Katie's First Game
I’ve been to a lot of major league ballparks.
Twenty-eight, to be exact. Four of them aren’t used anymore, or are gone entirely. I’ve got six ballparks to go before I can claim to have attended a game in all 30 active parks. One of those, Citi Field, I’m picking up tonight.
It wasn’t something I made a concerted effort to do until I’d already been to quite a few. It started just as something to do as a family when we’d vacation somewhere, and at some point I realized that I’d seen so many that I should probably go ahead and see them all.
This isn’t a thing that will continue as long as they keep building new parks. Once I’ve attended a game in all 30 currently active parks, I’m calling it good, no matter how many new ones are built after that. I don’t want to be 80 and still trying to punch my ticket at some billionaire’s new taxpayer-funded whim.
What I am trying to do is document these visits. Since SABR conveniently has a Games Project, I’ve been writing summaries for them of the games I attended in each place, plus a few more personal milestone games, like the World Series, my kids’ first games, and so on.
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Fenway was my first, as I’ve already written about. The last will be Wrigley, which I’ve purposely saved for last for no other reason than I think having Fenway and Wrigley as the bookends of this little adventure will be cool. No matter how many I go to, though, Fenway remains my favorite. It’s the most sentimental, obviously, because it was my first and the Sox are my team, plus I just like the older parks.
So when I found out that the 2002 SABR annual convention was going to be in Boston, where we’d been planning to take the kids anyway, and that SABR would be going to a ballgame as a group, I couldn’t resist. I signed up for my first ever SABR convention the same day. This had the added advantage of being the first game my daughter, Katie, would attend. She was 2 that summer, and I could think of no place better than Fenway for her to see a major league ballgame for the first time.
Since deciding to write about each of these games for SABR, I came to the disappointing realization that this game has already been covered for them. A lot. With the entire membership in attendance, not only has the official game story already been written, but an entire book about that game was produced by SABR, in which the game is covered by many writers from many perspectives. It’s called “The Fenway Project” and it’s one of the more fun and unique works SABR has produced.
So, while I can’t include the game in the group I’m writing for SABR, I was able to give my daughter a copy of the book about the first game she ever attended. And I get to write whatever I want about the game here. So…
It was a dark and stormy night…
Actually, it wasn’t. It was a bit cloudy, but not stormy. That was the night before, which would have been Katie’s first game, but it was sadly rained out.* That means our first order of business on this night was to try to sell back those tickets, because we weren’t going to be in Boston when the game was made up.
(*That’s right, I was taking my kids to two straight ballgames at Fenway. What can I say, I’m an awesome yet indulgent dad, especially when it involves things I already want to do.)
Foolish me, I just walked up to the first of the many scalpers who were standing outside the park.
Him: “Whaddya need?”
Me: “I’ve got four from last night, want to sell them. We won’t be here for the make up.”
Him, looking at the tickets, then looking at my kids, then looking back at the tickets, then looking back at my kids, then handing the tickets back to me with disgust: “Take ‘em to the box office around the cornah, they’ll refund ya full price.”
Me, feeling stupid: “Oh, great, thanks.”
Him: “Youah lucky those kids ah with you or I’da robbed ya blind.”
Me, laughing: “Thanks for your honesty.”
Him: “Next time youah in town though, you buy from me! I’ll be right heah.”
Feeling like a damn fool for not thinking of that myself, I went and sold the tickets back to the Sox, thrilled to have unexpected cash in my pocket. With that accomplished, we walked into Fenway and found our seats. They were, uh, not close.
Yes, that is an actual, old-fashioned date stamp from our old-fashioned film camera. And yes, I am old.
While they were far from the action, they were actually pretty fun seats. The outfield seats in Fenway usually are, and these were just two rows behind the Red Sox bullpen. Sure, we’d have to watch the entire game through a wire fence, but there would be real live Red Sox players just a few feet from us. We’d be able to see Rich Garces go into the tiny bullpen bathroom!
There were stars all over the field, from Greg Maddux starting for the Braves, to Chipper Jones playing third base, to John Smoltz eventually coming in to relieve. That’s three Hall of Famers just one one team, and we haven’t even mentioned Gary Sheffield or Manny Ramirez or Nomar, or the fact that this was the year 43-year old Rickey Henderson played for the Red Sox, and that he pinch-hit and drew a walk late in the game.
It was also just a great, close game. It was 2-2 into the 9th inning when Tim Wakefield got up to warm up in the bullpen.
This was already a pretty cool night, but it was about to become infinitely cooler.
See the head of that guy on the far right side of the photo? That’s Bob Kipper, who was the Sox’s bullpen coach that year, and has been in the Red Sox organization in one capacity or another for almost 25 years. Once Wakefield was done warming up, he turned and handed the ball to Kipper, and said something to him. Then he jogged through the gate toward the field.
Kipper, ball in hand, went to the edge of the bullpen, where he could step up on the fence, his body extended over the top. He tossed the ball to a guy sitting in front of us, pointed at my daughter Katie, and said “That’s for her.”
Then that random guy turned around and handed Tim Wakefield’s warmup ball to Katie.
That’s right, at her first ever big league game, Katie got an actual baseball, something you see grown men still fight for in the stands. She got it because Tim Wakefield is an awesome guy, and Bob Kipper is too, and the random stranger in front of us honored Wakefield’s wishes to give it to the little blond girl behind him. Which, in fairness, pretty much anyone would have done. I mean, look at her:
I wish I could say that the Sox went on to win the game, but sadly they didn’t. Wakefield, no doubt weakened by the sight of Katie’s preposterous cuteness, gave up two runs in the 9th. Such is life. He’s still an awesome guy in our book.
And yes, Katie, who just graduated from college in May, still has the ball.
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