The Greatest Baseball Experience of my life: Attending the Red Sox 2018 World Series clincher (Game 5)

This grown man cried. And it was the second time I cried at a baseball game, and both instances involved the Boston Red Sox.

Moments after Dodgers third baseman Manny Machado flailed at Chris Sale’s final pitch Sunday during Game 5 of the 2018 World Series — an apropos ending to a horrendous three weeks of baseball for the soon-to-be free agent — the flood gates opened.

My eyes burned. My nose tingled. The tears began to roll down my face. The Boston Red Sox were champions again, and this time I was there to witness it in person.

For more than three decades I have been a Red Sox fan. And for almost as long as that fandom has been alive, it had been a fantasy of mine to not only see a World Series game featuring the Red Sox, but to see them clinch the sport’s top prize. The scenario was something I never saw as a possibility, primarily because I live on the West Coast and couldn’t see the Sox ever facing off against the Giants — the local National League team — in the Fall Classic.

But when the Dodgers wrapped up their series against the Brewers to clinch their second-straight National League crown, my head started spinning: Could this be a possibility?

**

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in a time where the Oakland Athletics were at the top of the sport. I had my favorite Oakland player, his name was Mark McGwire. And every day after school I’d run home hoping that there would be a game on. You see, I was so naive initially that I didn’t even have the schedule down.  All I knew was that I would occasionally turn on 560 AM KSFO and hear the golden voice of baseball Bill King calling the final innings of what I’d learn was a midweek day game.  And when I wasn’t listening to the games, I was fighting my sister to allow me to watch the A’s play on KICU TV-36. We had one television in the house; and I was one of two children.

With that said, you’d think the A’s were my favorite team. And in some ways you wouldn’t be wrong. I definitely chose Oakland over the regional rival San Francisco Giants, especially when they faced off in the 1989 World Series.

I digress. By this point you might be asking yourself how the hell did I become a Red Sox fan?

The answer: William Roger Clemens.

***

I started following baseball in 1987, about a year after my family moved to the South Bay from San Francisco.  I was merely 7 at the time when I was befriended by two brothers who lived in the same apartment building. They are the ones who introduced me to the greatness of baseball cards. Many years before, my mother had introduced me to collecting when she bought Garbage Pail Kids; but it was the brothers from two floors above who brought the combination of cards and baseball into my life. And it didn’t hurt that there was card shop literally across the street, probably no more than the distance from home plate to the middle of center field.

One of the brothers was a massive Oakland A’s fan, and his favorite player was McGwire. Who could blame him.  His brother somehow became a fan of New York Mets outfielder Darryl Strawberry. The question was posed: Ben, who or what do you collect?

The answer became Roger Clemens.

I’d never seen The Rocket pitch in person at this point. I believe my following of Clemens came from the fact that I had a handful of his 1987 Topps All Star cards and had seen him pitch against the A’s on television. So, me wanting to be different and not collect the same exact things my friends did, I chose Clemens … and The Red Sox.

From the moment I made my collecting choices, my fandom became stronger … even if the team was not really any good. Hell, by this point the Sox were a mere year or two removed from the 1986 World Series when the team collapsed and were defeated by the Mets.

For Christmas 1990 my mother bought me a Boston Red Sox book that I believe she had to ordered through the mail since we lived on the West Coast.  And for my 11th Birthday my father took me a store called “The Sports Fanatic,” which was kind of a big deal.  The store sold authentic hats, jerseys and jackets. My loot for my 11th birthday?  An Authentic Boston Red Sox fitted cap, and a legit Starter Sox Jacket, which I still have to this day. I even have a Identification Card from an old mini golf and go kart place showing me wearing the hat. The ID card was created Jan. 4, 1992.

***

For years the Red Sox seemed to come through Oakland early in the season, usually within a few weeks of my birthday. But for one reason or another I was not able to see the team in person until 1994. And while I wish I could paint that picture with words, sadly I cannot. I was 13 at the time and was still learning the game, mostly on my own. No one in my family was really a baseball fan. Luckily I still have my ticket stub; and with the magic of the internet I am able to recall that Frank Viola and Ron Darling did square off in a pitcher’s duel that ended just two hours and 22 minutes after it began. The Sox, of course, were the victors; Oakland at this point was without the aforementioned McGwire due to injury.

Five years later I again saw the Red Sox in Oakland; this time as a “birthday party” in which I invited two friend.  The four of us — me, two newer friends and my father — were treated to a 13-strikeout performance by Boston starter and eventual Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez.

***

The only time I had been able to see the Red Sox in person during the first 30 years of my life was in Oakland. Boston had not played in San Francisco to my recollection; and I had no reason to ever actually go to Boston. Hell, the idea of going to Fenway Park was something that I figured would never happen.

Well, it did. in 2010. I wrote about it before.

My wife at the time and I made a week-long trip to the east coast in May of that year, a vacation in which I managed to incorporate a jaunt to Yankee Stadium — where we saw the Yankees walk-off the Red Sox much to my dismay — and then two nights we found ourselves in Boston at Fenway Park.

It literally was a cold and dreary night; it had rained all day and I feared that my one chance to see the Sox play at home (against the Twins when they were still good), was going to get washed away.  As it turned out, that rain helped keep two season ticket holders at home that night and allowed us to slide over two seats out of our view obstructed seats — there was a giant support beam blocking our view — into the ones next to us, which was an option presented by friends of those ticket holders.

The game couldn’t last long enough; and when it was over, I didn’t want to leave.  We took more pictures in the stadium, used the rest room, walked around, and then we had to go — really, they were ushering us out.

That night, I cried.

Not everyone will understand the emotions of others. But I really should have to explain why I was emotional at all. I mean, I was a West Coast guy who was living out a dream and my time at Fenway Park was coming to and end.

The tears came; I dried them and we headed out of the building for what I thought was the one and only time I’d ever step foot in there.  As luck would have it, a day later we had a few hours to waste before our flight back to the Bay Area and we decided to go for a drive through the off grid of streets that make up Boston.  As fate would have it, we would up at Fenway Park; found a parking spot right across the street from the box office, and we had gotten there just as they were preparing for the final building tour of the morning.

***

There are many Red Sox fans who spent a lifetime — literally — not knowing what it could be like to see the Sox win a World Series. Hell, the team went 86 years before finally wrapping up the championship in 2004. Since then, the team has won World Series titles in 2007 and again in 2013.

And in 2018, it looked again as if the team would have another banner to raise.

The Red Sox ran roughshod through the American League in the playoffs, finishing off rival New York in four games (best of 5 series), and gutting the reigning champion Houston Astros in five games (Best of 7 series) to secure its position in the Fall Classic.

It was clear to me that something magical was in the works.  The Dodgers were still in the playoffs and had a strong possibility of advancing.  Los Angeles is not San Francisco, I mean there are some 300-plus miles between the two.  But LA is only a six hour drive away from my home; it wasn’t going to require expensive last-minute flights if the Los Angeles-Boston World Series were to happen.

A few days after Boston had clinched its spot in the final; the Dodgers did the same. And when the final out was made, I immediately checked StubHub to see how much tickets were going to run. The cheapest single seat I could find was in the neighborhood of $700 — no way I could make that happen.

I pretty much gave up on the notion, occasionally checking prices to assure myself the market was too strong.  But by the time the Sox went up 2-0 in the series, interest had either waned, the market was correcting itself — supply and demand were working toward eachother — and a seat for Game 5 (which was the only really possibility due to other reasons) had dropped under $500.  I was much more comfortable in this price range as I could sell a handful of baseball cards and help fund that seat to fulfill my dream.

As it turned out; a personal connection of mine put me in contact with someone who had a pair of seats for Game 5 — and they were mine for less than I was going to pay for the single ticket on StubHub.  With a few emails and a cash transfer through PayPal I was headed to the World Series to not only see the Red Sox face off against not only the Dodgers, but looked like a showdown with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who is my favorite active player — a story for another time.

***

The date Oct. 25 is now a weird thread in my baseball life. In 2013 I was at Dodger Stadium for the first time during a short vacation to Southern California.  The Dodgers had been eliminated from the Playoffs by that point, but I was able to take a tour of the stadium. Tours are said to be a dozen or so people; in this case there were just two people, myself and my wife at the time. This was a pretty special tour as we got to spent a lot of time seeing various areas of the baseball landmark.

A year later, on Oct. 25, 2014, I attended my first World Series game, which I was certain was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The Giants were in the third of three World Series in five years.  My sister, whom I mentioned earlier as fighting with over television time to watch baseball, secured a pair of seats to Game 4 of that World Series. Her favorite team is the Giants, so she should have went.  Instead she sent me and her husband to the game — I later paid her for the ticket, but the memories in and of themselves were priceless.

And on Oct. 25 of this year I reached out to my friend, a member of the media who was going to be covering the World Series. I was merely looking for a space to crash on his hotel room floor if I was able to find my own ticket to the event. But it was on that date that he was able to put me in touch with the person who had two tickets available at face value — the pair collectively cost me about two-thirds of what the asking price was on the single seat, despite being in the same section. The tickets were secured. I was heading to the World Series if the series went to a Game 5 … and I was taking my sister.

I have two children, a boy and a girl.  Both know I love baseball and my favorite team is the Red Sox. But neither of them have completely followed my footsteps in fandom yet.  My daughter is almost 10 and while she enjoys going to games, she doesn’t fully understand the significance of the games.  And my son, who is 8, is beginning to follow baseball — he reminds me of me, honestly — but I couldn’t take him to the World Series and leave my daughter in the cold. Parents know things have to be fair. If I was going to take the kids, I’d need another ticket. And as the saying goes, money doesn’t grow on trees.  So my sister was the natural selection.  Not only would I be repaying the favor of 2014, but she knows how much this means to me.

***

For two straight nights I sweated out Games 3 and 4.  I watched nearly all 18 innings of Game 3 and knew that if a Game 5 was to happen, Los Angeles would have to win either Game 3 or Game 4.  When that Max Muncy homer was crushed in the 18th, I had mixed emotions.  The Sox had lost a World Series game; but this also meant that I WAS GOING TO A RED SOX World SERIES GAME.

I got three hours of sleep before working Saturday morning; and then planned to get up at 4 a.m. on Sunday to make the drive with my sister from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles.  The journey started almost as planned; we were on the road by 5 a.m. and subsequently arrived at Dodger Stadium well before lunch time.

We went about our business; checked into the hotel and then returned to the stadium around 3 p.m., 40 minutes after gates opened, and still two hours before the game’s scheduled start time.

Pregame was pretty much what I expected, we took pictures of eachother, and picture together. Watched baseball media personalities on the field, watched Alex Cora and Dave Roberts — the managers for these two World Series teams who are friends in real life — converse, and then watched some Red Sox players talk, stretch and warm up before the game.  We then retreated to our seats in Reserved Seating 56, which is a section near the top of the right field foul line.  I didn’t care where we were sitting, all that mattered was that we were there to see the Red Sox on the verge of a World Series facing off against my favorite active player and his Dodgers teammates.

***

From the time I secured these seats, I knew that I was going to be emotional at this game at some point. And I knew that if that actually happened, by sister would be there to capture it.

I held my own through the National Anthem; through the first pitch, and Steve Pearce’s two-run homer off Kershaw in the Top of the first immediately put me at ease.  Save for the David Freese homer in the Bottom of the first off David Price, and the JD Martinez miscue that lead to a triple by Freese again a few innings later, there was little doubt the Sox were on their way.

Mookie Betts and JD Martinez, both of whom had MVP-Caliber type season but had gone into somewhat of a funk recently, went on to extend the lead with a pair of solo homers, and then Pearce capped off his World Series MVP candidacy with a solo shot to score the fifth and final run of the night for Boston.

By the top of the 9th inning, I had made plans to meet with my friend, who was seated in the auxillary press seating area above and behind home plate.  We exchanged pleasantries and found a way to stay in the section — which was somewhat empty because many media members had already began heading toward the field for the festivities that would ensue.

Chris Sale came out of the bullpen to close out the series.  With each pitch the anticipation began to build. With two outs, baseball’s newest postseason villain Manny Machado stepped to the plate. For the better part of three weeks, the mid-season Superstar acquisition had been nationally labeled as dirty and lazy due to his play. He swung at the first two pitches, and took a third that was a ball. On the fourth pitch, he somewhat corkscrewed himself into the ground on a swing that wouldn’t have even damaged a pinata. With that miss, the Red Sox were champions and my dream had come true.

I watched that final pitch with one eye on the field, and the other looking through the view finder of my Canon 7D, with which I was documenting the game. I took photos, and then put the camera down moments after Sale and catcher Christian Vasquez embraced, and were subsequently mobbed by their teammates.

I began to grimace. The feelings I thought would come had arrived and tears began to well in my eyes and stream down my face.

It’s often taboo for a man to admit he has been overcome with emotion, but that’s because all too often people are afraid to show their emotion as it is often seen as a weakness, instead of proving that you’re human.

One Response to “The Greatest Baseball Experience of my life: Attending the Red Sox 2018 World Series clincher (Game 5)”

  1. What an awesome experience! A lot of lucky breaks happened to put you in this position. But you’ve seen something in person that very few Red Sox fans alive today have had the chance to witness.

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