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Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Updated: April 20, 2:28 PM ET
Unforgettable Fenway

By Jackie MacMullan
ESPNBoston.com

Like many kids my age, it was the emerald lawn that captivated me. I was only 9 years old, holding tight to my father's hand, when I skipped up the ramp at Fenway for the very first time and stopped in my tracks, mesmerized by the brilliance of a ball field that would decades later become a part of my everyday professional life.

When I was young, the pilgrimage to the ballpark was a sacred ritual reserved for my dad and me and no one else. Fred MacMullan knew baseball. He was a center fielder by trade, long and lanky with a good reach and a better bat. In 1944, he was talented enough to receive an invitation to try out for the New York Giants' Class A team in Trenton, N.J.

Like so many young men of his generation, my father had just enlisted in the service and reluctantly declined his opportunity to experience a small measure of baseball greatness.

Yet he never lost his passion for the game. He followed it closely, perusing his rolled up papers for the pertinent statistics of the day.

There was a problem, though. My father abhorred the Boston Red Sox.

He was -- gulp -- a Yankees fan.

And, as a native New Yorker who was born and raised in Queens, he wasn't particularly good at disguising it, either. I vividly recall slinking down in my seat at Fenway whenever Yaz grounded out to first. "Look at that bum!" my father would declare triumphantly. "Doesn't even run out the ground ball."

Williams
Ted Williams' appearance at the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park was a touching moment that no Red Sox fan will ever forget.

"Go Sox!" I'd holler instinctively, in hopes of softening the laser New England death stares that were boring imaginary holes into my father's smug New York skull.

Meanwhile, during the summers of his youth, perhaps on the very same Saturdays as me, my future husband Michael Boyle was also striding into Fenway with his father. He was not holding tight to John Boyle's hand (not cool for a 9-year-old boy, apparently), yet he didn't stray far from his father, who was raised in Providence, R.I., to be a diehard Sox disciple.

John was a three-sport athlete at Providence's Mt. Pleasant High School, a catcher by trade who later competed on the Providence College basketball team during the 1944-45 season. (The Friars didn't have a baseball team back then.)

My father-in-law worshipped Detroit star Hank Greenberg, whom he was fortunate enough to see on his maiden voyage to Fenway in the late 1930s with his older brother Bill. He scored a ticket to the 1948 World Series, and, if he closes his eyes, he can still see lefty Warren Spahn of the Boston Braves winding up with that fluid high-kicking motion, poised to throw a strike.

Baseball, we discovered through our fathers, was the idyllic summer sport, perfect for lazy days kissed by sunshine and salted peanuts. Some of the best conversations I ever had with my dad were at Fenway, in between wincing at those groundouts by Yaz and devouring hot dogs that had been explicitly forbidden by my mother because they would invariably make me sick. (You were right, mom. They always did.)

The ballpark is where Michael, one of seven children, carved out some private moments with his father. They swapped stories, statistics, trivia. John taught Michael how to throw a knuckleball after they saw Gaylord Perry bedevil the Sox with it at Fenway.

The years passed in a blur. We grew up, went to college.

Michael and I met at the University of New Hampshire, and in the early '80s, we reveled in the opportunity to walk up to the window at Fenway and buy roof box tickets for a day-night doubleheader.

My father retired and moved to Florida; my father-in-law retired and settled in New Hampshire. Our separate yearly pilgrimages to the ballpark with our dads somehow became lost in the shuffle of marriage and kids and responsibilities.

In 1999, Fenway was selected as the site of the All-Star Game, and also as the venue to introduce the nominees of the All-Century team.

Our dads were in their 70s by then, but they were still spry, still active. Michael and I hatched a plan: Why not take the Yankees fan and the Red Sox fan to Fenway together?

As we walked up the ramp to our seats on that balmy summer evening, it occurred to me a torch had been passed. We were taking our fathers now, instead of the other way around. And, yet, that emerald lawn had remained timeless, looking just as it did when I was a breathless little girl holding my daddy's hand.

On the night of the 1999 All-Star Game, the lawn was teeming with Hall of Famers: Willie Mays, Bob Feller, Ernie Banks and the great Warren Spahn himself. Some legends had passed away, including Joe DiMaggio, whom my father and father-in-law saw play multiple times.

"One day I was at Fenway and Joe DiMaggio was coming back from a heel injury," John Boyle said. "He hadn't played most of that season, but that day he hit a couple of home runs. He had a perfect swing."

Talk of DiMaggio led to a dissertation from my father on the litany of Yankees champions. Naturally, that was followed by a treatise from John listing all the Red Sox greats.

Those conversations led to an inevitable discussion of Babe Ruth, who played for both of our fathers' beloved clubs.

"I remember the first time I saw Babe Ruth," my father told John. "He was ... just ... so ... big."

Wait. Babe Ruth? How had I missed this? In all the years my dad and I had been going to Fenway, he'd never mentioned it.

"Dad," I asked him later, "why didn't you tell me you saw Babe Ruth play?"

"You never asked," Fred MacMullan shrugged.

Turns out my dad went to his first baseball game in 1934 with his father, a salesman from New York City, with only one purpose in mind.

"I went to see Babe Ruth hit a home run," my father told me. "I went home very disappointed.

"The Yankees were playing the Tigers. Ruth didn't come through, but that day I fell in love with Lou Gehrig. He became my all-time favorite player."

Throughout the night, Fred and John swapped memories of Lefty Gomez and Lefty Grove, of Tex Hughson and Dixie Walker. As Stan Musial was introduced to the Fenway faithful, our fathers heartily agreed he was a vastly underrated player. When Ted Williams, ravaged by a pair of strokes, was driven onto the field in a cart, our fathers grew somber at the sight of the Splendid Splinter reduced to a shadow of himself.

Williams was quickly engulfed by baseball heroes, past and present, who lingered on the field in a protective cocoon around him, understanding this would likely be Ted's final public appearance.

Eventually, they did play an All-Star Game. Pedro Martinez stole the show by mowing down five of the six batters he faced, including slugger Mark McGwire, and the American League won 4-1. But, as we left Fenway, none of us were talking about that.

The legends of the game had captivated our imagination -- and our hearts.

It has been a few years since Michael and I have brought our dads to Fenway. They are older now, content to watch in the comfort of their homes, where dozing off in a leather arm chair outranks the crack of the bat and the surge of the crowd.

It's quite possible we won't get them there again. If so, we will always have 1999, the night we experienced a living, breathing baseball history lesson.

"That was one of the most fantastic athletic events I ever attended," said John Boyle, now 85 years old.

"It was one of those very special nights you never forget," agreed Fred MacMullan, who will turn 87 in July.

Fenway Park will celebrate her 100th birthday throughout the simmer. She has barely outlived the Red Sox fan and the Yankees fan.

They have seen it all. And, because of one magical night on the emerald lawn in 1999, we have too.