Yankee Stadium opening day brawls
I attended this early 1990s opening day game between the Yankees and the Red Sox with my brother (a fellow Red Sox fan) and our friends, the Yankee-loving Dolan brothers. I wore my brother’s grimy, decade-old Yaz painter’s cap into the stadium but by the second or third inning had quietly wadded it up and slipped it into my pocket after witnessing huge roiling brawls all around us in the vertiginous Yankee Stadium upper deck.
The biggest brawl, which seemed to last for several innings and which featured bodies periodically tumbling down the steep concrete aisle steps, climaxed, I swear to Yaz, in the draping of a gigantic blood-stained United States flag across the entire expanse of the brawl-infested section. OK, it’s possible that it wasn’t blood-stained, but I believe my brother and the Dolans, who were, along with me, stunned into silence for all but the first few moments of the game, would concur that the flag was in almost all respects not a hallucination.
The only other memories I have from the game are that the Yankees won, that Randy Velarde somehow contributed significantly to the win, and that just before the eighth or ninth inning I ventured from my cringing position in my seat to the bathroom. I was badly in need of a urinal, but when I got to a urinal I found that something in the surrounding drunken violent simian throng in the bathroom made me unable to release even the tiniest sprinkle from my bladder. I ended up mimicking “the shake” and returning to my seat, irreparable urethral damage undoubtedly ensuing.
Fathers and Sons and Baseball
In one of my mid-80s trips to the Fenway Park bleachers, I ended up sitting next to a friendly guy who’d driven up from Baltimore with his young son to see the Red Sox home field for the first time. Before the game began, the guy went on at some length about how much he was enjoying the classic old ballyard. Meanwhile, right behind him, a fat sunburned teenager in matching bruise-purple Hawaiian shirt and shorts drunkenly screamed Jim Rice’s name over and over. This teenager grew ominously silent just moments before the first pitch. He swayed back and forth a little, as if he was silently praying, and his sunburned face grew at first even redder before abruptly draining of all color but a pasty newspaper-gray. Then he of course spewed bruise-purple Fenway puke all over the Baltimore dad and son and was escorted from the grounds before seeing a single pitch.
The Sacred Green Cathedral
At another Yankee-Red Sox tilt at Yankee Stadium in the ’90s, my brother and I went down close to the field to watch batting practice and were within earshot of a guy in a Red Sox hat, round glasses, and a long, ex-hippieish, philosophy-teacherish gray-flecked beard going on at length to his luckless companion about the eternal verities of the sacred green cathedral of the baseball diamond and, worse, about the classic Aristotelian arc of the glorious tragedy that was the Red Sox continuous failure to capture the golden chalice of baseball immortality. I can’t remember if my brother and I were able to remark on the fact that assholes like this gave Red Sox fans a bad name or if we just stared on in mute shock at the appearance of such a pure example of a pretentious baseball blowhard. I do however remember that Mo Vaughn was taking his rips in the batting cage and, as if he were equipped with bionic hearing and a bionic bullshit-detector, pulled a screaming line drive into the stands that struck the bearded philosopher right in the head. Still talking and gesticulating, albeit with some added slowness of speech and limb and albeit confined to a stretcher, the bearded man was escorted from the grounds before seeing a single pitch.
Mike Flanagan, UMASS!
When I was a little kid, eight or nine, a group of beer-lathered louts stood on the walkway at the back of the stands a few rows behind us in Fenway Park and shouted “Mike Flanagan, UMASS!” over and over again, all game long. Mike Flanagan was the opposing pitcher for the visiting Baltimore Orioles and he had attended the University of Massachusetts. The missing piece in the preceding explanatory sentence, of course, is information illuminating why several grown men would take time out of their limited stay on the mortal plane to attend a sporting contest and yell “Mike Flanagan, UMASS!” over and over, but it’s exactly that missing piece that prompted my brother and I, and even my mom, to repeat their chant for days and weeks and even years after we’d first heard it emanate from the mysterious Flanaganites. Sometimes I still say it out loud for no apparent reason. It’s quite possible it has become embedded in my synapses, and when I finally do perish my last words may well be something about a dimly remembered Baltimore southpaw and the institution at which he metriculated.
Bud Harrelson only played in 53 games for the Phillies in 1979, but I happened to attend one of them. I remember this because a nearby fan at the game in Veterans Stadium screamed his name all game long, even during pregame warmups and even after the game started with Harrelson in his customary position on the bench. This went on inning after inning. Miraculously, as if Bud Harrelson’s biggest, loudest, lone remaining fan had willed it, Bud Harrelson actually came into the game, for some now obscure reason replacing Phillies star Mike Schmidt at third base. I don’t actually remember that (the info comes courtesy of Retrosheet.com, a site lauded most eloquently for its memory-aiding capabilities in a great essay by Darren Viola), but I do have a hazy recollection of the screams of his fan increasing both when Bud Harrelson entered the game and when, later, Bud Harrelson reached base and then with his wiry, hustling antics began drawing the attention of the opposing pitcher. If I were asked the specifics of what happened without virtue of access via Retrosheet to the box score of the game, I would have guessed that the scrappy former Gold Glove shortstop had used his cagy veteran smarts to swipe second, reach third on a throwing error by the catcher, and scamper home on a sacrifice fly by Greg Luzinski. It’s a little disillusioning to see the actual facts:
“PHILLIES 7TH: Harrelson walked; Harrelson was caught stealing second (pitcher to first)”
I like my version better. But maybe it’s even better to know that Bud Harrelson’s biggest fan did not let something as ignominious as being picked off of first by Stan Bahnsen get in the way of his relentless adulation. He kept on yelling forever for Buddy Harrelson.