Monday, April 22, 2013

April 22- Boston Red Sox

For as long as I can remember I’ve always had a real love/hate relationship with the Boston Red Sox. Almost everyone in my family have been ardent supporters of Bay Area Major League Baseball team: My father and brother Adam with the San Francisco Giants and my brother Matt and I have always sided with the Oakland Athletics. My mother, on the other hand, is an avid Red Sox fan. As a kid I always just accepted it, never really had much reason to question it due to the fact that they were always haunted with the ghosts of their past and the “Curse of the Bambino.” As I later came to find out it was because of our Irish heritage and that she had always wanted visit Boston were the reasons she followed the team closely. It also didn’t hurt that she loved watching Carl Yastrzemski growing up.

My first conscious memory of a baseball game came with Game 6 of the 1986 World Series where I can still vividly recall my mother shouting, “God damn it!” as the Mookie Wilson slow roller trickled through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s five-hole. This has become an especially funny memory due to the fact that we grew up Mormon and blasphemy is definitely frowned upon by our religion. My mother being a Red Sox fan was always something that bonded us together season over season. Even though we’ve always had a lot in common, our rivalry against one another’s team exploded in the fall of 2003 when the A’s played the Red Sox in the American league Division Series. To this day I still have a bitter loathing toward Bill Mueller (only on the field) for obstructing Miguel Tejada as he rounded third base in Game 3. Rather than continuing to run hard to score Tejada decided to cry like a little girl with a skinned knee, thus allowing himself to be tagged out by Jason Varitek. That call cost us the series, and my mother made sure to let me know that in the days that followed. I got my revenge; however, thanks to Aaron Boone in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. But alas, all the cheap shots and smack talk my mother and I swatted back-and-forth to one another came to a close at the end of the 2004 season as the Red Sox won their first World Series title since 1918… and then started back up again the morning after the Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 World Series.

Over time my relationship with the Red Sox became strained, but not for any reason other than because of the general management. One of my favorite players in the 1980s and 1990s was Wade Boggs. When his career in Boston came to a close at the end of the 1992 season I blamed the Red Sox for his departure to their long-time rival the New York Yankees for not doing anything to persuade him to stay. Seeing the heart and soul of the organization at the time in the lineup of their bitterest of rivals was something that surely made my mother, Red Sox nation and myself rather empty inside. Of course the icing on the cake came in 1996 when Boggs won his first of two World Series rings in pinstripes. The next dagger came on July 31, 2004 when the Red Sox decided to trade Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs as a the key piece in a four team blockbuster trade. In the 21 years I had been alive, Garciaparra was hands down the only member of the Red Sox I ever bothered to tune into games for. The man was 100% class and talent through and through, and by far the biggest ambassador of Red Sox baseball since Carlton Fisk. Not seeing him on the field when Doug Mientkiewicz recorded the final out in the World Series that year honestly made me die a little bit inside. It took me another six years to finally come to terms with that and accept the fact that the Red Sox winning the World Series in the first place was probably one of the best feel-good stories in the last 25 years of Major League Baseball. Most of all, I was happy for my mother for finally being able to see her team win.

When I got the call from MLB Chief Marketing Officer Jacqueline Parkes that I was going to be one of the nine Cave Dwellers to inhabit the MLB Fan Cave last year I did everything I could to keep it together until we said our goodbyes over the phone. Looking back on everything I had accomplished over my life to finally achieve a piece of my dream to follow and report on baseball brought out every conceivable emotion. I laughed, I cried, I got hungry and I raged before Balfour Rage became one of the newest crazes to sweep the baseball community. The first person I called, of course, was my mother. She has always been my biggest fan and supporter, and there was no one else who mattered as much to share my good fortune with. She told me how proud she was of me and that this was the first of many good things to come; a feeling I didn’t doubt for a second. For the next couple of weeks she helped me pack up my things and move them into storage. Based on everything I brought to the table with the MLB and for this gig we, and everyone else who was following my journey, had assumed that I would be in it for the long haul. We packed up all of my hats, jersey and t-shirts, as well as a few other important baseball-related items to help me live the experience I was about to embark upon. On the final night before I left for New York City my mother, stepfather and I talked about when they would have time to come see me. Due to their busy schedules the earliest they would be able to pull it off would have been some time in late July, after the All-Star break. As I mentioned before, we all thought I was going to be there for the long-haul so this time frame seemed more than adequate.

The first few days passed by quickly, mostly because the excitement was still running through all of our veins for getting such an amazing opportunity to share our love of baseball with others. On a day in early April I popped outside for a final cigarette before the day’s games were about to start. As I got about three drags in I saw a man walking across the street at the corner of 4th and Broadway with his son and their eyes both locked on me. I didn’t know if they were going to talk to me so I kept at my business. I got a brief drag in when the father introduced himself. “Hey, you’re one of the Cave Dwellers aren’t you? My name is Anthony Curtis (@AnthonyCurtis68) and this is my son Robert.” One of my biggest pet peeves is when people smoke around kids, so before I responded back I made sure to throw my cigarette down to the ground and stomp it out before I said a word. Robert was a little dude, who looked like his father and was wearing a Los Angeles Angels shirt at the time. I greeted the two of them, making sure to bend down to look Robert in the eye as I shook his hand. Because of the shirt Robert was wearing I told them to wait a second and opened the door to the Fan Cave to get Ricardo Marquez’s attention to come outside and meet, who I though was a fellow Angels fan. The four of gabbed for a good ten minutes, swapping stories back-and-forth, learning that the two of them were both highly invested members of Red Sox Nation and that Robert’s shirt was merely a shirt from Little League. Since Ricardo and I had to get back inside we all said our good-byes, but we all looked forward to the next time we would get to see one another. That time was only a week-and-a-half later.

For three days leading up to April 20th the Fan Cave became a bit of a second home for the Red Sox as the festivities for 100-year anniversary of Fenway Park were about to take place, but these are stories that will have to wait for a later date. On April 20th; however, the Fan Cave was opening its doors for a lucky few group of fans to celebrate the occasion. A large portion of the party consisted of friends and family of employees of Major League Baseball, as well as random fans of both the Yankees and Red Sox, Anthony and Robert were two of those people. Before the doors opened fellow Cave Dweller, and Yankees fan, Eddie Mata and I walked outside to greet and chat with the folks waiting to get in. Eddie and the Red Sox fans got into a bit of smack talk match while I found Anthony and Robert in the crowd and chatted it up with them. When everyone was finally let inside they were greeted by a large array of ballpark food and all of the championship banners the Red Sox had won as they hung from the entryway and rafters, as well as the two World Series trophies from 2004 and 2007. It was quite the site. Grammy Award-winning guitarist kicked things off by playing the Star Spangled Banner on a limited edition Fenway Park guitar. The other Cave Dwellers who hadn’t had a chance to meet Anthony and Robert when Ricardo and I did finally got their chance, which made Robert light up. Robert was a huge fan of Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner from the first season of the Fan Cave, and Robert himself really wanted to be a Cave Dweller himself; however, due to the fact that he was eight-years-old (now nine) he didn’t meet the minimum age requirement. Either way, all of us loved having him and his father around.

Robert, for his age, is quite the baseball encyclopedia himself. We were all incredibly impressed with his knowledge and dedication to the Red Sox. The best example I can give of this is when fellow Cave Dweller, and Minnesota Twins fan, asked Robert who his favorite Twins player of all-time is. Without batting an eyelash Robert said, “David Ortiz,” who played for the Twins from 1997-2002. Like I said, smart little dude. As the pre-game ceremonies kicked off I made my way around the Cave, greeting and talking to everyone I could about the event and how the game would pan out. The broadcast we were watching was a continuous feed which didn’t have play-by-play commentary, to give us the feeling as if we were all at Fenway Park watching it with everyone else. When we all took our seats the other eight Cave Dwellers opted for the couch, I hung back and sat with Anthony and Robert. The Yankees got off to an early 3-0 lead, but Robert wasn’t even phased in the slightest. He leaned over to me and said that Ortiz was going to hit a home run in his next at-bat. I was especially happy with this prediction on account that Big Papi was on my fantasy team. In the bottom of the second inning Ortiz came to the plate as the leadoff batter. I was in the midst of taking a sip of my Pepsi when Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova threw a hanging curveball right down the pike at which Ortiz recoiled and blast it over the Green Monster in left-center. Everyone in the building started cheering, except for Eddie who toughed talked his way through it. As a tradition we all went down the big orange slide in the center of the Fan Cave that we dubbed the “Home Run Slide” in honor of the slide that Bernie Brewer goes down at Miller Park. We found it only fitting that Robert got to take it. He and sprinted up the stairs side-by-side, he kicked off his shoes and made the short trip down. The smile on his face when he reached the ground was priceless. Everyone in attendance cheered and clapped for Robert as he emerged. The three of us continued to swap stories and in between innings we were told that the live feed was going to be cutting into shots from the party taking place in the Fan Cave. There was a large TV camera set up in the middle and we were all told to cheer anytime the camera did a live look-in, kind of like a game show. Since Robert wasn’t tall enough to be seen standing on the ground I asked his father if it would be cool if I picked him up. He happily said yes so Robert and I shuffled to the back of the couch where the shots were being taken and I hoisted him up.

After the game Anthony received calls and messages from friends and family saying that they saw someone who looked like Robert during the broadcast, and they followed up with questions about the bearded guy holding him up. The rest of the game rolled by, with the Yankees coming out victorious by the score of 6-2. At the end of the festivities Anthony and I swapped numbers before we parted ways. Robert had asked me if the others and I would attend a few of his baseball games in the future to which I was more than happy to say yes, just so long as we had time.

As the weeks pressed on I found myself becoming more and more lonely. What had turned into a great experience was now becoming a growing feeling of being somewhat homesick. A few of the other Cave Dwellers had all ready had friends and family stop by for a visit, whereas I kept hoping the days would pass by for when my mother and stepdad would fly out to see me. Every few days or so I would see Robert walking by as he was walking home from school with his sisters Maggie and Grace as well as their mother Kathy, whom I had met a few days after the 100-year party. Even in those few moments when I was able to invite them inside for a little bit to talk about baseball the homesick feeling washed away.

On one evening in early May Anthony and Robert stopped by bearing a box of cupcakes for everyone, just one of the many kind gestures they and the family provided us with. Robert made his rounds around the room, keeping an eye on the Red Sox game in progress, waiting to see if Big Papi was going to have an at-bat while they were there. Once again, Robert said he would hit a home run, and once again Robert looked like a psychic from the Kenny Kingston Psychic Hotline. He and I both ran up to the stop of the stairs, kicked off our shoes and took the slide down one after the other. As it turned out, the biggest reason for their visit was for an open invitation to Robert’s first communion celebration on May 14th. As I mentioned before, I was raised Mormon, but having Catholic friends growing up I knew this was a big deal, kind of like when I got baptized when I wad eight-years-old, just like Robert. I more than happily accepted the invitation.

On the morning of Robert’s party I made sure to wake up early, which basically translated to me not going to sleep as I made a habit of not going to bed until 4 AM as my body never seemed to adjust to the three-hour difference. That morning we also had to be at the Fan Cave around 9:30 AM for a game starting at 10, so I made sure to arrive at the Curtis-Hardy home at no later than 8:30. When I arrived I was greeted by the entire family including Robert’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and a few family friends. Eddie was all ready there, which was really awesome on his part to make it out. A giant spread was strewn about the table which we were more than welcome to. This was especially nice considering that we rarely ever had tome to have a home-cooked meal as our days consisted of 12-16 hours spent in the Fan Cave. Robert was especially excited to see me and made sure to give me a grand tour of their place. He showed off all of his Red Sox memorabilia including the framed Daniel Nava autographed photo he had hanging about his bed, his favorite player. Lindsay arrived about 15 minutes after I did, which would be the last Cave Dweller to stop by unfortunately. During the party one of Robert’s uncles made mention that I looked like one of the old House of David baseball players from back in the 1930s, a post that I will get to down the road. For the duration of our time I made sure to chat with everyone I could, but spent most of my time chatting with Robert.

When the time came for us to go I made sure to congratulate him on his big accomplishment and gave him a hug, as opposed to usual high five we gave each other before we parted ways… this would be the last time I got to see him as a Cave Dweller.

A few days after Eddie and I got the boot I received an email from Anthony inviting us out to dinner; a kind gesture that Eddie and I both accepted. I met up with them at their place and we all walked to Little Italy together to one of their favorite restaurants. Two days prior to this evening Eddie and I were invited out to MLB Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey for a tour by the producer of Player Poll Victor D’Ville. One of the things we had to opportunity to do was pitch show ideas to one of the executives. I had told the Curtis-Hardy family about this and during our walk to the restaurant Robert suggested a show called “Bats and Tats” in reference to the hashtag I routinely use on Twitter. Robert’s idea was that I would go with MLP stars to the tattoo parlor to interview them while they got work done; quite the novel idea coming from someone so young. When we got to the restaurant Eddie was waiting for us. The Italian festival was taking place so things were a bit busy. We sat, we ate and we chatted about everything that had happened and the reasons why we were let go. I did my best to not say anything offensive in front of the kids, but I was still quite hurt by everything that had taken place. After dinner everyone stopped and enjoyed some cannoli, while I went ahead to smoke a cigarette away from the kids and be by myself for a moment. We both finished at the same time and rejoined to make our way back to their place. As we arrived at the front door Robert’s mother Kathy and I were talking about if I ever needed any legal help to be sure to give her a call on account of the fact that she’s a public defender in New York. Robert then asked me if I would come to his baseball game on Sunday, something I had been meaning to do since his season started. I talked it over with his father and he made sure to text me all the information and how to get there. I then told Robert yes, gave him and his sisters hugs before I walked back to the hotel MLB had put me in for the duration of my stay.

On the morning of the game I walked to the old apartment I had been staying in and woke Ricardo up before I headed to the subway. He had overslept a little bit, but offered to pay for the taxi once we got downtown. The entire way we bantered back and forth, completely confusing the guy driver as Ricardo went on about a custody battle he was having with his “ex-wife.” It was pretty much a set-up for the line from the film “Ransom,” “Give me back my son!” which had become a favorite quote around the Cave. We arrived at the field just as warm-ups were taking place. Robert and his father were playing catch, as were the other kids on the team. Anthony then asked I would like to play catch with Robert. I didn’t have a glove, but he was more than happy to lend me his. I remember looking back at Ricardo and seeing him smile as I did. The last time I had played catch with my father was 16 years year before that moment. To me, this was a huge honor. We threw the ball around for about 110-15 minutes, but it felt much longer. I toss him grounders and pop flys, just like the coaches did for me when I was playing Little League. And like Robert, my father was the coach as well. As the game started Ricardo and I sat down one the bench behind the fence. Since all the kids were eight, the league they were playing in was coach-pitch. A few of the kids struggled, but Robert was on top of his game, as was a girl from the team they were playing who went 2-3 with a double and a triple. The one moment that all of us will never forget took place in the second inning. Robert’s team was on defense with two runners on and no outs. A few days prior a video had gone viral on You Tube of a nine-year-old making an unassisted triple play. It’s not often that a kid that young is so fundamentally sound to accomplish such a feat; however, some kids just have it. Robert was playing shortstop when the kid batting popped it up right to him. Despite the fact that the parents of the opposing team were yelling for their kids to stop running, they kept going. This gave Robert more than enough time to run to second base and then onto first. Ricardo and I just turned to one another and let out a big, “Whaaaaaaaaaat!?!?” If only we had been recording the game, we could have easily made Robert a You Tube star as he completed his first-ever unassisted triple play. Lindsay arrived not too long after that and Robert was eagerly excited to tell her about it. Kathy, Grace and Maggie arrived not too long after that and Robert got to share his story again. I can’t recall who won (I think Robert’s team), but none of that really seemed to matter. We were all just incredibly thrilled to be there to support our friends. Afterward we got together and snapped a few photos before driving back to their place.

The drive took about 20-25 minutes and I was virtually quiet as I sat in the front seat. Reality was finally starting settling in, I would be going back to Oregon in a matter of days. I did my best to keep from crying in the car so I looked out the window onto the harbor as we drove by. Somehow I had drifted off to sleep and I awoke just as we were pulling into their parking lot. Ricardo and I walked everyone to the door and I gave everyone a big hug. Anthony told me if I ever needed anything to give him a shout and be sure to let them know when I was going to be back in town. I did and Ricardo and I walked back to the apartment. I told him good bye and walked alone down the road back to the hotel. During my time in New York I only had one friend stop by, someone who I’ll get to in a piece later this week. As I mentioned earlier, everyone else had immediate members of their family stop by and pay them a visit; the Curtis-Hardy family was the closest thing I ever had to having that family atmosphere during my time. When I made it back to the hotel I crawled into bed and let my emotions go. I took me an hour to stop crying. I wouldn’t see them again before I flew back to Oregon.

During my trip around the country after my exile I had an opportunity to get back to New York and stay for a few days with one of the members of the production crew at his place in Long Island. Once everything was confirmed I made sure to let the Curtis-Hardy family know that I would be around. On my last night in the city they invited me over for dinner. Kathy greeted me at the door and Robert’s face lit up when I came through. While I was away Robert had quite the catalog of stories to share with me. For starters, he had been a participant in a wiffle ball match which took place between Yankees fans and Red Sox fans and it was coached and umpired by the remaining Cave Dwellers. Robert, of course, was on the Red Sox team. His biggest accomplishment that game was drying a walk, something that he and I were both proud of. He also got quite the razzing from Michael LaPayower (@BigYankeesFan), one of the members of the Yankees team who became good friends with a few of the Cave Dwellers and myself. But Robert’s biggest bit of news came when Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia stopped by the Fan Cave. The little sketch they had setup was basically just Saltalamacchia playing catcher for kids who stopped by to see him. When it was Robert’s turn he fired a strike right down the middle, as he showed me in the video that was shot. He was beyond stoked to share that with me and I was more than delighted to hear about it.

Kathy had ordered pizza and a few family friends and their kids had stopped by as well. I said my hellos and chatted with Maggie and Grace about their trip to China they had taken not too long after I went home to Oregon. Anthony showed up about a half hour after I did and we were able to catch up on things and talk about how the rest of Robert’s baseball season was going. After dinner we all headed down and across the street for ice cream. There was a bit of activity going on at the Fan Cave which all the kids were curious about. As we got closer we could see that a concert was taking place and I did my best to hang back and remain out of sight since I was no longer allowed to be there. It only took a matter of seconds for one of the executives and a few of the interns to spot me, which turned into one of the most awkward “good to see you, (but secretly) what are you doing here?” moments. I made sure to keep it short and let them know that I was only there because of the friends I was with. I could see Ricardo and the rest in the background, but let that pass since none of us had spoken to one another in well over a month, and still haven’t to this day. I bid my farewell and headed back up with my group. Robert showed me a few more Red Sox items he had acquired over the last few months until it was time for me to head back down and catch my train back to Long Island. At least this time we were able to leave things on a much happier note. I gave my hugs out all-around and said good bye to everyone before I stepped back into the busy streets of New York.

Months have passed since that night, and I’ve done my best, but could do better, to keep in contact with the Curtis-Hardy family. As the baseball season came to a close I had a letter come to me in the mail from Robert with had this inside…

And a note which reads, “Dear Benjamin, Thank you for everything. This card might be worth millions… someday. From, Robert.” It is hands down of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever given me. I keep both items on my desk to remind me that I need to get back as often as I can to visit them and motivate me to move past anything negative that every happened in the Fan Cave.

When the time came for the 2013 edition of the Fan Cave to start accepting applications Robert and Anthony didn’t let the age restriction get in their way of submitting their video. Fellow Cave Dweller, and Atlanta Braves fan, Shaun Kippins and I did what we could to spread the word about the video. It received such a good buzz that the Fan Cave is making Robert an honorary Cave Dweller for a day. Such amazing news! Here is his submission video for you to check out:
 I can honestly say that I was overcome with emotion when I got the part about him with all of the baseball logos and mascot tattoos all over his back.

In January Robert celebrated his ninth birthday and I made sure to send him a long email to let him know how things were going, but most important, to give him a big happy birthday shoutout. I got this in return…

Over the last couple of months Robert has also started himself a blog. His first entry was a recap of a Q&A with New York Met Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner which Robert and Anthony were both fortunate enough to attend. So jealous! His latest is an interview he conducted with all of the current Cave Dwellers. Check them out here:

Never in my life could I have imagined than someone as young as Robert would have such a profound impact on my life. As much as I seem to knock the Fan Cave for what happened as we parted ways, I am truly more than thankful for the time I had as I was able to get the opportunity to meet and befriend such a lovely family. That day in the Cave during the 100-year anniversary party will always go down as the fondest memory of my time there. Until a few years ago my father and I had a bit of a rocky relationship, the only thing that really seemed to get us to open up and find a mutual love for one another is baseball. If there’s one thing I learned during my time in New York it’s that Anthony would do anything for his son. I could see it in the way he teaches him and talks to him about the game, but mostly about what it takes to be a good human being. The looks he gave him, and the smiles that showed on his face will last in my memory for the rest of my life. For the last eight months or so I had been meaning to write a tribute to the two of them and the rest of the family for always making me feel welcome and appreciated. Every time I started I stopped about two sentences in. In my head I knew what I wanted to say, but the words never seeped out through my fingertips. Here I am a year later, with my girlfriend in Florida because Anthony was kind enough to help get me a flight to make it happen. For that, this was the least I could do for his son who helped me grow up and appreciate the game just as I did when I was his age.

Thank you Anthony and Kathy for being a potential legal bailout, but mostly for inviting me into your home and trusting me to be a positive role model for your son. Thank you Maggie and Grace for looking out for your brother and being the wonderful, intelligent young ladies that you are. And thank you Robert, for being as close to a little brother as I will ever have in my life.

This hat was worn by the Red Sox for the Fenway Park 100-year anniversary game as a throwback to when the team wore it originally as their road cap from 1903-1904 which then became their game cap from 1905-1920. I don’t wear it often because it’s plain white and the last thing I want to do is ruin it. The first time I came across it was in the New Era Flagship Store across the street from the Fan Cave, but I decided not to pick it up; a decision I later regretted but was lucky enough to remedy when I came across it for super cheap on the Web site. For my marks, I decided to go with something more personal than historic.

#8- If I didn't emphasize it enough, Robert has quite the brain on him. Much like myself when I chose the marks for my hats, Robert got incredibly clever when choosing the number for his Angels Little League jersey. Anthony's favorite player was Red Sox legend Fred Lynn, who is the first player to ever win the MVP and Rookie of the Year award in the same season. During his seven-year career in Boston Lynn wore #19; however, when the Sox decided to trade him to the Angels after the 1980 season Lynn wore #8 for his first year as Bert Campaneris wore #19 from 1979-1981.

4/20/12- It’s important to me to never forget the important people and stories that help shape me as a human being, and if it wasn’t for baseball our meeting may have never taken place. I am beyond proud that I have helped inspire Robert to write his blogs, just as I am happy that he helped inspire confidence in me to keep going, letting me know that what I’m trying to accomplish with spreading my love and knowledge of baseball has true value. Thank you again Robert, from the bottom of my heart. I expect to see and hear great things from you now, and in the future. I will always be your biggest supporter, just as you have been for me.


  1. I think you might have things mixed up regarding the A's/Sox ALDS series from 2003. I don't recall Tejada being blocked by Bill Mueller at third on his way home. I do recall Eric Byrnes going headfirst into Varitek at home and the ball going all the way to the backstop. The umpire made no call since Byrnes never made contact with the plate. As Byrnes was both in pain and whining about something, Varitek got right up to retrieve the baseball and ran over to tag Byrnes. The umpire made the "out" call and the inning ended, with Byrnes even more upset now at the umpire as they were cutting to commercial.

    1. I didn't mix anything up. Both Tejada and Byrnes fell victim to the same obstruction and both were unjustly called out. I chose to only focus on Tejada's incident because he could have easily scored despite what happened.