It matters how you get there - how you approach the ballpark and when you arrive.
Like the route you take to the beach house every time, choosing the scenic road that winds along water instead of cutting a more direct angle inland past a strip mall, drawing near the cottage in a way that feels and smells familiar, all the hills and curves and placid coves greeting the senses once again, now that July has finally come. It matters how you approach and how you begin, like being in the theatre when a movie starts, because if you don’t view the opening credits, that first image, the title frame, or hear the first sounds that break silence and darkness, you won’t have an accurate sense of the whole.
No matter what the ballpark and whatever the field, baseball is a singular journey to a significant place, a work of art with a distinctive beginning, its light and action emerging from nothingness. Like the anticipation of all pleasures and events in life that matter - birth, dinner, love - drawing near the experience is the beginning and part of the joy. And so it matters how you get there.
I know a grown man who refuses to enter Fenway Park without a bag of roasted peanuts. He’s a formidable man, an impossibly tall, intimidating Marine. He buys his peanuts from the vendor on Yawkey Way outside Gate A. He has to buy his peanuts on Yawkey Way. He has to buy them before the game. He won’t walk through the turnstiles without a small brown bag in hand.
The beginning matters. I can see this in his eyes, and it needs no explanation.
We like to arrive at Fenway Park several hours before game time, my daughter and I. Unhurriedly our vehicle winds along the familiar curves of Storrow Drive, and we turn our faces toward bright sails running with the wind and reflecting the hot mid-afternoon light that ripples on the Charles. Suddenly we behold the gigantic Citgo sign, a vivid triangle that is much more than an ad for gasoline, and Caitlin shouts, "There it is!"
I know what she's talking about; her joy requires no explanation.
At the beginning of Bull Durham, Annie Savoy walks seductively through town to a ball game, single and free. She saunters along a Carolina street at dusk, poodle skirt swaying purposefully beneath a full bosom.
At the height of summer I once walked to a game by myself, alone and seemingly free like Annie (minus the poodle skirt, etc). No rush hour and hardly a car in our seaside town. The better part of the day had ended for most summer people - boats moored, sails rinsed, rubbed fish ready to grill. Up the lane I went, turned left onto the harbor road past houses with weathered shingles and salty life vests drying on clotheslines and generous glimpses of the bay, its water still a soft shade of blue in the late afternoon light, blue as a ballplayer’s eyes. Children’s voices echoed in the hawthorn trees, beams of watery light glinted off beetle cats and dories, and a translucent coastal light progressed ever so gradually from late afternoon toward dusk as the sky turned billowy pink and the hulls of boats turned bright white just before the sun fell below the trees and distant hills.
It matters how you get there. The Cape Cod air was sweet, and everything I saw and heard that evening was endowed with a special richness, "bathed in joy" (as Woolf might say), because I was walking to the game.
I like a game that is bookended by walks to and from the field.
On Sunday mornings in midsummer (several hours before the first pitch), the neighborhoods surrounding Fenway Park are quieter than most churches. Very few sounds flow from outdoor cafes along the leafy avenues; red geraniums and ivy spill out of window boxes; elegant boxwood topiaries grace the entrances to silent brownstones.
Who will win? What will I see? How long will it last? Where are the seats and what will be our angle on the field?
82 degrees, sunny.
Wind: 7 mph, in from RF.
These are the simple ingredients. These fundamentals, plus the happy company of a baseball friend who woke up on Monday morning and wrote: "I came to the conclusion yesterday, on a perfect day at Fenway, that the universe was created so that we would have a place to put baseball parks."
I was the lucky recipient of a little piece of cardboard that took me to Section 24, Row 06, Seat 7 at "America's Most Beloved Ballpark." GRANDSTAND-THIRD BASE. Game #47. 1:35 PM. Enter GATE A. Yawkey/Brookline. I was the lucky one who walked to and from this beloved space in the universe, treasuring the gift of a ticket, then savoring an important win and an ice cream cone (8-6 just before the All Star break, Emack & Bolio’s "Serious Chocolate Addiction," kiddie size), an unhurried walk along the leafy avenue as evening came, and back to the Clarendon Street garage where a validated ticket got me a parking spot for just nine dollars.
It was the kind of day that makes life truly worth living. Eighty-one more games to go, I thought, looking back one last time at the big red sign that is much more than an ad for gasoline.