This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares
his experiences as the only African American on the scene.
BOSTON — Prior to taking my third-row seat as the only Black reporter at the opener of last week’s Minnesota-Boston three-game series in the press box at Fenway Park, built in 1912, the Only One walked around the park and ran into just a couple of Blacks among the countless non-Black fans I passed during my several-blocks walk to Fenway.
Longtime Boston resident Reginald Reese sells hot dogs outside the stadium. “[I] lived here all my life,” he admitted as he told me that the typical home-team crowd is ethnically mixed. Ironically, on this night the Red Sox and a local Latino newspaper co-sponsored “Latino Youth Recognition Day” at the ballpark.
“It’s a wonderful ball park to come watch the Red Sox play,” boasted Reese, who easily could be Boston’s “sports mayor” as he continued his verbal city tour. “We got the Celtics’ arena right up the street…[behind] city hall.”
He then offered directions to the football stadium in nearby Foxboro, just in case I might want to go see the New England Patriots play. “You take a right on the highway, get off 93 and get on 24, and it will put you right at Gillette Stadium on
Route 1,” he directed.
Fenway also was the first American League ballpark where a Black pitcher (Earl Wilson) first threw a no-hitter in 1962. The first World Series night game was played there in 1975.
When I told Reese about the few Blacks I saw while downtown the night before on a Sunday night, he explained, “Everybody went to bed early because they had to work in the morning. People don’t stay up late. [But] Friday night and Saturday night, it’s busy. It’s a great city to hang out [at] all the local bars down the street and downtown.”
Lloyd, a 24-year-old cook from Hartford, Conn., and I immediately discovered we both had something in common — it was his first time ever at Fenway, too. The young man said that he and his fellow employees were there for a night at the park.
“My boss is taking us out for ‘employee appreciation.’ He’s showing us his appreciation for our hard work and dedication,” Lloyd noted.
He also had an observation similar to this reporter’s: “I’ve been walking around, and I’m the only [Black person] I see.”
Al, a 41-year stadium worker who I met inside the park, mistook me for a former player. “You look familiar — you look like a pro,” he said before giving me a quick history of both the city
and the stadium.
Al reported that he first moved to Boston in 1951 and has witnessed first-hand the city’s transformation ever since, especially for Black working folk. “When I first came here, I was living with my uncle… Boston had no Black policemen…and they had one Black policeman in Cambridge,” he recalled.
Black attendance at the park over the years has improved as well, added Al. “It’s a different atmosphere. They had this thing that Black people didn’t want to associate with other people [at the park].”
“[Fenway] doesn’t have all the new nice digs that all the other ballparks do, but it’s nostalgic,” observed Ron Gardenhire, the Twins manager, on the Boston ballpark. “You step out of that dugout, all you can think about is how many people have been here and done that before you. It’s a beautiful place.”
Personally, I can do without the fancy do-dads in the newer parks such as the one in downtown Minneapolis. Give me old Tiger Stadium, where I’ve been many times as a Detroit youngster, but it’s been gone since 2009. It and Fenway once were tied as Major League Baseball’s oldest parks because they opened the same year. Now, besides Fenway, only Chicago’s Wrigley Field (built 1914) still stands.
Other than Gardenhire, Al, Reginald the vendor, a White stadium worker and a local writer who sat next to me, hardly anyone else acknowledged the Only One’s presence once again in a major league baseball press box. The Fenway press box sadly and expectedly is in that regard no different than the Twins’.
Finally, according to Reese, “Boston is a great place, a wonderful place to hang out. A wonderful place to go party. If you have something against the city, you’ll have to answer to me,” concluded the unofficial civic greeter.
In memoriam — Tony Gwynn (1960-2014)
“He was one of those guys who always had a smile on his face and loved playing baseball. He sure is going to be missed,” said Gardenhire on Gwynn, who died last week of cancer. The eight-time National League batting champ and 15-time All-Star played all 20 major league seasons in San Diego, posted a .338 career average, and was inducted into the hall of fame in 2007 in his first year of eligibility.
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