Today’s event was, to a large extent, the entire purpose of this trip. It’s perhaps as well then that we thoroughly enjoyed it. Once again, we didn’t really know what to expect, though we had some thoughts about how it might play out. In the end, whilst there were some parts of the day which didn’t match our hopes, it was far from a disappointment – if that isn’t too much of a contradiction!?
With 520 photos for the day to choose from, I think I will open with this one, and you can read about the day below…
World Series heroes Dustin Pedroia (centre) and Mike Napoli (right), with ‘prospect’ Deven Marrero (left)
A consciously early start, made a little earlier by the previous occupant of the room leaving the radio/alarm set for 06:00 with the most alarming, er, alarm. My own alarm was set for 06:30, so other than the consternation caused by the grating sound, no real harm done. I’ve made sure it’s off tonight though!
A feature of the Courtyard by Marriott is, regrettably, no complimentary breakfast. In fact, no breakfast of much substance at all. Plan ‘A’ for breakfast, therefore, was Cracker Barrel. A long and boring story involving fog resulted in us going with Plan B which was Dennys. I had a ‘do-it-yourself’ Grand Slam which was basically a small breakfast without eggs. Nick, on the other hand, went with the Chicken Skillet, which was an excellent choice, all served up by the world’s most enthusiastic waitress; “Today is going to be a grrrreat day, guys!”.
Set up for the day, we headed for Fenway South, getting there around 08:00. We were straight in to the car park, not exactly the first arrivals, but on the second or third row. The stewards made a point of parking the cars close, as they are evidently expecting a lot of visitors. We heard later that they were expecting an attendance of 10,000, but whether that was right or not we don’t know. I suspect a bit less, myself.
We knew the day would involve a lot of hanging around. We also knew that the day’s practice session wasn’t going to start until 09:00. Even so, a throng of people were congregating at the entrance to the practice fields and we could see all the stewards in position ready to receive us all. We still had to wait until the stroke of 09:00 before the gates were rolled open though.
Meanwhile, the fog was steadily burning off, so by the time the gates opened, the sun was out and it was getting hotter and hotter. The blue shirted stewards all seem to be over 65, grey haired, male, white, and from New England. Overhearing snatches of conversations, we got the impression most (all?) are retired cops and/or firefighters. Snowbirds, in other words. On the other hand, the crowd was an eclectic mix unified only by their Red Sox gear – though it was remarkable that same T shirts was rarely seen twice. You may think this is stating the obvious, but I had wondered if the Open House (and adjacent Farmers Market) may have attracted some Fort Myers locals to come and see what was happening.
Once the gates opened, we all streamed in, and waited. Then we waited some more. The information from the stewards as to what was happening, or was going to happen, was friendly, but frankly vague and contradictory. Not their fault, of course; they and us – the public – are very low down in the well defined pecking order of the Red Sox organisation. I have to quickly put that remark in context, lest it sound like a moan, by pointing out that today’s event was completely free, including the parking. Even the food concession stands were heavily discounted. Let’s face it, the Red Sox are here to work and the public are allowed in on their terms, not ours. And I thank them for it.
Anyway the point is that it wasn’t until 10:20 that any of the players appeared. The first signs of activity were Xander Bogaerts then Will Middlebrooks posing for a photographer lying on his belly to use a large Red Sox logo as a backdrop.
Then, in dribs & drabs, the Major League team squad came out onto the practice field to begin their warm up drills. Nick and I had positioned ourselves at the end of the field where the pitchers were congregated. We had a close up view of star openers Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz with the two Japanese wonder pitchers, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa throwing to one another. We could see them getting looser and warmer as the speed of their delivery steadily increased. The accuracy of their throws was, as expected of athletes of their class, phenomenal.
After a while we relocated and got a close-up view of manager John Farrell. Farrell was always popular when he was pitching coach under former manager Tito Francona, but when he came back as manager last year and won the lot in his first season, his status in Boston is now officially Legend!
The star-of-the-show, the pied-piper, the joker-in-the-pack, the king-of-the-castle, is beyond question. It is of course David Ortiz. Big Papi. Where Papi went, the crowds went. David is — perhaps with good reason — a law unto himself. While the rest of the squad were in their jerseys with their squad number and name on show, Papi wore a wind cheater. While the rest of the squad threw themselves into the drills (Dustin Pedroia and Jonny Gomes noticeably working harder than the rest) Papi was clowning about and going through it in token fashion. Given his position as Designated Hitter (and his success in that role) he hardly need do more.
What was beyond question is that he is a real crowd pleaser. A legend. Today, however, I saw no sign of his largesse. While I heard some guy in the crowd regaling a total stranger about how Papi had come over to him and chatted, each time I saw him he was almost totally ignoring the crowd – acknowledging the constant calls of his name with the occasional slight wave. Again, please don’t get me wrong, he was there to do a job, and he does it in his own way, so interacting with the crowd — at least today — wasn’t part of it.
After a while we walked over to the main stadium where the Open House had begun. We went inside and whereas yesterday it had been “keep off the grass” and follow closely to the set tour route, today it was a total free-for-all. Only the infield was roped off with the crowd free to roam around what I soon discovered was an immense expanse of outfield. It really gives a perspective on the job of a ‘Center Fielder’ when you stand out there and see just how far away everyone else is going to be.
One of the main attractions of the event was the display of the 2004, 2007 and 2013 World Series Trophies. A long, long queue snaked around the warning track with people waiting to have their photograph taken with the trophy. Nick and I may consider ourselves Red Sox fans, but we have our limits — and standing out in 83˚ baking sunshine is outside of them. We were able to get up close and take photographs, and that was plenty enough for us both.
Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline played over the PA at one point, but I have to say the ‘Fenway feeling’ was a bit muted. We had a brief pause sitting in the stadium seats (in the shaded part of the stadium!) before going back out into the heat to explore the farmers market. It was nothing to write home about, and our feeling about the long queue for player autographs was similar to the trophy queue, so we went back to the practice fields. Most of the squad were still out, busily working away in the baking sun. The pitchers were doing drills with base runners, each taking it in turns around the bases. As well as being entertaining to watch it got us about as close as we will ever get to these guys.
On another field, a couple of the other stars of last year’s World Series, “Laser Show 15” (Dustin Pedroia) and the guy who was the inspiration for all the beards last year, Mike Napoli, were taking batting practice. Again, we were as up close as we will ever get to them, able to hear their conversation at times. Fantastic! Also around at this time were new signings Grady Sizemore and A.J.Pierzynski
A large selection of the rest of my photos from the event can be viewed here…
By around 14:00 most of the squad had gone back inside. Only Will Middlebrooks and Mike Carp remained out on the practice field, taking infield hits, as the “prospects” trooped out to take their turn out in the heat. Our stamina, however, was beginning to wane and we decided that air conditioning was what we needed more than watching the up & coming youngsters. We headed back to the car and back along I-75.
After the excitement of (almost) rubbing shoulders with the stars, a trip to Walmart was a bit of a come-down, but at least it was cool! I finally found the right footwear I was after for shorts wearing purposes, so Look Out Florida, my knees may be on show tomorrow. From there it was back to the room and, in my case, a second shower of the day to cool down. Nick walked out to the Dairy Queen a block or so along Colonial Blvd for an ice cream while I set about sorting my photos.
Around 17:30 we headed off out again for dinner. Nick’s choice tonight and, after a fair amount of cogitating, he decided on Bob Evans back at the I-75 intersection on Colonial Blvd. Despite it being Saturday evening, there was no queue and we were seated straight away. A lady of senior years was waiting on us and judging by her uncertainty about the menu, she seemed to be fairly new to the job. She was certainly friendly and unbelievably quick – our entrees arrived before we’d finished our starters and an order taken for dessert before Nick had finished his main. We’d both had the pot roast, by the way.The three courses were, more or less, obligatory as it is part of a package that “Bob” does.
After dinner we went to The Forum at Fort Myers on the other side of I-75 (a bit of road we’d travelled three times today due to my repeated navigational snafus!) as there is a Target supermarket next to a Books-a-Million. I got a six pack of local beer from Target – Florida Beer Co. (Cape Canaveral, Fl) Key West Sunset Ale before adjourning next door to the book shop. I’d never heard of this chain before but Nick has more experience of Florida than I do! It’s like Barnes & Noble in a lot of ways (layout, coffee shop etc.) but there are differences I can’t quite put my finger on.
Anyway, once Nick rejoined me we retraced our steps back to the hotel for a quiet evening in front of the television. Most notable in our viewing was a made-for-tv movie on HBO with a glittering cast (including Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman…) called Now You See Me. I was typing this as it was on so wasn’t really concentrating, but Nick watched it – “a great idea done badly” was his assessment. As I type this, something else with Woody Harrelson is on and we channel-hopped through an episode of CSI:Miami with Ted Danson and special guess star John Ratzenberger – so it must be Cheers alumni night!