Red Sox Rites and Rituals

SPORTS

Wide-eyed and eager, we visited Fenway Park with high aspirations of getting our reading public psyched to come down to see the World Series in Boston starting next week. In light of recent events, though, we now have more realistic goals--charging you up for regular season games starting in April.

IT'S a sunny afternoon, and you're going to Fenway Park. As soon as you get off a crowded Green Line car, the sounds and smells of the Fenway area greet you. When you emerge into Kenmore Square, the smell of roasting Italian sausages with peppers and onions wafts pungently into your nostrils.

The atmosphere is pure Boston. No McDonalds, no Bloomies here. Just brick apartment buildings, a few ethnic eateries and vendors scattered along the sidewalks.

"Red Sox caps, got your Red Sox caps here. Four dollars, or family plan--two for eight."

You walk the quarter mile to Fenway Park, the giant CITGO gas sign, a timeless monument towering over the neighborhood, behind you.

In the throng of obnoxious vendors hawking baseball cards and t-shirts, there is a ragged-looking, old Irish priest who holds out a tamborine asking for spare change.

You finally reach the park. If not for the concentration of people, you would hardly notice it. Hugged by shops on all sides and built of the same brick as its neighbors, Fenway's only giveaway is its light posts standing over the area.

Don't worry if you don't have tickets. You can get bleacher seats for $5 from the ticket office, or if the Yankees are in town, there's always a seedy looking scalper nearby eager to sell you the "best seat in the house."

"Come a little closer, come on, come on, fifth row bleachers--12 bucks, fifth row--12 bucks, let's see your cash...here you go."

Entering the gates to the 76-year-old park is like walking into baseball's past. For a moment, you are overwhelmed by memories of the greats who have graced this park. From Ruth to Williams, from Pesky to Yaz, they've all played here.

Don't forget your Fenway Frank. Glob mustard on it, and you might even forget what it's really made of and how bad it really tastes.

You walk up the ramp into the bright sunshine, and you have become a spectator of two games--one on the field and one in the seats.

"Clemens'll get a no-hitter, 15 K's today, I feel it."

"Nah, it doesn't matter. The Sox'll choke in the end anyway."

All of the sudden, you see a universe of green around you. The field is carpeted by some of the most verdant grass you've ever seen. Even the walls and seats are painted in a green hue, which anywhere else would be called putrid.

As you settle into your not-too-comfortable seat in center field, the coziness of the park makes up for the seemingly poor location. There's not a bad seat in the house.

You note the imposing presence of the Green Monster in left field--it dwarfs even the American League's tallest left-fielders. Would-be fly outs in more spacious stadiums become home runs, while line-drive rockets, which careen off the 40-ft. wall, only produce doubles.

The scoreboard, nestled at the Monster's feet, is a throwback to days long gone. Don't look for Diamond Vision here. There's no electronic wizardry, just a man scurrying around inside the Green Monster changing the numbers with each hit.

It's the third inning, and as the bleacher creatures guzzle their beer, they become more and more unruly--often with violent results.

And when two inebriated fans go at it, the baseball-viewing throng becomes a fight crowd.

"A Yankee fan? You [bleep]ing [bleep], why don't you go back to the Bronx Zoo where you belong?"

"Hey [bleep], why don't you make me? When was the last time your team won a World Series?"

Punches are thrown, but none score. Both combatants are too drunk to land any hits before the police and red-jacketed security guards break up the scuffle.

By the fifth inning, it's getting hot, and it's beer belly time. Shirts come off, and hairy guts glisten in the sun.

One inebriated fan--unsatisfied with the conventional Fenway souveneir--begins cajoling a hot dog vendor out of his "Fenway Franks--$1.50" button.

"I'll give you five bucks for that button."

"Sorry, sir, I'm not allowed to sell this."

"Ten."

"No, sir, I can't."

"Twenty."

A pause. Money changes hands.

Then there's a brightly clad youth begging Sox reliever Jeff Sellers for an autograph through the bullpen mesh. Sellers shakes his head and returns to the bench. Another beer belly takes offense.

"Hey Sellers," he shouts, "sign the kid's autograph--next year you'll be driving a cab and no one will give a damn who you are."

It's the seventh inning, and the bleacher creatures join in paying homage to Sox ace reliever Lee Smith. They bow as Smith saunters confidently from the dugout to the bullpen. Chants of "Lee, Lee" ring through the air as the 6-ft., 6-in. demi-god, hardly acknowledging the adulation and screaming of his worshippers, strolls to the pen.

"Morgan'll have to take Clemens out soon--he's already thrown 118 pitches."

"How do you know that?"

"I've been counting. Eighty-nine strikes so far."

The game ends, and the crowd leaves Fenway. The stadium crew rolls out the tarp to protect the field for tomorrow's game. Game time is 1:05 p.m. We'll be lookin' for you.