When I think about memorable ballpark experiences, there are several that come to mind. I’m fortunate enough to have seen a lot of games at Fenway, including walk-off wins and playoff victories. I saw Ortiz hit a homer in his final season.
Only once have I sat in the monster seats, but it was a six-hour, 17-inning marathon against the Orioles in which Will Middlebrooks hit a grand-slam that landed 20-feet away from us. Retrospectively, that game also featured pitching appearances by Matt Albers, Rich Hill and Chris Davis (yes, the same .152/.232/.232-hitting first baseman) which makes my Effectively Wild-listening heart flutter.
I saw Chris Sale’s first start with the Red Sox in April of 2017. It was freezing cold the entire game and it went 11.5 scoreless innings before Sandy Leon hit a walk-off three-run homer over the monster. That’s probably number two on the list.
But number one is an easier choice than I make it out to be. I’ve seen better and more important games, but this one always comes to mind when I go to Fenway.
May 8th, 2004. Red Sox vs. Royals.
I didn’t remember that date, I had to look it up. What I do remember is that my Aunt bought me tickets as an early birthday present and we had seats in the right field boxes; not the good ones, but the ones where you stare at center field and strain your neck looking left for three hours.
I was 15 at the time and this was like, close to peak-Sox fandom for me. I don’t remember everything about the game but there are two things that stand out when I think about it.
First, Curt Schilling pitched a gem of a complete-game with eight strikeouts and no walks. That was post-peak Schilling, but he was incredible to watch that day.
The second, and more memorable part of that day, was Pokey Reese.
Pokey was a defense-first infielder with a career .659 OPS in eight seasons, signed to help minimize the loss of Todd Walker and to sub for an injured and aging Nomar Garciaparra. He was not a good hitter.
Pokey hit 44 homers in his career. He hit two of them, in back to back plate appearances, that afternoon.
The first came in the fifth inning off a pitcher apparently called Jimmy Gobble, who I don’t remember, and whose name sounds fake, if you ask me. But…baseball reference.
Pokey came up and sliced a ball into the right field corner, right at us. Easy double, Pokey was fast.
But the ball took a strong bounce off the wall and caromed past the Royals right fielder and around the corner toward the bullpens. Now we’re cooking.
As we realized what was happening, and I remember this so vividly well, my aunt, at the absolute top of her lungs, screamed, HOLY SHIT, TIMMY, HE’S ROUNDING THIRD!
And he was! And I’ll be damned if Dale Sveum wasn’t jumping 10 feet off the ground, arm spinning a hundred miles an hour waving him around third, begging Pokey to dig just a bit deeper; to push just a bit harder.
Fenway was erupting, and we were right there with them, losing our minds.
It was close at the plate, but there was really never any doubt. We all knew the outcome before Pokey slid into home just under the tag, and Terry Craft confirmed it for us. A Pokey Reese inside-the-park homer? That’s too cool.
Then Pokey came up an inning later and popped a two-run shot over the monster. The Sox won that game 9-1; they went on to win a lot of games that year. We all remember how 2004 ended.
But there’s something special about that inside-the-park homer. Maybe it’s the irony of it; Pokey was a wizard with the glove, but he was a terrible hitter. He had no business making solid contact twice that day.
More likely, it’s the ten to twelve seconds of pure adrenaline and excitement we experienced, and the memory of my aunt screaming into my face about something so completely unexpected.
When I think about it, I can’t help but think how crazy that day was. We went to a baseball game and Pokey Reese hit two home-runs. Where were we, dreamland?
It’s weird how the most inconsequential moments can bring about such pure emotion and excitement, and create such vivid memories. Baseball is funny like that.