The ball rattled around the new seats like a pinball whacked by a flipper. It was a vintage Opening Day souvenir; dirty, grass-stained, smudged with the crimson of a newly oiled glove. Better yet, it was a home run ball clubbed by Orioles outfielder Marty Cordova, who reached the newest slice of Fenway real estate on his fourth swing of batting practice.
They have officially been dubbed the Green Monster seats, the newest and trendiest perch in the house, located directly above the left-field wall, where a simple mesh net used to catch all dingers to left field.
Now, those balls are up for grabs. Just think of the possibilities. Manny’s 60th homer. Damian Jackson’s first homer in a Red Sox uniform. Cordova’s homer in BP.
Hey, you’ve got to start somewhere. I’ve been going to Fenway for 35 years, and I’ve never caught a ball. And, yet, here it was Opening Day, and Cordova’s pregame offering clanged around, unattended, because the seats aren’t officially open for business until next week.
“There,” said Globe photographer Stan Grossfeld, motioning me over. “Grab it.”
There will be many perks to these new Monster seats. The panoramic view of the Boston skyline is one of them, although it was shrouded in clouds and drizzle yesterday. The unique vantage point of the emerald bandbox will be another. But let’s be honest: The best part will be the chance to snag the ultimate baseball trophy, a home run ball.
I’ve dreamed my whole life of catching any ball, be it a foul pop, a sympathy toss from a backup player in the dugout, or a poached one from the back pocket of the bat boy. (Note to readers: Do not try this. My friend, who shall go nameless, attempted this once, fell over the railing, and was removed from the park.)
Apparently, I am not alone. General manager Theo Epstein once harbored similar dreams, but has gone most of his young life without accomplishing this priceless feat. He admitted the notion of scoring a home run ball entered his mind as he checked out the Monster seats yesterday.
“All sorts of possibilities were running through my head standing up there, including some of the negative ones,” Epstein admitted. “You worry about people reaching too far forward . . . but I think that will sort itself out. We’ll have security there. We’ll remind people to behave themselves.”
Epstein said the closest he came to scoring an official Rawlings souvenir came as a 9-year-old at the ballpark he now oversees.
“Once a foul ball came straight back to me,” he said. “It hit my hand, and bounced off. I was left with nothing but a hurt hand.”
He did not dive at any offerings of his current team during batting practice, although Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, and Kevin Millar certainly crushed enough balls there. Epstein is savvy enough to realize chasing home run balls is not in the GM’s best interest. Still, it was tempting . . .
“I think there’s a little bit of that in everybody,” Epstein said. “Especially on Opening Day. That’s the one day the little kid comes out in everyone.”
“It’s a nice thing,” said Pedro Martinez. “I can see a lot of people will be waving and cheering from up there, but I’m also concerned that some people will get drunk and fall over, trying to catch a ball.”
It’s astounding, when you think about it, that perfectly reasonable people would risk toppling almost 40 feet to grab a baseball that retails for $10. It’s not unlike the scrums that ensue at Celtics games when executives and college students alike body slam each other over an $8 T-shirt.
Pedro understands. He was a kid once, and longed to experience the magic of snaring a ball.
“I would go to the baseball games on Sundays, in the afternoon with my father, but I never did get a ball,” he said. “There were too many people. The ball never bounced near me.”
Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, a self-professed ballpark rat, has also gone oh-for-lifetime in his quest for a ball.
“I never really came close to catching one,” Garciaparra said. “I guess I remember seeing some run under my feet.”
Sox outfielder Johnny Damon says the lure of the new seats is unmistakable for ballplayers - especially for pregame bragging rights.
“Millar was the one having the best luck,” Damon reported. “I think he hurt a couple of people up there. I don’t have that kind of power. The best chance I might have is to line up at second base, and hit it from there.”
Damon, incidentally, only caught one ball in his life - at a Minnesota Twins spring training game.
“That was back when Kirby Puckett was breaking in,” he said. “But I didn’t catch one of his. I got a ball that one of the no-name guys hit.”
Sox broadcaster Sean McDonough grew up going to Fenway, but had to wait until he was a minor league announcer for the Syracuse Chiefs to get his hands on his first ball.
“It was a foul ball that came into the booth,” McDonough recalled. “It hit my seat. I picked it up, and threw it to a kid in the stands.
“Within minutes, the general manger of the team poked his head in and said, `Sean, do you know how much those baseballs cost? We could have used that for batting practice.’ “
The Red Sox better stock up. Fans who are lucky enough to enjoy the most chic seat in the house should pound their gloves, and be ready. The only drawback of the new seats: an obstructed view of the Wall, unless you lean way over, which, Epstein stresses, “We really don’t recommend.”
There will be banner days ahead in the Green Monster seats, although most would say yesterday was not one of them. I disagree. This was the best Opening Day I’ve ever had, and I have the ball to prove it. My intent was to place it proudly on my desk in my office, but Grossfeld shamed me into giving it to my kids.
I plan to stand on a line that will undoubtedly snake for miles Monday morning to secure tickets to the Green Monster seats, to guarantee myself another chance at a ball. This time, I’ll give it to someone who has not yet experienced a fan’s ultimate baseball thrill.
Only one problem: Should I give it to Pedro, Nomar, or Theo?