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I doubt it’s often that someone can point to the exact day when they became a die-hard baseball fan, so I’m lucky to have that luxury. It was April 27, 2002, a beautiful Boston day that ended up being a historic one for baseball and a monumental one for a 6-year old Chris Cotillo.
I woke up that morning and did the same thing I did every Saturday morning in the spring, heading to my own baseball game to “perform” at a level slightly above T-ball. Coaches were pitching, kids were running the bases the wrong way, the whole nine yards. I was probably even more distracted in the field than normal, knowing that I was heading to Fenway for the first time later that afternoon.
You don’t really have a choice growing up in these parts; baseball is a religion that reached its peak at the height of the curse back in the early 2000s. My dad told me the horror stories of 1975, 1978 and 1986; my grandpa, a huge Boston Braves fan back in the day, added his own stories of the Braves in 1948 and the Red Sox in 1946 and 1967.
I heard the tales, I felt the passion and I knew how much baseball meant to the people I loved at a really young age. But I didn’t have that feeling inside me until that fateful April day, when I experienced a moment that never, ever gets old.
That moment was, for the first time, taking the steps out of the dark Fenway concourse, up a ramp and into what just might be the brightest light this world has to offer. The juxtaposition between the damp, dark concrete concourse and the bright world combining color with sunshine still hits me every time I make that walk.
I settled into my seat in the first base grandstand with my dad, grandpa and uncle and watched as the Sox took an early lead against the dreadful Devil Rays. I was still dressed in my Little League uniform from earlier in the day, either because I thought it was a good look or didn’t have time to change. I’m hoping for the latter.
Rickey Henderson (yes, he played for the Red Sox at one point) led off the bottom of the first by clearing the Monster and we thought that would be the peak of the day. We soon realized, seeing a 0 in the Rays’ hits column in the sixth inning, that we may be seeing something way more special.
Derek Lowe completed his no-hitter that day when second baseman Rey Sanchez fielded a grounder off the bat of Jason Tyner and got him at first. It was the first time Fenway had seen a no-hitter since 1962 and I distinctly remember my grandpa telling me there was a low chance I’d ever see one again in my life. I was 1-for-1 in viewing no-hitters to start my career. Needless to say, I was hooked.
I cried like a baby when Aaron Boone ended the Red Sox season in 2003. I cried even harder when the Sox traded Nomar a few months later. I swear I even almost saw a glimmer of a tear in my dad’s eye for the first time in my life when Edgar Renteria hit a ground ball back to Foulke, when Red Sox fans had longed to hear it.
I still tear up whenever Four Days in October comes on, not because I’m still a huge Sox fan but because I remember what those moments meant to me, my dad and everyone else at home back in October 2004. I went crazy when they won it again in 2007, and had the privilege of covering the 2013 postseason when David Ortiz turned Boston cop Steve Horgan into a cult legend during the ALCS and later led the team to their first World Series clincher at Fenway since 1918.
That Ortiz moment stands out for me, as it came on my 18th birthday just a few hours after Tom Brady had led the Pats to a last-second victory against the Saints at Gillette. I was truly in disbelief that both Brady and Ortiz were still doing heroic things in 2013, a full decade (or in Brady’s case, more) after doing it for the first time.
I had always thought a career in this meant I couldn’t be a Red Sox fan anymore, which is mostly true. But the Ortiz moment against the Tigers reaffirmed that I could be a fan of the people, feats, places and moments that make baseball so special.
I’m truly not a Sox fan anymore, instead devoting all of my fan energy into rooting for the Patriots and UNC basketball. This goes without saying, but 2017 has been a damn good year.
That lessening fandom doesn’t mean I don’t get cold chills every single time I walk into Fenway, even fifteen years after I did it for first time. It doesn’t mean I’m no longer in awe of that darkness turning into that light every single time I see it. And it surely doesn’t mean, now that I work covering baseball, that I’m less of a fan than I ever was.
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