SEATTLE – Mark the Red Sox fan is going off on Alex Rodriguez.
“You know what?” he grouses to anyone who’ll listen. “Last place. There is justice.”
Did we tell you that he doesn’t like A-Rod?
“Yeah, he’s Hall of Fame (material),” he acknowledges. “But it’s all about character. Bill Clinton was president, but who respects him?”
There are a lot of things Mark the Red Sox fan doesn’t approve of. Like the corporate face that Major League baseball has taken on. Baseball – that great American past-time – is all about family, not a bunch of elitist snobs sitting in private suites sipping white wine.
He also doesn’t like it that you can’t carry drinkable items into Safeco Field. “You can’t bring in a drop of fluid, other than the saliva in your mouth.”
And what’s this with Chris Berman? “I wanna know why the fat man is announcing,” he barks. “Where’s Dave Niehaus?”
Mark’s not a bitter old man. He’s a delightful 37-year-old arborist (“I climb trees”). A Red Sox fan, but then we told you that, didn’t we?
He’s got his Fenway Park T-shirt on, he’s wearing sandals, shorts and a cap pointed the wrong way, Griffey style. And he’s standing out here on the sidewalk beyond the left-field wall of Safeco Field waiting for Sammy Sosa to hit a ball into his glove during the All-Star Home Run Derby. And he knows, he just knows, that the Chicago Cubs slugger is gonna rip one about 500 feet. Which is what it’ll take to get it out here.
He isn’t the only one standing alongside Royal Brougham Way. There’re a bunch of people, mostly young and middle-aged males, and many have come with their gloves.
There’re the five high school kids from Issaquah who took the bus. There’s Chris the ex-Marine who works in the dairy but has some time off because of knee surgery. You can tell Chris was a Marine because he takes his cap off when the national anthem is played. There’s Carey who took the day off from his job at Nordstrom’s so he could stand with his son, Nolan, in the sun outside the ballpark hoping that some miracle would drop a baseball in their midst.
“If the ball clears that railing,” Carey says, pointing way up there, “that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gonna clear the road. We gotta think about playing it on the hop.”
This guy really believes.
So does Mark the Red Sox fan. You gotta believe if you’re a Bosox fan. “They’ve broken my heart repeatedly,” he moans. “But this is the year. Nomar is coming back. Manny is out of control. Nomo is Mr. No-No.”
Mark grew up in New Jersey, but he hates the Yankees. Since moving to Seattle, he’s become a Mariner fan, but if the M’s meet the Red Sox in the playoffs, he’ll show his true colors and root for “the boys from Beantown.”
Today, he’ll root for anyone who jacks it out onto Royal Brougham Way, even A-Rod. You got meatball pitches being served up, maybe they “nuke” the balls a little and – whamo!
You gotta have faith, he says earnestly. “Look at all these boneheads out here,” he says, glancing around, “It’s our little Waveland Avenue for a day.”
Only it’s a heckuva lot easier to reach Waveland outside Wrigley Field than it is to get it over that monstrous obstruction in Safeco. And the heavy air doesn’t help things.
Speaking of climate, why, Mark asks, would anyone want to play in Texas? “The dogs days of August in Texas – that’s gruesome.” The answer, of course, is because it pays well.
Which somehow brings him back to the Mariners. “Small ball, I love it. What is McLemore? He’s like 49 and he’s still running like he’s in his 20s.”
Just then, a curly-haired guy in his late 40s, maybe early 50s, walks up. He’s wearing a “You Gotta Love These Guys” T-shirt and a mischievous grin. “Ever notice,” he asks out of the corner of his mouth, “how guys from Boston never shut up?”
His name is Ken, he grew up in New York and he says Boston sucks. Mark the Red Sox fan hears him and smiles because he knows that Ken is cool, that he’s just playing with him.
Ken’s a carpenter. He points at Safeco and says with pride in his voice, “I worked on this.”
Inside the ballpark that Ken helped build, Sammy Sosa is coming up. “Come on, Sammy,” Ken yells.
“I think it’s gonna happen,” Mark, Ken’s new buddy, says. “I’m a Red Sox fan; I’m an optimist.”
It doesn’t happen. But when a ball clatters into the seats, Mark and Ken and the kids from Issaquah and Chris the ex-Marine and Carey the play-it-on-the-hop guy and all the rest of the folks outside the left field bleachers clap their hands and yell and whistle as if it just came down on Royal Brougham Way.
Mark is reminiscing now about the time he sneaked into Fenway Park. “It was night, I was alone, and I went up to the Green Monster, I sat in the dugouts, I actually called my friend from inside the stadium – in a whisper because I thought I was gonna be caught any moment.”
Inside the stadium a new voice has taken over the microphone in the Home Run Derby. “Is that Niehaus?” Ken asks.
“He’s a fan,” Mark says ecstatically. “I love his exuberance.”
At that moment, a guy tossing a ball drops it and it rolls into the street.
It’s the only ball that will find Royal Brougham Way on this day.
“I’m sorry,” Mark the Red Sox fan laments, “that Mark McGwire isn’t here.”
So are all the other boneheads.