One Day At Fenway (book review)

Review from a few years back as it appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun.

Book on Yanks-Sox rivalry a hit

By Ed Odeven

(October 16, 2004)

Some call it a darn, good grudge match that has gone on for more than 80 years. Others insist it’s the best rivalry in all of sports. I say every Yankees-Red Sox game is a compelling act in an epic play without a grand finale in sight. It’s a subject that never gets boring.

Veteran sportswriter Steve Kettmann’s new book, “One Day At Fenway: A Day In The Life Of Baseball In America,” is a revealing, behind-the-scenes look at this rivalry. It’s a refreshing portrait of pure Americana.

The book, which is focused on Aug. 30, 2003, at the famous Boston ballyard, doesn’t stick to one writer’s insights or one veteran player’s perspective. Instead, Kettmann has assembled a cast of reporters from around the country and world to compile this project — he credits a team of 14 contributors as being “more coauthors than researchers.”

This column won’t detail the play-by-play of that late-season encounter between New York and Boston, an afternoon game in which, you guessed it, the Yankees were in first place and the Sox were trying to close the gap in the AL East. ‘Twas a game pitting Yankees southpaw Andy Pettitte against Red Sox hurler Pedro Martinez (in the pre-“Who’s Your Daddy? days”).

It’s a great read, to be sure, but even more enjoyable is discovering, page after page, a gold mine of details about what makes people on both sides of this rivalry tick.

Several fans from different backgrounds, a scoreboard operator, an umpire, a groundskeeper, a former U.S. senator, famous movie directors … they’re all covered in this book. Same goes for players and coaches from both ballclubs.

The story takes us on a step-by-step tour of this day’s routines of several people as they prepare for this second game in a weekend series in Beantown.

The dawn of the day signals another busy day of work at Fenway.

“The sun first showed itself over the right-field stands at 6:12 this morning,” Kettmann reports.

Moments later, David Mellor, Boston’s head groundskeeper who has endured 19 knee operations, and his crew begin patching up spotty areas of the outfield grass. (It takes them five tons of a special red clay from New Jersey to build the pitching mound.)

This book, like thousands of other pieces of literature, validates the claim that Yankee owner George Steinbrenner is a megalomaniac.

The bigger the game, the more irritable The Boss becomes.

There’s an entertaining exchange of words between Yankee general manager Brian Cashman and David Szen, the team’s traveling secretary. Szen reminds Cashman that The Boss wants him to sit right behind the Yankee dugout in one of his personal seats.

The reason? “I want you to be where I can see you,” The Boss instructs him. “I want the players to see you as they come off the field if they’re doing badly.”

Cashman dislikes this idea. He enjoys watching games from box seats behind home plate.

There’s a third element thrown in the mix that complicates things: Szen had already given Steinbrenner’s tickets to film director Spike Lee, who is taking his son, Jackson, to the game.

“I’m not going to get them back from Spike,” Szen says.

So Lee keeps the seats. He later throws out the first pitch because somebody else, a Sox supporter, couldn’t attend the game. Lee, ever the quintessential New Yorker, shows up on the mound wearing his Derek Jeter jersey, refusing to don a BoSox cap like some had suggested. He’s booed back to his seat.

We learn that Red Sox GM Theo Epstein is a rock-guitar fiend (“If I get fired or win the World Series, whichever comes first, it has definitely crossed my mind to grow an Afro and become a roadie,” he says.)

We find out that George Mitchell, a former Democratic senator from Maine, is one of the more eloquent of long suffering Sox fans. (“Every year of my life I’ve been saying, ‘This is the year.’ I’m still saying it,” he says.)

We also discover that Martinez and his older brothers used to rip the heads off their sisters’ dolls and use them as baseballs while growing up in the Dominican Republic town of Manoguayabo. Good stuff.

We are informed that the reason Japanese ballplayers eat fried pork before a game is because the Japanese word for fried pork, “katsu,” also means “to win.” So, yes, Hideki Matsui munches on fried pork many a time before games.

Though Yankee skipper Joe Torre never seems overjoyed with his daily interview sessions with the press, he’s engaging and easygoing nonetheless. Red Sox field pilot Grady Little, on the other hand “looked as relaxed and carefree as a man waiting to get socked in the gut,” Kettmann writes.

Those types of observation propel this book into the upper stratosphere of sports classics.

There are no pictures in this book save for the front cover shot of Bernie Williams and the back cover image of Martinez. They aren’t needed. Kettmann’s words clearly, and cleverly, produce crystal-clear image after image in our heads.

This is a page-turner that baseball fans, like myself, cannot put down. It’s a fitting tribute to the great Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

But will today’s game be any good? Who knows, but it’ll be memorable.

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