Last Day at Fenway Park
From Yankee Magazine October 1979
“It was the frozen twilight moment as Yaz walked to the plate through the gathering din, the collision of all memory and hope, the confrontation cementing the game’s place as a classic, the setting from which I would spin my dreams of different endings.”
“I have this thing about Red Sox closing days.”
I go to them — nine out of ten of them since 1969. Mostly I go alone. I have friends who are good baseball fans but even they do not readily understand this exercise, this mixture of reflection, celebration, mourning, and beer. But then they do not stubbornly cling to a baseball autographed by Dick Radatz in 1964 either.
Many more people, of course, pride themselves on getting to every opening day, at the other end of the long season. Politicians go for exposure, businessmen for status, schoolboys for glee. But opening day is not so much a ball game as a ritual of renewal. As with most rituals, the anticipation almost always exceeds the actual event.
On closing day the game itself is the thing, for nearly always there is surely nothing else. The crucial series have come and gone, been won or lost; the batting averages are all but frozen, the standings are settled; and a just-for-the-fun-of-it feeling prevails.
Closing day is for opening up the senses an extra notch, being, for a change, superalert for all the sights and sounds of the day. In the sultry afternoons and soft evenings of summer it is easy to stop looking for the little things that make baseball the best game. Familiarity breeds laziness, and a July game unmarked by special heroics can be a mild disappointment.
But not on closing day, when the billboard on Brookline Avenue shows no coming attractions, and the only thing left is Now. The urgency is not to win, but to crystallize and catalogue it all, ensuring that something has been tucked away which can be brought carefully out for inspection on barren, bitter cold winter nights. It is the last chance for memories.
But the events of one year ago, October 2, 1978, belong in a compartment all their own. It was the least typical of closing days in one respect, for up until the final swing of the bat it was not clear it was to be closing day. Yet it brought forth the essence of the season ended — only so much more vividly and wrenchingly, its like will almost surely never again be seen.
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