Earning Jimmy O’Donnell’s Ticket

by Sean Lilly

I have a friend (we’ll call him Adam) who often gets premium tickets to Red Sox games, and he loves to tell me about them. I am a Mets’ fan, but I’ve lived in Massachusetts long enough to know the sublime pleasure of sitting in the stands at Fenway of a summer’s afternoon or evening. So I suppose the idea behind the calls was to make me jealous.

Red Sox TicketsIn fact, it did bother me that Adam was there, but not because I wished to be there in his place. What did gall me about Adam’s presence was that he has known for roughly forty-five minutes that the Red Sox were a baseball team that plays in Boston. As friends around him became excited about the Red Sox, as he observed the important business contacts he could cultivate by being a “fan”, as he saw how being a Red Sox fan was like being the new it girl, he suddenly became an avid Red Sox national. In and of itself, none of this was enough to rankle me. What burned me was the thought of who else might’ve had Adam’s seat.

All I could think of with each of Adam’s taunts was of some old-timer from the South End or maybe East Boston. Someone for whom being a lifelong Red Sox fan was a profound undertaking because “lifelong” meant upwards of eight decades. Someone who remembered Ted Williams’swing as more than just archival footage. This guy had been at Anzio and the one thought that kept him going as he clung to the ground next to his buddies as the shells exploded around him was the thought of getting home and taking his best gal (who would go on to be his wife of over 40 years until she passed on) to see the Sox from the bleachers some summer Saturday. What kept him going now was the idea of sitting with his son and his granddaughter at Fenway once or twice a season. He had seen a depression, a world war, the civil rights movement, and 9/11, and all he still longed to see his was beloved Old Towne Team finally win that ring that eluded them for literally his entire life. Then finally there was that magical night in the den of the house he and his wife had bought on the South Shore back in the fifties, his son by his side, his granddaughter asleep in his lap, when he saw Foulke underhand it to first for that final out that had been so long in coming. He clasped his son’s hand and hugged his granddaughter close to him and tried to fight back the tears as he thought of his wife, his buddies back at Anzio, all the people in his life who were gone but he had this, he had his family and this house and his beloved Red Sox, and look at what he had lived to see.

This guy– in my head– could not go to a Red Sox game because Adam had his ticket. This son of the city, this solid family man, this patriot who had given so much to his country, couldn’t go see the team he had held close to his heart for an age because this baseball fashionista had clients to impress.

It infuriated me. Was there at long last really no justice in this world? Did God not in fact keep the score I always imagined he had? How could the forces that set the stars in the heavens really look at Adam sneering into his Blackberry at me and that marvelous old gentleman sitting in his den and be okay with this? How could this be let to pass? How could this be right?

Obviously, one of the morals of this story is how much more interesting your life can be when you have an overwrought imagination. But the other lesson is this: not everybody who goes to a Major League baseball game deserves to go.

That’s right, you read that correctly. Deserves. When you’ve been watching baseball as long as I have, you tend to think that not everyone has earned their place in the stands as you have. See, to be allowed to go to a baseball game, you need to be qualified. We have to know how much of a real baseball purist and lifer that you are. There has to be a way to determine that you’ll truly appreciate and understand what you’ll see. Obviously such exacting standards are not expected of everybody. Anyone who is still just learning the game—children, European immigrants, wives and husbands who were not raised on baseball and are trying to figure out a way to put up with you from mid-February through October—are exempt from such testing. But if you’re going to call yourself a lifelong fan, if you’re going to really make a serious go at being with baseball, if you’re going to be so presumptuous as to take a seat away from the likes of Jimmy O’Donnell (the octogenarian hero of Anzio from before; yes, I gave him a name), you need to meet certain standards. Standards that I, as the quintessential baseball purist and lifer, am only to happy to articulate. So before you even think of logging on to Stub Hub, submit yourself to the following test—and you’re darned right there are correct answers.

1. Pick a year from your favorite team’s past (at least five years ago) in which they finished with a losing record and out of the pennant race. Name at least ten players from that team.

Real baseball fans make absolutely ideal husbands and wives. We actually started training for marriage the day we became fans. Long before we got married, we were well-practiced in some of the key ingredients to a successful marriage: being supportive despite adversity, loving someone even if they bring you to medication-worthy levels of exasperation, patience, loyalty, staying with someone through good times and bad, for richer or poorer, till death, do you part, because that’s your very own someone, always has been, and always will be. Marriage is of course by far the more important commitment but in terms of longevity, being a baseball fan is an entirely comparable one. In either case, the one you choose is the one you stick with for life (something philanderers don’t understand) even if things get tough sometimes (something Yankees’ fans do not understand). If you became a Red Sox fan after 2004, a Phillies fan last year, or suddenly realized you were a die-hard Dodgers’ fan this year, you need to realize it wasn’t always like this. It’s easy to wear your cap and brag about your league-leading hitters and pitchers this year, but do you remember what it was like when everyone was cackling at how lousy they were? What if that should happen again next year, five years, ten years from now? Will your cap still be on your head then? If the answer to that is anything other “yes”, Jimmy O’Donnell and I better not see you in our seats.

And for the record: Charlie Puleo, Craig Swan, Neil Allen, Doug Flynn, Tom Veryzer, Hubie Brooks, Wally Backman, Dave Kingman, Ron Hodges, George Foster, and Rusty Staub were all members of the 1982 Mets, a team that went 65-97.

2. It is the 8th inning and the score is tied. The first man up for your team reaches base. The next batter isn’t necessarily a weak hitter, but he’s certainly not one of your big run producers. He squares up to bunt on the first pitch taps the ball gently between home and the mound. The catcher throws out the batter at first, but the runner moves up to second. Do you cheer?

I only ask this because there was an instance a number of years ago in which a hitter in Montreal was booed for doing this. It’s called a sacrifice bunt. It may look like the easiest of outs, but if it’s done correctly it’s a great way to move a runner up into scoring position, so that a base hit can bring home a run. If all you need is one run, say to break a late-inning tie or to score the winning run, it’s can be absolutely…

Who am I kidding? If your answer to the initial question was anything other than “yes”, you can’t possibly have the faintest clue as to what “scoring position” or “the winning run” is. And therefore you to do not get Jimmy O’Donnell’s ticket.

3. Is the designated hitter an abomination before the Lord?

If your answer to this is anything other than yes, go find yourself a cricket game. Baseball isn’t for you. That’s because if you’re all right with the designated hitter, you’re all right with a game that looks remarkably like baseball, but isn’t actually baseball. See, in baseball everyone who hits also fields and everyone who fields also hits. You don’t get to skip out of one of those responsibilities because you’re really bad at it. In baseball, the pitcher hits. Not like that quasi-baseball they play in the American League because a few decades ago owners were stupid enough to think everyone got this next question wrong.

4. Pitchers duels or slugfests?

God, this is so boring! No one is hitting any home runs! There’s no scoring! Why doesn’t somebody do something?

Someone is doing something. Two someones are doing something and it’s actually a mesmerizing work of art. You just don’t get it.

If you like suspense thrillers, you do get it. Because you’d probably love pitcher’s duels. The same knife-edge tension, the same can’t-bear-to-watch anxiety about one little mistake meaning the end, the same fascination about what might happen next is at work. And if you have even the first idea of how hard it is to pitch a shutout, even just a complete game, you know what a wonder it is to see not one but two pitchers throwing zeros at each other, daring each other with each scoreless inning to top that, to keep up with me, to weave as flawless a work of art as I am because if you can’t, you lose today.

If you can’t appreciate that, stand to one side and leave baseball to the grownups.

5. The manager is a moron. Explain.

This one of the most treasured complaints of both the novice and experienced fan. Everyone knows better than the manager. Sometimes it’s actually true. Sometimes it’s not. If you say “the manager is a moron” at the game, that’s fine. You may be right. That’s not what really matters though. For the purposes of getting Jimmy O’Donnell’s ticket, you just need to say why the manager is a moron. Tell me. Is it a bad idea for him to be sending a left-handed hitter up as a pinch-hitter with a lefty on the mound? With one out and a speedster on first and the team down a run, is the situation just crying out for a steal attempt? Is it too early to be bringing the infield in? Can you not fathom why this starting pitcher is still in there when he’s clearly struggling and you’ve got a reliever in the bullpen just standing around waiting to come in? Does it baffle you that this guy refuses to think about putting on a squeeze play even once?

Did you go cross-eyed just now? Then you’re not allowed to say the manager is a moron. I know you’ve heard other people call this manager a moron. You may even be hearing other people call him a moron right now. They’re not a good reason for you to do the same. You need to come up with good reasons to do the same all by yourself. If you can’t and you say the manager is a moron anyway, that seat you’re in doesn’t belong to you.

So there you have it. If you can handle those five simple questions, Jimmy and I would be proud to have you sit between us. If you can’t, we’d still love to see you there. We absolutely love teaching people about baseball. If you’re not interested in learning, you’re still most welcome—we realize you’re only there because you love at least one of us and we appreciate you being supportive. You can still expect to not get a word in edgewise for the next three hours or so, but we do appreciate you.

Everyone else? I suppose you can remain—so long as you remain silent. If you talk, you’ll probably try to tell us what a die-hard fan you are. You’ll probably try to demonstrate your baseball expertise. You’ll probably try to impress just about everyone around us in these fabulous seats you snagged.

Jimmy O’Donnell and I don’t care. And neither do the security personnel that in my world will now escort you out of the park so that someone who deserves your seat can have it.

Sean Lilly went to his first baseball game on July 4, 1980 at Shea Stadium and has been driving everyone he knows bonkers with the Mets ever since. After writing and performing with Committee for Creative Enactments as an undergrad at Boston College,  he worked as a sketch comedy performer and stand-up comic and now teaches elementary school (he’s as surprised as you).  He currently lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts with his with his wife Kelly and they are expecting their first child in October.  He has promised his father-in-law that he will raise his child a Red Sox fan, but has duly warned him that we all tend to follow our fathers in these matters no matter what.

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