Five days after the Titanic hit ice and sunk in the North Atlantic, its maiden voyage turning tragic at the 41st parallel, a far more benign unveiling took place on the coast of Massachusetts. It was a Saturday, April 20, 1912. Following two days of rainouts, the Boston Red Sox finally played a game in their new home, Fenway Park. The field was built on a patch of former marshland. Boston’s star center fielder, Tris Speaker, knocked an 11th-inning single to bring a 7-6 victory.
The opponent that day was the New York Highlanders – soon to be the Yankees – and if you don’t find that fitting, well, you haven’t been paying attention over the last 97 years. The Highlanders/Yankees were on their way to their worst record (50-102) ever, while the Red Sox were about to win the World Series. Soon enough an iconic star, Babe Ruth, would be sold, the clubs’ fortunes would reverse, and baseball’s oldest, hottest and most chronicled rivalry would be on its way, a hardball border war that has not always been torrid (raise your hand if you spent time in 1966 debating who was better, Steve Whitaker or Jim Gosger), but has given us more great theatre than Broadway, and all manner of psycho-socio subplots for no extra charge.
“Long before I knew the word ‘conspiracy,’ I felt it every August, when the Yankees would get the exact player they needed from the Kansas City A’s, and would beat us out again,” says Rob Gilbert, who grew up in Boston before becoming a professor and sports psychologist at Montclair State University.
From Russell Earl Dent to Aaron John Boone to David Ray Roberts, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has produced epic moments and Ted Williams for the great Joe DiMaggio); some infamous brouhahas (Carlton v. Thurman, Bill Lee v. Graig Nettles, Pedro v. Zim) and ceaseless taunts and retorts.
“Got rings?” reads a popular Yankee T- shirt, reminding Sox fans of their 26 World Series titles.
“Got rings lately?” reads a popular Sox T-shirt, reminding Yankee fans that two of the last five championship flags have been raised in Boston.
It has also yielded some of the most spectacular triumphs/heartaches in baseball annals, from the wild pitch that New York‘s 41-game winner, Jack Chesbro, threw to give Boston the 1904 pennant, to the final two days of 1949, when the Red Sox needed only to win one of two games against the Yankees to clinch, and won none.
With no wild cards in sight, the Sox’s season was over, with a record of 96-58.
And then there was 1978, when the Yankees erased a 14-game deficit and won the 163rd game in Fenway, the big hit being the 23rd home run of Bucky Dent’s career.
Payback came 26 years later, when the Red Sox made an unprecedented comeback from three games down, beating the Yankees four straight, a charge that began with Roberts, a 32-year-old journeyman who came in to pinch run in the ninth inning of Game 4, Sox down a run with Mariano Rivera pitching. The whole world knew Roberts would run. Roberts did, a 90-foot dash that would be his only steal of the postseason, and make him almost as much of a local legend as Paul Revere.
The Sox would not lose again that season, ending an 86-year drought and the deeply entrenched fatalism of Red Sox Nation, the enduring image being David Ortiz and Pedro and the rest partying at River and 161st.
What accounts for the intensity of the rivalry? Geographic proximity surely is part of it. Rico Petrocelli, who grew up in Brooklyn rooting for the Yankees before a fine, 13-year career with the Sox, thinks the Yankees’ championship pedigree, and New York’s sheer size, fuel the passion on the Red Sox side.
“New York is Goliath, and everybody else is David, and we always try to have our slingshots ready at Fenway Park,” Petrocelli says.
Dr. Harvey Dulberg, a former Long Islander and Boston-based sports psychologist, believes that New York’s bloated sense of entitlement is in play, too.
“The attitude seems to be, ‘We know we’re the biggest, we know we’re the best. We know we’re going to win and that we’re entitled to win,'” Dulberg says. “To which Red Sox fans say, ‘You are not entitled to win. You win because of Steinbrenner’s gazillions of dollars.'”
From the Yankee perspective, few things are more annoying than people prattling on about Red Sox Nation (“What a bunch of s— that is,” Hank Steinbrenner told a reporter last year), or the implicit belief among Sox faithful that they are more loyal, more fervid and have more character, too, since their team hasn’t traded in its landmark ballpark for a shinier model.
By the time the 2009 season is over, the Yankees and Red Sox will have met 2,083 times. They have spent the last decade slugging it out in the AL East and in the playoffs (1999, 2003, 2004), the rivalry rolling on, the fan flames burning hotter than ever, even as the Red Sox won their first eight meetings with the Yankees this year.
Nobody knows who the next unlikely hero will be, or what future turns the Yanks and Sox will take. The only certainty is that people on both sides will continue to root and root hard, to have their lives somehow impacted by these ballgames, in big ways and small. Who are these fans in the seats, in front of the TV, driving as great a rivalry as there is in American sport?
They are people with a story.
No ordinary Joe: Fred Petrigno
Fred Petrigno’s life of crime began and ended on a Tuesday afternoon in the city where he has lived all of his 78 years. The scene was Fenway Park. He was sitting near what would come to be known as the Pesky Pole. The date was June 28, 1949.
The Yankees had just beaten the Red Sox, 5-4, Ted Williams flying out to Joe DiMaggio in center for the final out. Seventeen-year-old Fred Petrigno stared in awe at the sight of DiMaggio, his old-country icon and baseball hero, as he trotted regally off the field.
One of five boys of Italian immigrants, Fred grew up in Boston’s predominantly Italian North End, battered by slurs and stereotypes that were thicker than the fog off the harbor. Fred’s father worked in a box factory, his mother in a candy factory. His people weren’t gangsters or organ grinders, or oily-skinned dimwits, as Italian families were commonly portrayed. They were earnest working people, struggling to build a life and to fend off the nastiness. And then here came Joe DiMaggio, America‘s first ethnic sports hero, who glided on the field and shattered stereotypes off it.
To young Fred Petrigno, the hope Joe DiMaggio embodied was as tangible as his widespread stance or the No. 5 on his road grays. The connection was enough to make a lifelong Bomber fan out of Petrigno, and thousands of other Italians in New England, geography be damned. The Yanks weren’t just the club of Joe; they were the club of Lazzeri and Berra and Phil Rizzuto, too. Even the Fenway arrival of Dom DiMaggio, a star in his own right, didn’t alter the allegiance.
“Joe put us up there,” says Petrigno, a bespectacled, 5-foot-2 man with a pronounced Boston accent. He is sitting in the courtyard of his brick apartment house, a former macaroni factory tucked off of a North End alley. “You looked up to him. He was nothing to be ashamed of. He showed that Italians are not so bad.”
A few blocks away, in a North End café, across the street from the Old North Church where Paul Revere lit his lantern in 1775, Anthony (Junior) Troisi has his own Joe DiMaggio story. He is the same age as Petrigno, from the same neighborhood, though he has lived a completely different life, a bookie and drug dealer who tells you with a glint of pride, “I never worked a day in my life.” He did four years of time in a federal penitentiary, but never stopped revering Joe DiMaggio, or the Yankees.
“I waited for him one night when he was eating at Monte’s Restaurant (in the North End),” Troisi says. “I got his autograph and my mother gave me the beating of my life. I never asked for another autograph again.”
On the day he eyed Joe DiMaggio in 1949, Fred Petrigno wasn’t so much interested in an autograph as just being able to touch his hero. Without a moment’s forethought, he jumped the railing when the game ended and dashed out to center field.
“Attaboy, Joe. Good catch,” Petrigno told him, as he touched the great DiMaggio’s arm, before shortstop Rizzuto shooed Petrigno away, lest he step on DiMaggio’s bad foot.
Soon Fred Petrigno was apprehended by Boston police, and taken downtown. The judge asked him why he jumped on the field.
“I like Joe DiMaggio,” Petrigno told him. “I was excited. I never would’ve done anything like that if it wasn’t Joe DiMaggio.”
Fred Petrigno was fined $25 – more than half of his weekly salary at his shoe-factory job – and woke up to find his mug shot on the front page of the Boston Globe. He has the clipping of the Globe story on a basement wall, along with framed photos of Joe and a blue felt Joe DiMaggio pennant. Petrigno went on to a career as court officer in the Massachusetts state legislature, but his Yankee loyalty has never wavered. To this day, when the Yankees and Sox are late into a tight game, Petrigno gets so anxious he has to turn off the set or walk away, maybe into the courtyard, where he is surrounded by statuettes of Jesus, Mother Mary and assorted saints.
“He was my all-time favorite,” Fred Petrigno says of Joe DiMaggio. “He will always be my favorite. He was one of us, and look at what he did.”
Professor Thom’s: Sox On Tap
You are on the west side of Second Ave., between 13th and 14th, but the street signs lie. Once you walk in Professor Thom’s, past the red (what else?) woodwork and antique-style lanterns, you feel as though you are 200 miles to the northeast, in Kenmore Square or Back Bay or Beacon Hill, and you know it long before you count the 17 TV sets tuned to the Red Sox game, or learn that Bill Lee had his 60th birthday party here.
Professor Thom’s – named after Jerry Thomas, author of the 1862 bartending classic, “How To Mix Drinks” - is that rarest of New York phenomena: a Red Sox bar in the belly of the pinstriped beast. Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner have stopped in, and so has the 2007 World Series trophy. Fred Lynn, Luis Tiant and Jonathan Papelbon‘s mother all have made appearances, and the regulars include entire platoons of the BLOHARDS (Benevolent and Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient Red Sox Diehard Sufferers of New York), a hard-core, 700-member fan club that loves to beat the Yankees and tweak Yankee fans.
Your typical BLOHARD can tell you Gary Geiger‘s middle name (Merle) and the name of the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the 1975 Series (Rick Wise). The group has its own booth in the back of Professor Thom’s, where it takes in Yankee games with a box of Tic Tacs on the shelf, in honor of Alex Rodriguez‘s infamous comment that he knew the steroids he was taking weren’t, uh, breath mints.
“Fenway is by far the best place to watch the Sox, but in New York it’s PT’s, gathered with 10 or so ‘BLOHARDS’ in our minimally decorated, semi-luxury Naugahyde booth,” says Joe Cosgriff. A former hurler for Columbia who is a BLOHARDS’ VP and Professor Thom’s regular, Cosgriff is so rabid a fan that after the ball went through Bill Buckner‘s legs in 1986, he lay down beside his car in the Shea parking lot, not moving for an hour. He was in better spirits when he emceed the BLOHARDS’ luncheon this spring, telling the group that the Center for Disease Control had just updated its swine-flu advisory, recommending that people “either stay home or stick to sparsely populated areas like the Yankee Stadium box seats.”
Professor Thom’s opened 3 1/2 years ago, and according to Chris Wertz, 37, Boston-bred bartender and part-owner, has “taken off a lot better than we could’ve imagined.” Sox fans don’t just like the Fenway seats that are mounted on the wall, or the framed photo of 132 newspaper front pages from around the country after the Sox won in 2004, or even the ship bell that rings every time the Sox score.
They come for the kinship, and the camaraderie, though the Roger Clemens bobblehead doll – he’s covered in dollar bills – is also an attraction. So is the Magic Hat Spaceman Ale, “a left-handed, free-thinking” brew in honor of Lee, the Sox hurler whose shoulder and career were never the same after Graig Nettles threw him to the Fenway infield during a brawl.
To this day, Lee carries a Graig Nettles card in his wallet, and explained why to Wertz: “It’s so Graig Nettles can kiss my ass.”
The best nights in PT’s, of course, are when the Sox and Yankees are playing. The bar is typically three-deep, the crowd SRO. Wertz, who is the New York governor of Red Sox Nation (yes, every state has its own governor), says business can increase 10-fold during Yankee games.
In the opener of the Yankees’ visit to Fenway in June, the Professor Thom’s crowd erupted and the bell rang twice in the second inning, when David Ortiz hit a two-run homer off of A.J. Burnett. The bell sounded two more times in the inning, and when Nick Green homered over the Green Monster in the seventh, the score was 7-0.
The Hub transplanted onto the west side of Second Ave. was a happy, huggy place. In the BLOHARDS booth, Joe Cosgriff felt good about life.
“We got our extra point,” he said.
Walking the Yankee beat: Tim Horan
Between the bat rack and the runway steps, a uniformed man stands guard in the Yankee dugout in Fenway Park, a kindred spirit with a gun and handcuffs. He has thick arms and the barrel-chested bulk of a cleanup hitter, but is doing his utmost to be invisible, and to conceal his rooting interest. His team is down a run in the top of the ninth, tying run at second, Jonathan Papelbon on the mound.
Sgt. Det. Timothy Horan, formerly of Woodlawn and now of the Boston Police Department, grew up rooting for Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard, thinking World Series trips would be an annual occurrence. Now he finds himself stationed a bat length away from Joe Girardi and Tony Pena, a little farther from Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.
As work days go, this is Horan’s kind of detail.
“It’s not as good as sitting in the stands drinking beer and eating hot dogs, but then, they don’t sell tickets to the Yankee dugout,” the 6-2, 235-pound Horan says.
Living behind enemy lines for a quarter century has done nothing to diminish Horan’s attachment to the Yankees, nor his appreciation of the rivalry. Once when he was off-duty, he was watching the Sox and Yankees in the Cask’n Flagon, the tavern located across Landsdowne St. from Fenway, wearing a gray Yankee road jersey. A man staggered over to him. “You’re a big guy, but I wouldn’t wear that in here if I were you.”
“I have a gun,” Horan replied, and the guy decided to drop the issue.
After the Sox came back and won in 2004, a drunken and menacing fan in a crowd in downtown Boston came up to Horan, who was in uniform. “Yankees suck,” the fan said. Horan grabbed him. “Who does he belong to? Either you take him or I’m taking him,” he said to the fan’s cohorts.
Horan’s three daughters are all Sox fans. His wife, who grew up in Boston, is, too. When the Sox swept the Cardinals in 2004, and won it all again in 2007 after the Yankees were being undone by the midges and the Indians in Cleveland, the teasing texts and cell-phone messages came faster than a Jim Rice line drive.
A standout Gaelic football player who lived in Ireland for most of his teenage years, Horan celebrates his Irish roots by playing the bagpipes in the police department band. He joined the force 13 years ago after working as a corrections officer. Danger is part of the job, though rarely in the third-base dugout.
Horan sees a difference in the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry now, in the aftermath of Boston’s two Series titles. There isn’t as much overt hostility, or coarseness, in the dialog between fans. It has always bothered Horan when he’d see some moron wearing a “Jeter s—-” T-shirt.
“When I was a kid and Carl Yastrzemski did something good in Yankee Stadium, you didn’t like it, but you clapped anyway,” Horan says. He wants to think the good fans are still inclined that way.
When he’s in the Yankee dugout, a stone-faced man in blue, Horan is impressed with the way the Fenway crowd invariably stays to the end of the game, no matter the score. He likes that fans by the thousands don’t even want to leave once the game is over, preferring to hang around and take photos and soak up the history.
Horan grew up in a time when players didn’t flit from team to team, when guys would come into your life and your team, and stay awhile. He is a man who appreciates a connection to the past, who savors tradition. It is why he plays the bagpipes. It is why, living and working in Boston, he finds himself more drawn to the rivalry than ever before. It is, after all, something that endures, in a world where that quality is increasingly scarce.
The Harvard Hawker: Pearl HoughtelingStephen King‘s toes, Pearl Houghteling wrote a 15-page anthropology paper at Harvard about the authenticity of the Fenway Park experience. Like any good writer, she took on a topic she knows.
“I’ve been to a lot of games, but it is still a magical feeling when you step out of the dingy bowels of Fenway, and see that spectacular green field,” Houghteling says.
Pearl Houghteling, 23, is one of the 95 vendors at Fenway Park. It is not difficult to locate her. She is the Harvard grad who is bound for medical school, the brown-haired woman who carries her cargo on her head (no hands) and has enough energy to light a small New England town.
“She’s one of those annoying people you meet who does everything well and makes it look really easy in the process,” says Alyssa Wolff, Houghteling’s college roommate for four years.
Wolff and Houghteling hit it off famously as freshmen, until they unpacked their laptops. Wolff – the daughter of editor/writer/radio show host Rick Wolff, and granddaughter of legendary broadcaster Bob Wolff – is an avid Yankee fan who had a closeup of Derek Jeter’s face as her wallpaper.
Houghteling is a Red Sox person who grew up in Brookline, Mass., and whose wallpaper featured the Green Monster.
“I thought you were nice, but I don’t know if we’re going to get along,” Houghteling told her. “My whole life is the Red Sox.”
Said Wolff, “Well, I’m sorry, but it’s my duty as a New Yorker to hate them.”
The roommates rose above it, and even survived 2004. Two years later, Houghteling was looking for a summer job while taking organic chemistry. A friend suggested she apply for a job as a Fenway hawker.
To try her out, her bosses at ARAMARK, the concessionaire, made Houghteling lug a 30-pound tray of soda up and down a bunch of concourse steps. “Are you sure you want to do this?” somebody asked. A good hawker can make $200 a night. The job gets you into Fenway for free. Houghteling rowed crew for five years, so fitness was no issue. She was sold, and soon so were her customers, who were amused by her banter, charmed by her smile and wowed by her trademark: carrying the trays on her head, without the help of her hands.
Much better to use them to make change.
Ice cream, peanuts, even steaming hot, $6.50 New England clam chowder (her favorite item to hawk) – it all stays put on Houghteling’s head. She’s been warned that she will be fired if she ever drops the chowder and scalds somebody.
It hasn’t happened yet.
Fans don’t just buy what she’s selling; they ask to pose for photos and sometimes slip her a tip.
“Pearl is someone who, if you’re having a bad day, will make you smile. She is a great vendor,” says Tracy Martino, director of Fenway concessions.
Though she was born in 1986 – the Year of Buckner and Mookie – Houghteling describes herself as an incurable optimist. She comes from a long line of baseball fans. Her mother grew up rooting for the Boston Braves, and her father was at Forbes Field when Bill Mazeroski homered to win Game 7 of the 1960 Series against the Yankees.
At family gatherings, Houghteling and her cousins call each other by the backward spelling of their father’s names – in deference to Nomar (son of Ramon) Garciaparra. This past Fourth of July, Yrral, Mas and Retep all shared a laugh about it.
“I guess Nomar had a lasting impact on our family,” Houghteling says.
In 2000, Houghteling made a “We Believe” sign even when the Sox were five games out in the final week of the season. She held up a similar sign during Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, the Yankees poised to sweep.
Houghteling says Fenway has an entirely different feel when the Yankees are in town. People are more focused on the game, less inclined to be chatty. It was during a Yankee game earlier this season, working one of the park’s spaghetti-strand aisles, that she had an unfortunate meeting with Stephen King’s toe – for the second time, no less.
The next night, she was back again and so was King. When she got to his seat, Houghteling said, “I am so sorry about stepping on your toe last night. I’m never going to make that mistake again.”
Replied King, “Even if you do, it would be a pleasure.”
Pearl Houghteling, who is interested in emergency-room medicine, smiled and thanked him. It was another great night in her favorite ballpark.
“I love my job,” she says.
The Education of a Pitcher: Braulio TorresSouth Bronx, a teenage pitcher named Braulio Torres is sitting at a rickety table in a hot apartment, talking about his mother and his future, and the hardship that tails him like an angry driver on the Cross Bronx Expressway.
On the wall beside him is a poster of his favorite ballplayer, Pedro Martinez. Maybe baseball can be the way out. Haven’t a slew of Dominican ballplayers come from nothing and made it big? Of course it’s a long shot, but can’t he try? Weren’t his Red Sox buried in 2004, when they were down three games to none to the Yankees?
Didn’t Pedro defy all sorts of odds, too, forging a Hall of Fame career when everyone thought he was too small?
“If I ever signed a contract, I’d get my mother out of here, to a place where there’s peace and tranquility, and not all this ruckus,” Torres says. “I’d donate money to people who need it, because there are so many people who do need it.”
A few months removed from his graduation from Urban Academy School for Careers in Sports on St. Ann’s Ave., Torres, 19, has a boyish smile and a pipe-cleaner physique. He hurt his arm in the spring so he barely pitched for his school team, but now it feels fine. He throws in the mid 80s, though he believes his best assets are control and deception.
“I like the chess match with the hitter, trying to outthink him,” he says. “That’s why I loved watching Pedro so much. He was an artist out there.”
Torres started playing ball at 11, wearing Martinez’s No. 45 in nearby Kelly Park. By then his father was gone and most days were a fight for survival, if not because of the gangs and drugs in the neighborhood, then because of money. When his mother lost her factory job and was unemployed for seven months, Torres went to school every day with $1 in his pocket. Even when Iris got work as a home attendant, Braulio would sometimes wake up in tears in the middle of the night, torn between quitting school to get a job, and staying in school to get a degree and go on to college.
“I felt trapped. I didn’t know what to do,” Torres says.
Baseball, ultimately, is what kept Torres in class, sustaining him through dark, angry times. His grandmother died when he was freshman, his absent father when he was a sophomore, a half-brother when he was a junior, in a Santo Domingo street altercation. Torres grew withdrawn and depressed. He regularly ignored his schoolwork, a bright kid who made underachievement a habit. Sharon Aiuvalasit, his advisor, kept reminding Torres that if he wanted to play college ball, he needed to do more than goof off.
Torres made it through, and enrolled at ASA, a junior college in Brooklyn, this fall. He hopes to move on to a four-year school from there, to keep playing baseball and get seen by some pro scouts.
“He loves his mother and he loves baseball,” says Wesley Alston, 25, a finance manager at an advertising firm, and Torres’ mentor. “Those are the two things he cares about and worries about. I can’t say that I’ve ever met anyone like him.”
Braulio Torres returned to the Dominican to visit family this summer, in the north shore town of Villa Tapia. He kept track of the Red Sox on MLB.com, watched the 2004 highlights on YouTube, and to sent out tapes to prospective colleges. His favorite Sox player now is Josh Beckett, because of his fearlessness in big moments. He has so much he wants to do, starting with getting his mother out of her Prospect Ave. apartment, a building where six people were executed on Valentine’s Day, 1993. Fearlessness would be a great pitch to have in his repertoire.
“Beckett is always aggressive and always going after people,” Braulio Torres says. “That’s what I want to do. I’m going to do my best. I’d play baseball for free – that’s how much I love it.” The Boys On The Hill
The red doors open at the corner of Ogden Ave. and 167th St., and out rolls Tim (Tugboat) Tarpey’s piece of art, a 45,000-pound Seagrave rig that is the only pinstriped engine among the 341 vehicles in the Fire Department of New York. It belongs to Engine 68, Ladder 49 – the so-called “House On The Hill” – a company that dates to 1898, and is earnest about reinforcing its connection to the most storied franchise in American sport.Lt. Paul McCahey, 46, a 22-year veteran of the FDNY. “It’s a big part of our identity.”
When the Yankees last had a ticker tape parade, the 68 rig was the sole fire vehicle in the procession, complete with the words “Bronx Bombers” written on the top of the windshield, and the tidy, angled pinstripes and Yankee insignia on the sides. All of the detailing was done by the 41-year-old Tarpey, a Bronx-born, third-generation firefighter, a 5-9, 220-pounder who is stout of build and low-key of demeanor, a man known around the house for his diligence and reliability, and not much more flash than, well, a tugboat.
Tarpey met Lou Piniella when he was 10 years old, and has rooted for all the Yankees, before and since. Now he and his firefighting brothers make regular inspections of the old Stadium, and he works at a house a few blocks to the north.
“I’m happy I’m there. It worked out,” Tarpey says.
In the upstairs living quarters of the firehouse, there is a signed jersey from Joe Girardi mounted on the wall. “To The Boys On the Hill – Thanks for keeping us safe,” the manager wrote. There also are photos of Dave Righetti, commemorating his Fireman of the Year award in 1986 with a 68 helmet and an ax, along with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the Babe wearing a 68 helmet of his own.
The most meaningful Yankee memory, though, isn’t a keepsake, but a gesture. It was made on Sept. 12, 2001. Tarpey and a couple of firefighting brothers had just finished a 12-hour tour on the pile at Ground Zero. They stopped by an Upper East Side bistro. At a table in the back, Derek Jeter and Gerald Williams were having dinner. Jeter told his server to give him the firefighters’ check.
They waved their thanks to Jeter, who waved his thanks back. Tarpey remembers his appreciation, but not much more.
“I was trying not to think,” he says. “I was just trying to escape the day, and get our minds off of what we were doing.”
The grim work at Ground Zero went on, and a day later, a group of off-duty firefighters from Engine 33, Ladder 15 arrived at the scene, from Boylston St. in Boston. Engine 33, Ladder 15 is the Boston equivalent of the House on the Hill, the firehouse closest to Fenway Park, with the Red Sox logo on the side panel to prove it. One of the men who showed up to dig was Lt. Mark Loschiavo.
“I never smelled anything like it in my life. It smelled like death and burned steel,” Loschiavo says.
Over the years, various New York and Boston firehouses have had friendly wagers back and forth about the Yankees and Red Sox. Sometimes New York firefighters will go to Fenway, and will stop by Engine 33, Ladder 15, just as Boston firefighters will come down to the Stadium and visit the House On the Hill.
Even in the most torrid of pennant races, the rivalry doesn’t seem the same now, a number of firefighters say. Inside the control room of Engine 33 and Ladder 15 is a small cross forged from World Trade Center steel, along with a framed tribute that includes the photos of every fireman who died in the World Trade Center.
“In Memory of New York City‘s Bravest,” it says.
Loschiavo says the brotherhood of firemen transcends geography, and certainly transcends baseball. “You do the same job whether you’re in Schenectady or New York or Boston,” Loschiavo says. “You sleep and eat together, and go through traumatic incidents together.”
Tim (Tugboat) Tarpey, the man behind the only pinstriped engine in New York City, says being a firefighter is practically a calling. Tarpey’s great-grandfather, Michael, died in the line of duty. Tarpey’s father – also Michael – put in his 30 years, and his brother, Billy, is at Ladder 37 in the Bronx. Tim Tarpey has 18 years in, all at Engine 68, Ladder 49, a company that makes more than 3,200 runs in a typical year, just up the hill from the home of the Yankees.
“I didn’t take the job thinking about the worst,” Tarpey says. “I took the job thinking about the best – helping people and saving lives.”
Matters of faith: Rabbi Martin Schloss
The depth of his devotion manifested itself long before Martin Schloss became a Talmudic scholar or rabbi or educational advocate. He was a 17-year-old in a sleepaway yeshiva in Euclid, Ohio, a school that began with prayers at 7:30 a.m. and ended with prayers at 10 p.m. Martin Schloss is from a family that traces its orthodoxy to 15th century Germany. He is no religious slacker.
He just loves baseball, and his Red Sox, the team he adopted when his family moved from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Worcester, Mass. in the early 1950s. Was he supposed to miss Game 7 of the World Series because of some obscure Talmudic tenet?
And so it was that on Oct. 15, 1964 – the day Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize – Schloss pulled out the radio he had smuggled into the school room, plugged in his earpiece and began listening to the Yankees and Cardinals. Sometime after Mickey Mantle’s 18th and final Series home run, a school official barged into the room, yanked out the earpiece and confiscated the radio.
“Have a nice day,” the official said, warning Schloss never to do such a thing again. Schloss nodded. Later he got the radio back, and did it again.
Now 62, Schloss is an executive with the Jewish Board of Education, working out of a corner office in midtown with a Nomar Garciaparra jersey behind the door, and perhaps the only baseball hat in Manhattan with the words “Red Sox” written in Yiddish. He had it done in Jerusalem.
“They had no idea what they were putting on it, but they did it anyway,” Schloss says.
Schloss has a full white beard and staggering recall of all things Red Sox, sprinkling his conversation with names such as Pete Chuck Schilling and Pumpsie Green, and turning visibly wistful when the subject turns to Tony Conigliaro.
Few memories are more vivid than those from Oct. 2, 1978. Schloss was walking home from synagogue on Rosh Hoshanah, forbidden to drive a car or turn on an appliance, when Bucky Dent swung and the horrible news blared from most every TV set on the block: “A high fly ball . . . Oh my God . . it’s in the net.”
“For most of my life, any game that mattered usually ended on a sour note,” Schloss says.
Schloss learned about baseball from his grandfather, a teletype operator at Ebbets Field. After moving to Worcester (and becoming neighbors with Bob Cousy), Schloss had a different sort of religious awakening: he visited Fenway Park. He came to love the place, and the games with the Yankees, and even to appreciate the fervor Yankee fans have for their team. Once Schloss was riding the No. 1 train in a Red Sox jacket when a guy commented on his bravery.
Replied Schloss, “We gave you Babe Ruth. Stop your complaining.”
Still, Schloss believes there is a unique bond between Yankee and Red Sox fans, one that is infused with history and meaning.
“It’s like when two gladiators engage in battle. You want your gladiator to win, but you appreciate what each other has done.”
Baseball has had a profound impact on Martin Schloss’ life. It has helped him bridge with students, especially those in special education. More than that, he sees parallels with his religious faith, in its ability to inspire. Schloss choked up when the Sox finally won the Series in 2004, and still gets weepy when he cues up the film clip of Keith Foulke tossing the ball to Doug Mientkiewicz for the final out. The comeback against the Yankees is an enduring lesson for all of us.
“When you are against great odds, and you feel despondent, you never let down,” Schloss says. “It sounds trite, but you take life pitch by pitch. You focus on what you have to do right now. The secret of life is to never stop trying, to stay in the game, because you never know. It is almost religious-like: our greatest achievements can come from the depths of despair.”Radio Days (and Nights): Harriet Munk
It is 7:05 p.m. and a soft breeze is blowing, and seven miles north of Yankee Stadium, everything is good in the sightless world of Harriet Munk. She is in her blue recliner, in the little paneled den of her little Yonkers apartment. The Yankees and Red Sox are about to play a ballgame. John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, dear friends she has never met, are beginning another broadcast on News Radio 880.
Harriet Munk, 85, waits eagerly for the first pitch.
“I’m so dependent on these games,” she says. “They give me something to look forward to. They make my life.”
She has her white transistor radio beside her, and her phone nearby. She almost never misses a game, least of all a Red Sox game. When Sterling and Waldman start to talk, they are not merely describing grounders to short and doubles to right. They are drawing a picture Harriet Munk once saw and now imagines. She knows the audience is in the millions, but often feels as if they are speaking only to her.
Macular degeneration, a progressive retinal disease, has left Harriet Munk almost completely blind. She can make out traces of movement on the television, but it’s more a maddening tease than anything. Much better to listen, and conjure her own highlight reel.
She has never seen Brett Gardner, or his No. 11, but she knows he’s small and fast and crashes into walls. She’s never actually watched Mark Teixeira spear a short-hop smash, but she loves his glove, and his old-school approach.
“Thank God we got him and not the Red Sox,” she says.
Harriet Munk has lived in this apartment for more than 50 years. It is where she and her late husband, Melvin, built a life, raised their three boys. She retired from her career at Montefiore Medical Center 20 years ago and became an accomplished bridge player, until she couldn’t see the cards anymore.
Life changed in so many ways. Mel died. The boys became men. Memories come now in torrents. She talks about her childhood in Luzerne, Pa., about losing her father at age 7, and going to the Eastern League games of the Wilkes-Barre Barons. She has a snapshot of her and the kids in the bleachers at a Bat Day in the ’60s. As her vision has receded and her world has shrunk to 650 square feet of a ground-floor apartment, Harriet Munk, determined not to be imprisoned by nostalgia, finds herself sustained, uplifted, by her Yankees and her radio. Don’t talk to her about the season being too long. To her, it is a play in 162 acts, rich with story lines, and debates that do not end.
“I don’t know about Joba in the rotation,” she says to her oldest son, Norm, the executive director of a nonprofit agency in Minnesota. When he called one recent Sunday, his mother cut him off.
“Norman, it’s the 9th inning,” she said.
Her other boys, Gary, director of clinical virology at Hackensack University Medical Center, and Jeffrey, a Westchester-based therapist, live nearby. Gary takes her to dinner every Sunday, and stocks her up with food. Jeffrey cleans the house, buys groceries and comes over for breakfast. Neither will be happy to know their mother still boils water and cooks pasta.
“I’m not supposed to, but I’m stubborn,” Harriet says.
For years people teased her about how much she boasted about her boys. Now, she wonders, who can argue?
“They take very good care of me, so I can stay in my house, and listen to my games,” she says.
The images from this season’s Red Sox-Yankee games are not pretty to Harriet Munk. She can picture Jason Bay belting homers, and the pest Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home. She worries that the Red Sox are the better team (again), but it’s the season’s daily unfolding that is the important thing. The games, the innings, keep coming. The evenings, through the summer and into fall, keep getting filled, the voices of Sterling and Waldman speaking to her from her transistor, an aural lifeline to so much more than baseball.
On her dining room table, Harriet Munk has a bowl of cherries. Life is not like that.
As the time for Suzyn’s pre-game nears, she feels herself getting ready, an almost girlish excitement coming over her. She just has to check one thing.
“I have to know when the next game is going to be on,” Harriet Munk says. “lf I don’t know before I go to bed, I go crazy.”
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