning the game when Will Middlebrooks kicked off the eighth inning with a double. I didn’t know the odds were that bad, but I knew they were, if you forgive the obvious pun, in that ballpark. Was I hoping for a Red Sox win? Of course. Did I expect one? Not in the least.
But as the inning progressed, I had a recurring thought running through my head: get to Ortiz. Game Two was my first postseason game ever for any sport, and I wanted to see Big Papi up in a huge spot. I wanted to see the legend in person.
Sure, past acts of clutch hitting can’t be used to predict future performance. I get that the samples are too small, even if I do think that some hitters are clearly predisposed to perform better in times of high stress than others. None of that mattered to me, and after Pedroia reached base to bring Ortiz to the plate, I stopped analyzing or playing the odds in my head, and I just hoped.
Moments before Ortiz’ homerun, I remarked to my girlfriend that if he did the unthinkable and hit a grand slam, I wasn’t sure Fenway would be able to withstand the subsequent celebration.
I’m not quite sure if the collective willpower of 35,000-plus people can manifest itself into one swing. But if someone tries to prove that theory some day, they should start with Ortiz’ blast.
The coolest part about sitting relatively far away from home plate is that you can see contact being made just before your brain is able to recognize the sound of the crack of the bat. So first, you see Ortiz start to swing. Then you see that his swing was significant, and then you don’t see the ball hit the catcher’s mitt. Then you hear the crack of the bat, and by that time the ball is already in rapid ascent and you realize it has a chance.
Ortiz’ homer was so low and so fast that there wasn’t much time to internalize what was happening, but I do remember one terrifying thought flooding my mind: Hunter is going to catch the ball. He’s going to revive his Spiderman act of year’s past, he’s going to rob me of this moment and I’m going to hate one of my favorite childhood players forever. It’s not really possible to have all of those thoughts in the time it took to Ortiz’ homer to leave the park, but I swear, that’s what I felt.
So when I was wrong – and god, I love being wrong – it was all the sweeter. Fenway was as loud as I ever imagined it could be. My roommate and I lifted our friend on our shoulders, as a number of fans two runs in front of us did the same to one of their friends. It was pure jubilation, and the mix of man-hugging and mosh-pitting and outright euphoria was something I’ll take with me to the grave.
And in that moment, there was nowhere I would’ve rather been than in the bleachers, surrounded by a few thousand other people who came to the park and got more than they bargained for.
That the Red Sox would go on to win felt like an inevitability. Once the celebration died down, I forced myself to say the words “it’s just tied,” but I didn’t really mean it.
Earlier today, Andre shared his in-person experience from Game Two, but said it wasn’t quite the best game he’s ever been to thanks to his presence during Boston’s comeback in the 2008 ALCS.
I was not at that game six years ago, and so have no trouble citing yesterday’s game as the best in-person sporting event of my life.
The first Red Sox game I ever went to ended with Nomar Garciaparra hitting a walk off homerun over the Green Monster in extra innings after a rain delay. I’ve been at a game that featured Johnny Damon hitting a walk off homer off of Scott Shields. I was at a vintage Roy Halladay-Jon Lester matchup that ended in a Sox walk off win back in 2009.
But because of the stakes and because of they key actors and because of the momentous shift in momentum, this game was better. This game was something else entirely.
Some day, there will be a statue of David Ortiz outside on Yawkey Way. And someday, when I’m all grown up and get to take my son or daughter to their first game at Fenway, we will walk past that statue and I will tell them that I saw Ortiz’ magic in person, that he really was larger than life.
And, of course, that, you should believe in miracles.