By Ben Silver
In the mid-afternoon shadows of the Green Monster, Lansdowne Street is a powder keg waiting for a spark. The following game is over a century in the making, not because Saturday, September 26, was more important than any Red Sox-Yankees game before it, but for the importance it held to those who had never seen these teams compete before and to those who had seen this rivalry stew for fifty years.
It’s 3:30 p.m. In just 40 minutes Nick Pivetta will throw a leather and cork sphere to Brett Gardner in front of 36,000 screaming fans at America’s oldest ballpark. Pivetta is a first year Red Sox, Gardner is a 14th year Yankee, Doug Hodgkins is a 54th year Red Sox fan.
“Of course the technology has changed and all the ways you do things, but as far as attitude and the way people react to the game, it hasn’t changed,” said Hodgkins pointing to his camera. He had flown in from Dubai that day. “The first thing I decided to do was go to a Red Sox game, then go home.” Hodgkins is from New Hampshire, but family can wait. The Red Sox can’t.
“I grew up at Fenway Park,” said Susan Reid. She recalls watching players like Jim Lonborg and Carl Yastremski with her father in the 60s, but does she remember her first rivalry game?
“Heck no,” says Reid. She’s seen so many Red Sox teams over the years, they begin to blend together. As game time approaches, Lansdowne Street fills up more and more.
The energy before the game is electric, and Reid says: “It’s always been that way.”
Mike and Brendan Rodriguez stand out from the rest of the crowd. They’re wearing the wrong jerseys. Amidst a sea of red and navy blue they seem isolated, but they have each other. Brendan is taking his father to his first rivalry game. From the Bronx they’ve traveled a long way to be here today, but Giancarlo Stanton’s late inning grand slam surely made the trip worthwhile.
Ed Kay remembers when that home run might have been a problem for Yankee fans, “When I was a kid and we would come to Boston wearing a Yankees hat you get [people saying],‘Hey get the f*ck outta here.’”
Kay takes a sip of his beer, “I’m a 90s kid, ever since ‘The Curse’ was broken [in 2004] there’s a little bit less tension.”
In 2004, the Yankees were the most successful team of the last century, let alone the last decade. Meanwhile it had been 86 years since the Red Sox were last world champions. Kay is right; the scene is different today.
Since 2004, the Red Sox have won four titles, the Yankees just one. Both teams are now owned by different owners, managed by different managers and played by different players, yet the fans are no different. If every plank of wood in the Ship of Theseus is removed and replaced, removed and replaced again, does the ship still remain or does only tradition endure?
For many, baseball is a tradition, not unlike religion or family. History is as relevant in the sport as any pastime in American culture. One feels as if they’re entering a mausoleum at Fenway Park, filled with the ghosts of ballplayers long past.
“What adheres me to baseball and always has is this sense that I am essentially watching the same game that somebody saw in 1860… You come in at the start of a game, or the start of a season, or the start of your own fandom, you feel as if you’re joining the river midstream. And all that has gone before, you can enjoy as much as if you were there,” once remarked Keith Olbermann.
These words seldom rang more true than standing beneath the Green Monster waiting for the Red Sox and Yankees to play ball.