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Nostalgia August 2015

Levine's Levity

Opening Days

By Bill Levine

I had devoted energy to retirement savings, but I had not invested enough in retirement lifestyle planning. This fact scared me. Just like my adolescent self, I was not sure that I could cut it in the next life stage. I wanted to get back to first base as I did as a 17 year old.

After the Nationals batted in the top of the eighth, my friend Steve and I concluded that the Red Sox’ 2015 Fenway opener was over. The Sox were up 9-4. If the Fat Lady was not singing, she was definitely doing breathing exercises. We thus slid through a gauntlet of our fellow bleacherites’ knees, on our way to beat the subway mob. It occurred to me that while I was experiencing my 57th home opener as a Sox fan, this was only the second opener I had attended in person. My other live opening day appearance was almost in past life territory, dating back to 1969. Yet the timelessness of Fenway and my own similar life stage conundrums, created for me parallel opening day experiences.

That first opening day, April 14, 1969, a few of us semi-rebellious high school seniors skipped a whole hour of school to watch in person the Sox take on Baltimore. In the 5th, the Orioles catcher lined a ball down the right field line. The ball whizzed by me, and I followed its upsetting path into the seats for a home run. But 46 years later, I could only acknowledge David Ortiz's well-hit ball by the explosive cheering in the monster seats in left center field, where it landed for a homer. My ball tracking had declined in 46 years. But in both 1969 and 2015 I saw my future prospects with similar fuzzy vision.

Entering Fenway back in 1969 and in 2015 was and is less than majestic. I am immediately under the stands, with all the claustrophobic ambience of a subway station. The splendor of the field is nowhere in sight. The refreshment selection, though, has widened somewhat over the years –  opening day 2015 featured a kosher vending machine. Still, the payoff at the concession stand are baseball staples: boiled hot dogs, coke, beer, popcorn and more beer.

The concession stands haven't changed much in 46 years, The menus are still handpainted, no digital menu-tron in sight. The men's rooms are slightly improved over 1969 because since then the Red Sox adopted the new-fangled idea of urinals. Thus in 2015, communal public urinating into the notorious trough is just a bad memory. But soap still seems to be rationed.

Most importantly a gestalt of Fenway is still the same. Play is still dominated by The Wall. A game can still be changed by a mere fly ball that lands over it, whether it is Fisk's 12th inning shot in the 1975 Series or the ignominy of Bucky Dent's three-run back-breaker in the 1978 play-off game.

All the other boundaries between the field and stands, the center field wall and the bull pens in right field have endured since 1969. The right field seats are still not truly facing the field directly so there has been 46 years of continuous neck craning in those sections. Those seats that are not crooked are still too small. The vendors still throw a bag of peanuts directly to any customer within the sound of "Hey peanuts here, roasted peanuts."

Finally, with victory just one strike away in the top of the ninth, Fenway attendees always stand and demand a strikeout, a continuous tradition since 1969.

Physically seated in the same cramped Fenway space in both opening day visits, I realized that I also occupied the same space psychically. On opening day 1969 and 2015, my identity was in no-man's land. Taking the liberty of a baseball analogy, I was like an errant base runner caught in a run-down between first and second, desperate to find a safe base before being tagged out. As a 17 year old in '69 I was on the cusp of adulthood, but afraid that I would stagger into that next life stage, rather than, as the Four Seasons advised, "walk like a man."

I felt much too immature to envision a life after high school. After all, I could barely drive. My friend Dave had driven us through dense, game time traffic – something I could not do. I was hoping that my dad's connections could whisk me from the waiting list to matriculation at a prestigious college, but also worried whether the academics would be too much. Socially, I was stuck at about age 12 regarding the opposite sex so regardless of where I matriculated, I realized I needed to grow 6 years dating-wise quickly. Worst there was the boogeyman of the draft, that my immature mind could not process. My preferred run-down strategy then was to scramble back to the security of first base, instead of advancing towards second.

On the just completed opening day 2015, this state of flux mind-set was like in 1969 –  dominating my thoughts between pitches. I found myself wondering if this was my first Sox game as an inconsequential retiree, or was I still an in-between-jobs computer professional? My futile year-long job search warned me that involuntarily retirement was nipping at my heels. But, I didn't see my retired persona as walking down the AARP yellow brick road. Yes, there were 60,000 happy souls in one Florida retirement metropolis, but were these souls really in a purgatory of irrelevancy?

I had devoted energy to retirement savings, but I had not invested enough in retirement lifestyle planning. This fact scared me. Just like my adolescent self, I was not sure that I could cut it in the next life stage. I wanted to get back to first base as I did as a 17 year old.

My two opening day attendances then, 46 years apart, truly remind me of the infinitude of Fenway baseball and the game of life, where the same fan as both an adolescent and as a senior can have as Yogi Berra supposedly said "Deja vu all over again."


Bill Levine is an IT professional, aspiring humorist and confirmed freelance writer from Belmont, Massachusetts.

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