They say you never forget the first time.
I was 19 years old, a freshman at Harvard, that memorable April day in 1967 when years of boyish longing were finally fulfilled.
My first opening day.
The beloved Red Sox played the White Sox at Fenway Park. It was 46 degrees. Fans wore gloves and scarves and looked for telltale icicles hanging from that great Green Monster of a left field wall. All around me, teeth chattered and lips turned blue. I was oblivious to the risks of pneumonia.
After all, I was at the ballpark on opening day. Has man devised greater bliss?
I had been a lifelong and incorrigible Red Sox fan, symptoms common in New England: delusions of grandeur in springtime, malaise in summer, depression in autumn, blindness to the foibles of hapless right-handed-hitting first basemen with names like Norm Zauchin, Walt Dropo and Ron Jackson.
Growing up in central Massachusetts, 45 miles from Boston, I got to go to a few games each season, except during the polio scare. Opening day, however, had always been out of the question. No excursions to Boston were permitted until the school year ended in June.
But at 19, I became a man. My misguided older brothers had sought higher education at Columbia in New York City, but I aimed for Hahvahd Yahd, 10 minutes on the Red Line from Fenway Pahk. As much "veritas" was discovered that spring in the Fenway bleachers as in the stacks at Widener Library.
As a sports broadcaster for the student radio station, I had managed to wangle a season pass for Fenway. Not a place in the sacred press box, mind you, but admission to the bleachers for any game for a modest service charge. A gold pass to heaven could not have pleased me more.
There never was any serious thought given to attending my class in economics that Wednesday afternoon, April 12, 1967. I was at Fenway for batting practice, frozen but happy as a clam on the half shell by the time Johnny Mathis sang the national anthem. Th crowd was disappointingly small -- less than 9,000 -- and the Red Sox won a madcap game, 5-4, John Wyatt and Don McMahon saving the victory for Jim Lonberg. The Bosox had finished ninth in the American League the previous year. Who could have known then that, under rookie Manager Dick Williams, this would be the year that the impossible dream of every spring would come true?
I still remember that, amid an exhaustive recap of the game, I dwelled on a couple of quirks in my radio report that evening. Chicago's Gerry McNertney was the first catcher I had ever seen wearing a batting helmet while on defense. He must have a Chicken Little complex, I thought, and, sure enough, he contributed to Boston's winning rally by muffing a popup that nearly conked him. I also got my first up-close look at Chicago right fielder Walt (No-Neck) Williams. Damn if his head didn't really spring up from right between his shoulders.
They say that sometimes the first time is a bit awkward, and my maiden opening day produced one of those moments. The next time I attended my economics class, the instructor -- I believe his name was Dr. Hewlett, although I am not as sure of that as I am that Rico Petrocelli knocked in four runs and John Buzhardt was the losing pitcher -- noted my absence, and then mentioned ominously that he had heard my report of the game on the radio.
"Oh, really?" I mumbled, terror-stricken that my cover was so easily blown.
"Yes," said the good professor, who knew "veritas" when he saw it. "Keep up the good work."