In our current world of necessary isolation, I finds myself longing for familiar routines, those everyday ebbs and flows of life so easily taken for granted until troubling events show up and steal them. I imagine, as we socially distance for who knows how long, that at least we are all together in this sentiment.
Thursday would have brought one of my favorite routines. Every Boston sportswriter should count his or her blessings in having the privilege to cover so many extraordinary events involving our teams over the last two decades — nine Super Bowls and four World Series, three Stanley Cup Finals, and two NBA Finals, a dozen champions in all.
But for all of the confetti that has fluttered down on our champions over these seasons, for all of the times the duckboat engines fired up and we had ourselves a parade, there has never been anything more satisfying to me than Opening Day at Fenway Park.
Oh, the quintessential sports day in Boston is Patriots Day, with the Marathon and the traditional early Red Sox game bringing a sense of community to the city, especially since the bombings in 2013. But the most optimistic day, the sunniest day no matter the weather, is the Fenway opener.
In normal times, Thursday would have been the day for which we waited all winter. The new-look White Sox, with Edwin Encarnacion and Dallas Keuchel added to an intriguing roster, would have been in town, first pitch at 2:05 p.m. Perhaps the Red Sox, who would have already played seven games on the road, would have made their home debut with a winning record and accompanying optimism, something that was not in abundance during spring training.
We can’t know what the game would bring, what the outcome would be, and none of the board-game simulations that are trying to fill those voids right now can properly tell us. But we do know what the routine of the day would have looked and felt and even smelled like.
Me, I would have arrived four hours before first pitch, parking in a familiar garage on Jersey Street on the opposite side of Boylston Street from the ballpark. (I wonder if the prices would have been jacked up to $65 or $70 this year; at least we don’t have to discover that yet.) Grabbing my laptop and credential, I would have walked past Blaze Pizza on the right and Tasty Burger up on the left, the five-minute walk toward the media entrance.
I would have noticed the bunting, and the enticing smell of the sausage cooking in the cart on the corner of Jersey Street and Van Ness, and maybe I would have peeked over to see who was on the NESN set next to the souvenir shop. I would have said hello to the security guards, shaking hands, and would have made mental notes on the most popular jerseys fans were wearing, especially whether any of you went with the Mookie Betts ensemble out of respect and defiance.
I miss walking up the ramp the five levels to the press box, and walking back down to go to field level to watch batting practice. I miss the good moods of everyone there, the optimism in the air, at least for the day. I miss that routine now, retracing all of these steps that will never happen.
Sometimes we find fool’s gold on Opening Day, such as when Carl Everett became an instant fan favorite by hitting two homers in his Fenway debut in 2000. Sometimes, the good times give way to disappointment, such as when Carlton Fisk, in his White Sox debut, homered to beat his former team in the ’81 opener.
But often, treasured memories are forged in the opener, especially when a new season begins by offering one final salute to a successful one the year before. In 2005, we savored the special ceremony that was 86 years in the making, with Carl Yastrzemski and Johnny Pesky raising the 2004 World Series banner, Dave Roberts and Derek Lowe returning for one last salute, and Mariano Rivera proving the most gracious of rivals.
In 2008, teary-eyed Bill Buckner threw out the first pitch, a man who never should have required forgiveness nonetheless receiving catharsis in the form of raucous, rolling cheers.
In 2014, the acknowledgment of the 2013 bombing tragedy and the tribute to resiliency was tonally perfect, delicate and inspiring at once.
Last season, with the Red Sox arriving home with a 3-8 record, had an odder vibe, but when that 2018 championship banner was unveiled, more good times seemed not just possible, but practically certain. (Spoiler: They weren’t.)
This was not — is not — projected to be a championship season for the Red Sox, not with Mookie in Hollywood and Chris Sale dealing with a new scar on his elbow. And there was no new banner to raise. But on Opening Day, optimism somehow would have found a way to break through the clouds.
I miss that. I miss all of that, the routine and the spectacular, and I’ll never forget to cherish every moment of Opening Day, whenever it comes around again.