Fenway Park closed down its 100th season and 8,000th Fenway game last Wednesday with well-known Lynners Charlie Gaeta of the Lynn Housing Authority and Jamie Marsh of Lynn City Hall among the 37,247 fans. Sox officials even let fans run the historic bases after the game ended.
The fans did not enjoy the 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay but they did love recalling their favorite Fenway memories. None of the memories included Bobby Valentine’s 2012 Red Sox, it is assumed.
I was there at last week’s Fenway finale and recalled the very first time I visited Fenway.
It was the day Ted Williams hit a home run in his final Major League at-bat. Lucky me.
Josh Resnek, the sports-loving editor of the esteemed Lynn Journal, was also there, also just a youth, in a crowd of a mere 10,454 who will never forget Ted’s dramatic farewell blast.
I was with a good sports friend, Bruce Jackson. We both traveled to Boston from Lynn, the city of many Major Leaguers such as Tony Conigliaro, Ken Hill, Harry Agganis, Jim Hegan, Mike Pazik, Chris Howard, and “adopted Lynner” Johnny Pesky, to name a few.
Bruce and I rode the 1960 rickety and screeching Wonderland blue-line subway to get to Kenmore Square. We were among only 10,454 lucky fans at that dark, damp, rain-threatened Wednesday afternoon game.
I remember the game in black and white. I can’t picture it in color. Fenway was drab and colorless back then. The lowly Baltimore Orioles were the foe. We never left our treasured wooden seats while eye-balling Ted’s every gesture. I was thrilled beyond words but also sad because Ted was departing. And I prayed his final game wouldn’t end in rain.
Now it was the eighth inning and the 3 o’clock sky grew so dark that Fenway lights had to be turned on, revealing 25,000 empty seats. It was eerie like a segment from The Twilight Zone.
Famous Ted was set to bat second in the 8th, his final at-bat ever. The lead-off hitter ahead of him was a black center fielder named Willie Tasby, who, fittingly, lived in our city of Lynn on Williams Avenue at the time. I recalled seeing Tasby a month earlier batting at Lynn’s Fraser Field, wearing his Red Sox uniform in a fund-raiser against a 12-year old Lynn pitcher named Mike Hickey — now Attorney Michael Hickey — a favorite nephew of the late Johnny Pesky! These were good omens, I thought.
Tasby knew what to do preceding Ted: Get off the stage! So he purposely bounced the ball back to short-stop Mark Belanger and ran slowly for an easy out, setting the stage for The Splendid Splinter, The Kid, Teddy Ballgame, The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. The drama almost choked me.
Big Ted hurriedly strode into his sacred batter’s box for the last time, evoking the greatest ovation a human being could ever receive, a Thanks For The Memories Applause and a Please Don’t Go Cry, and a Hit A Home Run Now Appeal, all at once. My eyes filled with tears, my clapping hands as red as the number 9 on Ted’s back.
The fans cheered long and loud causing an ear-piercing sound until the first pitch left the fingers of burly Oriole hurler Jack Fisher’s hand. The ball then sailed into a vacuum of total silence…no one breated…even the seagulls flying overhead seemed to stop in mid-air…traffic noise went dead…vendors stopped yelling…the pitched ball traveled in slow motion….indeed, I thought I went deaf until Ted Williams allowed the low pitch to go by for “ball one”. Then fans booed Fisher loudly and my ears worked again.
Next came a fast ball strike, right down the pipe, as Ted, 42, looked 62 whiffing on it.
Ted, the Einstein of Hitting, claimed to have thought to himself that Fisher will come back with that same pitch since it worked the first time. Ted dug in, glared back at Fisher, and gripped his bat so tightly that sawdust may have fallen from the handle. The next pitch was right there in Ted’s zone as he predicted. This time Ted swung perfectly as if he were 22 again.
The historic ball, struck with lightning from Ted’s Louisville bat, sailed high and majestic toward the bleachers and everyone jumped and yelled in unison HE DID IT! And he did do it. A farewell home run that ricocheted around the bleacher seats, walls and bullpen before bouncing back onto the outfield, as if the ball desired to return to Ted and run the bases with him.
We all leaped, shouted and cried openly as Number 9 ran hard around the sacks with his head bowed, and his dark blue cap in its usual irremovable position.
Baltimore’s rookie third-baseman Brooks Robinson was awe-struck as big Ted thundered by him at third base, and Red Sox rookie Jim Pagliaroni, wearing 29 (Ted’s homer was number 29) glad-handed Teddy Ballgame at the plate, the same plate I stepped on last Wednesday in the fan run-around.
I have never seen it written anywhere until now, but a daring male fan jumped onto the field and grabbed Ted’s right arm tightly as he ran down the dugout steps while an usher and cop wrestled the guy away. I have a picture of it.
Meanwhile, Ted refused to tip his cap to the adoring fans. But no fan needs a tip of the cap when a storybook home run by one of the greatest hitters who ever lived gave them a thrilling memory that would last forever.