Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Best Day

You’ve waited a long time.

For as long as you can remember you’ve always thought about what it would be like to be there, in person, not just to see it on TV like you have a hundred times before, because every time you have seen it you’ve stopped and dreamed a little bit.

What would it be like?He has told you about when he his Dad took him and your uncle when they were both kids and how it seemed like it took all day to drive there and how he can’t remember the score anymore or who they played but he remembers popping soda cups with his foot. And then later, when he was young and living in Boston, about how you could wander in almost any time you wanted for just a couple of bucks, and that he went all the time and it wasn’t anything special. Even now, when your grandmother goes, she calls you after and tells you all about it; where she sat and what she saw, what she had to eat and how many times the fat guy in the middle of the row had to get up and down and up and down and how he missed half the game but ate seven hot dogs by her count.

Then one day he tells you – you’re going. All four of you - you, your brother and your mother, too. He knows somebody, and got some good seats, third base side. He’s even taking the day off. He shows you the tickets, lets you hold them and explains what the numbers mean and shows you on a little colored map where you’ll sit. Then he put the tickets back in an envelope and says that’s enough. You tell him not to lose them and he promises he won’t.

You saw the lights from the freeway once and it didn’t seem so big, but now that you think about actually going there, it starts looking bigger and bigger and you pay more attention when you see it on TV. When the camera pans the stands you ask “Have you ever sat there?” and “What about there?” and “Did you ever get a foul ball?” or “Where are the bathrooms?” and “Did you see Babe Ruth?”

He laughs and says you have to pay attention. He never got a foul ball or a home run, but you never know, and that’s why you have to pay attention, so you don’t miss your chance or get hit with a ball. He tells you the bathrooms are under the stands, that Babe Ruth played a long, long time and that he’s old but not that old.

The night before it’s hard to sleep and you stare at the ceiling holding your glove and hear the crowd and think about popcorn and cotton candy and hope it doesn’t rain. Breakfast is ready when you wake up and run downstairs like it’s Christmas, but he doesn’t act excited at all. The sun is shining in the window but he looks outside, shakes his head and says it looks like rain then looks at you from the corner of his eye. You stop chewing but then he winks and laughs.

It’s a long ride and he tells you to try to take a nap but you can’t shut up and ask a hundred times how much longer it’s gonna be. But when you start to get close and get caught in traffic your eyes close and then the next thing you know he’s shaking your foot and asking you if you want to go to the ballgame or not. You snap awake and climb from the car, tilted cap on head, then he stops, reaches back into the car for your glove and tosses it your way saying “You might need that,” before he locks the door.

You all hold hands and with each step the sidewalk gets more crowded and you see people wearing caps and shirts that say “Pedroia” “Martinez” and “Williams.” There are carts selling hats and pennants and sunglasses and peanuts and pretzels, and when he tells you he once had a pretzel cart himself and sold pretzels on the corner you start thinking that could be the greatest job in the world, that or playing shortstop.

You turn a corner and suddenly it is Fenway Park, all red brick and green paint and crowds and sausage smoke and old guys stubbing out cigars and vendors waving programs, and music from somewhere pouring through the sky. He reaches in his pocket, then tilts his head and asks “Did you remember the tickets?” But this time you smile. He’s got them, all four, and you stand close as he fans them out and hands them to the usher and you push through the turnstile first.

You’re there.
The game hasn’t even started and it’s already the best day ever.

Glenn’s next book, Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Season, will be published in October. To order now, visit www.glennstout.net.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

TIME

[Note: This is an updated version of a column that first appeared in Boston Baseball in August of 2009. I post it here because, well, it's about TIME.]

It is time.

July is the anniversary of the addition of Pumpsie Green to the Red Sox roster in 1959, a move that integrated the Red Sox and marked the end of a shameful legacy. And each year on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first appearance in the major leagues in 1947 Major League Baseball celebrates the end of the color line in baseball.

During these twelve years baseball played a pivotal role in American society and proved itself worthy of its status as the National Pastime. Robinson’s call-up to the Dodgers in 1947 was controversial and feared and debated, but by the time Green belatedly integrated the Red Sox, integration and the rights of African Americans not only to play major league baseball, but to participate in all facets of society, had gained wide acceptance. While the battle for equality continues to be fought, equal opportunity, as a right, can no longer be questioned.

Sometime in the future baseball will someday commemorate the moment when the first openly gay major league baseball player chooses to reveal himself both to his teammates and the general public. Although there is, thankfully, no “ban,” legal or assumed, against a gay athlete playing major league baseball, there is still considerable social pressure within the game and within society that has thus far prevented a gay major leaguer from “coming out” and, if he chooses, simply to be himself, just like any other major leaguer.

Dating from the very beginning of the game there have always been gay players, and there are undoubtedly gay players on the field at Fenway Park each and every day of the season. The late Glenn Burke of the Dodgers – according to some, the inventor of the “high five” - and Billy Bean of the Tigers, Padres and Dodgers, both came out publicly after retiring as active players, and are perhaps the best known. It is inevitable that an active major league baseball player will one day publicly step out of the closet and into the spotlight. Yet, primarily due to fear, none has yet done so.

Acceptance of homosexuals in much of society is now rapidly becoming the norm. Several years ago a survey conducted by the Tribune newspapers revealed that fully 74% of all major league players believe that having a gay teammate would not be an issue in the clubhouse. Gay marriage is now legal in Massachusetts and in several other states. I suspect that if the players were polled today that number would be closer to 90%. Intolerance of this kind is disappearing.

Just as baseball took the lead in regard to racial integration it is time once again for major league baseball to take action and lead the way toward the acceptance of gay athletes in mainstream professional sports. In regard to its closeted, gay players, it is time for MLB – or perhaps even individual teams, such as the Red Sox, - to be proactive. The time has come for the Commissioner of Baseball and every team and club owner in baseball to prepare for that inevitability and to pronounce, clearly and openly, that baseball will not only tolerate an openly gay player, but will welcome that player – and protect his rights. The game needs to make clear that intolerance or prejudice of any kind, by any member of any major league baseball club or by any spectator in any major league ballpark, will not be tolerated.

More than twenty years after Pumpsie Green integrated the Red Sox, I heard Jim Rice and other African Americans sometimes showered with epithets in the bleachers of Fenway Park. Neither the Red Sox nor their fans did anything to prevent this. Neither, I am embarrassed to admit, did I at the time. Similar harassment of gay athletes simply must not be allowed. Think what you want, but keep your mouth shut.
This is the right thing to do, and a statement to that effect would be of immeasurable assistance to the first few players to have the courage come out. It might even give that first player the nerve to make that leap today. Maybe I am na├»ve, but I believe that once a player does so, in only a few short years the question of an athlete’s sexual orientation will largely cease to be an issue.

But there is also an even more compelling reason for major league baseball to do this. Every day, on a playground or on a street corner or in a backyard or in a classroom, there is a young gay person who is the object of teasing and taunts, scorn and worse. This young person - he or she – may not have a defender – or a role model – to help he or she withstand those taunts, or to answer such cruelty with the proud confidence to be one’s own self.

Baseball – if it is truly the National Pastime, a game for all people - should step up to the plate.

[Note: It is interesting to note that when this column first appeared, I did not receive withe a single complaint or any response of any kind from either a reader or anyone else. That is both a measure of progress and a measure of how much remains to be done]

Glenn’s next book, Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Season, will be published in October. To order now, visit www.glennstout.net.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What You Don't Know About Fenway Park


As a non-fiction writer, there is nothing I enjoy more than taking on a subject that everyone thinks they know everything about, and uncovering new material. In regard to my new book about Fenway Park - arguably the best known sporting venue in the country, and one of the best known in the world - this is once again the case.

Three years ago I set out to write the definitive account of the creation, design, and building of Fenway Park and to allow the reader to experience Fenway Park in its first year, the Red Sox championship season of 1912. A few weeks from now, Fenway 1912 will be published.

In the book I make use of sources that no other purported history of either Fenway Park or the 1912 season or the 1912 World Series has ever utilized. I promise that this book will prove to be a revelation for even the most hard core fan of either the Red Sox or Fenway Park. I believe it makes all previous histories of the park completely obsolete. Some of the new information includes:

-Period architectural drawings of Fenway Park dating from 1912 that have NEVER been used elsewhere or been reproduced. To my knowledge these are the only period drawings known to exist and as far as I have been able to determine I may be about the only person to look at them - and realize what I was seeing, since 1912.

-A detailed construction history of the ballpark. This includes not only a complete and detailed schedule of the construction of the park, clearly outlining what was built when, but a full explication of the construction methods used in the construction of the park, what it was like for workers, and how the way Fenway Park was built impacted not only the 1912 season and but the ballpark you see today.

- A biography of Fenway architect James E. McLaughlin and builder Charles Logue. These two men had a lasting impact on Fenway Park but previous to my book have been little more than names on a page.

- A discussion of the architectural influences that are the reason Fenway Park looks the way it does today. Before this book, the architectural style and influences exhibited in Fenway Park have been mis-identified

- Detailed discussions on how the new ballpark affected the Red Sox and the 1912 World Series, and a dramatic and lively reconstruction of both the season and the Series, including the infamous contest between Joe Wood and Walter Johnson on September 4, 1912, perhaps the greatest pitching matchup in baseball history. Fenway Park impacted every inning of every game played there during 1912, and to fully understand both the 1912 season and the World Series - as well as every subsequent season in Fenway - one must experience that way Fenway Park revealed itself during the course of its inaugural season

- I explain not only why the "Green Monster" exists, but precisely why it was built the way that it was, and why and when the name "Green Monster" came into use. And guess what? Long before the "Green Monster" seats were built, people were watching baseball from atop the wall.

- How changes made to the ballpark over the course of the 1912 season determined the future evolution of Fenway.

- A detailed analysis of the 1912 season, including Joe Wood's remarkable 34-5 pitching campaign, and how two small changes - one to his pitching windup, and one small injury to another player - resulted in one of the greatest season-long pitching performances in baseball history.

- How pitching great Walter Johnson almost became a member of the 1912 Red Sox.

- The true story of the 1912 World Series, how a Red Sox team torn apart by dissension nevertheless prevailed, all due to an assist from Fenway Park.

I tell the story of Fenway Park as a readable, lively, living biography, full of characters and action, not as an academic history. Thirty years ago I moved to Boston because of Fenway Park, and it changed my life. I wrote this book for everyone whose life has been changed by Fenway.

If you read and appreciated Red Sox Century, or if you have ever sat in Fenway Park, this book is for you. I promise that you will never look at Fenway park the same way again.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

My Piece of Fenway


CHIN MUSIC

My Piece of Fenway

By Glenn Stout


I have long contended that one of the reasons Fenway Park is still with us is not because it has been “preserved” or kept static, but because it has been susceptible to change. This is how what was once the left field wall became “the Green Monster”, why we call the right field foul pole “Pesky’s pole,” and why other areas of the park – “canvas alley” for one – have become named and, in a sense, personalized. This, more than anything else, makes Fenway Park special.

It is particularly special to me, and for a reason that goes beyond the fact that the ballpark - not the ballclub - was the reason I moved to Boston in the fall of 1981, a decision that has determined the course of my life as much as any other I have made. One reason that Fenway Park remains so special to me is that each time I am at the park – or see it on television – there is a small feature that I partly claim as my own.

After the 2002 season the Red Sox, finally succumbing to a modicum of common sense under new ownership, built seats atop the Green Monster in left field. Although this was not the first time fans would be able to watch a game from that vantage point, as I have recently uncovered several references that note that fans watched games from atop the wall in 1912, the “Green Monster seats” are the first legitimate seats in this area.

Now, to place as many seats as possible in such a limited space, the Sox built those seats at a pitch far more severe than elsewhere in the park. While seats in the main grandstand are arranged at a “rising pitch” that increases from 15 degrees from the base to 20 degrees at the back of the stands, the Green Monster seats – like many seating areas in new ballparks, are at a much steeper pitch, approaching 45 degrees.

As workers rushed to finish the seats before the start of the season select VIPs were allowed to take in the view and a few photographs of the new seating area began to appear in print. I saw some of these pictures and talked with some of these people.

The first thing everyone said was how great the view was. The second thing they said was that they hoped no one fell onto the field. It was easy to imagine a fan stumbling headlong down the steep aisle stairs and flipping over the front row and then onto the field, or for a fan in the front row to lean over too far reaching for a ball and fall, or else accidently drop something on Manny Ramirez’s head. While none of these scenarios seemed likely, as the recent tragic fall at Texas’s Arlington Stadium demonstrates, such accidents are not impossible.

In my May column in Boston Baseball that year, I wrote that if the Sox didn’t put up a railing the Green Monster could become a gravestone. When I mentioned this to an attorney friend he stated that once the issue had been raised it put the Sox were on notice in regard to a danger “they know of, or should know of.” If they didn’t take action any of these accidents ever took place they were leaving themselves wide open to a lawsuit.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed. At about the same time Jack Curry wrote in the New York Times that there was only “an 18-inch ledge separating you from leaning too far for a baseball and becoming a flying object,” and in the same article Larry Lucchino mentioned there was “the possibility of a protective railing being added to the front row.”

Now it could just be a coincidence, but all I know is that lo and behold, a short time after my column was published a solid barricade about eight inches high appeared atop the Green Monster, making it much less likely that any kind of accident would occur.

Call it the “Writer’s Rail, ” but every time I see that barricade on the top of the Green Monster, I feel the same way Johnny Pesky does when he sees the right field foul pole.

A piece of that sucker is mine.

Glenn’s next book, Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Season, will be published in October. To order now, visit www.glennstout.net.



from Boston Baseball August 2011

Saturday, August 6, 2011

There She Goes


On this day in 1926, Trudy Ederle not only became the first woman to swim the English Channel, but only the sixth person to do so. And oh yeah - she beat the existing men's record by nearly two hours. My book about her, Young Woman and the Sea, is my best to this point in my career, and I've also written about her for the juvenile/YA market in Yes She Can! Women's Sports Pioneers.

Celebrate with a swim, then a good book on the beach.