It was 30 years ago today that Yours Truly went to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game for the first time. It was the first of the 25 times I have been to the historic park on Yawkey Way.
It was May 20, 1986 and I was going to the Sox play the Minnesota Twins at the legendary ballyard. I was going for two days, going to the next night's game as well, and staying at the Howard Johnson's right near the park. I got the tickets in a way you can't get them today: from Ticketron (now TicketMaster) that I bought from the machine that was located inside the Tower Records store in Greenwich Village I worked in. And I think I bought them just a few days in advance.
The park was amazing to see live and in person for the first time. I remember walking down one of the ramps on the first base side, and seeing the Green Monster for the first time. It took my breath away. I had a seat on that side of the field. There wasn't a huge crowd at the Fens that night, with just over 20,000 on hand.
The Red Sox had just gone into first place in the AL East a few days earlier (and they would stay there the rest of the year). It was also a marquee matchup of pitchers: Roger Clemens vs. Frank Viola.
Clemens had just set the strikeout record three weeks earlier, and had a 6-0 record coming into the game. The first batter I ever saw in a game at Fenway Park is now in the Hall of Fame: Kirby Puckett (he was a leadoff hitter back then). He flied out to right field. The Red Sox exploded for 6 runs in the first, as the first six hitters all reached base and came in, and Viola was pulled before getting an out.
The Sox rolled up 9 runs in the first three innings, and it looked like the game was safely out of reach. But it was a tough night for Clemens, as he allowed Minnesota five runs in seven innings, including two home runs. He struck out only four. But the Sox offense had their hitting shoes on, and added four runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
Wade Boggs came up with the Sox ahead 15-5 in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded and two outs, and was 5-for-5 on the night. The crowd was hoping he'd get his sixth hit, and he hit a line drive that went right through first baseman Mickey Hatcher's legs, with two more runs scoring. The scorer but "error" up on the board, and the crowd booed lustily.
Speaking of booing lustily, the Fenway Faithful did just that when Bob Stanley relieved Clemens to start the 8th. He promptly gave up a two-run shot to Gary Gaetti, and they wanted his blood. (I can only imagine how those denizens reacted to the grounder he gave up the following October at Shea.)
The Sox won it, 17-7. I remember after the game was over going back to my motel room and calling my dad in Brooklyn, telling him about the night. I summed it up like this: "Now I have an idea what it was like to see a game at Ebbets Field."
The next night was full of rain delays, but the Red Sox came from behind late and won, 3-2. Stanley pitched the ninth and got the save in that one, and through the final pitch shortly after 1 AM. There were about 200 people left in the park at the finish, including me. And I was standing right behind the Red Sox dugout when it concluded.
Through the glory that is Baseball Reference, I was able to check the game's boxscore. I came across a few other notable things.
Three future Hall of Famers played in this game: Kirby Puckett, Wade Boggs and Jim Rice.
Three future Red Sox were playing on the Twins that night: Tom Brunansky, Gary Gaetti and Frank Viola.
One future general manager came in for Puckett after the game became a blowout: Billy Beane.
There were two future managers on the rosters of both teams: Don Baylor on the Sox, and Ron Washington on the Twins (who did not play).
It was an amazing night I'll never forget. They say "you never forget your first time." Certainly not at Fenway Park.