Lucid Culture


Phillies 5, Red Sox 3 6/13/10

When someone offers you tickets to the most beautiful ballpark in the majors, there’s only one conceivable response. Fenway Park is still a shrine, still pretty much lost in a time warp before hip-hop, before cable tv and especially before the game itself took a backseat to advertising at most sports venues. At the new Shea, the ads bombard you between innings at top volume, and everything that happens on the field seems to be sponsored by some corporation. Not so at Fenway. The digital screen above the leftcenterfield bleachers is tiny by comparison to other parks, and the old manual scoreboard at the base of the leftfield Green Monster still draws the eyes far more quickly and comfortably. And sightlines are minor-league quality, in other words, terrific -ordinarily you have to go to a minor-league stadium, like Keyspan out in Coney Island, to feel this close to the action. 

The crowd was also almost shockingly mellow – then again, watching your team enjoy a winning season for the last fifteen years will put you deep in the comfort zone. Fenway these days is just as expensive, maybe even more expensive than the other Major League Baseball stadiums, but the crowd is strikingly blue-collar, although sadly less racially diverse than either the new Shea or Yankee Stadium (then again, Boston has a far more odious history of segregation than New York does). Concessions are expensive, but not as outlandishly priced as they are in Flushing or the Bronx – and there were some bargains. Our crowd went wild over $12 lobster rolls (if you haven’t had one lately, restaurants sometimes charge twice that much), simple grilled hot dog buns filled with generous chunks of meat tossed with a light layer of lo-fat mayo – no excess, gooey mayo filler or cheap, distracting celery. The vegetarian contingent gave the thumbs up to the pricy ($4.75) but tasty veggie dog with the works, including fresh chopped onion. And a $6 bag of caramel popcorn was easily the equivalent of a couple of boxes of Crunch N Munch, just sweet enough that the caramel didn’t overwhelm the saltiness of the popcorn.

Interestingly, the most popular name on the many, many Sox uniform jerseys throughout the crowd was not slugger David Ortiz, or weirdly charismatic closer Jon Papelbon: it was steady, soft-spoken catcher Jason Varitek, followed by overachieving second baseman Dustin Pedroia, with speedy, injured outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (a special favorite of the girls) close behind. So much for the assumption that all fans care about is home runs or pitchers who throw 100 MPH.

About the game: when veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield resorted to throwing one of his 71 MPH fastballs just six pitches into the first inning, it signaled that he might not have his best stuff. As it turned out, he did, save for one bad inning, the fourth, when the slumping Phils scored all the runs they needed, rapping out four consecutive hits at one point including a two-run homer into the rightfield bullpen by leftfielder Raul Ibanez. Meanwhile, Wakefield’s counterpart, lefty Cole Hamels kept the Red Sox’ hitters off balance, mixing a devastating 78 MPH changeup and a slow curve in along with a blistering fastball that consistently hit 95-96 MPH on the stadium gun. The only damage he allowed was a second-inning solo homer into the Monster seats in left by third baseman Adrian Beltre. This Sox lineup, banged up as it is (first baseman Kevin Youkilis took a Chad Durbin fastball off the wrist yesterday and was out of the lineup; Ellsbury and leftfielder Jeremy Hermida are both out with broken ribs from collisions with Beltre) proved over the past couple of days that it’s capable of mauling a bad pitcher. Today they proved they’re not up to the challenge of overcoming a good one. Hamels stifled the one threat he faced after shortstop Marco Scutaro doubled in the third, then mystifyingly stopped at third base after a Pedroia single. Catcher Victor Martinez (who used his first baseman’s mitt masterfully in corralling the elusive Wakefield knuckler) was then induced to swing at the first pitch, resulting in a harmless infield popup.

Wakefield made it into the eighth on a day when the Sox relief corps, depleted from yesterday’s heavy workload, really needed  a lift. Lefty specialist Dustin Richardson, up from the AAA team at Pawtucket for insurance, made a strong case for a longer stay as he made short work of the Phillies’ lefty sluggers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, with some help from an overshifted infield.

In the top of the eighth, with reliever Ramon Ramirez on the hill, the Sox’ battery picked the worst possible time to fall asleep on the job. Phillies rightfielder Jayson Werth walked and stole second, then took a big lead off second that nobody except the crowd seemed to notice – and then took third without a throw. He scored with a perfectly executed if ultimately unnecessary hook slide on a flyball to shallow right by designated hitter Ben Francisco as J.D. Drew’s throw to the plate was up the first base line.

In the bottom of the ninth, David Ortiz, of all people, manufactured a run when he doubled into the rightfield corner, took third on a shallow fly to right by first baseman Mike Lowell and then scored on a wild pitch by his old pal J.C. Romero. Romero then walked Drew and was replaced by Brad Lidge. Since Lidge Time has become synonymous with Funtime (for opposing batters), it looked like the Sox might be able to send a sold-out crowd of 39,000 or so home happy, especially when rookie leftfielder Daniel Nava (who’d hit a grand slam the previous day on the first pitch he saw in the majors), singled Drew home. But the normally patient Scutaro couldn’t deliver – even though Lidge was having trouble locating his slider, Scutaro swung early in the count and popped out harmlessly to third.

And when there was music, at least it wasn’t offensive – most of the time (that Neil Diamond ditty is no less awful than it was in 1967, or whenever it came out). Lowell’s signature song, as it turns out, is London Calling (just like the Mets’ Aaron Heilman, before the pitcher chose another to play over the stadium PA at home games – and his career went south). And after the game, organist Josh Kantor ushered the crowd out with a wistful version of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.

June 13, 2010 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Big Papi – My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits, by David Ortiz and Tony Massarotti

Big Papi – My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits, by David Ortiz and Tony Massarotti

St. Martin’s, 288 pp., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN-13: 978-0312366339

Also available in Spanish as Big Papi – La Historia de Mis Anhelos y Mis Grandes Batazos

The truth in any contemporary book by a sports hero is always in the ellipses, what isn’t said, what’s between the lines. No doubt this was vetted before publication by an army of lawyers, so as not to offend anyone associated with Major League Baseball or, perish the thought, sully the game’s reputation. You assuredly won’t find anything revealing here unless you look for it. Suffice it to say that the days of hilarious tell-alls like Jim Bouton’s Ball Four or Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock’s The Bronx Zoo – or Jim Brosnan’s thoughtful, introspective The Long Season – are long over, gone with the days of affordable box seats, a single best-of-five pennant playoff series, and ninth-inning beer in the bleachers.

This book seems to be based on a hastily conducted series of spring training interviews, most likely translated from Ortiz’ native Spanish (he’s Dominican). For those who’ve somehow managed to avoid the hype, David Ortiz is the most feared slugger in the American League, a large man with a devastating lefthanded swing who last season led the league in home runs, setting the Boston Red Sox single-season record in the process. Three years ago, his extra-inning heroics led the Red Sox to a historic comeback against the Yankees in the playoffs, followed by the Red Sox’ first World Championship in 86 years. Perhaps most notably, the Red Sox got him for free when the power-starved Minnesota Twins, fearing that Ortiz’ considerable girth would increase his already significant penchant for injuries, gave him the pink slip after the 2002 season. All this is contained in the book, along with the following:

– Ortiz calls everybody “bro” or “papi” (hence his nickname, “Big Papi”),

– He grew up poor but not destitute, more fortunate than his friend Pedro Martinez, the great pitcher and Dominican folk hero who he credits with saving his career

– He was very close to his mother, and losing her in an auto accident was understandably traumatic (though he glosses over it)

– Like many other Latin players, he used another name (David Arias) during much of his time in the minor leagues

– Dominicans in the Major Leagues share a loyalty to each other beyond any team affiliation, bonding together because they can’t stand the blandness of American food

– Ortiz likes to cook, and one suspects his popularity with his colleagues stems from his fondness for working the grill (though, sadly, we don’t find out anything else about his gustatory talents or predilections: no recipes, no favorite foods, no guide to the best Dominican takeout joints around the majors).

Other things you learn from this book, although its authors might not want you to:

– Although Ortiz seems to be universally well-liked among his peers, he comes across as a fiercely proud, impetuous character who does things his way and his way only

– In the minors, he won accolades not only for his hitting but also his fielding (which makes sense: contrary to conventional wisdom, he remains a perfectly adequate first baseman).

– He’d much prefer to play in the field than serve as the designated hitter

– He explains away his mysterious hospitalization for a rapid heartbeat during a crucial series against the Yankees as being due to “stress” (come on, this is the guy who almost singlehandedly vaulted the Sox into the World Series with one crucial clutch performance after another, and he’s talking about STRESS???). While Ortiz seems to be the least likely guy in the majors to be doing steroids (he’s too fat – although he insists he isn’t), there may be other plausible reasons, including but not limited to the little things that ballplayers have been using to get a little extra pep since the 1950s.

There’s next to nothing in here about the legendary camaraderie of the Sox’ 2004 World Championship team (and its subsequent demise), nothing about Ortiz’ friendship with teammate and fellow Dominican Manny Ramirez, nothing about his vaunted swing, opposing pitchers or for that matter any juicy tales from the clubhouse, the backyard barbeque, the strip club or wherever Ortiz and his pals hang out.

To offer enough heft to justify its pricetag, the book is puffed out with “appreciations” of Ortiz’ talent as well as a tortuously long mea culpa by Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, explaining how he let the most feared slugger in the American League walk away, getting nothing in return: you end up feeling really sorry for the guy, listening to him go on and on, reliving one of the worst errors in judgment that any big league exec ever made.

Strictly for diehards: one suspects that the Spanish-language version is the more popular of the two editions available.

July 25, 2007 Posted by | Culture, Literature, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments