I’d like to say that I lost control of my body—that it wasn’t me in there. How could I be screaming my voice hoarse along with 38,029 New Englanders, high-fiving the stranger standing a row behind me, whipping my t-shirt above my head as David Ortiz lifted a booming game-tying grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning?
It couldn’t have been me because I have hated the Boston Red Sox ever since I attended my first game at the Rogers Centre in 2006.
It is with a sense of disbelief, then, that I sift through my memories of attending Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park this past weekend. I’m remembering myself at the beginning of the game. There’s no cap on my head; I’m in a sea of Red Sox red as I stand out in a dull brown flannel that can’t be mistaken for any major league colour; I don’t clap (or boo) when the home lineup is introduced. I don’t sing along to a foreign national anthem.
When I came into the opportunity to go to Boston to take in some post-season baseball for the Thanksgiving weekend, I didn’t hesitate to seize it. As a lifelong Blue Jays fan born a few years too late, I had never seen baseball played past September in real life. I had not even been to a stadium beyond the Rogers Centre, much less an open-air stadium like Fenway, steeped in a century of myth and lore. I buried my deep-rooted loyalties and got on the eight hour Greyhound to Beantown.
Sunday night: Pushed up against the door of a crammed Boston subway car, the first “Go Sox!” cheers bubble up out of the crowd as Kenmore station is announced. As I step onto the Fenway concourse, all of Boston—all of New England—seems to be crowded around me. I push past a horde of scalpers who look and sound like they just stepped off the set of The Departed. “Sahx tickets heeah!” As soon as I pass through the gate into the concession area, the history is palpable. The smell of hot dogs and chowder wafts through the green underbelly of the stadium. The attack on my senses is overpowering.
The anxiety doesn’t hit me until a roar erupts from the crowd around 10 minutes before the game even begins—across town, Tom Brady of the New England Patrots had just thrown a game-winning touchdown pass with five seconds left. Who was I going to cheer for? I had no compelling reason to risk rooting for the visitors, the Detroit Tigers, but I sure as hell wasn’t cheering for Boston. Eating away at me though was this thought: would I be able to resist the infectious euphoria of the Fenway crowd if something—something like a walk-off—happened?
Luckily, there wasn’t much to worry about through the first seven innings, as Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer completely dominated to the tune of one earned run, striking out 13 players along the way. I did not cheer for any of the five runs Detroit scored. I just stood there as silent as the rest of the crowd, hoping against the hopes of everyone in the stadium that the next few innings would be just as uneventful.
Then something happened.
After a quick first out, Detroit reliever Jose Veras allowed a double to rookie Will Middlebrooks. Fans around me started to turn their caps inside out—the universally recognized ‘rally cap’—and before I had time to think, the bases were loaded. Bottom of the eighth, two outs, with David Ortiz—Big Papi—taking slow, measured steps to the plate. What happened next could only be described as inevitable. Unstoppable.
The temperature had dropped a few degrees over the course of the game, and I could see thousands of little clouds puffing out around me as the crowd began a deafening chant: “Papi! Papi! Papi!” Standing next to me, my brother’s friend—a lifelong Red Sox fan—turned to me and said, “This is Fenway. This is Fenway.” Then, on the first pitch of his at-bat, Ortiz belted a line drive just past the outstretched glove of right fielder Torii Hunter. I surged to my feet and jumped; the breath from my cheers condensed with everyone else’s in the cold October air.
In my mind, there is no guilt or conflict. It was a primal reaction. There was no moment in which I decided to do it—it just happened. Who knows if it will ever happen again, but I’ll never forget the night that I cheered for the Boston Red Sox.