The Red Sox are sort of going through it right now, so I figured I’d tell you all a story near and dear to my heart. A story about a man, some boys, and the Foxwoods Resort Casino branch of Junior’s Cheesecake.
Lots of sports fans have some version of a tale like this. Just a quick run-in with a player, that’s all. It’s genuinely exciting to randomly meet someone that plays for your favorite team. If you pass an athlete on the street or in a restaurant, you remember it! But my story is a little bit different and a little more sad.
I’ll set the stage. It was the end of the very first Red Sox Winter Weekend in January 2015. Five of my friends and I made the drive from southern Connecticut and spent the day attending panels and meeting players and personalities. It was a blast.
Before the drive home, we decided to grab a bite to eat. As we were all 17-year-olds, none of the finer establishments at Foxwoods were really in the cards for us. Thus, we settled on Junior’s Cheesecake.
While the six of us chowed down on our burgers and sandwiches, something caught my friend Brendan’s (we called him BK) eye. He gently set down his burger and pointed to the bar of the restaurant.
“Hey guys. Is that... is that Ryan Hanigan?” said BK. The five of us all turned to look.
My friend Howie spoke up first.
“No that can’t be him. Why would he be in here?”
My other friend Erich agreed with him.
“Yeah, he’d be hanging out with the rest of the team somewhere.”
The rest of us found Erich’s rebuttal reasonable. Why would Ryan Hanigan be sitting in this Junior’s Cheesecake alone at the bar right now? He might have been one of the new guys on the team, having just been signed to be the backup catcher a month prior, but surely the rest of the 2015 Sox would invite him to hang out after the day’s festivities. But Erich’s point didn’t persuade BK.
“I’m just gonna check. I’ll just go to the bathroom.” BK stood up and marched across the restaurant as the rest of us continued to pick at our food. Eventually, he returned with a big smile on his face.
“That’s absolutely him. One hundred percent that is Ryan Hanigan.”
Holy shit! A new Sox player is just sitting at the bar alone and it didn’t seem like anybody else in the restaurant had noticed him! And these people called themselves fans. Pffft. Hanigan may have just been the team’s backup catcher, but this was still super exciting! Like I said, it is literally always exciting meeting a player on your favorite team. The six of us immediately began formulating a plan on how we can approach him.
We settled on going up to him after we paid the bill so that we could just dip out of the restaurant after our interaction. When the time finally came, the six of us made our way towards the bar, baseballs and Sharpies in hand. As we approached him, time slowed down. Once I got close enough. I could see clearly what sat in front of Ryan on the bar, and I’ll never forget it. Two bottles of Bud Light and one half-eaten piece of cheesecake.
When we finally arrived at the bar, Ryan slowly turned to look at us. BK held up his ball and Sharpie and opened his mouth to ask Ryan for an autograph. Before he could even get a word out, Ryan spoke up.
“Not today guys. Just not in the mood.”
Ryan looked us up and down before turning back and re-engaging with his bountiful harvest of Bud Light and cheesecake.
Oh. Okay. The six of us exited the restaurant and headed for the parking garage. As I rounded the corner and Ryan faded out of view, I felt myself feeling a bit sad for him. Why was he sitting alone at that bar just minutes after doing a Q&A with his teammates? Why wasn’t he eating any real food? Why was he in Junior’s Cheesecake and not any of the other restaurants in Foxwoods? I’ll never know.
But I’ll always be grateful for Ryan Hanigan. Had he just signed a couple of autographs for us, that would have been that. The autographed balls would have collected dust in all six of our childhood bedrooms and we never would have spoken of it again. Instead, my friends and I remark on this story every few months and share a laugh. Every few months we send the name of a backup catcher with a career WAR of 9.2 who played in only 87 games for our favorite team. And it brings a massive smile to my face every single time.
As we got in the car to head home, Howie put the keys in the ignition and looked back at us.
“That was a little sad, huh?”
It was a little sad. So thank you, Ryan Hanigan, for being a little sad. I hope that cheesecake was scrumptious.