I knew what was happening when the restaurant’s manager asked “what are you doing on Sunday?”
Jeez, I thought, I’m gonna have to work Saturday night, then pull a brunch shift the next morning unless I can think of an excuse.
My mind was blank.
“Nothing,” I said, with visions of hungover patrons and overpriced eggs in my head.
The GM shook my hand.
I looked down to find myself holding a pair of tickets for the Sox/Yankees game.
These were no bleachers, either: I’d been handed a pair of box seats probably fifteen rows back from the field, just past the jut of the visitor’s dugout.
The game was a big one: Tim Wakefield pitching against Roger Clemens on Sunday, 8/31/2003.
Come Sunday I walked down to the park from my Allston apartment with my roommate Brendan (who you may know for his amazing crossword puzzles for the New York Times and about a zillion other publications). By the time we loaded up on beer and found our (amazing) seats, the Yankees were up three-zip. It was one of those late summer games where the air is still, so Wake’s knuckler was flatter than a pancake. Jeter made a quick out, but the next bunch of batters—Nick Johnson, Bernie Williams— ran the Sox ragged. Such games were to be expected from Wake, I knew, particularly in the dog days of summer, but dammit, not when I had the corporate seats, you know?
To make things worse, Clemens looked dominant in the first. Like every good red-blooded New Englander, I couldn’t stand the guy, though I had some begrudging respect left for him. I was electrified by Clemens when I saw him pitch Fenway in 1986, and despite the requisite post-defection angst and trash talk I bought tickets before the season started to three consecutive Sox/Yankees games that May hoping to catch his 300th win (I wound up catching #299, as well as a spot start by Bruce Chen when Pedro got hurt).
It’s only a three-run lead, I thought. No problem.
Ortiz singled to start the second inning.
Kevin Millar was up next. In 2003, he and his wife Geana came to the restaurant I worked at a good bit, to the point where they requested me when they came in (for more on this, take a look at Zisk #22, in which I discuss both the Millars and making a complete ass of myself in front of Jim Palmer). I wanted Millar to continue the rally, so that the next time he came in I could tell him I had been there.
Clemens was pitching from the stretch for the first time.
And somehow, he was looking right at me and Brendan. There is no exaggeration or fancy present here: When he pitched from the stretch, Roger Clemens was looking directly at the amazing corporate box seats we occupied.
As Clemens prepped to throw his second pitch from the stretch, I elbowed Brendan, then flipped Roger Clemens a carefully timed bird.
Brendan, of course, thought the bird-flipping was hilarious, and did the same on the next pitch.
Then the entire section did so.
I craned my neck backwards as Clemens set. Everyone in the section was waiting for him to come to a stop and look our way before hoisting extended middle fingers.
He grimaced a little. I thought maybe I had imagined this. But the end of the inning settled it.
This is great, I thought. We’re totally inside his head. I saw him make a face when he restarted his motion to the plate. The Sox will come back and win this game, and it’ll all be because my GM gave me a pair of the corporate box seats. Maybe I can convince him to give me tickets to all the rest, too.
Pitch after pitch, Clemens looked at our section. Our synchronized birding was Olympic in its grace and timing.
Until Millar grounded into a double play.
The whole barkpark—our synchronized section in particular—let out the kind of giant ‘aawww’ specific to wasted opportunity.
Baserunners gone, Clemens resumed his normal windup, in which his gaze landed nowhere near us.
Trot Nixon flied out to end the inning.
Clemens ambled back to the visiting dugout.
Remember how I said I thought I saw him grimace as he was pitching? I’m sure, now, that I did. I say this because as he walked back, he turned his head and sought me out, narrowing his eyes as his face made that same grimace—you’re the asshole who got the whole section to flip me the bird, as if that would distract me—burning an expletive into me before shifting that same gaze to Brendan, then disappearing into the dugout en route to an 8-4 Yankees win which never felt close.
Michael T. Fournier is the author of two novels on Three Rooms Press, as well as a book about the Minutemen for the 33 1/3 series. He still considers purchasing a Pete Rose Expos jersey.