Great Friday

Boston Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn swinging a bat

1998

Once again we find that today’s Red Sox home opener coincides with that other Holy Day of Good Friday.

Such was also the case in 1998 on a day that headlines proclaimed that beer sales would be prohibited on grounds of the solemnity of the religious holiday.Pretty sure that was a Fenway first.

On a brisk day that felt more like playoff weather I ran from old The Sports Museum archive on Soldiers Field Road to Fenway against a prevailing northeast wind on a Good Friday that in hours would be magically transformed into Great Friday.

Seated in section 28 with my friends novelist Luke Salisbury and documentary film producer Frederick Lewis we spied America’s Storyteller Extraordinaire Ken Burns seated about 8 rows behind us and briefly made eye contact and gave a wave.

Six years earlier it had been my privilege to assist him and cinematographer Buddy Squiers with the filming of artifacts and vintage photos for his monumental PBS series on the history of baseball.

On Opening Day, we were just two of the 32,805 fans dressed for football weather.

By the bottom of the ninth we were but two of the roughly 10,000 that had endured a 7-2 beatdown marked by Randy Johnson’s total dominance on a day where the cold surely sent muscle searing shocks up batter’s forearms on foul balls and tips.

But after notching 15 strikeouts on 132 pitches Seattle manager Lou Piniella replaced Johnson with former Red Sox closer Heathcliffe Slocumb. After a broken bat single , walk, and run scoring double by Darren Bragg, Slocumb gave way to yet another former Red Sox reliever Tony Fossas, who promptly walked pinch hitter Mike Benjamin to load the bases. With the bases full and no outs Piniella then called on future Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin who surrendered a single to Nomar Garciaparra that made the score 7-4.

The next batter, John Valentin, was hit by a pitch for a painful RBI and the score was 7-5.

Mo Vaughn was next and after after being hit by a pitch in the first inning had struck out three times, twice on called strikes. Piniella then went for a lefty-lefty matchup and called up Paul Spoljaric who, after tossing a first strike slider threw a fastball that The Hit Dog deposited in the lower box seats in right field to seal perhaps the most dramatic and improbable Opening Day victory in the history of Fenway Park.

As the new Fenway Park victory anthem, Dirty Water by The Standells played over the PA system our group turned to make eye contact with Ken Burns once again, and sure enough, he’d stayed. A lone figure among a sea of empty blue seats.

No comfort seeking Big Shot he.

Just one of many treasured mental snapshots of a day to remember.

Great Friday indeed.

About the Curator’s Corner

Richard Johnson’s “Curator’s Corner” is  where you will find videos featuring Richard and Sports Museum Executive Director, Rusty Sullivan, discussing Boston sports history, as well as blog posts written by Richard himself.

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