As rookies often do before their first game at Fenway Park, the left fielder of the San Francisco Giants arrived early Tuesday to take a walk around the place and appreciate its history.
Mike Yastrzemski was alone with his thoughts until another left fielder, his Hall of Fame grandfather, joined him on the field just before 2 p.m.
It was then that a largely meaningless September game between two third-place teams became one of the best moments of this baseball season.
Carl Yastrzemski is an 80-year-old man rigidly set in his ways, so much so that it usually takes a World Series game to get him back at Fenway. But the chance to stroll across the outfield grass with his grandson, well, that was something not even he could pass up.
“It’s finally come true for him,” Carl said. “He worked hard and never complained. He belongs here.”
The fans recognized that, too. Mike batted leadoff for the Giants and received a prolonged cheer when he came to the plate in the first inning.
That he struck out really didn’t matter, especially after the home run he drove into the center field bleachers in the fourth inning.
“I had to take a second and understand what was going on and appreciate that moment,” said Yastrzemski, who finished 2 for 7 and also had a double in a game the Giants won, 7-6, in 15 innings. “I made sure to keep my head up and look around and soak it all in.”
The first home run by a Yastrzemski at Fenway since July 31, 1983, was something you hoped would happen but didn’t dare expect.
“Hard to script it any better than that,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
The crowd saluted Yastrzemski all night, even as the game went past midnight. It was deserved. The 29-year-old spent six years in the minors with the Baltimore Orioles before being traded to the Giants in March and making his major league debut two months later after 703 games in the minors.
The rebuilding Giants have run through dozens of players this season, but Yastrzemski stuck. He has an .842 OPS over 97 games with 20 home runs and 52 RBIs. Mike’s a well-above-average outfielder, too. Just like his grandfather.
“He saw this as a great opportunity and he ran with it,” Bochy said. “That’s what you want these guys to do when they get that chance. That door, when it opens, take full advantage of it.”
Carl Yastrzemski left before the game started. But Mike had his mother, Anne-Marie, at the game along with his wife, Paige, and a large group of aunts, uncles, and cousins.
“Playing here is cool,” he said. “I see it as part of my job and something I’ve always wanted to do. That doesn’t really overwhelm me. But being able to do it in a setting where I have so many fond memories with friends, family, and then having them be able to be here is special.”
Yastrzemski grew up in Andover, a Red Sox fan rooting for Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra who often went to Fenway for games. He was born nearly seven years after his grandfather retired and knew his career only through old highlight videos and the stories passed down from others.
It wasn’t until later, when he started playing at St. John’s Prep and then Vanderbilt, that Mike could fully appreciate what his grandfather had done over the course of his career and the discipline that took.
“When I turned 23, that was kind of the big shocking moment,” he said. “For my entire life, he had showed up to Fenway Park every day. That kind of blew my mind. I can’t picture 23 years worth of major league baseball experience.”
For Carl Yastrzemski, seeing his grandson in uniform at Fenway was as meaningful to him as anything he did on the field, even his legendary Most Valuable Player season in 1967 when he carried the Red Sox to the World Series.
“The only way that I can compare it to anything would be if I compare it to the ’67 season,” he said. “That’s what it means to me, him being here. It’ll be the first time that ‘Yastrzemski’ will be announced on the field since ’83.”
Carl told Mike to take plenty of fly balls in batting practice to get used to the angles in left field at Fenway and playing the ball off the Green Monster.
It paid off in the 10th inning when he gloved a line drive off the wall, whirled, and fired the ball into second base to hold Sandy Leon to a single.
Red Sox fans of a certain age can remember Carl doing that. If not, their parents or grandparents would be happy to fill them in.
Baseball is the most sentimental of sports, and you couldn’t brush away the nostalgia on this night even if you tried.
“This is cool for everybody, the fans here in Boston but for us, too,” Bochy said. “The beautiful thing about this game is that is does allow you to have moments like this. These are memories that will stay with me for a lifetime.”