I Love That Dirty Water, Boston You’re My Home
On arrival in Boston, I felt like a fraud. What the hell was I doing in a city that speaks with a distinctly different accent to me and going to watch a sport that I was a latent convert?
I wasn’t born here, I have no physical or historical connection to the city unlike say, Glasgow, the city of my parents. There I feel an instant familiarity when walking down the Gallowgate. This trip alone will see my eighth return to the city on the Clyde.
Yet after walking the streets, drinking in the bars and meeting the locals of Boston, strangely it feels like home. There is no rational reason why this would be. But its happening by osmosis.
On my first morning I walked from my Back Bay apartment to Boston Common, America’s oldest public park, to meet my guide David. It was his task to take me on the Irish Heritage Trail through the back streets of downtown Boston. Given my own heritage, this was high on my Boston bucket list.
Since the embryonic days of this nation, the Irish have shaped the heart and soul of this city. From the moment thousands arrived on the coffin ships across the Atlantic, escaping the Great Hunger of the 1840′s, the Irish spent the next 160 years climbing the social ladder of Boston. Those that opposed them were the wealthy, Protestant-Yankee-establishment; Boston’s Brahmin.
Am I suggesting that this is the reason why modern day Bostonians hate the New York Yankees? No, but it sure helps. Oh yes, it sure helps!
With wave upon wave of Irish immigrants arriving in Boston, they successfully sought to unseat Yankees power from city hall and eventually sent one of their own all the way to the White House.
But the history of the Boston Irish is more than just the Kennedy’s. They have a colourful back story of city mayors and Irish ward bosses that ran this town by means that makes the Australians Greens look democratic.
I was particularly endeared to a bloke by the name of James Michael Curley. His father was from Co. Galway and Curley was at the centre of political power in Boston spanning four decades.
He was a champion of the poor Irish community and understood the notion that all politics was local. He was once famously elected as a city alderman whileserving time in jail for fraudulently taking a civic exam on behalf of someone else to help get them a job as a postie.
Unlike New York or Chicago, cities that had large influxes of migration from eastern Europe, for a long time, Boston remained heavily Irish.
Today, Boston is a modern multicultural city, but it’s Irish influence is still ever present. You can’t go twenty metres without walking past a local wearing a t-shirt with a shamrock on it or a green Red Sox or Celtics hat.
Every second person you meet in the pubs and bars scattered throughout Boston has family in Ireland. Outside of the Emerald Isle, you won’t find another city with this level of Irish expressionism.
As much as Boston is an Irish town, it’s also very much a Red Sox town.
After my walking tour I headed home to get into my Red Sox gear and set off to the ball park to take in my first Red Sox game. In my lone traveller’s silence, I realised I was excited about my first visit to Fenway; butterflies flicked about in the pit of my guts. It felt a bit like going a first date with someone you really, really, really fancy. This has been on my mind for the better part of three years. Would Red Sox Nation accept an interloper?
For the first of five games I would attend, Boston had turned up the heat for the occasion as the mercury was tipping 100. A smarter person would have refrained from wearing a heavy Red Sox jersey, sadly, I do not fall into that category.
As I walk to Fenway Park, I want to get there as soon as possible, but a sporting injury suffered two weeks earlier prevents me from doing so. So as I slowly limp my way thought the Back Bay area with Jonathan Richmond’s Twilight in Boston, playing on my iPod.
The slow pace forces me to take in my surrounds properly, the reeds and cat tails of the Fens, blowing in the breeze. How pathetic, weeds are getting me emotional.
It appears that I wasn’t the only Irish Australian to make it to Boston. I walk past a monument to John Boyle O’Reilly on the south west corner of the Fens. O’Reilly was an Irish rebel who was convicted and shipped to Australia, only to escape with the help of a priest to Boston in 1869. He went on to play a significant role in the Fenian movement in North America and agitating for Irish independence.
It was like walking to your favourite suburban footy ground in the 90′s – remember them? – on the walk, I am joined by other members of Red Sox Nation making their way to America’s most beloved ball park with their sons and daughters.
This is way better than when I did this walk on google street view weeks before. Now the heat is on my face, I can hear the noise of the American automobile industry racing up Boylston Street and the smell of hot dogs in the distance.
I reach the corner of Boylston and Ipswich and through the buildings she appears, Fenway.
As I make my way up Van Ness Street, I pass the statue of Teddie “Ball Game” Williams, one of the all time great hitters and the retired numbers of past players like Yastrzemski, Fisk and Doerr.
On Yawkey Way, I enter the Red Sox team store – Disneyland for Sox Nation. I could have easily smashed my credit card on anything from Red Sox dog bowls to a framed picture of Mass being said at Fenway in the sixties, but hold fire and just buy another hat.
I present my ticket to the collector and make my way inside the stadium for the first time, but I don’t take my seat. Instead I stand in the concourse area underneath the stadium and watch the people, the colour and take it all in.
It’s like a rabbit warren beneath this historic, old ball park. But somehow Sox Nation manages to negotiate with each other around the pylons, ramps, food carts, an Irish pub and more yet team stores.
After some deep breaths, I’m now ready ready to climb the steps into Fenway. I grab a Sam Adams and a Fenway Frank and make my way to my seat in the bleachers.
Fenway in all its glory surrounds me. The Triangle is just below me, the bullpen to my left and the Green Monster to my right. That majestic 37 foot wall built in 1914 to stop the tight arses on Lansdowne Street from watching the game for nothing.
Now days, from only 315 feet from home plate, the Monstah provides a tempting target for all the big hitters across the Majors.
The Fenway organist plays an eclectic list of tracks ranging from ELO’s Mr Blue Sky to INXS’s Need You Tonight and the theme song from Cheers.
It’s crazy hot, the sun is burning the bleachers but it sure beats sitting on my couch back home watching it through a Melbourne winter.
Who wants watah? Who wants crackah-jacks? Who wants Hot Dawgs? New Englanders have a wonderful adaptation of the American accent where they simply refuse to pronounce the letter R.
As the sun falls behind the green monster, the starting pitcher for the Red Sox comes out to warm up with the catcher as the diamond receives as much respect as the centre wicket of the MCG. It’s watered, swept and marked, ready for the ball game.
Sitting next to a local Bostonian who looks like Kramer in the early episodes of Seinfeld. I really want to tell him that this is my first Red Sox game, that I’ve flown all the way from Australia, I’m a Fenway virgin and how fricken excited I’m right now. Instead, against my urges, I do the opposite and play it cool.
Two overly sized people sit two rows in front of me, squeezing into their tiny seats. Fenway – celebrating one hundred years of baseball this year - wasn’t built for them.
A breeze picks up across the ball park to give some much needed respite.
Thick Bostonian accents abound. I feel like a stranger in some ways: this is not my nation, nor childhood sport. Though, it feels like home – seeing the stadium in 3D finally after countless games of TV, it all begins to makes sense.
We all stand of the National Anthem, sung with a gusto by a Massachusetts state trooper. For a brief moment, even I feel patriotic. The seven light towers around Fenway illuminate the diamond, the team runs out onto the field and it’s time to pay ball.
Jon Lester, the Red Sox starting pitcher, cuts a lonely figure atop the mound as he throws a strike for his first pitch. I clap each strike, watch each ball, like it will be my last. This crowd knows its baseball. There’s not much disingenuous American bullshit between innings to get the crowd involved – they don’t need it. They’re here to watch baseball and not be told how to have fun.
Over the next five nights, this stadium would become my second home. Those nights at Fenway, I shared some wonderful experiences and met some unique and genuine people.
Like Seán, who’s family is from Cork. He’s a prison warden from Southie. He’s worried about his hours being moved around and how he’ll manage picking the kids up from school. He showed me a picture – fine looking kids - they could probably beat me up. He wanted to talk to me about Australian fishing, but I kept dragging the conversation back to baseball. It was a tug of war I lost, and I know nothing about fishing.
I met Anna, from Charlestown, she had a shamrock tattooed on one arm and a Celtic cross on the other. She had guns bigger than mine, her and her partner Sally have been Sox season ticket holders since 1997.
She laments the introduction of the pink hats into Fenway baseball. The Pink Hats are the much derided group of middle class female Red Sox bandwagon fans that come to the game to sit on their cell phone all game and only get up to sing Sweet Caroline.
I got blind drunk with John-Michael Francis. He bitched about the now tradition of singing Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline in the eighth inning. “Why f*ckin sing it when ya down by eight and outtah the game? It’s embahrassing”.
Seven beers and four innings later and trailing Chicago by a single run, John-Michael and I stood arm in arm in the bleachers of Fenway giving Sweet Caroline all we could, “Haaaaaaaaaand… touching hands… reeeeeeaching out…. touching me…touching yoooouuu… Sweeeeeeeet Caroline Bah Bah Bah… good times never seemed so good… SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!
Sweet Caroline must have worked because in the bottom of the ninth, with the Red Sox having runners at first and second base, Cody Ross blasted a 1-1 pitch that hangs in the air for an eternity as Fenway rises and wills the ball into the Green Monster Seats for a three run walk off homer. Fenway goes mental, Dirty Water blares over the loud speakers and I lose my shit and proceed to dry hump poor John-Michael who was still a virgin to this point.
Then I met Sally. Oh Sally, you broke my haht. She was the most stunning women I have met to this point. A grad student from North Eastern, she possessed intelligence far beyond my humble intellect, was sharp, a natural beauty, proving to me that God is indeed a man.
We hit it off from the first pitch. Sadly, her boyfriend was a top bloke too. Ryan had completed three tours of Afghanistan, but claims his most horrific moment was being chased down a back alley in Istanbul by four Turkish blokes who tried to charge him $1,600 for a coffee. He split his knee open in the process and jumped in a cab and demanded the driver take him to his hotel. To which the driver said he should wait because those men smashing the cab window clearly want to talk to you. He got back to the hotel, stitched his knee up himself and got on the next flight back to Boston. Sally is effectively dating a real life Jason Bourne.
Sally, being an outsider to Boston, observed that there are three types of Bostonians. The Upper Class Yankee set, the working class from places like Quincy and Dorchester and those middle class types like herself, that had come to Boston to study the glut of fine tertiary institutions like Harvard, BU or North Eastern and never left.
At the end of the game, she gave me a kiss and a hug and wished me well on my travels. I wished Ryan got syphilis.
On my final day at Fenway I notched up my 100th coffee of all time – yes I’ve been counting since my first in 1986 – but I’ve been sitting on 99 for a year and a half before, waiting to have the 100th in the perfect spot. In the end, it was from Dunkin Donuts inside Fenway Park.
Inside the stadium, I saw a fellow member of Red Sox Nation wearing a red t-shirt that read in Irish “Stocaí Dearg Abu” which in English essentially means Go Red Sox. I went up to him and in broken Irish asked him how much for the t-shirt. He responded in Irish that it wasn’t for sale, but we continued our chat in Irish about where I was from and what I was doing here.
It was a crystalising moment in my time in Boston. I arrived feeling like a foreigner yet by the end, it all made sense. Here was an Irish American, speaking to an Irish Australian in the language of our fore fathers in the bowels of Fenway Park.
Though we live so far apart, we have so much in common. I’m so far from home, but in so many ways I’m home.
These are my people. I love this city. Go Sox.