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Stan Grossfeld

‘That’s when I fell in love with baseball.’ As a new season starts, the Red Sox remember their own first ballpark memories

Baseball "was, like, kind of a dream," says Masataka Yoshida.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Big leaguers quickly melt into awestruck Little Leaguers when they talk about the first game they went to as a kid.

Red Sox second baseman Christian Arroyo remembers the exact day he fell in love with baseball.

“I went to a spring training game in Port Charlotte and I saw A-Rod hit a home run when he played for the Rangers,’' said Arroyo. “I can’t remember who they were playing, but he hit a homer to left that I don’t think has landed yet.

“And that’s when I kind of fell in love with baseball.”

Christian Arroyo as a Little Leaguer in central Florida.Arroyo Family Photo

Arroyo, age 5 or 6, was sitting halfway up in the left-field bleachers with his mom, his grandmother, and his aunt. His family went to a lot of spring training games and young Arroyo remembers the interactions he had with players.


“I got autographs from guys that were willing to give me an autograph,” he said. “But besides that, I never really begged or anything. I was just kind of enamored with just being there.

“Now I try to always remember when I was a kid and the people that I wanted to sign for me didn’t.

“I understand it now. Sometimes you got to go and you can’t.”

Third baseman Rafael Devers grew up in the small northern coastal town of Sanchez, Dominican Republic. His dad was his baseball hero.

Rafael Devers signs some autographs for young fans in Fort Myers, not too far away from his small town in the Dominican Republic where he first discovered baseball.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

“When I was a kid, 8 or 9, my dad played amateur ball and he took me to the field,” Devers said. “It was a big deal in my small town because those games were very, very important in those neighborhood towns. I tried to be like a batboy; I carried the bats and tried to put on my dad’s glove.

“I remember being very proud of watching my dad playing baseball and that’s something that has always stuck with me.”


Catcher Reese McGuire was 5 when he and his older brother Cash, 6, went to Safeco Field in Seattle. Their goal was to get a baseball.

“During batting practice, we brought our little Sports Authority gloves and I remember my dad would tell us, ‘Hey, when you hold your glove up, make sure you yell, please,’ " McGuire said. “All the other kids around us are like yelling, ‘Here, here.’ And we’re like, ‘Please.’ And we saw this one guy pump-fake to the guys going, ‘Here, here.’ And he goes, ‘Hey, you said please.’

“He threw it, and we caught it and it was cool. It was like our first experience in big-league baseball. It was probably a pitcher shagging flies but to my eyes it was like, oh, this guy is the best in the business.”

Infielder Bobby Dalbec grew up a huge Mariners fan in Seattle, too.

Bobby Dalbec grew up a Mariners fan ...Dalbec family photo
... but his Little League uniform foreshadowed his big-league future.Dalbec family photo

“My first game I was probably 3,” he said. “My dad worked with Atlantic Records and we had seats from the record label at Safeco. My dad was friends with one of Griffey’s best friends.”

He met Ken Griffey Jr. many times.

“I have like a bunch of balls and he personalized picture of him, like finishing a swing. It says, ‘To Bobby, keep swinging.’ Yeah, it’s really cool. Like super special.”

Dalbec says he knew way back when he’d be a baseball player.

“Yeah‚” he said. “I’ve never seen myself doing anything else.”


Shortstop Trevor Story grew up in Texas. His first game was a doozy.

“I was at the game that had probably the most difficult catch in baseball history, the Gary Matthews Jr. catch,” said Story of his trip to Ameriquest Field in Arlington in July 2006.

“I was 13 years old. There was a ball hit to center and he was running toward the wall and he scales the wall and snatches the ball without even looking at it. I remember seeing that and just being amazed at how he caught that ball. We were sitting in left field with my dad, so we had a good line on it from left field looking toward center and we could see how he did it.”

Story reenacted that play over and over in the backyard.

A young Trevor Story and his mom.Story family photo

“Oh yeah, for sure,” he said. “I played a little center field as a kid. Center field and short, those were my two spots bouncing back and forth.”

In 2003, the Expos played 22 home games in San Juan. Kiké Hernandez, then 11, went to a game against the Mets with his dad.

“I got to go watch [Hall of Fame second baseman and Puerto Rico native] Roberto Alomar play,” Hernandez said. “It was awesome because growing up in Puerto Rico we didn’t have a big-league team.

Kiké Hernández is all smiles these days ... Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff
... but he was a picture of intensity as a kid in Puerto Rico.Hernández family photo

“I didn’t try to get any autographs or any balls. Where we were sitting I didn’t really have access to the players, but yeah, I probably thought I wanted to play like Alomar. It was a great day, I was in awe of it all.”


As a major league pitcher Corey Kluber was no fan of Texas’s Ballpark in Arlington.

“It was hot, and the bullpen was all concrete and you’d bake in it,” he recalled.

But his perception as a kid was totally different.

“I remember going to a Rangers game in like second grade and being in awe of how big everything was and then watching batting practice and seeing how far guys hit it,” he said. “It was hot but I didn’t care about how hot it was at all. I think you’re used to watching people on TV and then you get an opportunity to go watch them in person. I think it kind of takes that kind of awe factor to another level.”

Outfielder Masataka Yoshida was a second grader when he went to his first game with his family in the Tokyo Dome.

Speaking through an interpreter, he says he didn’t sing team songs or swing flags or hit plastic bat noisemakers, which are common for fans in Japanese baseball.

“No, I was just watching the game, laid back,’' he said. “I didn’t have a specific team to cheer for. I didn’t have a specific player. But I loved the home run, and I was watching the home runs in the game.”

As a 7- or 8-year-old he had no idea what the future would bring.


“[Baseball] was something that I wanted to do, but it wasn’t really realistic for me at the time,” he said. “It was, like, kind of a dream.”

Closer Kenley Jansen is from Curaçao.

“My first sporting event was in 2002,” he said. “I think I was 14 at that time. My brother Ardley was playing with the Atlanta Braves [organization] and we went and watched spring training games [at Walt Disney World]. And I think that was the best thing ever in my life, watching guys like Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones play.

“Every kid in Curaçao loved Andruw because he grew up there. It just makes you have that moment, like, why not me? And even better it makes you a believer that you can dream even bigger. That day, Andruw and Chipper hit back-to-back homers. It was awesome.”

Pitcher Garrett Whitlock’s first game was Phillies vs. Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta.

“I was probably 6,” he said. “We sat in the nosebleeds, got a hot dog. It was great. There [I] was with Chipper, Javier López, freaking Rafael Furcal. it was a fun Braves team to grow up watching.”

Garrett Whitlock kept warm in Fort Myers ...Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff
... but he was always cool as can be as a kid in Georgia.

His biggest surprise?

“Probably just the size of the stadium. I mean, at 6 years old, it looks like it was a [dang] city in there. And then in the old Turner Field they had the little mist run, you could run the bases through the mist and everything. So I was having a blast. I was just soaking it all in.”

Pitcher James Paxton grew up just outside of Vancouver. When he was 11, his family made a pilgrimage to a Mariners game. It was a five-hour round trip across the border.

“So the game went into extra innings,” said Paxton. “My brother and I were just begging my parents to let us stay.”

They all moved down into the box seats.

“And it was like the 12th inning, bases were loaded and Ichiro came up. We were all chanting Ich-eee-ro and Ichiro got a walk-off walk. We were all excited and then got in the car and drove back home to Canada after the game. We were just pumped up.”

Justin Turner still remembers his days as a batboy for his future alma mater, Cal State Fullerton.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Justin Turner says the first game he went to was at Cal State Fullerton, his alma mater.

“My dad grew up with one of the coaches there,” he said. “So I got to go down to the dugout, hang out with the guys, go to practice with them, hit in the cages with them. I was 7 or 8?”

When he was 11, he became the bat boy for the next three years. He worked with three players who later logged 41 combined years in The Show: Mark Kotsay, Aaron Rowand, and Reed Johnson.

“Those three guys are kind of my favorite guys to watch,” he said. “And then, ironically, I ended up playing in the major leagues against all three of them. They all said the exact same thing: ‘I feel old’.”

Turner says now he feels the same thing.

“Crazy enough, when I played at Cal State Fullerton, Matt Chapman [Toronto third baseman] was actually my bat boy, and now he’s playing in the big leagues and we’re playing against each other,” he said. “So it’s kind of cool.”

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