The little boy made it a Norman Rockwell scene. The blue cap with white lettering spelling out SOX was pulled down to the tops of his ears. A little tuft of blond curled from beneath the cap in the back.
Slowly, he circled a pack of reporters who had backed Carlton Fisk into the far corner of the baggage room in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park, firing questions nonstop at the hero of the day.
After listening patiently for a few minutes, nine-year-old Casey Fisk turned away, offering to no one in particular with a deadpan expression on his face:
“What’s the big deal anyway? It was only a three-run homer.”
With that, he left Carlton Fisk on his own to be probed for the depths of his emotions, from the time he got up anxiously at 5:30 a.m. to the moment he entered the Chicago clubhouse, carrying his own three bats and catching equipment, hero of the White Sox’ 5-3 Opening Day win at Fenway Park.
Fisk had lashed a line-drive three-run homer that overcame a 2-0 Boston lead in the eighth inning and sent the Red Sox reeling.
“It was a great feeling,” he said, being prompted time and again to say it was more pleasurable than his dramatic home run in the sixth game of the 1975 World Series, something he refused to do.
“That was the World Series,” he said. “There was more focus on it. I knew when I hit that one that it was going out of the park. The only question then was whether it was fair or foul.
“Today, I didn’t think it was a home run. I thought it was going to be off the wall, which made me excited because all I wanted to do was knock in at least one run. Make it 2-1 and get us back in the ballgame. I didn’t know it was a home run until I got to second base and saw the umpire give the signal that it was gone.”
Fisk was told by the media in this postgame exchange that a sudden hush fell over Fenway Park at the point of impact. The crowd really didn’t know which way to react after reacting to Fisk in various ways all afternoon.
“I didn’t notice anything about the crowd when I went around the bases. When I turned second, I looked into our dugout and saw our guys dancing around, and that made me happy.”
Our Guys . . . Carlton Fisk calling the Chicago White Sox our guys, after being such a fixture with the Boston Red Sox for so long . . .
“I had been with the Red Sox organization for 14 years,” he said. “This was my 10th Opening Day at Fenway Park, but my first with the visiting team. I was nervous, but I didn’t feel any pressure. I honestly wasn’t concerned about how the fans were going to react to me.
“I thought it would be mostly positive, which I feel it was. I knew there would be some hooters, but I thought the majority would be favorable because I don’t think I ever gave them any reason in all of the years I played here to feel any differently.
“If some are mad at me (for leaving as a free agent), they simply don’t know the whole story and probably never will. It hasn’t all been told yet.
“Yes, this was an emotional experience. I was more nervous today than I was my first game as a rookie. But it was a nice kind of nervous. An exciting nervous, when you want to go out and play some hardball, which is what happened after my first time at bat.”
Fisk grounded to the pitcher in the first, got a lucky single on a windblown popup in his second chance and was struck out by Dennis Eckersley before taking advantage of old friend Bob Stanley in a relief role in the eighth.
There were two on and one out, and his team was down by two runs when Fisk came to the plate against Stanley.
“I looked for a hard sinker down over the plate because Stanley has one of the best sinkers in the league. And that’s what he threw me.”
“Was it wet or dry?” was the question, referring to Stanley’s growing prominence as one of the best spitball pitchers in the major leagues. “Wet,” laughed Fisk, “and he’s got one of the best ones.”
On his way around the bases and back to the dugout (where he bunny-hopped the last three steps into the arms of his teammates, Fisk was looking for his wife Linda in the stands.
“I was looking for her,” he said, “but I didn’t know where she was sitting. I wanted to give her some kind of sign. Something for recognition. When I got into the dugout, Casey was so excited he didn’t know what to do with himself.”
After the game there were so many members of the media looking for his time that Fisk was forced out of the main clubhouse, into a side room where the baggage is stored. He remained behind a pile of trunks at the request of the media even though he was reluctant to do so.
“I don’t want them (his new teammates) to think I’m any different,” Fisk said. “But if you guys want to do it here, it’s OK with me.”
Fisk had a plate of food sitting on a trunk in front of him, but he never got a chance to touch it for nearly an hour. At times during the interviews he simply stopped and smiled to himself, as if saying inwardly: “This is just too much to believe.”
“I thought it was a good baseball game,” he said. “You generally remember Opening Days more than any other game of the season unless you get to the playoffs or World Series. There is something special about playing in an opener.
“Because of the sun and shadows in the park today, it was difficult for the hitters to see the ball. That’s why I told our pitchers to keep the ball up in the strike zone (rather than down as they usually would) because it was tougher to see the ball up high.
“Eckersley really pitched well for them. I went to the plate trying to hit against him like I was catching him, trying to figure out what he was going to throw next. That wasn’t the smart thing to do.
“I really didn’t have much input before the game when we went over the Boston hitters. You know, when you are on a team so long, you just don’t sit in the dugout and watch your own guys trying to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. I think they are going to have the type of team that can beat anyone on a given day, either with their bats or their pitching. But I haven’t second-guessed myself about believing. I did what I had to do in view of the circumstances.”
When the conference started to break up, Casey Fisk slid back to the side of his father with a quarter in his hand. “Dad,” he said excitedly, “look what I just found out on the field.”
Carlton Fisk took the quarter, examined it slowly, as he placed one arm around his son’s shoulder and pulled him to his side.
“Son,” he answered, showing his New Hampshire background, “you better go out and look for more.”
The youngster didn’t. He circled behind his dad, dropped to his knees, and started unbuckling his father’s shin guards, which normally would have been removed an hour before.