I worked at a fine dining restaurant within cab distance of Fenway Park for the 2001-2004 baseball seasons, right as I was recovering fr0om a long bout of “too-punk-too-like-sports.” Now I’m like a smoker who just quit. You know that guy (or gal), right? The one who talks about the health benefits of quitting and the money saved by not buying a pack a day as s/he coughs loudly and passive aggressively when someone lights one up? That’s me, but with baseball: Since I missed/lost ten plus baseball seasons, my fandom/geekitude is now fairly boundless. I listen to as many games as I can each year—something like 120—and keep tabs on other teams through three fantasy leagues.
Working at this restaurant, which played all the games on their TVs, made me remember how much I liked baseball. And being around all the ballplayers that came in didn’t hurt, either. Again, cab distance from Fenway, with late hours. The management got a kick out of having a fanboy on staff, and gave me tables of ballplayers I inevitably didn’t yet recognize and told me halfway through the meal that I was waiting on David Segui or Jeff Conine or Gary Matthews Jr. or whoever it was that day.
My time at the restaurant coincided with the two greatest Red Sox seasons in my lifetime. At the beginning of the 2003 season, after an offseason of low-key acquisitions —Millar? Mueller?—my manager told me I’d be waiting on a table of Red Sox wives. Everyone at the whole place stared at ’em. And why not? Here were ten women, all decked out in their best on-the-town gear, amazingly beautiful in the kinda cookie-cutter way that sports wives sometimes are. There wasn’t a blemish or a hair out of place in the entire table. They weren’t impolite, but neither were they friendly—more like used to getting what they wanted. Everyone at the table proceeded to order a different specialty martini, all of which, somehow, were pink, and made special requests on their dinners, a huge no-no at the restaurant.
When it came time to pay, one of the women, perhaps the prettiest at the table; clearly the alpha dog, made a big production out of grabbing the check and having me wait at the table—from which vantage point I was gripped by the inevitable server neurosis of seeing everything that had to be done in my section, but being obligated to stand still, unable to fill glasses/clear plates/drop checks/etc.—while she fished through a handbag that looked more expensive than six months’ rent at my place in Allston for her wallet, from which she finally produced, with great fanfare, a platinum AMEX card. The last name read the same as the most well-paid player on the Sox. This wife had been an AMEX member for less than a year, according to the ‘member since’ date stamp, but the strip was already worn out and I had to enter the number manually.
I have a million stories like this—still do—and didn’t think much of the table after they left. Not until a few days later, when one of the women showed up in my section, accompanied by a woman who looked like her twin. Turns out it was her sister. It was a slow night, so I had time to hang out and chat: the woman, Gina, had been in the night before, she said, with her sister Heidi. I’m usually pretty bad with names, but I wrote theirs down for later, a strategy I had to keep track of regulars. I was also curious about who Gina was married to. When I got home that night I searched the ‘net, to no avail.
Gina and Heidi came in a few more times, and asked to sit in my section. They were always very pleasant and chatty.
A few weeks after that big wives’ table, it was a Friday night and I was working towards the back of the restaurant when a hostess came to talk to me with a puzzled look on her face. “Um, Mike,” she said, “one of the Red Sox is here to see you?”
Gina and Heidi were standing at the host stand. I greeted them both by name.
Gina said, “Hi Mike. I didn’t get to introduce you to my husband. This is Kevin.”
Kevin Millar stuck his hand out. “Hi, Mike. Nice to meet you.”
I shook Kevin Millar’s hand, tripping out. 2003, of course, was the year that Millar did the “Cowboy Up” thing and became a Red Sox hero.
For the rest of the time he was in Boston (and I was at the restaurant), Millar and Heidi and Gina (who spelled her name ‘Jeanna,’ thus thwarting my web searches) requested me when they came in. Millar was great—not as hammy as he is when a camera’s around, but funny and nice.
I told you all that so I can tell you this:
Millar hit the 10,000th home run in Fenway history against Baltimore. After that Saturday night game, I was at a table in the back. The first thing I saw, when the group sat, were the matching Orioles polos the guys were wearing. I immediately started dealing on them, without getting a full look:
“Your team lost tonight, huh?”
You have to understand the Boston Sports Thing: years of accumulated misery were always close to the surface of any conversation about Red Sox baseball. 2003, we all thought, was the year that would end all the suffering. David Ortiz was blossoming into a star, Bill Mueller was on his way to a batting title, and Millar—my buddy!—had just hit number ten-thousand. Not aging stars, like the teams of my youth, but guys who were catching fire at just the right time. It felt good. Great, in fact, to be a fan of a team assembled with a clear head and a sense of purpose. So I was cocky.
Before I finished the sentence, I saw the table more closely.
They were wearing matching duds because they were the Orioles broadcasting team. And I know they were because one of the members was Jim Palmer. Who was looking at me like I had two heads.
“They did,” he said.
Oh well, I thought, mortified, I already made a dick of myself here. I might as well stay in character.
“You must be used to that,” I said.
“Sure,” Jim Palmer replied.
So I waited on this table in the back, and at the front of the place, the hostess seated Millar and Jeanna, who requested me.
“Hey, Mike,” Jeanna said. “We missed you last night—where were you?”
I had taken the night off to see my friends in Garrison play a show with On the Might of Princes at Middle East Up. Then my roommate and I had gotten kicked out of the after-party at Kid Fuego’s for peeing off the porch. I told Jeanna and Millar all this.
They laughed. “Sounds like a good night,” Millar said.
I nodded. “And I’m waiting on Jim Palmer right now, in the back.”
Millar got excited. “Is he here? Where?”
I nodded towards the back. Millar asked if I had ever waited on him before. I told him about my foot-in-mouth moment and he laughed.
“We have some friends meeting us,” he said.
A little while later, as Palmer’s table’s entrees arrived, so did Millar’s friends: Casey Fossum and his wife, and Todd Walker and his—two of the women from the table of ten.
They ordered drinks—mostly Jack Daniels—and Millar told them what I had said to Jim Palmer, which they thought was funny.
There’s no real ending to this story: Palmer’s table tipped on the low end of 15%, probably because I had insulted them; the Sox table tipped 25%, I ran my ass off waiting on two baseball tables at opposite ends of the restaurant. And I still can’t believe I was such a dick to Jim Palmer.
Michael T. Fournier is the author of Hidden Wheel and Double Nickels On The Dime and the editor of Cabildo Quarterly. His band Dead Trend just released their 21-song, 26 minute album False Positive. He’s among Western Massachusetts’ biggest Mike Easler fans.