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Volume 38 Issue 6 • June 5 - 11, 2008
now in our 38th season

A Long Way Between Heaven and Here

by Robert P. Barsanti

Red Sox Nation travels.  I stood on Eutaw street at Camden Yards in Baltimore and watched incoming tide of red and blue wash up over the statue of Babe Ruth and into the new ball park.  The electorate of the Nation came bedecked in Ortiz shirts and pink hats, Yaz jerseys, and Ramirez tank tops.  The red ants were storming a dropped candy bar and, from ground level, it was a good time to be an ant.

When I sat in the stands, the row in front of me was filled by plumbers from New Jersey who had come down with their parents; the parents were behind homeplate and the plumbers were with us, but behind the Budweiser bottle.  On my left, three grandmothers had come down from Pennsylvania with matching pink hats.  Behind me, lawyers from Boston College once but Washington D.C. now stood for each Red Sox strikeout.  On my right, were three school teachers from Baltimore who had had season tickets, and these four seats, for twenty years.  We ants were ruining their Orange picnic; they were good sports, but their tolerance had been put to the test by the bugs in the lemonade.

As was their team.  We sat in the mid-Atlantic heat and watching our heroes do all that we had seen on TV.  Pedroia made immense defensive plays, Lester threw brilliantly,  Ellsbury ran like the wind.  And Manny crushed his 500th homerun to dead center.  He stood, watched it fly, saw who caught it, and then jogged around the bases as the entire stadium of exiles stood, applauded and took pictures.  My school teacher neighbors sat stonily.

Later, in the bottom of the seventh inning, the public address announcer had a little fun with the ants.  Neil Diamond’s face popped up on the jumbo-tron and the first verse of “Sweet Caroline” played just long enough for every Manny loving, Pedroia cheering, Papelbon dancing member of Red Sox Nation to start singing.  Then they cut the music. 

It wasn’t home.  At home, we knew that “good times could never seemed so good, (so good…so good).”  Even if we dressed the part and Manny crushed his home runs and we held our breath and squinted, we weren’t at Fenway, the ball didn’t land on Landsdowne, and Johnny Kiley wasn’t playing the Hallelujah chorus on the organ.  It was Baltimore, home of crab cakes and Cal, and not Boston.  It wasn’t the home that we reached for, even if we all dressed right and acted right.  They wouldn’t play “Sweet Caroline.”

Afterward, I returned to an old and dear friend’s house in the Maryland suburbs.  He had risen to a job that fit his considerable talents, he was getting paid handsomely for it, and had been given the use of a monstrous house for his trouble.  He had become the man in full that we aspire to as kids.  Yet, almost every picture or painting in the house captured a small glimpse of a faraway home on an island off the coast of Maine. 

Home is the place where you want to be, not where you are.  Where you are is where the paycheck is, or where the kids are, or where the mortgage is.  You made the trade years ago, and still stand behind it now, but it doesn’t prevent your heart from falling to your feet when they won’t even let you sing “Sweet Caroline.”  

At home, you know where things are and you know how much they cost.  You know what was there before, what should have been there, and what might be there afterwards if those troglodytes continue to mess things up.  No one has hot dog races at home, flashes the kiss cam, or dances to “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” 

At home, you know the stories and the history.    Fenway is a stage where you have seen many plays.  Williams hit it way up there, Dewey made the catch right there, and I sat with my grandfather down near the bullpen.  Home is a street where the houses have stayed the same, but the names have changed.  The Tierney’s lived there, then the Flaherty’s, then that weird family that fixed motorcycles in the side yard. 

Our little island is home to hundreds of thousands of people.  They come here once a year, or once a decade, and renew the memories that have grown yellow and faded over time. They come in an ant-swarm off the boat, walk up Broad Street, and feel the cobblestones beneath their feet.  They get their favorite sandwiches, swim at their favorite beaches, smell their favorite flowers, and listen for the familiar roll of the surf and sounding of the horn.  Then, after a day, a week, or a season, they leave home and go back to where they pay and get paid.

Our gray and sandy Fenway stays in their hearts.  Our brothers hang the calendars up, post the pictures on their desktops, and wear the Chicken Box t-shirt to the gym.  The further we travel from home, the harder we fight to get back there.  We lay the trappings and the relics around us and hope that our brothers will recognize and remember.  Then we can sit in our cubicles and tell stories of the surf off of Cisco and the night we spent on Coatue. 

Off-island, I have days when I wear the pink pants.  My reds have faded to a pale pink, have worn in the seat and the knee and won’t hold a crease with both hands.  Amid the jeans and Dockers set they get an amused eye-roll and a quick comment.  For the others, who know, there is a smile and a recognition.  They know my home.

To the three retired teachers in Oriole orange to our right, I apologize for being an ant in their home.  We come with delusions of another ballpark in another place, and the hope that, if we wish hard enough, we can make another Fenway.  You are welcome to bring your “Orioles Orange” shirts and “Cal Ripken” blanket north, should you ever have to leave home.

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