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Original Essays | January 14, 2014 0 comments
The Scar Boys — my debut young adult novel and the reason Powell's was nice enough to invite me to write something for their website —... Continue »
One Day at Fenwayby Steve Kettmann
"Dad," the four-year-old asked on the way out of Fenway. "Why do the Yankees always win?"
There is, of course, no real answer to the question. Farrelly, now at work with brother Bobby on a Red Sox movie called Fever Pitch (loosely adapted from the Nick Hornby classic), wanted to tell his son that Yankees fans prayed harder, but thought better of it.
"They have more money, Bob," he said.
"What do you mean?" Bob asked.
"Just accept that they have more money. That will help you feel better."
Nothing in American sports can quite match the story of the Boston Red Sox and the fans who have made a peculiar secular religion out of loving them with reckless disregard for their own emotional stability. I grew up in California, shivering through summer days at Candlestick Park, but jumped at a rare chance I was given: To organize and deploy a team of more than a dozen reporters all around Fenway Park, and in fact, all around the globe, all charged with the goal of emulating the photographers in the Day in the Life series and collecting a wide variety of real-time glimpses at how people experience a single Red Sox-Yankees game, whether they are billionaire owners, ordinary fans, stadium employees or players or GMs or managers. Luke Dempsey, my editor at Atria Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), and a Mets fan, came up with the idea for the book one night at Shea Stadium as we nursed beers and jangled nerves during the late innings of a depressing game.
The project required a certain ludicrous daring. I had worked with Roger Angell on Game Time, the most recent collection of his New Yorker baseball writing, which I conceived and edited [Editor's note: see Kettmann's profile of Angell on Salon.com], and when I told Roger about my book project he worried aloud, "What if it's a bad game?" It was a good question. I worried, too. What if it was an awful game? What if it was a rainout? What if nothing interesting happened? I felt sure that any game at Fenway against the Yankees was bound to be lively, especially in this fascinating Sox-Yanks era defined by Larry Lucchino's "Evil Empire" comment, but there was no way to know for sure if I would be lucky.
I was, in the end, more than lucky. The game was tense and fascinating, especially the pivotal eighth inning, which featured a bases-loaded walk from Mariano Rivera and some very tough moments for Yankee manager Joe Torre, a man known for straight talk. ?That eighth inning was probably the toughest I?ve ever had to endure,? he told me the next morning, standing on the infield grass. ?To see it starting to fall apart makes for a very uneasy feeling for me. Once I get Rivera in the game, there is no other strategic thing I can do. I have to sit and watch. It?s like sitting at home waiting for the doctor to call and tell you you?re all right.?
Many of my choices proved to be lucky. As someone who has spent most of my work life covering either sports or politics, including four years as a Berlin-based foreign correspondent, one of the first people I thought of for my team of reporters was Samantha Power, who teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School and authored the most remarkable foreign-policy book of our times, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. I called up Samantha, a great Sox fan I'd had good baseball conversations with in the past, but never heard back. Then for some reason, the week before the game, I tried her again, and found that she had just returned from a reporting trip abroad, and added her to the lineup at the last moment. She spent the day with Theo Epstein, the young Red Sox GM, and captured sides of Theo that I don't think others have.
Brian McGrory, an author and Boston Globe columnist, also took part, and spent the day with Red Sox owner John Henry, even arriving at his house the morning of the game. He came up with my favorite tidbit in the book ? the revelation that when John Henry was a boy, all the neighborhood kids gathered at his house to play because his family had the best yard on the block, but young John was too shy to ask if he could take part in the game and instead sat inside watching. Brian and I sat with Henry and Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, the four of us alone in Henry's private box, during the eighth inning, as the two men suffered through a comeback that fell just short, and second-guessed Grady Little's choices.
Sarah Ringler comes from Germany, and has never paid much attention to baseball, but that somehow worked out just fine. She spent the day with Grady Little's wife, Debi, and captured glimpses into the wife of a big-league manager that several radio interviewers have singled out in their questions about the book. For example, she revealed that often she and Grady would wait until everyone had gone home and Fenway Park was abandoned, and then go sit in the stands to soak up a sense of the place. "They would just sit there quietly, turning to smile at each other and doing their best never to forget what it felt like to be there," I write on page 97.
Mitchell Zuckoff, an author who was then a Globe reporter, took the singular assignment of watching the game behind the Green Monster, talking with Rich Maloney, one of the crew who sits out there putting up scores by hand. Andres Cala, an Associated Press reporter, watched the game in Santo Domingo with the great Rafael Avila, the longtime Los Angeles Dodgers executive, who had worked with Pedro Martinez when he was a skinny teenager, and Brian Lee was in Kwangju, South Korea, with Byung-Hyun Kim's high school coach. Other reporters followed physics professor Bob Adair and his wife, Eleanor, and groundskeeper David Mellor, and still others worked the clubhouses and talked to players like Lou Merloni, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada and to umpires Mark Carlson and Ed Rapuano.
It was, in the end, an embarrassment of reporting riches, and potentially paralyzing. I found myself envying authors like Arnold Hano, author of the classic A Day in the Bleachers, and Daniel Okrent, whose Nine Innings is another landmark baseball book. Both had written books about single games without putting to work a team of a dozen reporters. I dedicated the book to my All-Star team of reporters, calling them "more co-authors than researchers," and I gave as much weight as possible to their interpretations of characters and events, but in the end, it was up to me to tell the story of the day through the lens of my own perspective.
That led me to emphasize my conviction that the John Henry ownership group, led by Lucchino and his direct challenge of the Yankees, was on its way to great things. I say in the Epilogue of the book that Red Sox fans are the luckiest fans around, because they care, really care, and that kind of full-fledged emotional commitment has become incredibly rare in a time of short attention spans and media bombardment. I also state flatly that the Red Sox will do it, they will finally win a World Series after all these years of waiting, and they will do it some year very soon under the leadership of John Henry. I don't know if that prediction will prove accurate, but I know I'm lucky to have had a chance to get such great access to the organization ? and to Brian Cashman and Joe Torre and others in the Yankee organization ? at a time when their rivalry has become so unforgettably rich and intense. And I know this: If my guess is correct, and the Sox do win a Series, everything will change for Sox fans and the stories and passions that I capture in this book will feel more like history than sportswriting.