Fenway Park has seen a hell of a lot of history over these last 100 years. So much so that its almost impossible to look back and focus on just one game, one player or even one moment from the parks decorated past.
But thats what I wanted to do.
So, I sat down at my desk last night, closed my eyes and thought: OK Fenway Park! Whats the FIRST thing that pops into your head?
The answer was slightly weird and entirely unexpected.
Yes, Rico Brogna.
THE Rico Brogna.
The man, the myth, the Brogna.
As you remember, Boston grabbed Brogna off waivers in August of 2000. At the time, he was only 30 years old, a solid first baseman and less than a season removed from back-to-back 20 homer100 RBI campaigns. Did I mention he was a local guy? Yes, Brogna was born in Turner Falls, and had grown up cheering for the Sox in Watertown. So all things considered, people were pretty excited to add him to the mix. (When youre making a run at the pennant, theres no such thing as too much insurance for Brian Daubach.)
But unfortunately, like many moves from that era (or every era), Brogna never panned out. He was never healthy, and never found a rhythm. He appeared in only 40 games, hit .193 and managed one measly home run.
Still, somehow, when I sat at my desk last night and played mental roulette with my Fenway memories, that ONE home run was the first thing that clicked.
It was August 14, and the Sox 59-54, four games back in the AL East were hosting the Rays. But more importantly, Pedro Martinez was on the mound. This was his third season in Boston; the height of reign as the leagues most dominant pitcher. Back then, it didnt matter who the Sox were playing the Yankees, the Devil Rays, the Park League All-Stars when Pedro was on the mound you did everything you could to be there. And on this night, I was. Section 13. Row EE.
Fast-forward to the ninth inning, and things had NOT gone as planned. Pedro had left the game after only four innings with a stiff right shoulder, but not before giving up a three-run homer to mighty Miguel Cairo. The Sox got three back in the sixth, but that was it. The teams moved to the bottom of the ninth, tied 3-3.
Heres what happened next: Darren Lewis led off with an HBP, stole second and moved to third on a sac fly by Trot Nixon. Then, Jason Varitek struck out. So now the winning run was on third, with two outs and the only two legitimate threats in the Sox line-up (Carl Everett and Nomar Garciaparra) were coming up next.
What did Tampa do? They intentionally walked Crazy Carl. They intentionally walk Nomar. They intentionally walked the bases loaded for the one and only Rico Brogna!
As you can imagine, the crowd was buzzing. Not only because the Sox were on the verge of victory, but also because the Rays had just intentionally walked the bases loaded! How dare they steal a Nomar at-bar from us?! How dare they disrespect our hometown Brogna?! Now, we were excited, but also a pretty angry. (Those two emotions dominated just about every summer back then, especially when the division was within reach.) Everyone was standing. Everyone was screaming. At this very moment, regardless of anything that was going on in anyone's life, Rico freaking Brogna was the only thing that mattered!
Five pitches later, he turned on a 2-2 fastball and sent a rocket into right field bullpen.
A walk off grand slam!
And Fenway went nuts.
I dont remember what song was playing in the background. I don't remember if Wally was doing a celebratory dance on the dugout. I don't remember anything but watching through a sea of waving hands and screaming fans as Brogna made his way around the bases. Back then, we didnt need songs or gimmicks or anything to help us love this team, or that stadium. Fenway and the Sox were all were had. Just a team and a ball park, and to be honest, neither of them were that good. But they were enough. They were always enough.
Especially on that night.
To be honest, I'm still not sure how or why Rico Brogna's walk grand slam was the first Fenway memory to come flying through my brain. But I'm glad it was.
Because that's how this park should be remembered. That's how I'll always remember it. Not for what it is today. You know, Fenway Sports Group's perverted Magic Kingdom. A cheap whore that Larry, John and company keep throwing money at and make-up on just so they can show it off to their horny old friends.
To be honest, these days I feel bad for Fenway. I hate what it's become.
But thankfully, these guys can't ruin what Fenway once was.
We'll always have the memories.
We'll always have Rico Brogna.