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Smokey Joe and the Time Bandit: Chapter 3

Like Daniel Bard, Smokey Joe Wood was one of the game's hardest throwing pitchers Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
Like Daniel Bard, Smokey Joe Wood was one of the game's hardest throwing pitchers Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

On this off-day for the Red Sox, we continue our strange tale of the temporally displaced Ryan O'Malley as he tries to make his way through the world of 1912. When we last left our hero he was wrestling with impending Titanic tragedy and the first exhibition played at Fenway Park.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

"Now, I don’t want you to think that I completely forgot about the impending tragedy just to see a baseball game," O’Malley explained. His face reflected the guilt and conflict he obviously felt at that time, being the only man on earth with the absolute knowledge of the ship’s impending doom. "I simply decided that there was little more I could do other than to reach out to the ship or the shipping company and issue as firm a warning as possible. I was fortunate to find a Western Union telegraph station rather quickly and after some time I convinced the operator to send a telegraph to the ship’s captain, despite the fact that I did not know his name or anything much beyond the name of the boat. It read:

"Exercise Great Caution. Large Threat of Icebergs Of Canadian Coast. Yours, Robert Doerr, US Maritime Safety Office"

I couldn’t help but smile at my companion’s choice of pseudonym, but I had to ask.

"Did you really think that would stop the ship from sinking?"

"No," he answered. "Of course, not, but I wasn’t entirely sure that I should stop it, and even if I had been, I doubt I could have done much more. Understand, while we may know what did happen, we can never know what could have happened. Suppose I succeeded in preventing that tragedy, but as a result, no greater safety regulations were adopted and more, even larger ships sank without life boats. Or perhaps the long term consequences were even worse. Imagine as a result of that heroic act a chain of events began that would lead to the Nazi developing the atomic bomb before they could be defeated in World War II. These are terrifying enigmas I was grappling with. Perhaps such horrors were already set in motion, I had thought, and that is when I decide to at least take some small action."

"So, I sent the absurd imitation of an official warning. Perhaps, I thought, this is the reason I am here," O’Malley rationalized.

That question of why this had happened to him never seemed far from his mind and I began to see that this detailed retelling was a much for his own benefit as for mine. He was wrestling with the experience and he did not appear to be in the lead. These moments when he was forced to reflect on such great cosmic issues blackened his otherwise cheerful mood and I decided it may be best to try to skirt them in the future.

"It wasn’t the reason," he said. "As you know."

He fell silent and I once again needed to prompt him onward.

"You mentioned a baseball game"

Yes, of course!" He almost shouted with the relief he felt as he moved on past those dark events.

"As you can imagine, while the reality of being lost in a world without air condition, television, microwaves and the internet was awful, the chance to see the first game ever played at FenwayPark, was- for a baseball nut like me- too good to pss up. After all, I had a little bit of money and nowhere to be for almost a century, I could at least try to score a ticket. Right? There was also the question of how I was going to make living if I didn’t wind up back in my own time soon and the upcoming game gave me an idea."

"Like most people of our generation, I grew up with the Back to the Future films being played almost every weekend on basic cable," he explained. "Naturally, aside from having all kinds of fears about accidentally sleeping with a family member and disrupting the space/time continuum, this experience left me with the unassailable knowledge that if you go back in time, you can make a fortune betting on sports. As it would turn out, I could not have slipped into a more conducive environment for that if I tried. I made up mind to go to the park and see if anyone was scalping tickets."

"At first, it seemed to me that it should be quite easy for someone with knowledge of the future to make a quick fortune in such primitive times, but the more thought I gave to the matter, the more I realized it wasn’t simple at all. Sure, I knew about dazzling technologies yet to be invented but I didn’t actually know how replicate them. I couldn’t build a television or a computer from scratch and even if I could, I would still need to bring them to the masses to profit from them. I knew a bit about history, but knowing things like Coca-Cola and US Steel being good investments couldn't exactly make me a quick buck."

"I made my way to Fenway, but that too was more difficult than expected. The rather grimy and untamed park where I had discarded my futuristic cash was, I now, realized the predecessor to the Fens we just walked through. It lacked nearly all of the modern landscaping and monuments, but, having recognized it once again, I was glad to have another familiar touchstone in this foreign time."

"As I made my way through the Fens, I tried to call up every bit of knowledge I could about the 1912 season. I always had a great interest in baseball history and I had read many books on the great players and seasons of the past, but as I racked my brain for something I could exploit to my advantage I realized my total store of knowledge about the 1912 season could be summed up in just three names- Tris Speaker, Smokey Joe Wood and Fred Snodgrass."

"Ah, Snodgrass!" I exclaimed as the identity of the final name finally dawned on me. O’Malley smiled to see me reach the same conclusion he had as he navigated the more ancient Fens.

"Yes, Fred Snodgrass’ dropped fly ball cost the 1912 Giants the World Series, or so the popular story has it, anyway," O’Malley confirmed. "That was the one bit of truly profitable information I had and it wouldn’t be of any use until October. I shuttered at the idea that I would be displaced that long, but it seemed wise to at least plan ahead, just in case."

"After I finally made my way to through the Fens, I found myself on Audubon Road, which I had never heard of. It took me a minute but I came to recognize it as Park Drive. Even if I had not grasped this minor detail, I would have had little difficulty finding Fenway after I crossed the untamed parkl. The neighborhood on the other side of the Fens was surprisingly desolate. There were a few small buildings scattered across the landscape, but FenwayPark stood out like a great castle in the otherwise empty stretch of grassland and dirt lots. It was the tallest structure in the area and though it was a vastly different place, even just seeing it from this far often distance, it looked like a tiny piece of home, something from my own time sent here to comfort me. I walked down the barren stretch of Jersey Street to the red brick façade that still stands there now."

"If there is one thing to be said for 1912, it was sure a hell of a lot easier to get tickets back then. As I approach the Park, I found a small number of people milling about outside. In my mind, this little exhibition was a landmark moment in the history of baseball and I naturally assumed I would need to buy my ticket second hand. I approached a friendly looking gentleman at the back of a small line and asked-

‘Do you have an extra ticket, sir? Or have you seen anyone selling any?’

The stranger didn’t seem to understand my question and looked me over carefully, obviously put off by my bold combination of jeans, dress shirt, hoodie, and blazer.

‘You want tickets, you wait in line here like everyone else,’ he shot back, gesturing toward the ticket window. ‘What kind of crazy suit is that supposed be anyway? He asked as I settled in behind him line. ‘And where’s your hat?

I mumbled something about having lost my hat and how this was not really meant to be suit as I tried to dodge an large gust of wind that sent a chill straight through me. The stranger just laughed at me as I pulled my jacket tight around me. ‘Damned cold, isn’t it?’ He chuckled. He reached into his own coat pocket and pulled out a small flask, took a swig and offered it to me. ‘That getup better be warmer than it looks,’ he said as he passed the liquor. I assured him it wasn't

The idea of drinking so early in the day would not normally have appealed to me, but caught in the freezing cold, 99 years earlier in time than I had expected to be, I decide that now was not the time to refuse any friendly gestures extended my way. I took a quick sip and returned the contraband quickly. The warm liquor did help the chill and started to relax me soon. ‘Thank you,’ I said to the stranger.

‘You got it, bud!’ he practically shouted at me as waved the flask around carelessly before taking another sip and offering it again. I then realized the need for discretion when drinking in public was not nearly so great as it is now. Something I have forgotten on occasion since my return"

O’Malley chuckled and I thought about the incident earlier with the cigar. He received a fresh bourbon at this point and savored it with the memory of that warming drink still lingering in his mind.

"So this guy introduces himself," O’malley continued.

‘Jimmy Hagerty,’ he offered extending his hand. ‘Ryan o’Malley,’ I replied, not thinking to use an alias now that I was actually getting on in this world.

‘Good Irish name,’ he replied. ‘Your people from Waterford?’

‘Yes, I think so,’ I returned, once again giving him a pause. I realized later that most people were not far removed from the Old World and had a better answer for those types of questions. Mercifully, he didn’t press.

‘Excited for the game?’ I asked, trying to change the subject. He snorted gruffly.

‘Not in the least,’ he said. "Terrible day for a game, especially one that doesn’t matter. Besides, baseball’s not my game. I usually cover boxing, sometimes I do the races, but never baseball."

‘You’re a writer, then?’ I asked as he downed the remainder of his flask.

‘Yeah, with the Town Crier, you might read my piece about our victory of the Brits in the Polo Championship last year,’ he said, looking hopeful.

‘No, sorry,’ I replied.

‘Who did? It’s a lousy rag, the Crier. No one reads it. Can’t keep writers on either. That’s why I’m here, our baseball man quit when they wouldn’t send him to Hot Springs with the team this year. Damned greedy git. Now I got to cover his beat too.’

‘You don’t get press passes?’ I asked him

‘Ha! Sure you do, if you’re publisher registers with the team offices. Like, I said, it’s a rag.’ He lit up a big cigar and continued to curse his boss and his fate.

It wasn’t long before we had our tickets, which were in the fourth row of the grandstands. At $1.25, I was thrilled to pay so little, though in reality this was a rather pricey seat for the average person. That was the stipend Hagerty’s publisher had given him in place of his press pass though and so I paid the same, though between the cost of the ticket and my pricey warning to the captain of the Titantic, I was rapidly blowing through my $10 fortune. The seats were excellent though and the excitement of seeing the first game ever played at the great FenwayPark filled me with anticipation as we made our way to the seats."

"I may have been thrilled to attend this historic game, but I was certainly not in the majority. There was not much of crowd in attendance thanks to the weather, which would have been better suited to mid-season football then baseball. Hagerty was put out by the entire ordeal and did little to hide it, but as the only person I knew on earth, I had little choice but to tolerate his company. Aside from his distaste for baseball, he was actually a very easy guy to spend time with. He had another flask buried in his overcoat and between the thrill of this moment and the alcohol; I was having a great time.

The ballpark itself was enough of a curiosity to keep me in wonder through the entire game. It was an incredibly modest space compared to its modern incarnation. The bleachers in centerfield were simple wooden benches and the wall, which later would become the Green Monster, was just a plain wood fence that stood on top of a steep slope. It was not painted green and though it was probably around twenty feet high, sitting on top of the steep slope, it did not have the imposing feel it does today.

I casually remarked, ‘that hill will give people some problems,' and once again got back an alien glare from my new friend.

‘Who the hell is ever going to hit a ball that far?’ Jimmy asked.

When the game started I immediately saw what he meant. While we perceive baseball as being this constant, this ever familiar thing, the game being played in front of me that day was very different. The baseball rarely left the infield in the air. Those fly balls that did make their way to the outfield were generally hit around 200 feet or so and there was hardly any threat of the ball clearing the wall. I wasn’t sure if this was the reality of baseball in or if the intense cold was behind the lack of pop, but the game that in front of me was light years from the one that came through the bar’s television the night before, back in 2011.

Aside from my first impressions of dead ball era baseball and the thrill of being at the first game ever played in FenwayPark, the exhibition was not especially interesting. I remember the Red Sox winning it 2-0, but the details after those first few innings have gotten lost amidst all of the other games that I saw that year, many of which were far more memorable. I did manage to impress my new friend with my knowledge of the game, however, and by the time the final out was recorded he and I were fast friends and a small measure of my enthusiasm for the game had even rubbed off on the cynical boxing writer.

As we left our seats, Jimmy said something that instantly sparked an entirely new thrill in me. ‘Well, let’s head over to Third Base 'fore we head home now, shall we?’ he remarked, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. ‘I think there is someone you should meet.’

With that, we left behind FenwayPark and headed to a place I had only known through song, Michael McGreevy’s famed Third Base Saloon.