Thursday, August 21, 2008
The Top ten games in Baseball Ireland History (number 6)
Game: Ireland v Slocum
Tournament: Exhibition game
Game type: Friendly game
Venue: Fenway Park, Boston
In 2001 the Irish National Baseball team travelled to New England to play a series of exhibition games in order to prepare us for the 2002 European Championships in Sweden. The trip was also organised so Ireland could play a series of games against our great friends Slocum Baseball Club of Rhode Island. It was through them and the unbelievable hard work of Ed Cooney in particular that Ireland and Slocum were allowed play a exhibition game at Fenway park, home of the Boston Red Sox.
Here's an excerpt from my book on Irish Baseball on that famous day
You can also view pictures from that day here
Day four, Tuesday August 7th and we were already heading into beautiful Boston to play an exhibition game against Slocum at the greatest ballpark in the world, the hallowed baseball shrine otherwise known as Fenway Park. We had to get up extremely early in order to make it to Fenway for 9am. The bus journey seemed pretty slow, and typically the traffic was incredibly bad when we made it into the Fens area. Being an enormous Red Sox fan it was some thrill to see the light stands as we got closer, knowing that I was going to soon be playing actually in that very stadium.
I’ve had some amazing memories at Fenway in my time. First of all, it was the venue of my folks first date. I can almost see my Dad handing my Mum a beer and a hot dog as they headed for their bleacher seats (I’m almost willing to bet €100 they were bleacher seats!!) saying 'don't I show you a good time?!’ Ill never forget the first time I walked out into the Fenway arena, back in the summer of 1994. The Sox were playing Milwaukee and Roger Clemens was on the mound. I had seen the Red Sox on television before, my Dad and I had snuck home early from a family party in ’86 to watch British television showing what we hoped would be the Sox clinching a historic World Series. That didn’t turn out so well. I had as yet not made it into Fenway itself though. I was instantly addicted as Clemens mowed the Brewers down one by one.
Another fond memory is sitting in the sun drenched bleachers with my brother Gareth watching a mid week lunchtime game, everyone giddy as they were all off work or school to watch the Sox. Then there's the home opener of 1999, sitting in the bleachers about five meters from where Troy O'Leary's game winning three run blast landed. The place went absolutely nuts.
Anyway, you get the picture. The Sox send me into both raptures and conniptions.
When we got off the bus I immediately ran into my Aunt Essie. It was so cool to see her smiling face there, as if she was almost greeting me off the bus. There were allot of people milling around, relatives and friends of both the Slocum and Irish entourages.
After a brief hello I had to go inside, past the security and down the tunnel and out onto the field. I felt a little like a trespasser as I looked around trying to find out how to actually get on the field itself. A security guy laughed at me and told me just to hop over the wall. It was a magical moment for me as I got onto the sun drenched grass and headed for the third base line dugout. A couple of the team walked past, totally in awe, everyone desperately trying to take it all in.
We were such tourists, the first thing Gordon Ireland and I did was head for the majestic 'Green Monster' and started snapping pictures like crazy. We took one great one of the two of us under the foul line running up the Monster in the left hand corner. The whole team gravitated towards the Monster and soon we had a really nice team shot taken right under it.
Time was of the essence, we had to been told we had to be out of their at 1pm, so we hurriedly started to prepare. Myself, Bill Beglane and Mike Kindle jogged over to the Bullpen, practically tripping over ourselves with excitement. I had almost totally forgotten about my broken rib at this stage, the adrenaline was literally flowing through me. The bullpen warm-up was allot of fun, we were in the home pen too, and it hit me like a lightning bolt, I thought to myself 'Roger Clemens warmed up here. Pedro warmed up here..'. It was pretty sobering and I felt like I was almost insulting the bullpen with my comparatively amateur fastballs and ugly off speed pitches. Mike took off but Bill and I hung out for a few more minutes. The bullpen phone rang and Bill answered, and a ridiculous conversation followed with one of the Slocum kids on the other end having no clue what Bill was saying and likewise Bill being in the dark as to what the other guy wanted. Pretty funny stuff though to watch.
Time was going too fast. As I headed back to the dugout I noticed a small band of my relatives and my brother Gareth in the stands, and jumped the fence to go up and chat to them. It was an incredibly calming moment to suddenly be sitting amongst generations of Eklof’s and friends. I promised to come back to them after the game and took off to get ready to play. The dozen or so family and friends that were there to watch me was a figure totally dwarfed by the entourage that came to watch Chris Foy, There must have been forty people either friends or family of his. It was like 50 cent or Usher had just entered a nightclub with a fifty-man posse in tow.
I was told I was starting and going one inning (the game, which really was taking a very distant second place to the day, the event itself, was to take on the format of an All Star game). We batted first and didn't do much against the hard throwing Slocum starter, and then we took the field. Just like that I was standing on the mound at Fenway Park. Giddy as hell. I had absolutely no balance and felt like I was throwing my warm-up pitches with a paper arm.
I assume I am not the only guy in the world who has ‘sporting impotence’ dreams, dreams where you can’t hit a basket, or can’t sink the putt, or where you can’t run fast enough. That’s how it felt standing on the mound. My warm-up pitches were absolute muck.
Nervousness is a strange emotion. Right up to the moment I stood on the mound I really didn’t feel too bad. I was quite confident and felt like I could throw hard strikes. The moment I toed the rubber though it all went out the window though and I totally panicked. I looked up to the stands and couldn't find my relatives or friends, which didn't help. I thought that if I saw my brother laughing at me I'd calm down.
I kept thinking of the great games, the great Pitchers. I had been in the stands literally dozens of times watching my heroes play. I had seen some great, powerful, masterful performances on this very mound that I was standing on, and it was all getting in my head. I had sat about 80 feet dead ahead and watched Pedro Martinez blaze fastballs by major league hitters. Now I was staring at the dirt trying not to balk.
The game started, the Slocum guys came out swinging and my inning on the mound at Fenway Park was a bit of a battle. I gave up one run on a couple of walks and a hit, and Sean Mitchell bailed me out a little by throwing out a runner trying to steal third, but all in all I was happy enough. It was a beautiful day and we were only one run down in Fenway Park.
Bill Beglane pitched the second and Sean Corrigan pitched the third, and we were still in the game after 4 innings, only down 3-0. Unfortunately it then blew up in our faces as a couple of our pitchers were devoured. Our bats never really got going either. Probably our hardest hit ball was Gordon Ireland's amazing line drive on the first pitch he saw to deep centre field. Unfortunately for us the centre fielder made a quite spectacular diving grab to rob Gordy of a sure double.
I was delighted to get back into the game replacing Kevin Corrigan at third base at the start of the fifth. Having already been on the mound it was now time to share the same side of the infield as Nomar Garciaparra, the same infield position as John Valentin, Tim Naehring and Wade Boggs. I was standing on the same field as Yaz, Teddy Williams and countless other baseball legends. I had two at bats during my stint at third, grounding out to third in my first (I was delighted to put the ball in play!) and then drawing a walk off an extremely hard throwing pitcher in the last inning. During that at bat we scored our only run on a passed ball, so Ill be claiming the RBI for that one! It was an enormous thrill to jog down the first base line and stand on the bag. Ken Murphy was up after me, and he fouled a few pitches off so I got to hang around out there for a few minutes, adjusting my gloves, pretending I belonged there.
The exhibition game ended on a really nice note with tournament organiser Ed Cooney grounding out to our Coach Rick Steen at first, and it was time to breathe again.
Some pictures from Baseball Ireland's day at Fenway
Links to the other games in the Irish all time top ten
6. Ireland v Slocum Baseball Club - Fenway park 2001
7. Ireland v Finland European Championships 2004
8. Ireland v Slocum Baseball Club RI - Rhode Island tour 2001
9. Ireland v Lithuania - Stockholm 2002
10. Ireland v Serbia-Montenegro - Germany 2004
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