By SEAN RAPOSA
Being away from home is always tough during the holidays. I miss my family, the Food Network-quality meals and the evening cocktails with the boys. This Easter Sunday, however, I felt right at home despite being 2,500 miles from the great state of Massachusetts. I have Red Sox Nation to thank for that, as four friends and I trekked 91 miles north from San Diego to The Big A to see what turned out to be a whippersnapper with the Angels. What follows is an account of the joyous journey.
8:05 a.m. PST - A rap on the door - it’s Walter. Let the party start. We pop a bottle of the finest $4 bubbly and get the day rolling with some morning mimosas. It is a holiday, after all. The superstition in me hopes the uncorkage doesn’t affect the outcome of today’s game. A little Red Hot Chili Peppers sets the mood, and to keep with the theme of the day, it’s a live show that I attended at the Fleet Center in Boston 2006.
9:32 - Our quintet has assembled. Sig, Alys and Pia join Walter and I on the patio for some banter. We’re all Sox fans, which we love to make plainly obvious; one convert, one satellite and three home-grown. It only takes two rounds for us to talk ourselves into the “new” Jason Varitek and his .267 average and two homers … so gullible.
9:55 - I grab up my away David Ortiz jersey and realize Nick Adenhart wore the same number as Papi, 34. Tragedies like those are so hard to handle. My heart goes out to his family.
10:09 - It only takes a minute in the car to get to the first great story. Working the outside bar at our restaurant the other night, Alys was confronted by the Vice, or liquor Feds. One of them made a huge stink, and she details how he was popping off about our responsibilities and practices and made claims of drunk people having their heads down on the bar and blah blah blah. Thing was it was only 9 p.m., the group in question was upbeat and weren’t drunk - they were just bad actors it would seem for the lead dog’s setup so they got served. A half-hour later, after an impromptu manager meaning with lots of hands on hips and several heated exchanges, Alys returns to check back on her mid-50s, single, traveling for work, drinking Patron magaritas lady only to find her …sleeping. “Yo, lady - not the time! You gotta get up!”
10:24 - We’ve already had some scary driving. Take note that it can be helpful to designate someone to give directions to the out-of-town driver. Listening to several opinions don’t always work so well in those situations. But after a couple squirrely turns, Sig has us back on track and is commenting that it’s not all that warm. I tell him that there really isn’t any weather here and that I never actually put a conscious thought to it. After a split-second pause Alys and I have a not-so-rare twin moment, proclaiming in unison, “it just is.” God, I love California.
10:31 - More baseball talk has us all fired up and the Opening Day rainout - which at the time was a real low blow - has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Josh Beckett, our No. 1 starter and my first-round pick in my fantasy league, was pushed back to our game as a result of that beautiful New England weather. I wonder aloud if Papi will get on the board with a homer today.
10:37 - Alys spots the fuzz up ahead and we get Waltizi (our resident bike-rider) off directions duty. Tom-Tom’s got nothing on us!
10:40 - Obama bumper sticker counter: 1. “Yes we can!”
10:42 - Done and done: Hooters is declared the destination for our pre-game shot and a beer. It’s unanimous.
10:44 - We get word that our “less-than-conventional” friends are having some trouble getting on the train to Anaheim. It seems that styro-coolers full of beer are no longer kosher on public transit. It’s a sad, sad time.
10:52 - As we plunge and surge from 80 mph to 40 and back to 80 again and again, we collectively marvel at the sheer lunacy that is California highway driving. I’m convinced that if they had 1,246 lanes it would still be less efficient than if they just had three, each with a specific purpose. I’m getting nervous about our rapidly closing window of time.
11:35 - Sig is one of my best friends from high school and he also migrated to California for a time, but at this point he’s just in town for a wedding. He gets me all caught up with who’s marrying who and who’s popping out kids and whatnot - good stuff. I also breeze through Sports Illustrated’s MLB preview. It’s good.
12:11 - It was far from smooth sailing but we made it to our destination in one piece. Unfortunately those wicked terrible drivers cost us a Hooters trip. The first three shirts I see in the parking lot; Dice-K jersey, pink shirt, “Green Monstah” tee. I have a good feeling about today.
12:22 - I have ants in my pants as we get stopped at the gate as everyone pauses for the National Anthem. It turns out to be a great moment and even from outside, it was clear that the girl singing absolutely nailed it.
12:35 - We made it to our seats for the first pitch with two full beers apiece. It’s a gorgeous day, the Sox are wearing throwbacks and, as always, I start the day in seats way better than the ones I bought.
12:47 - Bobby Abreu comes up in the bottom of the first with Chone Figgins at second base. I break the silence with a “Yank-ee, Yank-ee” chant. Beckett is taking his sweet time and predictably Abreu calls for time and backs out. The only problem is Beckett comes home with the pitch anyway and it’s a little too high and tight for Abreu’s liking. No surprise at what happens next - benches clear! As is the case in 95 percent of all baseball “brawls” no punches are thrown, but there are a lot of heated words and finger-pointing and somehow Torii Hunter gets ejected and proceeds to do his best George Brett imitation. The kicker is that the soundtrack for this madness was a chorus of “Let’s go Red Sox!” chants. It gets old trying to defend and qualify your fandom among the bandwagon phenomena, but it is times like these that make me proud of The Nation. No fan in our shoes could deny how cool that was.
1:03 - We get a Masters update from the guy in front of us: here comes Tiger. I love to hearken on the ills of technology, but sometimes it’s clutch.
1:08 - Beckett gets out of the inning and we get booted from the first-class seats. Although the upgrade only lasted one inning, the timing and location (right behind the Sox dugout) couldn’t have been better. We reminisce about Pedro’s Zimmer-toss and Coco Crisp’s “Matrix” moves on our way to right field.
1:12 - I’m citing Kevin Youkilis’ impeccable baseball instincts in arguing the affirmative on Sig’s inquiry about whether he’ll reach 30 hrs this year, when Pop! Home run. Sig shouts “Back-to-back, Drew!” amidst my “No-good-Yank-ee” chants at Abreu, who may think I’m following him around the field at this point. The 1-0 pitch - bye bye. Everyone starts hi-fiving and jumping around like a pack of eight-year-olds who just discovered Jolt yelling, “You called it!”
2:10 - The momentum has swung in the third as the no-good Yankee’s two-run single puts the Angels up 3-2. The energy in the stadium is awesome today. I think this squad is a little upset with the 79 straight times the Red Sox have bounced them from the playoffs - or maybe everyone started the morning with mimosas on account of the holiday? The Angels wear this chippiness well and I’m starting to wonder if we’ll be looking back on this game in six months, saying “This is where it all started.” The Sox and Rays had a similar dust-up last season and it wasn’t until the last out of Game 7 in the ALCS that it was resolved.
2:13 - A PA announcement informs the crowd that the digital cartoon race was too close to call so everyone gets a free order of hot wings at … you guessed it, Hooters! We’re back on.
2:40 - The Sox offense has been muffled by an inspired performance by Dustin Moseley and the Angles just pushed across another run on an RBI single by Howie Kendrick, who looks really good. As Abreu steps to the plate we wonder who would win the fight we had been teased to earlier. We decide it would be a good one between a Jujitsu guy and a striker - too close to call. Let’s keep this in mind in case the UFC is the only sports league in business by year’s end.
2:52 - Boston gets a run back on a sloppy double-steal and a throwing error. Mike Lowell continues his strong day with a second strikeout, killing the rally. Is that Cabrera guy in Detroit available yet?
Officially stopped keeping track of time - Some stellar fielding and not much else take us into the bottom of the eighth with the Angels leading 4-3 when Vladdy Guerrerro launches a classic bomb to left off of Hideki Okajima. While Vlad-Dad is painful to watch these days - much like Ken Griffey - it’s still a thing of beauty when he connects.
Brian Fuentes does his best to give it away in the ninth. Ortiz punches one across and the Sox get two on with two outs, but alas, it is not meant to be. J.D. Drew struck out looking - a sour end to an otherwise glorious day. Finding myself in a sea of red, full of happy faces, and getting to hang with great friends of old and new at the ballpark made this an Easter to remember. It’s a tough economy and bills are tight right now, but if we pull together like Red Sox Nation does we’ll find our troubles are nothing a few trips to the ballpark can’t fix. In the times to come we will have to sacrifice many things, but we must fight to keep our traditions alive and well. Take the kids to the ballpark, have a beer and a dog and remind yourself why you work those 70-hour weeks.
Sean Raposa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.