Category Archives: Family

Questions of a Six Year-Old at Fenway

As I wrote in my previous article, on Patriots’ Day I took my six year-old to his first Red Sox game, and afterwards we cheered for the back-of-the-pack between miles 22 and 25 on Beacon Street. Someday, this boy will know all the ins and outs about baseball (like his nine year-old brother). But this is the first spring that he has begun to show glimmers of interest in the Red Sox, so a visit to Fenway is different for him than for everyone else at the ballpark. And after he’d asked me a few questions during the first inning, I knew I had to write down all of his questions for the rest of the game. Classic stuff:

Can I have a hot dog? (Sure.)

Why do we have our gloves on? (In case a foul ball comes back here, we’ll be ready to catch it.)

Why is that screen there? (To protect the fans behind home plate from dangerous foul balls.)

But how do the balls come back here? (When the hitter swings his bat, sometimes the bat doesn’t hit the ball squarely and the ball flies in back of home plate.)

Can we do something besides just sit around? (Sure we can walk around a little bit.)

(We were walking past a concession stand.) Can I have some pizza? (Sure.) Can I have a big cup of Coke? (Sure.)

(Back in our seats.) Can I have a foam finger? (Sure, let’s go catch up with the foam finger vendor.)

(The crowd suddenly cheered after a Rangers player popped out for the third out of an inning.) Is that good Daddy? (Yes, that’s good, now the Red Sox get a turn to hit and to try to score some runs.)

(The crowd suddenly cheered after Ellsbury stole second base.) Is that good Daddy? (Yes, Jacoby Ellsbury just stole second base.)

Who’s winning Daddy? (The Red Sox are winning.) Yay, the Red Sox are winning!

Why did they turn on the lights? (Good question, I really don’t know why they turned on the lights on a sunny day.)

What’s the score? (Six to nothing.) Is this normal? (No, this is really good.) I mean, are they major leaguers? (Yes.) This is stupid. (Why?) I thought that major leaguers were supposed to be good. (They are, but our pitcher, Clay Buchholz, is pitching so well, the Rangers can’t get very many hits.) Oh.

Is it almost nighttime? (No, it’s 1:20pm.) Is the game almost over? (Well, we’re in the fifth inning and the whole game lasts nine innings.) So there are four innings left? (That’s right.) Will it be nighttime when the game is over? (No, there’s a lot of daytime left.) Good, ’cause there’s a show I really want to watch on TV tonight. (What show is that?) I forget the name.

Is a trillion more than a billion? (Yes.) How many trucks would you need to carry a trillion dollars? (Um, a hundred.) No, you’d just need one, because you could have one bill with a trillion on it.

Daddy, I made up a number. (Really? What is it?) A killion. And it’s so big, the dollar bill would be as long as Fenway Park. It’s as big as a trillion billion dollars.

(Look, here comes the wave.) What’s the wave, Daddy? (That’s the wave.) Why do they do the wave? (Because it’s fun.)

(We were on the sidelines of the marathon and I had cheered for many runners by reading the names on their shirts. My six year-old was incredulous.) Daddy, how do you know all these people?

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Patriots’ Day: Boston’s (and my kids’) Best Day

Patriots’ Day was established as a Massachusetts (and Maine) civic holiday to commemorate and celebrate the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. And in Boston, we know how to celebrate our history in style — a Red Sox game at Fenway for breakfast (11:05am start time), and the world’s coolest foot race (Boston Marathon) for lunch.

Today, I was lucky enough to attend the game with two of my children (9 and 6) and their friend (9), enjoying a rare Monday day game while kids in other states across the country were busy toiling away in school. And after Delcarmen nailed down the final out, we walked three miles from Fenway to Cleveland Circle, cheering on those runners at the back of the pack, the ones who needed our wild cheers the most.

At 9:00am, my boys and I picked up a friend and posed for our first photo of the day.

Daddy needed a cup of coffee, so a quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts was required. The Papelbon poster got us into the mood for the day.

We parked the car at a friend’s house near Cleveland Circle, and the small plot of green grass in the front yard meant that forward progress towards Fenway would have to wait for a few minutes…. boys will be boys.

The Reservoir T-stop was crawling with Red Sox fans…

… and we squeezed close together on the train to make room for Sox fans getting on at subsequent stops.

The walk from the Fenway T-stop to Yawkey Way is one of the great walks in North America.

The goosebumps get huge when you get to Brookline Avenue and see the crowd outside Fenway.

This was my six year-old’s first game at Fenway (since he was too young to remember anything), so I taught him to hold his hand over his heart during the National Anthem. He sang at the top of his lungs.

After two innings, my six year-old started getting restless. Hot dogs and pizza helped a little. But what he really wanted (and needed, it turned out) was a Red Sox #1 foam finger!

Let us not underestimate the power of the foam finger! To a six year-old, it can provide hours of companionship, entertainment, and enjoyment!

Then, in the fifth inning, it was time for…. the blankie!

By the 8th inning, many of the seats had been vacated, so the boys headed down to the very front, where they sang “Sweet Caroline” and cheered the Sox to a sweep of the Rangers.

What would a perfect Patriots Day be without a greeting from Wally the Green Monster? (The six year-old is not pictured here, because he was sobbing about his blankie, which he’d dropped into a puddle of beer.)

And I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a player signing autographs at Fenway Park…. but after the game, Josh Hamilton of the Rangers signed for one and all… and made it an extra-special day for a lot of kids.

Then, it was time to head out to Beacon Street to cheer on the marathoners!


Petting the dog wearing the Kevin Garnett jersey was a highlight of our long walk from Kenmore Square to Cleveland Circle. And at the end of our walk, my six year-old proclaimed, “My feet ache all over. But that was the best day of my LIFE!”

A Monday without school, a day spent with family and friends, four hours at Fenway Park on a sunny day, a Red Sox win, the opportunity to high-five courageous runners as they near the finish line of a long, grueling race, and memories to last the rest of the year and longer. What’s better than that?

An 8 Year-Old’s Fantasy Baseball Draft: Emotion vs. Analysis

fantasy-baseball.jpgI started playing online fantasy baseball in about 1995 or so, and it’s now an annual tradition. Draft day has become a holiday on my calendar and is as eagerly anticipated as any day of the year. This year’s draft — my son’s first — will go down in history as my favorite of all-time, for it demonstrated the emotional hold that our beloved Red Sox players have over us, especially when we’re kids.

A Co-Manager Comes of Age

The last two years, my almost-nine year-old son has “co-managed” my fantasy baseball team with me (I’m in a 12-team Yahoo! league with my brothers, sister, father, and several close friends). The main impact of his co-management has been the reliable presence of Nomar Garciaparra on the roster and also in the starting lineup whenever he has been healthy. (“Daddy, put Nomar back in the lineup!”) Although my son was only five years old when Nomar was traded, #5 remains a god in our house.

backyard-and-hes-off.jpgThis past fall, my son managed his own fantasy football team against his dad, uncles, aunts, and grandparents and WON the league. He established himself as a draft wizard, grabbing Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, and Adrian Peterson with his top three picks. So, riding a wave of pride and optimism, in February he asked to manage his own fantasy baseball team. Confident that he was ready to compete with the big boys, we expanded the league to 13 teams.

The Draft: Peavy or Beckett? Sizemore or Ramirez?

We bought all the fantasy baseball magazines and studied them closely for a month. The day of the draft (7:30pm start time), I hurried home from work to be sure he was ready, and when I arrived, I was treated to a wonderful sight. He had created an information cockpit for himself at the computer. Surrounding his seat on all sides were stat sheets, handwritten draft lists for every position, articles about sleepers and busts, and various pages ripped out of magazines. “Daddy, I know who I’m going to pick if I get the first pick,” he proclaimed eagerly. “Jake Peavy!” (Peavy scored the most points in our league last year — so he was a logical choice.)

A few minutes later, the draft order was revealed on our Yahoo! draft site. My son had pick #3, and I had pick #4. “I really hope Peavy will still be there at number three!” he prayed. I set up shop at my laptop in a room adjacent to his cockpit.

jake-peavy.jpgAt 7:30pm sharp, the draft went live. Suddenly, A-Rod was gone. “Yes! He took A-Rod!” The second pick was… Jose Reyes. And the clock started ticking on my son’s pick, number three. He had 90 seconds to click on Jake Peavy. But he froze. Pick Peavy, I urged. “I don’t know, Daddy,” he said, struggling with a decision. “Maybe I want Josh Beckett.” Peavy’s a great pick, Beckett’s a great pick, I told him. 20 seconds left. Make your pick! “I want Josh Beckett.” Click.

Emotion trounced Analysis. How great is that??

Fast forward to the second round. My son had spent the rest of the first round studying his notes to figure out who to take next. “If he’s still available, I’m going to take Grady Sizemore with my second pick,” my son announced. Good choice, I assured him. Then came his turn to draft. And he froze. Pick Sizemore, I urged. “Daddy, do you think I should take Grady Sizemore or Manny Ramirez?” he asked. You’ll be able to get Manny in the next round, I assured him. Go for Sizemore this round. “Don’t tell me what to do!” he said curtly. And suddenly, Ramirez was Beckett’s fantasy teammate.

Emotion 2, Analysis 0.

Let’s jump to the third round. “I think I’m going to take Jonathan Papelbon,” he said. “Do you think that’s a good pick, Daddy?” He’s a great player, I told him, but no one’s going to pick a closer until the fifth round at the earliest. You can get him in a later papelbon-wins-series.jpground. “Don’t tell me what to do!” Click. Papelbon joined his Red Sox teammates on a roster that was looking more and more like a tribute to the posters on my son’s walls.

Emotion 3, Analysis zilch.

Fourth round — analysis had been totally abandoned and emotion had taken over. He wanted to pick Dustin Pedroia but I convinced him that Mike Lowell would be a better pick. And in the fifth round, he picked his first non-Red Sox player: Torii Hunter. By the end of the draft, his team included Tim Wakefield, Johnny Damon, and of course, our favorite player of all time, Nomar Garciaparra (secured with his 24th, and final pick).

Clearly, my son drafted a good team. With Beckett, Ramirez, Papelbon, and Lowell anchoring his roster, he’s got as good a shot as anyone to win the league. But I’ll always remember all the research he did, all the logical planning and rational reasoning his left brain performed, and how the loyalty and emotion of his right brain – the side that loves the Red Sox – swooped in at those moments of truth and buried his analytical, stat-focused left brain. He’s eight. What a fantastic age to be a Red Sox fan!

And for the record, my first pick (#4 overall) was Johan Santana, and the only Red Sox player I secured was Coco Crisp. (My left brain is counting on him being traded, batting leadoff for a National League team, and winning the N.L. batting title…..)

Opening Day “Wa”

(“Wa” is a Japanese term meaning “unity and team spirit.”)

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What a way to start the season! I officially lost my voice when Brandon Moss hit that game-tying home run in the top of the ninth inning off of Oakland’s ace reliever, Huston Street. How about that — a rookie gets an unexpected start on Opening Day japan-trip-sox-fan.jpgand makes it his best Major League game of his (short) career. Awesome.japan-trip-lugo-fan.jpg

Some observations about the fan experience:

1. I was very surprised at the relatively modest applause that Matsuzaka received at the beginning of the game. (When I say “relative,” I mean relativejapan-trip-nomo-fan.jpg to the kind of cheer that even someone like Dave japan-trip-father-and-daughter.jpgRoberts or Doug Mirabelli would receive upon returning to Fenway Park.) I expected the noise and excitement level to be so high, Tokyo Dome’s roof would blow off. Not even close. The fans’ applause was certainly enthusiastic, but definitely not memorable.

2. Once again, I was sort of unnerved by the total silence between pitches in thejapan-trip-clemens-fans.jpg first through third innings. Each pitch felt like (and sounded like) a serve at Wimbledon. All of us in the Red Sox Nation section half-expejapan-trip-mother-and-son.jpgcted an usher to kick us out when we cheered loudly for Youk, or Lowell, or whomever. But the place erupted when Okajima took the mound in the ninth, and the Dome stayed loudjapan-trip-varitek-fan.jpg after that (by “loud,” I mean “Fenway loud”).

3. The Japanese fans at Tokyo Dome were eager to celebrate with the fans from the U.S. during and after the game. They came over in waves to give us high-fives. While spontaneous, it was a very welcjapan-trip-drew-and-ortiz-fans.jpgoming gesture and an exhilarating cross-cultural experience for all invjapan-trip-kid-fans2.jpgolved.

4. You gotta love that after Manny was presented with the MVP Award (post-game ceremony), Hideki Okajima was presented with the “Fighting Spirit Award.” I read in Robert Whiting’s superb book on Japanese baseball, You Gotta Have Wa, that “the emphasis on making thejapan-trip-pedro-fan.jpg effort is sjapan-trip-little-girl-fan.jpgo strong in Japan that how hard a man tries is considered by many to be the ultimate measure of his worth. Results are almost secondary.”

5. After seeing the variety of Red Sox players’ names and numbers on the backs of Japanese fans’ t-shirts, I do not buy into the idea that Japanese fans are only fans of the Red Sox because of Matsuzaka and Okajima or because we recently won two World Series. Yes,japan-trip-manny-and-jacoby-fans.jpg Daisuke’s and Okie’s shirts are popular, but equally popular are Ortiz and Ramirez shirts. And I saw severajapan-trip-kid-fans-4.jpgl Garciaparra shirts and Clemens (Red Sox) shirts. Being a huge Nomar fan myself, I went up to all those Japanese fans wearing #5 and japan-trip-as-fans-at-sox-as-game.jpgwe had little five-second Nomar parties. (“Nomaaaaaaah!”)

6. And finally, if I were Hank Steinbrenner, I’d be very worried about falling way behind in the japan-trip-sox-fans-5.jpgglobal competition for fans. He can call Red Sox Nation whatever he wants to call it, but it doesn’t change the facts. The Red Sox have become an irresistible international sportsjapan-trip-as-and-sox-fan.jpg franchise whose popularity transcends the particular names on the roster, and little children around the globe are growing up chanting “Let’s Go Red Sox!” before they’ve even heard the word Yankees. japan-trip-yankees-fan-at-sox-as-game.jpgCertainly Japan, as these photos show, is squarely in the center of Red Sox Nation (although I did see one bold Yankees fan, who politely allowed me to photograph him for this blog… and there were some A’s fans too… so in the spirit of journalistic integrity, here they are).

Rules of Tokyo Dome

japan-17.jpgI was told that the Japanese are rigid about rules, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I and about ten other Red Sox Nation members were barred from entering the Tokyo Dome with the rest of our group. Why were we not allowed to join our party to see the Red Sox’ afternoon workout? Because, you see, we were not wearing our Red Sox Nation badges around our necks. (We had left them at the hotel.) No badge, no entry, period.

Our tour guides explained in Japanese that we were legitimate members of the Red Sox group, but the security guards seemed genuinely puzzled — as though no one had ever, in the history of the Tokyo Dome, attempted to talk his way into the park. And yet, while refusing us admission, the security guards could not have been more polite and considerate. Still, rules are rules in Tokyo. No badge, no entry. Period.

japan-trip-18.jpgNow eventually, they did let us in, and the solution to the problem tells you more about Japanese culture than anything else I’ll write while I’m here. Several Japanese people working outside the dome with badges found out what was going on and handed us their security badges to borrow for two hours. As soon as I had Tomoko Hiragi’s badge around my neck, I was whisked into the Dome as if I were the President of Red Sox Nation. Amazing, no?

Itavarez-and-manny.jpgnside the dome, 150 of us crowded into the front two rows along the first base line and into deep right field to watch a baseball practice. Other than the fact that J.D. Drew entertained us with multiple bombs into the right field seats, there really isn’t much to report about the practice itself. They played catch. They fielded ground balls. They jogged a lot. They took B.P. Hey, it was their last practice before a grueling 162-game schedule, and they were just trying to stay loose.

But you know what I’ll remember about today’s practice? Billy Torres, a seventh grader from Swampscott. Billy’s dad, Bill, won an all-expenses paid trip for two to this opening series in a random drawing on WEEI and decided to bring his son with him. Today, Billy had a fan experience that will be difficult to top during his lifetime.

japan-trip-19.jpgStanding in the first row in right field’s foul territory with a glove on his hand, Billy was intent on getting a ball. Somehow. But the players were pretty much ignoring us, the security guards on the field (following a Tokyo Dome rule, no doubt) would not even pick up foul balls at their feet, and we were too far foul for any batting practice shots to reach us. So Billy took matters into his own hands and set out for the right field bleachers.

Good thing he didn’t know that fans aren’t allowed up there, or else he wouldn’t have grabbed a Manny Ramirez home run ball, then asked Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima in Japanese to sign his ball (a local TV reporter taught him the words). Both stars, who were standing on the warning track chatting during B.P., billy-torres-and-autographs.jpghappily obliged for the only kid near enough to them to get their attention. Billy threw them his ball and a pen, they signed, then they tossed them back. Seconds later, a polite security guard asked Billy to leave the bleachers and return to the group.

There really aren’t many things better than seeing a kid’s expression when he or she is breathlessly, speechlessly thrilled about getting a ball, an autograph, or both at a ball game. “Rob, this makes my whole trip!” he said to me. “I guess some rules are meant to be broken!”

Got Tickets?

red-sox-ticket.jpgA ticket to a Red Sox game. There’s nothing quite like holding one in your hands. It’s that sublime feeling of knowing a Fenway Park experience lies in your future. The anticipation is palpable. Regardless of whether the Sox eventually win or lose, with a ticket to a game, you’re guaranteed the thrill of watching Big Papi and Manny stride into the on-deck circle; the roar of the crowd following a spectacular defensive play; the majesty of the Green Monster looming in left field; two choruses of Sweet Caroline and its euphoric chant, “So Good! So Good! So Good!” And for many of us, there’s Fenway’s time-capsule quality that transports us back to our childhoods and reconnects us with our parents, or the spirits of our parents who have passed away, and re-ignites in us the joy of being alive.

And this was all true BEFORE the Red Sox ever won a World Series. Now, when we go to Fenway, we get to see the World Champions!

No wonder it’s so hard to get a ticket. Yes, demand for tickets is through the roof, and the Red Sox continue to price their tickets at levels well below “market value” in order to keep a Fenway Park experience accessible to the “average fan.” In addition, ticket supply is low – we have the smallest stadium in Major League Baseball and 81 home games just isn’t enough to satisfy our fans’ hunger. And as any college professor of economics will tell you, these three forces (along with complete lack of enforcement of scalping laws) make a “secondary market” for tickets inevitable. So that’s what we have in Red Sox Nation: a robust, flourishing, highly profitable ticket-booth-at-fenway.jpgmarket for Red Sox tickets that have already been sold once by the team.

Almost nobody loves the ticket reselling (“scalping”) industry. Yet, as I see it, there are only a handful of ways the Red Sox could combat ticket resellers, and almost all of them seem silly:

1) The Sox could price all seats at fair market value. That would mean a “dutch auction” for every ticket, which would lead to prices of at least $500 per seat for every game. Yes, that includes bleachers and standing room only. This would kill the reselling industry’s interest in Sox tickets because, theoretically, no ticket would be sold initially for an amount less than its highest potential bid.

2) The Red Sox could start to lose more games than they win, which would diminish demand.

3) The Red Sox could tear down Fenway and build a stadium with 100,000 seats. This would probably curtail demand (Fenway is an attraction, regardless of how well the team plays) and also increase ticket supply.

4) The Red Sox could petition Major League Baseball to play all their games at home. If they were successful, this would double the supply of tickets. Likewise, they could petition the league to play 50 home games against the Yankees, to make these tickets less special.

5) The Red Sox could revoke all season ticket holders’ seats. Season ticket holders are currently the biggest supplier of the “secondary market” (after all, who has time to attend every home game?) and putting more tickets back under control of the team would take a huge bite out of resellers’ inventory and would allow the Red Sox to find more “unique” fans to sell them to – fans who would be more likely to actually use the tickets rather than resell them.

6) The state of Massachusetts could enforce the law against reselling tickets at more than $2 of their face value. Which, it appears, will never happen.

Short of these drastic measures, however, there are proactive ways to combat the reselling industry and get tickets into the hands of “regular fans,” and the Red Sox use almost all of them. They:

1) Place strict ticket limits on ticket-buying customers (other than season ticket holders) to ensure a large number of “unique” buyers.ticket-scalper.jpg

2) Hold several “random drawings” before and during the season, which gives lucky fans the right to purchase online highly coveted Green Monster seats, Right Field Roof Deck seats, Yankee Game seats, and even playoff and World Series seats. (I have “won” Red Sox email drawings three times over the years, proving that it really does work.)

3) Host a “scalp-free zone” outside Fenway, which enables fans to sell their tickets at face value on the day of the game. Buyers of these tickets are required to enter Fenway immediately after buying a ticket, to ensure the tickets don’t get resold for a profit.

4) Sell “day of game” tickets at Gate E, beginning two hours before game time.

5) Announce the sale of new blocks of tickets at random times before and during the season.

6) Set technological traps to foil resellers in the online ticket-buying process.

Consider this: By keeping ticket prices well below their actual market value, the Red Sox are effectively offering “financial aid” to every person who buys a ticket directly from them. Absurd, you say? Not really. If the actual value of a particular ticket is $500 on the open market, and the Red Sox know this yet choose to sell this ticket for $80, they are purposefully offering financial aid of $420 to the buyer of that ticket. And they do this for the same reason that Harvard does it, or Andover, or any other expensive educational institution: because they don’t want their customer base to consist solely of wealthy people.

There’s a moral angle here, to be sure, but there’s also a long-term business angle. If the Sox were to maximize their profit now by selling tickets at their actual market value (which would terminate the secondary market for Sox tickets), the economic diversity of their fan base would diminish. Consequently, if the team were to hit hard times in the future (i.e., they begin to lose more games than they win… uncomfortable to imagine, I know), they would have a difficult time selling tickets at the exorbitant prices leftover from the glory days of 2008 and would probably have to slash prices. In addition, attracting back the millions of fans who were disillusioned by their lack of access to games might be a major challenge.

ace-tickets.jpgA few days ago, the Red Sox signed a sponsorship agreement with Ace Ticket and proclaimed them “the official ticket reseller of the Boston Red Sox.” Yes, it’s crummy that ANY team has an “official ticket reseller,” but to put in perspective how established the ticket reselling industry is in 2008, keep in mind that Major League Baseball itself has partnered with StubHub, another ticket reseller, as the official ticket reseller of Major League Baseball. The entire LEAGUE is profiting from the ticket reselling industry — it’s not just the Red Sox.

To the Red Sox’ credit, last year they instituted a program called “Red Sox Replay” that enabled season ticket holders to resell their tickets online at virtually face value (fans could log on and buy tickets at a markup of approximately 25%, a small percentage of which went to the Red Sox for maintenance of the site). But the moment MLB inked their exclusive deal with StubHub, the Sox were forced to tear down Replay, since it competed with StubHub’s interests. As Sam Kennedy, the Sox’ chief Marketing and Sales officer, told The Boston Globe earlier this week, without Replay, the Sox felt compelled “to identify and endorse a secure and reputable secondary market option” for their season ticket holders.

It’s also important to point out that the Red Sox have not provided Ace with “tickets for resale” as part of their deal, and the Sox do not stand to profit from a single ticket that Ace sells. This is a straight advertising deal – the team is simply accepting a large check from Ace Ticket for sponsorship (and, we trust, investing this back into the team on the field), and they have sent a letter to their season ticket holders recommending Ace Ticket as the team’s reseller of choice. That’s it.

ticket-line-at-fenway.jpgNow if Abe Lincoln owned the Red Sox, would he have signed a sponsorship agreement with Ace? No. What about A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former commissioner of baseball who was as principled a man as ever lived (he’s the guy who banned Pete Rose from baseball). Would Bart have signed a sponsorship agreement with Ace? Probably not. Abe and Bart would have eschewed any deal that appeared to link their team with scalpers.

On the other hand, neither of these men were successful businessmen, and neither would ever have been picked to run a major league baseball team. The Red Sox are not only our beloved Olde Towne Team, they are a business. “Good business” helped us win it all in 2004 and 2007, and good business will help us win in the future, as well. It’s hard to fault the business people at the Red Sox for pocketing an easy endorsement check (and offering a “benefit” for season ticket holders) when not doing so would (arguably) jeopardize our competitiveness in the American League East. The money the Sox are making from the Ace Ticket deal will help them put the highest quality team on the field for 2008 and beyond. Yup, winning really does have a steep price.

While down here in Fort Myers, I had a chance to talk about all of this with Ron Bumgarner, Red Sox VP of Ticketing, for about 30 minutes. And what I’ve concluded is that his job is different from that of every other VP of Ticketing at every other MLB franchise. While other teams are busy trying to sell as many tickets as they can at the highest possible prices, the Red Sox are trying to sell all of their tickets at a discount (theoretically) to as many unique, regular fans as is possible, and working assiduously to thwart ticket resellers at the same time (yes, even though they just advised their season ticket holders to sell their unused tickets to Ace, the Sox will continue to try to keep varitek-fan.jpgother individual tickets out of Ace’s and other resellers’ hands). Profit was Ron’s main concern when he ran ticketing for the San Diego Padres, but here at the Red Sox, profit takes a back seat to equitability and wide distribution of tickets across Red Sox Nation’s loyal citizenship.

And you just have to trust me when I tell you that Ron is committed to keeping Fenway accessible to “regular fans.” He has a couple of young children of his own, and I know he relates personally to the “regular fan” whose parents brought him/her to games at Fenway during childhood, and now wants to bring his/her kids to the park, too. “It’s a complicated problem,” Ron told me, “But since it means the Red Sox are winning games, it’s a good problem in the end.” Right?

A Father In Baseball Heaven

ted-williams-statue-at-city-of-palms-park-el-swifterino.jpgYou want to have a magical Red Sox experience in Fort Myers? You want to go to a place where the players are so close, they walk right past you and even say good morning? You want to give your kids a chance to fill a couple of baseballs with autographs? You want to watch the players stretch, play long-toss, practice pick-offs and and run-downs, and hear everything they say? You want to mingle with Red Sox legends?

Forget going to City of Palms Park, where the team that’s Boston-bound practices and plays. The crowds there are so huge, you can hardly blame the major leaguers for hiding in the batting cages out back. Instead, head down Edison Avenue about three miles, all the way to the end, to the Red Sox’ Minor League Complex. This morning, I strolled in there with two of my kids at 9:30am (admission is free), and for the next two hours, we (and the 30 other fans there) were in baseball heaven. Seriously.

As the players emerged from the locker room, every single one of them stopped to sign an autograph for my boys (ages 8 and 6) and to say hello. Most of the players are guys you’ve never heard of, but among them were notablspring-training-autographs.jpge prospects Michael Bowden, Justin Masterson, and Joshua Papelbon, and former major leaguers Tom Goodwin and Billy McMillon. Did my kids even CARE who they were? Of course not — they were just thrilled to see pro ball players in Red Sox uniforms up close. VERY close.

The players split up into about six groups and headed out to six different fields to stretch and go through their daily drills. From the center of the complex, you can see all six fields, though it’s more fun to pick one field and study a subset of players. My boys and I brought our gloves and a ball, and on the lawn between fields, we tossed the ball to each other, practicing our fly balls and grounders, playing monkey in the middle, and just having a grand old time pretending we, too, were getting ready for the season. Which we were! (Me as a fan, and my boys as little leaguers.)

A groundskeeper driving past us in his golf cart stopped and handed a broken bat to each of my children. The bats had the words “Boston Red Sox” engraved on the barrels. Think they’ll ever forget that?

spring-training-broken-bats.jpgMy 8 year-old is savvy enough to know who Dwight Evans is, so when I pointed out Dewey to him as he walked from one field to another, my son ran over and politely asked him to sign his hat. #24 was more than happy to oblige, and he signed my 6 year-old’s hat, as well. “He’s one of the greatest right fielders of all time,” I told my kids as they gazed at their new autographs. “Lots of people say he should be in the Hall of Fame.”

Tommy Harper was there, too. And Dick Berardino. And Frank Malzone. All of them walking among the handful of fans who were there and all of them pleased as punch to sign an autograph for a kid or pose for a photo.

At one point, while watching players practice first-and-third double-steal coverages, a toddler who was near me started to cry loudly. One of the Red Sox catchers involved in the drill trotted over with a baseball, gave it to me, and said, “Give this to the kid, it should stop the crying.” I made the delivery and, he was right, the tears turned to smiles.

At 11:30am, we left the minor league complex and drove down the street to watch the big leaguers play in a 1pm game versus the New York Mets. We had a splendid time and the boys loved starting the “Let’s Go Red Sox!” cheers and clapping for Manny and Youk every time they stepped to the plate. But the game will probably fade quickly from their memories. Afterwards in the car, all they could talk about was their exciting morning among the minor leaguers and former pros, and when they called Grandma to tell her about the day, that’s what they raved about. “I met Dwight Evans! And you know what? The minor leaguers do the same drills we do in little league! Can you believe it?”

I think you understand. Today I was a father in Baseball Heaven.