Sitting in Fenway Park, packed in bleachers with strangers all around, the sun still high in the late afternoon sky, a few players stretch while workers scurry around, watering the field. At first, it looks like no one will be in front of us, but by the singing of the National Anthem, there is not an empty seat in the stadium. We are packed in. A father and a son with matching, maroon, Philadelphia Flier baseball hats ask me to take their picture, with the Fenway sign behind them. They sit next to a young, Indian couple. He is Sikh and keeps his turban on during the singing of the National Anthem. Next to them are three guys in their 20’s who appear to have grown up going to Red Sox games. They are all in. They know all of the players, the best seats in the park and are ready to watch some ball! Next to them is a young couple who are clearly in love. He is white and she is black. They become instant friends with three guys and they have a blast talking, drinking beer and singing to Queen and Michael Jackson. Next to me is a young couple that gets up to get a beer or go to the bathroom at least 10 times throughout the game. I don’t mind. The guy seriously could be Jon Snow. (I asked, and he wasn’t). Next to them is a family that appears to be grandparents with their grandchildren. They look as touristy as we do. Below us are little girls in baseball hats and pigtails. They never take their eye off the game and next to them is an elderly couple, with matching Boston Red Sox shirts and baseball caps.
And then there is the three of us. We are just little specks in the sea of people about to watch the game. A mom, a son, and a grandpa. We are so excited. It’s our first game in our week-long tour of baseball games and we are sitting in Fenway, Freaking Park! It happens to be Catholic Night. They recognize at least four parishes and community leaders who are making a difference in Boston. They mention poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, and substance abuse. Then they recognize a little boy, my son’s age, who has a brain tumor. He gets to throw out the first pitch. The entire crowd stands and applauds and I am already crying. The sun is starting to set now over the field and the lights are just about to come on. It’s time for the National Anthem and it’s sung by a large church choir. There are children, teenagers, and adults all singing with such reference and humility. As if on cue, birds fly around the stadium, gliding to the music. As I stand here, with my hand on my heart and look at the flag and all of the people, and try to piece together all of their stories, this feeling of love for country swells in me, and I have hope. There is more that unifies us than divides us.
We are all there to see an athlete try to hit a ball as hard he can so that he can make it back home. If he ever makes it around the bases, we all cheer with satisfaction and mutual respect, knowing that was no easy accomplishment. If he strikes out, we sympathize. We all know the feeling of trying and failing. It’s exciting and can be boring if you don’t pay attention to the game. You need to be present, or you miss it. It’s life. And we are all participants in it. Our politics don’t matter. Our religious affiliation doesn’t matter. Our gender, age and where we come from, doesn’t matter. We can be respectful of one another as we sit together for three to four hours and watch a well-played game. What matters is a fair game, a good hot dog, some unifying music, and the sheer joy of being together. It wouldn’t be as fun, or exciting, or as beautiful if we weren’t all there together. It’s who we are at our best and it’s awesome. One nation. Under God. Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.
Play Ball! Happy Fourth of July!