When I was 21 years old, I fell in love at Fenway Park.
I didn’t meet my husband in the stands or the beer line or during a shared smile over “Sweet Caroline.” Instead, we fell in love in the press box.
In the summer of 2005, I was a 21-year-old intern in the Globe sports department, and Chris Snow was the 23-year-old, newly minted Red Sox beat writer. We first met at the White Horse Tavern on Brighton Avenue in Allston, where my fellow Globe intern and roommate for the summer, Adam Kilgore, introduced us. It wasn’t long before Chris started driving me to Fenway. Adam noted subtly, “Snow has never offered me a ride to work.”
Last month — 16 years, two kids, and one terminal diagnosis later — we went back. We walked the hallways, hugged writer friends, and stood in front of the cameras instead of next to them. I pointed out the media dining room to Cohen, 10, and Willa, 7, telling them their dad and I had some of our first “dates” there in between filing pregame stories and first pitch.
We thought we’d done a good job of hiding our budding romance until one day someone in the Red Sox media relations department changed my byline from Kelsie Smith (my maiden name) to Kelsie Snow in the daily clips they staple to the game notes. How’s that for foreshadowing?
What we couldn’t have guessed all those years ago was the reason we finally returned to the press box last month, why we talked to reporters and then walked to the mound where Chris, Cohen, and Willa threw ceremonial first pitches before the Sox played the Rays.
All of that happened because Chris has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he is supposed to be dead.
The summer I met Chris was the best one of my life. My days were filled with work and writing and learning from some of the greats in the business. My time off was filled with new friends and exploring a new city.
Many days I walked from my apartment in the South End through the Back Bay and Copley Square, along the Common, wandering through the winding streets and staring at buildings and statues and tiny little graveyards older than anything my young Midwestern eyes had ever seen, until I got to the North End, grabbed a cannoli from Mike’s Pastry or a slice from Pizzeria Regina, hopped on the T and rode home.
I fell in love with the city, the history, the architecture, the sailboats filling the Charles on a sunny summer day, the streets that dead-end without warning, and then I fell in love with Chris.
He was funny and passionate, he laughed easily, and he made even a mundane outing seem like the most exciting event in the world. He was also brash and confident in a way that people I grew up around just aren’t. He was, in my estimation, the best thing about this beautiful place I was living. Almost immediately, home, for me, became wherever he was.
Home, for Chris, was Boston. He grew up in Melrose, went to Malden Catholic High School, and then left for college at Syracuse. When he moved back to Boston to cover the Red Sox, he thought he was going home for good. In the same way the great Peter Gammons had before him, Chris melded the city and the team in a way that only a native son could, once calling a regrettable Curt Schilling fastball “the kind of pitch you pay 75 cents for on Route 1 in Saugus.”
He wrote words that resonated with so many and, once, he wrote some for me.
By the fall of 2005, I was back at the University of Kansas for my senior year. I woke up on Oct. 1, my birthday, with his game story from the night before in my inbox and a note that said, “You inspired this.”
“October dawns today,” he wrote, “and it all becomes so elemental. Injuries, call-ups, disabled-list visits, slumps, fatigue, all issues and discussions now tabled. Now, just baseball. Two games to go, all tied, the Red Sox and the Yankees, in an epochal but simple conclusion to a season that Johnny Damon dubbed ‘one of the best in baseball history.’ ”
Now, since Chris’s ALS diagnosis, it all really has become so elemental, and I suppose that, more than anything, brought us back to Fenway Park.
When I left my childhood town of 900 in South Dakota, I knew I wouldn’t go back. After less than two seasons as the Red Sox beat writer for the Globe, Chris got a job working for the Minnesota Wild. I graduated from Kansas, we got engaged, and we moved to Minnesota.
Chris was director of hockey operations for the Wild, and I covered the Twins for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. After five years, Chris got a job working for the Calgary Flames. I was pregnant with our first child and knew being a baseball beat writer and a mom wouldn’t work for me, and so we moved to Canada. For so long, we were unmoored in the way that happens when you leave the place where you grew up. Now, a decade after moving to Calgary, our roots feel firmly planted here.
The pull of home is a powerful one, never more so than in times of struggle or loss, and in the last two years, our family has grown used to living in that space. Chris was 37 years old when doctors gave him 6-12 months to live. I was 35. Our kids were 7 and 4.
“What do I do now?” Chris asked the neurologist who diagnosed him.
“Do what brings you joy,” he said.
ALS generally has a life expectancy of 2-5 years, but the kind of ALS Chris has is particularly aggressive. It’s also genetic.
Not even a year before Chris was diagnosed, his dad, Bob Snow, a former Somerville schools assistant superintendent, died of the same disease. He has also lost two uncles to ALS, David Snow and Brad Snow, as well as Brad’s son, Matt, who was only 28 when he died. Bob, David, and Brad all died within 9 months of diagnosis, Matt within 18 months.
We were gutted but not hopeless.
There was a clinical trial, the neurologist said, perhaps the most promising ever to come along for ALS. One week later, Chris joined that trial.
Two years later, we started planning his 40th birthday celebration, one we weren’t supposed to get, and that is what finally brought Chris home, back to Boston and back to Yawkey Way, to the ballpark that has been a thread woven throughout his life.
When Chris was 16 years old, his first job was selling lemonade during Red Sox games. When he was a student at Syracuse, he moved home for two straight summers to intern at the Globe, spending countless nights in the Fenway press box writing sidebars.
When he was 23, the universe brought us together there, as if writing on deadline weren’t stressful enough without all the butterflies of having your future spouse typing at the next keyboard. And the day after he turned 40, 14 months after he was supposed to die, he walked onto the Fenway Park pitcher’s mound to throw a first pitch with the good hand he has left.
The drug Chris is on is called Tofersen, and when we realized it was created by Cambridge-based Biogen, Chris looked up the address. Turns out Biogen’s offices are next door to the apartment on Binney Street where Chris lived the summer we met.
He gets the medicine every four weeks via lumbar puncture, which means he has had 31 needle pokes to the spine in two years. The medication remains experimental, but for us, the results are concrete: Tofersen has not cured Chris’s ALS, but it has kept him alive in all of the most meaningful ways.
ALS has taken Chris’s dominant hand, and his ability to smile, make facial expressions, and swallow most foods. It has changed his voice and how he eats (mostly through a feeding tube but thankfully he can still manage small bites of freshly shucked oysters and lobster drenched in butter).
It has not taken his determination, his positivity, his resolve, or his resilience. On social media, people often use the hashtag SnowyStrong in posts about him, and I know unequivocally that he is SnowyStrong because first he was BostonStrong.
When we stepped onto the field before the first pitch ceremony, I watched him (I do that a lot now). I saw him fill his lungs with that distinct Boston sea-salt, city air and look up at the suite full of our friends and family waiting to cheer us on.
I watched him fist-bump Sox manager Alex Cora, who was a player on the teams Chris covered when he was at the Globe. I listened to him talk to Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder, who came over from the opposing team’s dugout to say how much Chris inspires him.
And I stood next to him as we posed for a selfie with Red Sox president Sam Kennedy, who mentioned he wanted to send the photo to Theo Epstein, who was the general manger when Chris covered the team and who has been an incredible friend and supporter since Chris was diagnosed.
We stood on the first base line for the national anthem, and I watched Cohen and Willa standing in front of us, singing along, their hats pressed against their hearts. I put my arm around Chris. I told myself, in the way that you do when you are aware of how precious moments like this are, to be present, to remember, to soak it all in.
The anthem ended and our picture showed up on the Jumbotron. I listened to the PA announcer say “Melrose native Chris Snow” and tell his story, our story. Then I watched the people watch Chris. It’s a privilege to witness a miracle unfolding every day in front of your own eyes, and that’s what Chris is — a miracle. As we walked to the mound and all around the stadium, people stood to cheer, I knew they understood that, too.
Willa threw her pitch and ran into my arms. Cohen, a natural lefty, threw a strike from the rubber and turned to look at me with his jaw dropped in amazement. And then Chris, a converted lefty, took the ball. What he did with it, I knew, didn’t matter. He’d already won.
Two years ago, when I thought about this milestone birthday, I pictured wheelchairs and breathing machines and a host of medical devices keeping Chris alive, and that was if he made it to 40 at all. Instead, here he was, walking to the mound, filling his lungs with air, picking up a ball and throwing a first pitch.
After, we walked down the third base line, and as we did, the people stood. They touched their hearts and pointed to us. They raised their fists in solidarity. They clapped and cheered. Again, I watched my husband. I saw the tears in his eyes, the appreciation in his heart.
Chris has not had an easy life. He has lost both of his parents — his mother to suicide, his dad to ALS. He has lost parts of his physical self and parts of his identity, but on that day, in that great ballpark, he reclaimed one very important thing.
On that day, he remembered where he is from.