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Fenway in February

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As long as it was baseball season, I knew I could comfortably hang in there with my girlfriend's parents -- passionate Red Sox season-ticket holders for three decades. They didn't love that my adored Mets had broken their hearts in the '86 Fall Classic. But I also despised the Yankees. And that counted for something.

Fenway Park
Fenway Park has educated many fans about baseball.
But during what figured to be a long President's Day weekend, I feared I'd be forced to discuss tenser issues with Susan's family -- my unspectacular financial situation, the walk-up apartment that I shared with high school friends, my plans for their only daughter.

I was relieved to discover that there's never really an offseason in Boston. Susan's family has the unusual ability to somehow steer any conversation toward the Sox.

A fact is debated, a family member scurries off to the bookshelf, the debate is resolved. Inevitably, however, the book remains in the reader's clutches and new facts are unearthed ("Hey! Dewey hit for the cycle in '84!"). An almost unbearable longing for spring is expressed. This cycle is repeated, until every family member, except Susan, has a book, a program, an almanac resting in his or her lap.

Meanwhile, Susan, who has assumed control of the remote, is flipping through the channels when the screen erupts in a dazzling sea of green. Everyone looks up from their literature and stares. It's just the Sox battling the Orioles at Fenway, but it's as if we're witnessing a Madonna statue filling the Charles with tears.

"Leave that!" yells Dr. D, Susan's father, as if she'd ever think of changing the channel.

"Which game is it?" wonders her Uncle Eddie.

"Not sure," says her brother Alan, moving closer to the screen to better scrutinize this, well, diamond in the rough.

The camera pans to the dugout.

"Kennedy's managin'," says Dr. D.

I clear my throat and move to the edge of my seat. "This from last year?" I guess.

"Kennedy's managin'!" bellows Dr. D. I recoil.

Hair spills from the back of the batter's helmet. I deduce that the game's a few years old.

"Rheal Cormier's pitching," states Alan.

"This his first or second stint with the Sawx?" wonders Dr. D.

"Not sure," says Alan.

"Never shoulda let him go," opines Uncle Eddie of this career 43-42 pitcher.

"He's a good-looking guy," says Dr. D.

"Hmmm," goes Uncle Eddie.

"Must be the game the Sawx won 21-20 or somethin'," says Dr. D.

"Or when the Sawx clinched the wild cahd," suggests Alan.

The date and score flash on the screen: it's May, and the Sox and Orioles are tied at 2 in the bottom of the sixth. Eager to redeem my previous error, I submit a Sox fact I'd uncovered in my pre-visit research.

"I hear Bryce Florie's making a comeback," I offer, referring to the pitcher who was struck in the face with a batted ball.

"Yeah," says Dr. D. "Poor bahhstid. We saw him at the mall this wintahh. Good-looking guy. Right, honey?"

Mo Vaughn
Mo Vaughn hasn't been the same since leaving the Red Sox.
"Sure did," concurs Mrs. D. Her English accent, withered by decades spent in Boston, belies her love for the Sox. Her disdain for poor fundamentals -- a failed sacrifice, an unnecessary base on balls -- is known to all who sit near the D's at Fenway.

Mo Vaughn steps up to the plate.

"Big Mo," laments Uncle Eddie with a shake of his head.

"Maybe it's the game Mo hits the grand slam," guesses Dr. D.

"He's out for the year," I try, having read of Mo's recent injury.

"Yeah, never shoulda left Boston," says Dr. D, as if Vaughn had injured his arm while frolicking in the Southern California surf. "Big mistake, leaving Boston."

"Hmmm," adds Uncle Eddie.

The count goes full on Vaughn. No one speaks for a minute, but you can tell what they're all thinking: "Big Mo's a good-looking guy, and he never shoulda left Boston."

Mo grounds into a double play and the inning ends; the D's shake their collective head the way they've learned to after decades of enduring the Bambino's infernal curse.

The game's significance is at this point still unknown. Would a Boston station show, say, a 3-2 Sox springtime victory? It's possible. Mrs. D announces it's dinner time, but this found treasure, this 75 degree day in February, will be savored. Dinner can wait. In Boston, everything takes a back seat to baseball.

With the Bruins and Celtics mired in their usual mediocrity and inferiority, respectively, the sports page instead trumpets the Sox's arrival to spring training, and gives daily updates on Ted Williams' recovery from heart surgery, which occurred more than a month before.

Pedro Martinez has asked management to permit his delayed arrival. It's obvious that Martinez is asking for -- and receiving -- star treatment. If Derek Jeter were to try that, the New York tabloids would react as if the young shortstop was seen squiring Monica Lewinsky around town. But in Boston, the papers want a winning team more than they wish to outsell each other. The Pedro issue is buried in the middle of a spring training news roundup.

The crown prince of the Boston press, his crown a curly mop-top, is Dan Shaughnessy. Like Picasso or Aristotle, the Boston Globe writer has earned the distinction of a one-name identity. "Shaughnessy says Manny was downright chippahh at his press conference," says Dr. D over breakfast the next morning. "Shaughnessy says Coney's lookin' shahhp," he continues.

Shaughnessy's oracle status, however, is questioned in a column comparing Nomar Garciaparra to Ted Williams, when the scribe refers to both as Mexican-Americans.

"I know Nomah is," says Dr. D (like those who don colonial garb to work in Sturbridge Village, I'm quite sure Bostonians exaggerate their accent in words like Nomahh and chowdah for the amusement of visitors). "But Teddy Ballgame?"

He then scuttles off to the shelf, returning with a biography on the Splendid Splinter.

It's soon determined that Williams' mother indeed possessed some Mexican blood; Shaughnessy's omniscience remains intact. Dr. D continues to scrutinize the book, unearthing precious factoids ("Thirty-nine combat missions over Korea!"), and staring at photos. "Teddy was a good-looking guy," he says.

"Tall, too," adds Uncle Eddie.

"How tall?" I play along.

"Six-three," he says.

"No way," says Alan. "Six-fawh."

"I think it's six-fawh too," says Dr. D, flipping through the pages.

"Six-three!" says Uncle Eddie.

Representing the next generation of D's, Alan plunks down at the computer, engaging the noisy modem to solve the mystery of Ted Williams' height. He beats his father to it.

"Six-fawh," Alan says.

"Six-fawh," concedes Dr. D. "We saw his childhood house when we went to San Diego last year."

Mrs. D, Susan and Alan nod in agreement. Uncle Eddie's face shows chagrin in having missed the pilgrimage. But Teddy Ballgame is recovering well, due to go home from the hospital soon. That makes everyone feel good. And the prayer we said for him before the meal can only assist his recovery.

Michael Malone is a senior editor at, where he writes about food, drink, sports, music and, occasionally, Playmates. His writing has appeared in Gear, The San Francisco Examiner, Stuff, Rugby and Smoke, and he's currently shopping around his first novel, "Too East For Numbers." His woefully self-aggrandizing website can be found at

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