For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘Boston

Fenway Fever by John H. Ritter, Philomel Books, 2012, 230 pp.

A church member who is a local school librarian, well acquainted with my passion for the Red Sox, told me I simply had to read this book. She even got it reserved for me at the local library before it went into circulation. She was right—this book was a charmer.

Fenway Fever tells the story of Alfredo (“Freddy” or “Stats”) Pagano, a young boy with a sick heart and a passion for baseball. His father runs a hot dog stand in Fenway Park, where Freddy and his brother Mark help out. The Paganos also own season tickets that have been in the family for two generations, but their father has not attended a game since his wife and the boys’ mother died a few years earlier. Through the hot dog stand, Stats (so known because he keeps score and runs numbers, since his weak heart keeps him from playing ball) has befriended Billee “Spacebird” Orbitt, a sophomore star pitcher with a reputation for being eccentric.

When the Red Sox begin to suffer from a disproportionate number of BLRs (bad luck runs, caused by flukes), Billee and Stats believe the curse has returned. With a combination of youthful earnestness, crazy-but-true belief in spiritual forces, and a magical midnight escapade into Fenway Park, Billee and Stats work to put Fenway back in balance and stop the slide into more disastrous games and seasons.

The story is charming whether or not you are a member of Red Sox Nation, although the references to famous Sox moments and miracles will give special joy to those who know them. Billee Orbitt is an updated, imaginative version of Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Stats Pagano and his family make you want to like them, and for everything to turn out alright—not just for the Sox, but for them. The ending made me smile through tears. What a delight!

I’m going to get it for Christmas for the biggest Red Sox fan in my life, my dad (who doesn’t read the blog, so I’m not revealing secrets here). You should too. You’ll find it in the Young Adults section.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

 –Psalm 46

On September 11, 2001, I had been serving my first church for exactly five months. I was the second associate pastor at a big, downtown church in the heart of Boston’s Copley Square. The church was a tourist attraction with a giant tower, the sanctuary open all day every day for passersby. That morning, I had been at an 8:00 a.m. meeting at the homeless shelter downtown. I left the shelter with a couple of colleagues, and we overheard the guys gathered out front talking about planes going into buildings. They were miming the crash and making the sound of explosions, but we dismissed it as the talk of the mentally ill. As we walked the five blocks along Boston Common and back to Copley Square, we began to notice to the cell phone conversations of well-dressed business people we passed, and heard the story repeated—planes crashing into buildings. People were pouring out of buildings and subway tunnels. No one was going back in.

The Boston skyline, our church between those two tallest buildings.

When I got to church, the receptionist told me it was true. She had the radio on, and it told of the World Trade Center, two planes, and terrorism. I went upstairs to my office and colleagues, and found them huddled around the only TV in the building, adjusting the antennas to try and get a picture. Through the snowy black and white screen, we saw two giant rectangles with smoke pouring out. That was the only image I saw of the tragedy until late that night. I had only been there about five minutes when the receptionist called—people were downstairs, coming into the sanctuary, and someone should tend to them. I stopped by my office to grab a box of tissues, and headed downstairs.

And that’s where I stayed, for the rest of the day. For me, the details of what had happened came not from the television, but from the strangers who entered seeking solace. Brokers in Boston had been on the phone with traders in New York when the screaming started, the line went dead. Co-workers had traveled to New York for a meeting at the World Trade Center that morning, no one knew where they were. Colleagues had traveled from the World Trade Center for a meeting in Boston, and knew that they would have died if they had been in their home office that morning. Sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters worked on the 18th floor, the 38th floor, the 102nd floor, the Pentagon. The planes came from Boston, and loved ones had left this morning on a flight from Logan. Fighter jets had been scrambled to shoot down potential threats, and we heard them fly overhead. The Red Cross needed blood. Could we post a sign, direct people down the street to the emergency blood drive? Of course, we said, and people responded to their grief by opening up their veins.

All day long, people kept pouring in. Our church was located right between the two tallest buildings in the city, and our high tower suddenly seeming conspicuous and vulnerable. Everything around us had closed, even the other churches and the public library across the street. We wondered if we were unsafe, foolish even, to stay open, those two buildings looming over us, our tower defiantly pointed toward the sky. But it felt like an act of faith, to be present in the midst of such fear and doubt. We kept our doors open, and the people kept coming to seek shelter for their bodies and comfort for their souls. I couldn’t offer much, but together we sat, prayed, shook, wept, held hands, shared our fears, wondered if our world had changed forever.

Upstairs, my colleagues made their own preparations—one calling all our members to check on them and their families, the other preparing a service of prayer and mourning for that evening.

It was at that service, in that place of fear and uncertainty and terror, that I first understood the power of that Psalm. People entered with tears and fears, wondering if it was wise to be together in such a public and unsecure place, in the shadow of such tall towers, in spite of our need to gather and pray. And yet our shoulders relaxed, our eyes turned heavenward, and our fears began to abate when we were reminded of these words:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth…

Everything was in crisis. It was not just a national crisis, but a personal crisis for most of the people in the sanctuary that day—they had lost co-workers, friends, family members. Everything had changed—their job, family, security, schedule, everything. The Psalm reminded us of what had not changed—God’s love and power was still in charge of this world. God’s hand was still guiding us, a refuge and strength that no earthly actions could dissuade. God’s is an unchanging love and an undying pursuit of peace.

Ten years later, I am filled with dread at the flag-draped, red-white-and-blue commemorations planned for this weekend. When I stop to remember my experiences that day, I weep at the intimacy of loss and destruction. When I hear politicians, pundits and fellow preachers invoke “9/11” as a call to patriotism and heroism and war, I am angry and repulsed that someone would try to spin the heartache of that day for political or pecuniary purposes. When I think about the thousands upon thousands of additional lives lost and displaced by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I feel sick to my stomach that we have inflicted the same grief on so many other families, in our nation and other nations. When I contemplate all that has changed in our nation since that day, I am overwhelmed with the economic crises, rollback of civil rights and liberties, scapegoating of the poor and immigrants, relentless natural disasters, political vitriol, dysfunctional government, corporate greed and all the hurting souls resulting from it.

On this anniversary, the only commemoration I want is a reading of that same Psalm 46, surrounded by silence. I need to be reminded of God’s unchanging love and undying pursuit of peace. Tell me again that everything in the whole world can change—nations and safety and security, kingdoms and powers and cities crumble around us—but the love of God does not change. Keep open the doors of my heart, in defiant faith and love. Anchor me against the quakes and floods, moving mountains and foaming waters. Insist that I should fear not, for God is here and God will help. Convince me that the weapons of war will not triumph, that peace will prevail. Speak to me of rivers, of gladness, of dawn. Give me refuge from the clamor of despair. On this day above all other days, urge me to be still and know that God is still God, always.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, therefore we will not fear…

Tuesday night, ESPN is airing a 30 for 30 episode called Four Days in October, about the 2004 American League Championship Series between my beloved Boston Red Sox and the Evil Empire of the New York Yankees. I lived in Boston at the time, and my memories of those four days are so vivid that they still brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my face, simultaneously. This is my personal recollection of that amazing series.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

 

Walter Brueggemann

 

I was debating what to do with my evening. Should I stay home and watch the game, or head out to see one of my favorite biblical scholars, Walter Brueggemann, in person for the first time? The Sox were down by three games, and no team had ever gone on to win the series from a 0-3 deficit. So far in the series, the Yankees had been embarrassing them every night.

I consulted with another baseball and Brueggemann fan, my friend P. We decided to go to the lecture rather than risk staying home for another demoralizing defeat. We took turns going out to the car for updates on the score, and shook our heads with resignation. Overhearing us talking about the game at the end of the evening, Dr. Brueggemann (an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan) approached us to talk baseball. This eminent scholar proceeded to smile and ask, “Did you know the Red Sox are in the Bible?” He then pointed us to Jeremiah 8:20: “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” P. and I agreed this was funny, but it felt cruel on such a devastating night. We parted from Brueggemann and from each other with the game on our car radios, sadly waving goodbye to each other and to the season. “Maybe next year,” we said.

 

Dave Roberts steals second base in the bottom of the 9th inning, Game 4

 

I got home just in time to see Dave Roberts steal second base.  I honestly didn’t believe it. I saw it happen, I saw them tie it up in the bottom of the 9th to keep the season alive, but I didn’t really believe it. I stayed awake anyway, just waiting for the end to come. Big Papi’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th gave us something to celebrate, and it gave us our dignity back. At least we didn’t let the Yankees sweep us. It did not yet give me hope for a comeback sweep and the breaking of the curse.

Monday, October 18, 2004

 

The Green Briar, Brighton, MA

 

P. and I made plans to meet at the Green Briar, an Irish pub in Brighton Center that held a traditional Seisún every Monday night. We always enjoyed the music, and planned to drink our Red Sox sorrows away at the bar. It was crowded, and people were expecting the game to end so they could watch Monday Night Football. But the game just wouldn’t end. With every batter at the plate past the ninth inning, the tension grew. P and I got up to walk around every inning or so, just to break the tension and calm our beating hearts. Thank goodness for the music. The Seisun was in a separate room, and we would go there to listen for a few minutes just to try to keep from having a panic attack. There was a TV in the Seisun room too, though—and every one of the 20-30 musicians had an eye on the screen, even as they played on and on with one Irish favorite after another. My most vivid memory of that evening was standing the back of the room, watching every eye on the Sox game on TV, hearing them call out tune after tune and playing without ever missing a beat or a pitch.

 

Seisun at the Green Briar. Just imagine the game on the TV.

 

It was tense, and intense, and it felt like that game would never end. When Big Papi came through again in the bottom of the 14th, the bar went mad–and the musicians broke into a wildly gleeful jig. Everyone got up and danced together, like a scene out of a movie. P and I both cried tears of joy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Reality starts to set in. We had forced a Game 6, which had only happened twice before in all of baseball history, but no team had ever emerged a victor to force Game 7. The team had to travel back to Yankee Stadium, and say goodbye to the charm and magic of Fenway. The journey ahead looked arduous, but we still felt faithful and hopeful.

Curt Schilling stepped onto the mound despite his recent surgery to repair (again) a torn tendon in his ankle. We believed this to be an act of great courage and leadership. As fans, we were exhausted from the previous two late nights of tension. We couldn’t imagine the exhaustion felt by the team itself. Game 6 only added to the pressure.  When the sutures began to open and we saw the now-famous bloody sock, we sucked in our breath and stood amazed at his endurance and sacrifice.  On that night, we knew for certain that they wanted to win as badly as we did, and they were willing to give everything they had to do it. And we loved them for it.

 

The Bloody Sock

 

The Yankees tried to make a comeback in the last innings. We foresaw our defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory, but they did not prevail. We lived another day, bleeding, exhausted, teary-eyed, bleary-eyed, and hopeful.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The game started late that night, which gave us all a long time to think about everything. Too much time to think. Tried and true Red Sox fans remained hopeful, but reserved. It had been 86 years since the last World Series victory. My grandfather was born in 1918, and died in 2003. He lived 85 years as a Red Sox fan, without ever seeing his team win the championship. To be a Red Sox fan is to know heartbreak, to get your hopes high only to have them dashed at the last minute. Bret Boone in 2003, Bill Buckner in 1986, Bucky Dent in 1978—and those are just the ones in my lifetime.  This is our history. “It would be just like the Sox,” I said to P., “to make this miraculous run only to break our hearts in spectacular fashion tonight.”

But in the end, the game was uneventful. Other than the unusual relief pitching of Pedro Martinez, there was nothing remarkable about the game, just great hitting by Ortiz, Damon and Bellhorn. When the Yankees scored two runs in the 7th, we thought that might be the beginning of the end, but the Sox came right back. The Sox blew out the Yankees 10-3, and it only took them nine innings to do it. It was nothing extraordinary, except that it propelled Boston to its first World Series since 1986, and eventually on to victory.

 

Celebrating the Victory after Game 7

 

Unlike the previous three games, although the tension was still there, it was diminished. While the celebration on the field and in the bar was still ecstatic, there was also stunned disbelief. We kept looking around at each other, silently asking, “Did this really happen? Did we really just come back from three games back to beat the Yankees? Are we really in the World Series? Do you think this might be the year? Can we break the curse?” I suspect many fans did what I did—awoke the next morning to check the paper, turn on the TV or radio, to make sure the whole thing wasn’t just a dream.

But it wasn’t just a dream. It was a dream come true. Those 2004 Red Sox went on to win the World Series in a four-game sweep of Dr. Brueggemann’s St. Louis Cardinals. At long last, the curse was broken and we were saved. The World Series was great, the games enjoyable, the celebrations abundant—but I don’t remember much about the details. It’s those four days in October that I’ll remember most—the stolen base, the walk-off home run, the 14 innings of tension and Irish music, the bloody sock. If I live 86 more years, I doubt I’ll live to see another sporting event like it. I still can’t help smiling and crying tears of joy every time I think about it.

Thanks for taking us back, Nomar. Red Sox Nation never stopped loving you. We mourned when you got traded. We wanted you to get a World Series ring. We followed your career, injury after injury, and wished life was different. Yet in the end, in spite of being let go and left out by the owners and GM, you still love us, and love the Red Sox life and lore as much as we do. And today, I’m sure I’m not the only one who cried tears of joy to see you come home, to stay.

I wish I was following the lectionary in my preaching this week, because the Gospel story is about the prodigal son. I think there’s something in the Nomar story that connects somehow. He’s the father, not the son—the one whose love persists in spite of rejection, scorn and abuse; in spite of seeing his fortunes lost and his prosperity ended; in spite of harsh judgment by youth who acted as though his hard work and contributions no longer mattered. Yet still he loves, practices grace and forgiveness for past hurts, and yearns for reconciliation and to be a part of the family again.

Ok, it’s not a perfect allegory, but there’s still something there. And #5 is back in the family, reunited with us, so we can all enjoy the party.

We love you, No-mah Gah-cia-pah. You belong in Boston, in a Red Sox uniform, at Fenway Park.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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