When I was 8, my parents took me, my sister, and some friends to a baseball game for my birthday. I did most of my growing up in Washington, D.C., which at that time lacked a baseball team, so we went to see the Baltimore Orioles host the Minnesota Twins at the old Memorial Stadium. My parents scored some nice seats along the 3rd base line, behind the visitor’s dugout. And then it happened. A player for the Twins stepped out of the dugout and into the on-deck circle, perfectly placed so we could read his jersey which said “ADAMS 8.” I’ve been going to a baseball game for my birthday ever since.
I’m not often able to attend a baseball game on my exact birthday anymore — it typically falls during the All-Star break, or the Red Sox might be on a road trip. So over the decades that I’ve kept this streak going (44 years and counting!), I’ve become increasingly creative, traveling to various minor league and even independent league ballparks (let’s hear it for the Brockton Rox, co-owned by Bill Murray, where in 2010 I saw former Red Sox pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee, who actually wrote the Forward to FENWAY FICTION, briefly come out of retirement and pitch — in his 60s!). I also don’t beat myself up about the precise date I have my baseball game, just so long as it’s within a week or two of my birthday.
But by lucky chance the Sox happened to be at home on my actual birthday in July 2019, and I had a great time at Fenway. However, it was a middling season overall, and I felt no great urgency to rush back. That, as it turns out, was a mistake.
Baseball did return (kinda) in 2020, and the Dodgers finally won another World Series (did you notice that my 2019 ticket was between the teams that won in 2018 and the 2020 — spooky, right?). But the season didn’t start until 10 days after my birthday, and to be honest, I didn’t feel any great desire to return to the ballpark — even with reduced capacity, it didn’t seem the safest strategy. But traditions have a force best not ignored, so to save my streak, my family gamely staged a one-pitch game for my benefit in our front yard, and here’s the proof.
Then the 2021 season arrived, and with it my urge to return to Fenway. I waited for a while, then decided that a birthday baseball game would be the perfect welcome back to the park. And so last night, I attended my first (professional) baseball game in more than 2 years, and it was a gem.
The game didn’t start until 7:10, but I was determined to savor the experience, and so I arrived 2 and 1/2 hours early and, as a privilege of my official membership in Red Sox Nation (https://www.mlb.com/redsox/fans/red-sox-nation; at only $19.95, it’s a steal of a deal), I was admitted to watch batting practice from atop the Green Monster, Fenway’s famous 37-foot-high left field wall. One of the fun things about batting practice is that it’s basically slow pitch, so a lot more balls leave the park than during the actual game, and people are pretty good at catching them.
I didn’t bring a glove, nor did I catch a homer, but I did end up with a thrilling moment nonetheless. You see, the players below the Monster are practicing fielding at the same time as their teammates are taking swings, and after catching or chasing them down, the fielders often pitch the used balls into the stands. I dutifully shouted my vaccination status to all the players below, and after a bit of pleading, one tossed a ball up to me, which I am proud to say I caught cleanly and which now sits on our mantle as a treasured souvenir. And that was still two hours before game time!
After wandering around the park and spending some time on Jersey Street, which once again featured crowds listening to a brass band and a stilts walker who caught baseballs tossed by kids, I met my former Emerson student Jacqueline at our seats behind home plate. The game wasn’t a sell out, but it was wonderful to see Fenway even approach capacity. It was also wonderful to see so many people maskless not in defiance of science, but because of science. Massachusetts has the second highest vaccination rate in the nation, and this is our reward: a feeling of normalcy and getting back to doing the things we love.
Jacqueline was a star student in the Business of Screenwriting class I taught in the spring of 2020 (which ended up being half in person and half via Zoom). She has since become a star friend whose MFA application to Emerson I was pleased to support. And Jacqueline’s parents also very kindly hosted my daughters and me at their lovely Pasadena home during our recent LA trip. It was great to see her again, and we alternated chatting about scripts with enjoying a very exciting game that featured another thrilling come from behind Red Sox victory.
And then the Fenway faithful slipped off into the night, and I floated home (okay, I actually drove, but I was still floating). And the reason was simple. Of all the things I’ve done since becoming fully vaccinated at the end of March, seeing a Sox game at Fenway felt the most like how life had been before COVID. And as a birthday gift, it doesn’t get much better than that.