Fenway


"Watch yourself, baby!"

I snatched Kayla back from the curb as one of the Green Line trolleys passed. Her five year-old face turned up to me, and I lifted her and set her on my hip. She's getting too big to carry, but I can't help it. I'm a straight-up fool for my daughter.

"Ya almost lost that little pickaninny," snickered a scratchy tenor at my elbow.

I gave the guy a look instead of the punch that itched in my right hand. It was Game Day, a day for tolerance. My mother's admonition, as always, rang in my memory: "Hate is a sickness, boy. Don't let nobody pass the germ on to you."

He had the stringy dullness of a backwoods tourist, in town to watch the Sox lose to New York like the rest of us. Drunk, I realized, seeing the discreetly lidded styrofoam cup in his hand and the blear of inebriation fogging his flaccid face. He bore an unfortunate resemblance to the driver that had rear-ended Ma on her last day of life, pushing the old Rambler over an embankement and into the Nashua River. I knew he couldn't help what he looked like, but it made me want to hit him more.

The light changed and the horde surged across Boylston toward Fenway. I'd scored a free parking space on Queensberry, and was looking forward to spending the extra money on a couple of franks. It was a little close to the Fens, but it's not like there was anything to steal in the six year-old Econobox I was driving these days.

The Yawkey gate came into view around the corner of the office building at the Jersey intersection. The drunk was a couple of lengths ahead of us, waiting to cross Van Ness, and I thought about bumping him into the path of an oncoming car as we came up behind. I could be distracted by Kayla, an accident. It probably wouldn't kill him. Traffic around Fenway during baseball season moves like tepid lava.

In the hard July light, I watched him giving a leer to the woman beside him. She was maybe forty-five, wearing an oversized Red Sox jersey and tight jeans. She had a high, plump shape -- narrow hips, full breast -- like a pigeon.

After a minute, she glared back at the drunk and said, "What the fuck you looking at?"

"Nice cans," he slurred.

"Ya bettah watch ya mouth," she snapped, "or I'll slap it right off ya."

He swelled, then receded, muttering, "Fat bitch."

She rounded on him fast. "What'd ya call me?"

The people near them shrank back a few feet, moving out of brawl range. The light changed, and the drunk stepped into the street, flinging a muttered something over his shoulder at the woman. She pursued him across the intersection and up Yawkey, the rigid shrill of her voice battering the clear air. Onlookers paused to watch them pass, some smiling.

"What's wrong with that lady, Dah?" Kayla asked me. I don't know when or why she started calling me Dah instead of Daddy. It seems like always, now.

She was getting too old for 'nothing, baby,' so I said, "That man was rude to her," while feeling for my wallet.

"Why did he call her a fat bitch?" Kayla asked me, craning around to follow the action.

I couldn't help but laugh at her innocent intonation. "I don't know, sugar, but those are bad words to use for ladies."

"I know," she frowned, as if I were the village idiot. "I heard it at school. It's a female dog."

"That's right," I said, moving to the gate, tickets out. "It's mean to say to people, though."

"What if I want to be mean?" she asked, her scant little brows drawing down.

"Now why you want to do that?" We were on the main concourse now, and I was multitasking: trying to engage with Kayla, keep my wallet, and get to concessions in one piece.

"If they mean to me, I'ma get even," she said, nodding her head vigorously, for emphasis. It was a gesture her mother made frequently.

"Yeah? And then what?" I asked my daughter, scanning for the shortest dog line.

She puzzled with it for a minute, then smiled at me, putting her hands on my cheeks and making a kissy face. I laughed again, that deep place under my sternum expanding. I knew I should carry on with the Life Lesson, but when she cutesys up to me like that, I'm a goner.

"How ya want it, man?"

The kid slinging dogs behind the counter had a pugilistic Boston face -- pale and freckled, nose turning up above a bulldog jaw; straight, sand-colored hair under his ball cap. I ordered one fully dressed and one with just ketchup for Kayla, and a couple of drinks. Then we were out of the dank roar of the concourse and into the stadium, that deep dish of green sunk in the middle of the gray city, with the smell of sweat and summer. Damn, I love baseball.

The teams were already on the field, and Jeter singled as I got Kayla settled in her seat. The crowd drowned itself in the loud roar of boos required of all die-hard Sox fans when a Yankee goes anywhere but out. I sat down just in time to watch Drew throw it in from the Green Monster. Jeter rounded first and pulled up.

Our seats were in the field boxes a couple of yards off first base, and I could actually hear Jeter shooting the shit with Kevin Youkilis. Donna had given me no end of crap for what I spent on these tickets, but if you can't feel the spit in your face, you might as well stay home and watch it on TV, that's what I think. It was Kayla's first game. I wanted her to have the full experience.

Johnny Damon came up to bat, cleating the dirt like a bull. Kayla got a mouthful of dog, and said, "Look, Dah. It's that man."

The obnoxious drunk was trawling along the concrete walkway that ran between the Sox dugout and the field boxes. Now he had a park beer cup in his hand, his carry-in no doubt confiscated at the gate. He was catcalling out toward the field. I couldn't separate his words from the crowd hum, but several people near him stopped looking at the field and directed angry glares his way.

Damon's bat made a sound like a firecracker. It was a short fly out to center, Ellsbury sprinting fast to try and get under it. It took a bounce, and Jeter slid safe into second. The crowd went nuts.

The drunk was on our side of the dugout now, leaning over the low wall, spewing at Damon. I saw Damon's head jerk toward him, the shadow of his ball cap unable to conceal the gleam of fury in his dark eyes. After a couple of minutes, the crowd subsided, and the drunk's voice could be heard.

"Go back to the minors, ya fuckin' spic!"

I shook my head. Clueless, as well as drunk. I wondered if he had a family. For a minute, I felt pity toward him; toward that shrunken ass in those baggy jeans, the worn, shapeless jacket.

"What's a spic, Dah?"

"It's another bad word, baby. Just ignore him. He's sick."

"How come he's at the baseball game if he's sick?"

A hitter I didn't know was coming up to the plate. Marcial Ramirez, a Dominican, my program said. The drunk kept up his flood of slurs, smearing them liberally along the first base line. One of the ball boys came up out of the dugout to give him some shit, which only inspired him to uglier heights. I looked up and down the walkway for a cop. There's usually a lot of them at games now, after the thing with Manny, but the only one I could see was standing behind home plate, arms crossed, watching Beckett wind up for the batter.

"Hey, Paco," the drunk yelled toward the plate, heading along the back of the Sox dugout again. "This ain't Mexican ball. Ya gonna hafta actually swing at the mothafuckah, 'stead of standin' there with ya dick in ya hand."

Kayla made an adult tsking noise around her mouthful of dog. The cop behind home plate had finally gotten a whiff, and turned his big Irish head toward us. People within earshot of the drunk were starting to throw stuff. I heard somebody holler for him to shut the fuck up, to which he responded by lifting his middle finger. The cop shifted and moved our way.

Beckett delivered a low fastball to the plate, and the Dominican gave it a vicious whack. I saw that the ball was going to sling foul, and the spectators in the dugout seats cringed out of range, leaving the drunk, slowed by the liquor, standing alone in its path like a lightning rod. He took it hard to the left side of the face. A spray of blood flared up, and a chorus of screams rippled out from where he spiraled down toward the concrete.

The cop started to run, hand on his gun. Players boiled up out of the dugout, the umps running to get between them and the crowd. Within seconds, paramedics were trotting past along the walkway, toward the clot of bodies around the fallen drunk. A wave of hushed horror followed them and spread, until the whole park was quiet. Traffic could be heard on the Turnpike beyond the Green Monster. Then the crowd began to murmur, and soon the silence was filled with the low noise of the public again.

The two guys in the box behind us started up.

"It was just a matter a time, man."

"Bettah him than the battah. Is he movin'?"

"Don't look like it."

The people crowded around the drunk were shooed off by the paramedics, and I could see them working over him. A gurney came along the walkway, towed by two more uniforms, and the paramedics rolled the fallen man onto it. Even from my distance, I could see there was a lot of blood. Still, a cold shock shot through me when they covered the guy with a sheet. The park dropped into a horrified hush again.

The gurney was quickly hiked back up to waist high, and then the paramedics began to roll it toward us. I was suddenly very aware of my daughter. Her plump little legs in their pink pants, the drip of ketchup on her green tee shirt. I got an arm around her and pulled her close across the hard wooden armrest.

"Dah," she complained, wriggling.

"Don't look, baby."

"Why? What happened?" She pushed my arm off and squirmed forward on the hard green seat, looking down toward the gurney as it approached.

"Is that man dead?" she asked, rounding on me with wide eyes.

I knew Donna would kill me, but I nodded. I never wanted to lie to Kayla about the realities of life. If she had to see somebody die, better she do it with her old man at her side.

My daughter put her elbows on the pipe railing between the box and the walkway, folding herself forward to watch the gurney come. I kept an eye on her for any sign of distress, but she was clearly more fascinated than scared. The female paramedic at the head of the gurney, a small white woman, gave her a compressed smile as they passed.

Then, with that emphatic nod so like her mother's, Kayla leaned over the railing and whispered into the dead man's ear:

"That's what you get."