Red Sox fans across New England are feeling — to borrow from Yogi Berra — déjà vu all over again. Thursday’s Opening Day walk-off loss to the Tigers was a cruel reminder of just how badly last season ended for the Sox. After riding high all summer, the team lost 20 of its last 27 games in September and missed the playoffs.
But the team’s historic collapse doesn’t bother WBUR’s Gary Waleik very much, because he once endured his own humiliating season-ender.
Sunday, Oct. 3, 1976, was a sunny and mild day at Fenway. Uncle Dave, Cousin Jeff and I were seated in a field box overlooking the outfield. It was the Sox’ last game of the regular season, a subdued, meaningless affair against the Baltimore Orioles who, like the Sox, were going nowhere that year. The park was about half full, which made me, a gawky adolescent, wonder why the organist or the concessionaires or even we had bothered to show up.
Our seats were along the left field line, in a section that rises several feet above field level. The drop looked a little dangerous, at least for someone thinking of jumping. I know this because I looked straight down at the ground after Jeff, three years my junior, said, “Let’s jump onto the field after the last out.” I laughed and said, “Yeah, right.”
But level-headedness would not prevail that day. Immediately after the last out had been recorded, I was plummeting earthward. It was too late for circumspection or common sense. My feet landed and I thought briefly of Neil Armstrong. Before you could say “Denny Doyle,” Jeff and I were tearing across the left field turf with a few dozen other thrill-seekers.
After a short sprint, we were face-to-face with the iconic left field scoreboard. I was tall for my age and wanted a souvenir, so I reached for the closest sign, an olive green rectangle with “Detroit” painted in white. I began very gently separating it from the Green Monster, but someone grabbed me from behind, lifted me into the air, and slammed me shoulder-first into the warning track. I sprang up, far more astonished than I should have been, and scurried back to the stands just ahead of the security guards. There, red-faced, mustachioed Uncle Dave bellowed his objections over the cheery strains of the Fenway Wurlitzer. The ride home was not fun.
So clueless starting pitchers and fried chicken and beer and unworthy hecto-millionaires and lost postseason chances — I don’t worry about them so much. I’ve experienced my own late-season meltdown, right there at Fenway Park. And next year came anyway.
Gary Waleik produces Only A Game, heard each Saturday at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. He does not condone behavior resembling his own.