BOSTON -- Amazing Grace.
She couldn't have come around at a better time.
She was the whole package: 12 years old, braces, a baseball glove with ball planted in the pocket on her left hand, an autograph book and pen in her right, dad and grandparents in tow.
She brought along something else on her five-hour ride from Underhill, Vermont: Pure joy.
"100 years! Fenway, the stadium of all stadiums. Drive up, see that Citgo sign, the lights, then Yawkey Way. Enter the gates, run up the ramp, slowly I see … Green, green everywhere! The field, the Green Monster, so unique and formidable! What's not to love about the place?"
Grace didn't care about the Valentine watch, sellout streaks, last place or first place.
The word "miserable" has been thrown around here a lot lately. Not if you saw Grace. She smiled, and you had no choice but to smile back. She made you remember in the midst of all that has darkened this season that this, too, will pass. She made you remember how you fell in love once yourself.
Grace Pontius is a seventh-grader at Browns River Middle School. She likes the Celtics, cows (her family has six of them) and driving her tractor. She pitches and plays first base, and also plays field hockey and basketball. She writes her own Red Sox blog.
Her 8-year-old brother, Daniel, is adopted from Ethiopia. Her dad, John, is a middle-school teacher in Essex Junction. Her mom, Jennifer, is a professor of statistics at the University of Vermont. Her grandfather, Earl, is a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force and served in Vietnam. Grace's DNA was stamped with Earl's love of the game.
Saturday night, she was at Fenway Park, representing Vermont in an essay-writing contest sponsored by the Red Sox. In this 100th anniversary season, the ballclub asked, tell us what Fenway means to you.
"I arrive two hours beforehand waiting for those big doors to open. Hands shaking with excitement, I'm trying not to drop my ticket. 'We have to be the first in. We need to be the first to our section so we can get a ball!' Get a ball. That's all I think about, get a ball. Unfortunately many others are thinking that too.
"It makes it fun … trying to wrestle through the crowd, run up the ramp, and up the stairs to my row. I put my stuff down, and run to the closest place next to the warning track, ready to catch any ball that comes my way. Batting practice, it's my best chance to take home a real souvenir."
Earl Pontius introduced me to Grace before the game. We went up to the press level, and into the NESN booth, where she said hello to Peter Gammons and Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo. I asked if she won because her winning essay was about Rem. "No," she said, giggling.
We went into the WEEI booth, where Dave O'Brien invited her to stand at the broadcast mike, where Jon Rish was preparing the pregame show. "Like the view?" O'Brien asked. "Love it," she said.
She lit up when NESN's Jenny Dell offered her a warm greeting, then came into the press box, armed with the package of stats that the writers and broadcasters use. Grace mentioned she plays a baseball simulation game on her computer.
"You should be the general manager," Ian Browne of MLB.com said to her.
"That's what I want to be," Grace said.
"Every play, every call, the fans are always yelling. Whether it's a boo, a cheer, or something inappropriate my mom wishes I didn't hear, sitting down or standing up, the crowd makes the stadium hum with a constant buzz. You feel it through your whole body. I feel like even my small voice matters. Every yell you make, the players will hear. After all, you're on top of them!
"Yeah, we fans can be crazy. But that's part of the game. Does any other team have as many fans? Does any other team have as many people for something like Red Sox Nation? I don't know. But I do know that Fenway is a part of what makes it so special, one of America's treasures … one that can never be replaced!"
The game began. Daisuke Matsuzaka gave up five runs in the second inning. There were rain delays that caused the game to last more than five hours. The Red Sox lost, 9-2.
Grace Pontius sent me an email Sunday. She said it had been the best day of her life.
"You rock," she wrote.
No, Grace. You do.
"I am proud to say I am a Red Sox fan. I am proud to say we have Pedroia. ... But what am I most proud to say? We have Fenway."