This column doesn't have anything to do with Ralph Branca. But man, this was cool. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Happy Patriot's Day, everyone in Massachusetts and Maine. Happy Waking Up Way Too Early For Sox Baseball Day, everyone else. The Red Sox game starts a little after 11 AM Eastern today, so that everyone attending the game can get down to Kenmore Square to see the end of the Boston Marathon, and then turn the Green Line into a complete horror show for three hours.
It's a fun holiday, really. From a history geek perspective, it's a nice opportunity to re-familiarize with the battles northwest of Boston that kicked off the American Revolution. From a sports perspective, it's a chance to watch the Red Sox at home and a world-class marathon (and if you're really lucky, the Bruins will have a playoff game in the evening.) From a just purely fun perspective, it is technically a state holiday, and many companies take the day off, which is great for cookouts (if the weather allows) and heavy day drinking (regardless of weather).
This is the first time I've spent Patriot's Day outside of Massachusetts. I'll be missing one of the great "start drinking at 10 am" holidays in order to finish my long weekend in New Orleans. Which, admittedly, is no stranger to the morning cocktail. Interestingly, my time here, especially in the rowdier sectors, has reminded me of the only time I ever attended the fabled Patriot's Day Game. And of why I'll never go again.
It was April of 2010. The Red Sox had stumbled a bit out of the gate, and had come home to play a four-game set against the Rays. It went horribly. The Sox dropped the first three games of the series, and were relying on John Lackey to save them from a sweep. As this was only his third start for the Sox, we didn't yet know how silly that sounded. So my girlfriend and I went to the game with some hope that Boston might salvage some dignity, and that our first-ever Patriot's Day experience would be worth making a tradition.
Quick bit of background: I'm really terrible with crowds. I'm not a full-fledged agoraphobic by any means, but large crowds make me seriously twitchy. There are exceptions to this; rush hour train stations don't bother me much. This, I think, is partly because I deal with them more often, and partly because everyone (mostly) knows where the hell they're going, which cuts down on jostling, slow-walking, and other behaviors that make me want to punch people.
Another exception has always been Fenway Park. 35,000 people all crammed into one place should be a recipe for disaster in terms of my stress levels, but generally it's not. And I think in large part it's the same factors. Everyone's there with a purpose, everyone's focused on the game. Sure, there are thousands of people, but they're sitting around me and cheering, not trying their best to trample me or block the one stairway between me and the exit. Also, there's a baseball game right in front of me, and that's the best thing in the world.
Which brings us to that Patriot's Day game. As soon as we arrived at the park, it was pretty clear that "let's watch the baseball game" was a distinctly minority opinion among the crowd. The top response to "Why are you at Fenway today?" was instead "WOOO!! BEER AT 10 AM! WOOO!!" Which I've never really understood, 10 AM or otherwise. It's not as though Boston lacks for places to get a beer, and most of them don't have a $45 cover charge.
So there we sat, surrounded by people who'd been pregaming since 8 AM. The wind picked up, and the park started to turn bitingly chilly. John Lackey gave us a preview of the John Lackey we'd all come to know and love over the next two years, giving up eight runs in a little over three innings. The Red Sox couldn't get anything going against Jeff Neimann, and they went quietly down to an 8-2 loss, completing the sweep. And the single thing that our section-mates were most annoyed by was the close of beer sales in the seventh. It was a miserable experience from beginning to end.
It was miserable for me, anyway. I'm sure the varyingly intoxicated folks around me had a grand time. And that was actually an important thing to realize. Not everyone enjoys baseball the same way. I know it's an obvious point, but it was one that hadn't been overly clear to me. I'd expended a lot of energy being annoyed at the people in the seats around me because they were more involved in their light beers than the game, because they didn't know what team the Sox were playing. And that was energy I could have been using to hate Evan Longoria and his constant owning of Boston pitching. That game taught me that it's just not worth it to be angry because someone else roots for the Sox differently.
At the same time, of course, I can't pretend that the "let's get drunk and also there is baseball" atmosphere is for me. So from now on, I'll be watching the Sox on Patriot's Day the way I prefer: at home, with fans more my speed and beer less pale. And someone else will get to have the seat I'd be sitting in at Fenway. Everyone wins. So enjoy the early game today, folks. Enjoy it at home, enjoy it at the park, enjoy it drunk, enjoy it sober, enjoy it in a hat of whatever color suits you. There's no wrong way to be a baseball fan.
Except rooting for the Yankees.