On Sunday, I took a trip into Boston to see the Red Sox at Fenway for the first time in several years. The timing of my trip back east coincided with the opening weekend of the baseball season and my friend Mike drove down from Maine to join me.
There are endless ways in which technology has enhanced our lives. But Sunday was full of moments where that wasn't the case. Instead of paying for parking at a kiosk, there's a new "Pay by Phone" policy at the Alewife MBTA train station. All six kiosks were closed and a sign on each read, "Your experience has been upgraded." Dozens stared with mild annoyance at their phones trying to figure out how many logistical hoops they had to fill out before they could get on the train. Mike was the one taking the bullet for us since it was his electric car that was plugged into a charging station.
We got on the Red Line and headed into the city. As one expects on public transportation, phones dominated the hands of our fellow subway riders. Sometimes I miss the way people would half-notice each other in these situations. We transferred at Park Street and found ourselves among the BU students and the various citizens of Red Sox Nation. At Kenmore, we made our way above ground and strolled through the blustery chill to Fenway. Where was the familiar smell of sausages outside the park? Did I need an app for that?
I bought our tickets on StubHub. At the gate, the tickets wouldn't scan. Using the MLB Ballpark app is apparently now a requirement for entry, unless you print your tickets at home. Holding a paper ticket... why would you want that? I’d recently downloaded the Ballpark App but the tickets weren't showing up. After walking over to the completely empty Red Sox ticket office (a place that was always bustling in past Fenway trips) I was told by the lonely college-age employee to link another email to the Ballpark App. Our tickets finally showed up on my screen and we were admitted into the ancient ballpark. The marketing people at MLB have determined that every fan must download all of their apps. That's how MLB has chosen to fight our collective dwindling attention spans. Speed up the game and app-ify everything.
We found our seats in the left-field grandstand, tucked up against the 37-foot-high Green Monster, hovering over the third-base line. It’s a majestic place to sit. The immensity of the wall framing your vision on the left and the expanse of green outfield grass with its checkerboard pattern. At one point a NESN cameraman came and took shots of the stadium from various angles.
The Sox scored single runs in the first three innings. The first on newcomer Masataka Yoshida's infield tapper. The second on Kike Hernandez's bomb over our heads into the Monster seats. The third on an Alex Verdugo line-drive single. Mike and I chatted over the game's surprisingly brisk pace. We reached the fifth inning before we knew it. Tanner Houck silenced the Orioles over those first four innings. Before the game started, I asked Mike if he thought Houck would make it out of the fourth. Houck has a biting slider which baffles righties, but he also seems to pitch without a worry. His mistakes get hammered. Tough to trust him. As the Orioles batted in the 5th, the diminutive Adam Frazier came to the plate and launched a drive just over the 380-foot sign in right field. Orioles star Cedric Mullins followed with a game-tying blast.
A father of three boys sat in the seats in front of us. The youngest was probably three and had no idea a baseball game was happening. He looked like the funny little kid with glasses from Jerry Maguire. At one point the kid dropped a nickel behind him and Mike picked it up and gave it back. Mike wanted to ask the little guy if he knew that the human head weighs eight pounds. Between innings, the dad bounced his three-year-old on his shoulders hoping to convince Orioles left-fielder Terrin Vavra to toss a ball up toward him. Holding one hand on his son's ankle, and on his third beer, I hoped this guy didn't get a ball thrown his way. I thought of my daughter back in California and of baseball games we’ll attend this summer in Oakland.
The Sox regained the lead in the bottom of the fifth with the new arrivals delivering in big moments. Yoshida's sacrifice fly to center and then Adam Duvall's hot weekend continued with a two-run single. Duvall's OPS after three games is 1.957. Something tells me he won't win the AL MVP, but we'll enjoy it while it lasts. Rookie Tristan Casas dropped his first hit and RBI of the year with an insurance-run single in the seventh and Alex Verdugo gave the Sox more breathing room in the eighth. As the icy breeze picked up again, Kaleb Ort finished the Orioles off in the ninth and we walked out of Fenway happy.
This Boston season is unlikely to end in a World Series title, but the Yoshida Era is off to a solid start, Duvall is channeling Dwight Evans for a few games, and if pitchers Garret Whitlock, Brayan Bello and James Paxton get healthy and manage to stay productive, there may be more reasons for optimism from this team than many expected. They won't score nine runs every game, but Red Sox fans, perhaps your experience has been upgraded from last season… at least for now.