Opening day at Fenway Park used to be my favorite day of my TV news career.
Fenway’s Opening Day in baseball! I dodged murders, political scandals, and other mayhem for this special day. Baseball’s opening day is a rite of passage.
As a kid in the 1940’s Brooklyn, I’d devoured all the winter sports magazines which included predictions for the upcoming season and thumbnail breakdowns on players, including the “pheenoms,” prospects sure to be the next mega stars.
President Truman would throw out the first pitch for the old Washington Senators. Calvin Griffith’s bedraggled team — first in the heart of the nation, last in the American league. Unless you were Mickey Vernon or Eddie Yost, there was little to root for as a Senator’s fan.
Cal Griffith and Connie Mack were the last of the patriarchal baseball owners who dated all the way back to the days of Ty Cobb, Cy Young and the “dead ball.” I remember the grainy black and white images of these elderly men, dressed in turn of the century street clothes, patrolling their dugouts. Connie Mack managed his Philadelphia Athletics. In his white suit and straw hat, he was a throwback to baseball’s infancy.
You always saw Mr. Griffith and Mr. Mack on baseball’s opening day. They were the fabric of baseball.
In those days, I was preoccupied with the fortunes of my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. Every opening day signaled the beginning of what could be “our year.” A World Series championship. The defeat of our mortal enemies, The New York Yankees. Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier the previous year and the Dodgers seemed poised to climb the mountain with young stalwarts like Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and a veteran pitching staff. The “Bad Guys”, the Bronx Bombers lined up with Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer and an élite roster of all-star pitchers.
I would have to wait until 1955 before I could celebrate a BROOKLYN Dodgers World Championship. It would be the first and last for the faithful as our Bums abandoned us for the glitter and gold of La La Land.
Fast forward through my love affair with Casey Stengel’s “Amazin’ Mets,” their “Ya gotta believe” World Series victory in 1969, and my transformation to a member of Red Sox nation.
Work relocated me to Boston in 1970. I found myself interviewing untested rookies including Carlton Fisk and Dwight “Dewey” Evans. When my status as a baseball maven was established, I leapfrogged over other TV News reporters in gaining access to players. TV reporters were still regarded with suspicion and a little scorn in many dugouts. Print “beat” reporters abhorred their electronic colleagues as “plastic, empty-headed no-nothings” and refused to share information.
Again, I triumphed with my stats and anecdote-filled repartee. Plus, I had Polaroid pictures of myself with Mantle, Maris, Snider and other luminaries. I could swap John Wayne stories with Ted Williams, who was suitably impressed. The one-of-a-kind Red Sox icon Johnny Pesky, took a liking to me and would greet me at the Fenway players’ entrance. I’d get the latest clubhouse poop plus insight as to what the front office suits were doing. Johnny Pesky even offered to intervene when I was getting some static from my own suits. This was the backdrop for my assignments as opening day “color” reporter at Fenway Park for almost 31 years.
Ironically, the “Curse of the Bambino” would not be broken until after I retired. 2004. My 3rd year of retirement. That historic comeback of comebacks against the dreaded Yankees left me staring at the television with my mouth open.
This year’s opening day game at Fenway is now in the record books including a 3-run homer from rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi. A 5-3 interleague win against the Pittsburgh Pirates was just “okay.” Just okay because the bullpen was shaky. Since then, we are on a winning streak and we should be grateful because this may be as good as it gets. You can never be sure. Half the team has the flu, another chunk seems to need some kind of shoulder surgery. We live in hope, but know how it goes.
We watch. We wait. Our Boys of Summer are back — with great expectations — and one major difference. There’ll be no more clutch home runs from the retired #34, “Big Papi.” Fenway will be a little quieter. On the field, in the dugout, and in the clubhouse.
So far, so good. Not perfect, but not bad. And it’s just the beginning of a very long season.