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Snapshot of a rivalry

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Experiencing Red Sox/Yankees

There are few rivalries in sports that match the intensity of Red Sox/Yankees. Those two storied franchises have a long and checkered history - a history that only recently has begun to even out.

Even an unabashed Red Sox homer such as myself has to acknowledge that up until the beginning of the 21st century, this rivalry was mostly a one-sided "rivalry" - the simple truth was that the Yankees had boatloads of World Series titles, while the Red Sox hadn't won a title since 1918. However, starting with the epic playoff battles of the early 2000s, the Sox put themselves on much more even footing with their hated pinstriped foes.

The energy of this rivalry is unparalleled. However, despite my long-standing status as a devout and devoted Sox fan, I had never had the opportunity to experience that rivalry firsthand.

Until now.

On Saturday, August 6, I and three of my friends wandered up to Gate C and entered Fenway Park to bear witness to the ferocious energy of this legendary rivalry. We found our seats in the center field bleachers just in time to watch the ceremonial first pitches thrown by a pair of players from the U.S. Women's World Cup squad.

And then? Let the game begin.


AP photo by Michael Dwyer

There was plenty of nervous chatter in the stands around us; while we had the wildly-inconsistent John Lackey taking the mound for the good guys, the enemy rolled out their ace, the often-dominant C.C. Sabathia. Everyone - my friends included - expressed plenty of misgivings about the matchup. It made sense - the Red Sox have been hit-or-miss when it comes to left-handed pitching and Sabathia might be the best southpaw in the league. However, as I told anyone who would listen, I was unconcerned. Why was that, you ask?

I walked into the park having never seen the Red Sox lose in person.

Over the course of my life, I had been to a dozen Red Sox games - this one made lucky 13. My streak has reached a point where it has almost taken on a life of its own. Intellectually, I recognize that the streak can easily be chalked up to simple coincidence; over the course of 20 years and something like 3500 games, the odds of one person going 12-for-12 aren't necessarily that high. Still, the streak is something that I take comfort in - I'm a winner until I lose.

(I may have bandied about some nonsense about John Lackey pitching a no-hitter. One might think that I'd be concerned about the vengeful universe punishing me for my hubris, but again - 12-0.)

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The game itself was fantastic. Both pitchers started off well, with each man shutting out the opposition for the first two innings. First blood was drawn by the Red Sox, with a pair of runs in the bottom of the third. However, the Yankees tied the score in the top of the fourth, causing more than a few misgivings amongst the bleacher creatures.


Photo by Elsa/Getty images

However, the Red Sox exploded for five runs in their half of the inning, highlighted by a three-run homer by Jacoby Ellsbury (who would probably get my vote for MVP if I had one). It was only the second home run Sabathia had given up to a left-handed batter all season. Granted, in most ballparks it would have been a foul ball or a long out, but Fenway isn't most parks - Ellsbury curled his shot right around the Pesky Pole.

After that, it was just a matter of time; with single runs in the fifth and eighth innings, the Yankees pulled within three runs before Ellsbury did it again, knocking in two more runs with a single. Dustin Pedroia followed with a sacrifice fly, which officially brought the scoring to a close. The Yankees couldn't come back in the ninth and the Red Sox walked away with a 10-4 victory.

And I was 13-0.

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Despite my many trips to Fenway, I had never actually sat in the center field bleachers. I'd seen games from assorted grandstand sections, from the right field bleachers, from box seats and from atop the Green Monster, but I had never enjoyed a game from that vantage point. To my delighted surprise, the seats (we were about halfway up) provided an excellent view of the proceedings.

And the company was fantastic.

Leaving aside my traveling companions (pretty nice guys, considering that they're a bunch of degenerates), we were surrounded by fans. Real fans. One of my main issues with the Red Sox franchise is the fact that their prices have become a bit too high for regular folks; the box seats and luxury suites are filled with people who (to put it kindly) might not be particularly rabid in their fandom.

But our neighbors? These folks were fans. There were the two couples in the row right in front of us, clearly enjoying their double date. They were very sweet people who were clearly amused by our running commentary. I may have also photobombed them, but only because the moment felt right.

There were some other moments as well; some fun, some scary. There was the fact that every single time Derek Jeter came to the plate, he was booed lustily. Other Yankees occasionally got a smattering of abuse, but Jeter heard it loud and clear every time up. There was a beer vendor who dropped an entire tray of Rolling Rock onto the field, causing a brief delay. There was the gentleman who tried to exit too quickly and fell on the stairs, bringing the EMTs out in force (he was fine, by the way). There was the couple who had brought their baby to his first ballgame; the little fellow dutifully (and adorably) goggled at the circus of activity surrounding him.

My personal favorite, however, had to be the brazenly unapologetic Yankee fan sitting just a few rows in front of us, sporting a Derek Jeter jersey. I admired his chutzpah; he was constantly cheering, rooting his team on. The absolute best, however, was immediately following the Ellsbury home run. After the hubbub died down, this guy stood up and turned to us, arms raised; he knew that his team was in trouble and he owned it. There were jeers and catcalls, sure, but there was also a weird sense of admiration for his willingness to own his fandom. Of course, then some yahoo threw what I'm pretty sure was a slice of pizza at the guy. Still, for that to be the worst thing that I saw? Way to stay classy, guys - excepting the pizza tosser, of course.

On our drive to Boston, we had talked about the potential weirdness that we might find in the bleachers. We discussed the possibility of aggressively profane Yankee fans and drunken brawls. So imagine our surprise when there was...nothing. There were more than a few pockets of New York fans scattered throughout the park; our section was no exception. But in the end, everyone was nice and civil. It made for an extremely positive experience.

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There's no denying the electricity in the atmosphere for a Red Sox-Yankees tilt. It's definitely a different energy than anything I had ever before experienced at Fenway Park. The streets around the stadium are literally abuzz; there's a low humming in the air, excitable voices blending into a sound that is almost solid.

To be a part of that kind of passionate fandom is a rare treat. There are relatively few opportunities in life to immerse yourself in such an energetic rivalry. There's real history here - it's one of the few advantages baseball has left over, say, the NFL. Baseball's rich historical tapestry is never more apparent than in experiencing rivalries such as this one. I imagine Giants-Dodgers is similar; likewise Cardinals-Cubs. But deep in my homer heart of hearts, I'll always believe that Red Sox-Yankees is the big one.

Whether you're a die-hard or just a casual fan, you will never experience anything quite like a true rivalry game. If the opportunity presents itself, seize it. You'll be glad you did. And if you're smart, you'll invite me along.

13-0. Just saying.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 December 2011 15:28

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