City recaptures baseball buzz

Originally published April 27, 1995, by Mike Barnicle for The Boston Globe

Let’s go back and forth between the ballpark and downtown in order to assess the magic of baseball. And by baseball, I mean the sport as it is played between the lines, rather than the order of business that caused so many fans to throw up on their shoes in revulsion during the past eight months.

Yesterday came up brilliant. By early morning, a few sailboats and a college crew were out on the Charles River, racing the sun’s thumbprint as it rolled along the water.

The river is important to this city. It gives it a certain class, a look and a feel both places ­­ Cambridge as well as Boston ­­ wouldn’t have without it. Remove the river and you’re talking Bozeman, Mont.

Well, the Red Sox are kind of like the Charles. They are part of our geography, part of who we are in New England.

No other team, no other sport, comes close in terms of the tug on tradition. They own the market. The poor, frayed Celtics ­­ with all their banners and championship years ­­ have always needed a Cousy, a Russell, a Cowens or a Bird to attract a crowd or initiate a conversation. The Bruins play a terrific team sport the way it is supposed to be played ­­ straight ahead with unselfish spirit ­­ but their customers are a cult following.

The Patriots are coming. They have a coach and a quarterback, but they’ll never dominate the mood and the mind of millions until they load up the U­Haul and play their games in the big town, where major league sports are supposed to be played. Not Rehoboth, Woonsocket or wherever it is they perform now.

Then we have the Red Sox. They know no single season.

They are on the field from mid ­April through September. But they are on our minds and at the tip of our tongues on the coldest day in December, too.

And yesterday, baseball was the buzz. The jerks of winter were back, dressed in outfits belonging to the boys of summer.

The buzz began at dawn in coffee shops from Montpelier to Harwichport. It was about Mo and Jose and a possible lack of pitching but, most of all, it was about the game and the day and the region and the fact that people just feel better when baseball is around.

The buzz rode the subway. At the Copley T stop you could hear the crowd’s pregnant murmur as people shuffled expectantly on the platform waiting for a train to Kenmore Station.

 You can have all the urban renewal in the world. You can change the face of whole city squares and raze block upon block, but there is something about the sights, the sounds and the feel of a baseball crowd on Opening Day that is purely timeless.

Baseball is a buffet of emotion. It is memory, regret, nostalgia, cheer, noise, quiet, reflection, tumult, commerce, civility and a lot more rolled onto an emerald diamond of grass punctuated by camel­colored sand.

And baseball in Boston is family. Part of that stems from the fact you can still walk to see a game played in a park located in the middle of a major league city.

Anybody looking for lots of free parking or convienent freeway off ramps running toward a stadium better move to Texas, Kansas City or Anaheim. Here, you saddle up and hoof it past peanut vendors, through air thick with the smell of sausage and loud with a hawker’s clamor.

Once inside, you sit in seats made for a hostage. No matter what shape you might be in physically, the place is so small you feel as if you just ate Spain as you struggle to find a spot for your elbow. Ted Kennedy sits in front of you and you won’t even see The Wall.

Yet that doesn’t matter. Comfort is not the index people use to meaure a day at Fenway.

The place is a quaint cemetery where memories are stored, section by section, seat by seat. So much around us has changed over the years while this ballpark remains, a time capsule.

You sit in the sun and shut your eyes and it might be 1949 or 1975. Or it might be April 26, 1995, a day when Jose Canseco arrived, the buzz a permanent part of his parade.

Family: Dorr and Frank Giglio of Quincy were in Box 31 because it was Opening Day for their son Richard who was upstairs playing the organ, sitting in the same seat where the late John Kiley performed for decades.

Family: The young general manager, Dan Duquette, was upstairs with his mother, in from Dalton, plus his wife and his three kids, all anxiously charting each pitch on this, the first day of the longest season.

Around them, the city looked like a gift. The baseball was back and the buzz gave the whole town a real good lift.