Suzette Martinez Standring: Red Sox game like church
It was my first Red Sox game, and our friend Jim smiled at me in disbelief. Bringing David and me to the ballgame, Jim had scored tickets at face value. Now it was our turn to smile back in disbelief.
“So what do you think so far?” he said.
“It feels amazingly like church,” I said.
Jim nodded. “There’s a lot of faith here.”
On the church front, I know the exhilaration of folks pooling their energies at group worship. There is bliss in the brother/sisterhood of exaltation. At Sunday services, the power of the Word and a rockin’ gospel choir can move strangers to transcend the façades of race, money, neighborhood or career. It’s uplifting and humbling when God softens our hard knocks with the help of grace and minor miracles.
A game at Fenway Park has a very similar energy.
Under the definition of Red Sox Nation, “faith” is its descriptive noun. “Scorecahds, two dollahs!” rang out like steeple bells heralding a game against Milwaukee. Thousands of “B’s” swarmed the stadium, and I assure you the letter did not stand for “Brewers.”
Unlike baseball mega-cathedrals elsewhere, Fenway Park is a 39,928-seat tent revival filled with up-close, palpitating, fervent believers. The stadium’s charm is old-fashioned intimacy with a proud nod to history -- much like a historic church that houses the personality of its colorful locals. Holy relics abound.
One of the last hand-operated scoreboards in the major leagues is used at Fenway (but only during American League games). For lovers of “The DaVinci Code,” the initials of patron saints Tom and Jean Yawkey, sole owners of the Red Sox team for 44 years, are encrypted on the scoreboard in Morse code. Lone, red-painted Seat 21 of Row 37 in Section 42 is a seat-shrine to where Ted Williams blasted a ball 502 feet into the right-field bleachers, the longest measured home run inside the park.
Like giant hymn numbers mounted high, 1, 4, 8, 9, 27 and 42 forever remind fans to sing the praises of the canonized: Bobby Doerr, Joe Cronin, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk and Jackie Robinson.
I sported my new Sox visor and soaked up the vibrant energy of a wildly diverse congregation united in the bond of We Belong and We Believe. It’s strength in a common identity. What else could explain a human wave circulating the stadium not once but five times?
Those who reject religion can sense spirituality through nature – the break of blue skies over the Green Monster or the fragrance of newly mowed grass. Even the name, Fenway Park, stirs the soul, unlike modern-day arenas named after purveyors of beer, donuts or office supplies. “Fenway” derives from its location in Boston, formerly called the “Fens” from an Old English word meaning “wetlands.” Indeed vendors clad in yellow popped bright against a sea of red T-shirts much like farmers in yellow slickers at harvest time in a New England cranberry bog.
Forgive my gushing. As a new convert, it’ll be awhile before the scales fall completely from my eyes, as I am still unfamiliar with sacred rituals. Kevin Youkilis stepped up to the plate and the crowd roared in one voice.
“Why are they booing him? I said.
“They’re not. They’re saying, ‘Yook,’” Jim said.
Or when I whooped at each crack of the bat and our gracious host clued me in that every pop-up or foul ball did not warrant a cheer. (It’s a lot like not knowing when to sit, stand or kneel or that you’re supposed to let the recessional pass first before exiting your pew.)
“Boy, are you a rookie,” Jim said.
But I have to start somewhere, and Big Papi could make a believer out of anyone.
If you can’t float along on fun and fellowship of traveling minister Wally the Green Monster, then you must be a pillar of salt. At the bottom of the 8th inning, when capacity crowds belted out “Sweet Caroline” (“so good, so good, so good!”), grown men with raised hands, seemingly touched by the spirit, swayed … reaching out, touching me, touching yooou …
Oops, there I go again.
The faithful were rewarded when the Sox beat the Brewers. My first game was a miraculous full immersion, and now I believe.
E-mail Suzette Standring at email@example.com.