Summer and I don’t get along. I get cranky in heat and humidity, I don’t like having to sit in air conditioning, I can’t standing being in a hot room without air conditioning, I don’t like bugs and too much time in the sun makes me dizzy.
But I live for summer, and that’s almost entirely because of baseball. Most of my favorite memories in the summer involve either some form of the national game or screaming my brains out at a concert. But Pearl Jam isn’t on tour this summer. So baseball will have to do. Luckily, living in Massachusetts, I’m never too far from a game.
The desire to catch a game, though, had been lower than any summer in recent memory.
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On June 15, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 39 years. Patrice Bergeron led the offensive charge, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg stonewalled the snivelling twits from the Vancouver Canucks, and goalie Tim Thomas was there on the back line, stopping everything he saw. There were hits, checks, flying breakaways and heart-stopping saves. Then came the Cup, shouts, tears, hugs, high fives, bewilderment and, later, a parade. As a hockey fan since elementary school, and a devout Bruins supporter since the beginning, it was among the highest of highs I’ve ever felt following sports.
Because of the hockey fury and subsequent hangover, I easily went the deepest into a season without giving baseball my full, undivided attention that I could remember. It was June, and I couldn’t tell you who was in first place in the six divisions, who led the league in hitting, who had the top ERA.
So, where to go from there? I’ve been nothing if not a staunch supporter in the leisurely nature of the game and it’s ability to naturally suspend its own drama within, the mental battle between the pitcher and batter. But a week later, watching Alfredo Aceves struggle in his start against the San Diego Padres was a chore. I wasn’t into it. It didn’t stand up to the gauntlet of Bruins mania. It was too soon.
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I eased my way back in by reading. As if I were once again 3,000 miles away from the Red Sox, I read box scores and game reports, following along as Dustin Pedroia found his swing and pundits lost it debating whether or not to play Adrian Gonzalez in right field. Josh Beckett missed a couple of starts because of the flu. Andrew Miller showed signs that he might reach his potential. Josh Reddick pushed Mike Cameron out of a job and set his sights on J.D. Drew. The interest was growing.
But the way to get back into the swing of the game would be to see it live. In terms of intimate baseball viewing, Brockton’s Campanelli Stadium is tough to beat. There’s a long climb up the staircase to the turnstile and concourse, but from there, there’s an open view to every part of the field. The concessions people are polite, the team is enthusiastic enough (any team with a boxing kangaroo for a mascot would have to be), and it’s not hard to get right down to the field for the action. My buddy Ryan arranged for a group trip, and as usual, scored tickets along the first-base line for the princely sum of $7.50 per ticket.
And the game was solid. On a warm, clear night, the Rox shut out the New York Federals 5-0, I had a hot dog, New York’s centerfielder made at least three highlight-reel catches, and there were plenty of jokes about which players did and didn’t run like a girl.
Two nights later, I got a spur-of-the-moment call from my neighbor, asking if I’d be interested in that night’s Pawtucket Red Sox game against the Rochester Red Wings. It was 5:15, the game started at 6:05, and Pawtucket, R.I., is a 35-minute drive away. And as intimate as Campanelli is, few hold a candle to McCoy Stadium. Since its 1999 renovation, the PawSox’ home is a jewel, with its cozy seats, left-field berm, center-field bleachers, dug-in dugouts, open concourses and fantastic food and beer selections. For $7, we each picked up a general admission ticket and made ourselves at home in tower that overlooks left field, a great spot to peek into Pawtucket’s bullpen and both dugouts, and heckle the left fielder.
The Red Sox’ farm team didn’t do as well, falling to Rochester 8-4 despite a home run by catcher Ryan Lavarnway. But that was incidental to another night of baseball in Rockwell-like weather, with two beers and a helping of nachos.
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I fall into ruts, and because of work and financial restraints, I can’t take in all the baseball I’d like, no matter the will. But it’s reassuring to know how much quality play is around me, whether I’m looking for a way to spend a Friday night or needing a kick to get back into the game.
What better way to spend a summer night in New England?