It's time to play ball in New England

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The weather may be more suited to a New Hampshire primary than baseball, but New England's favorite summer pastime returns this week. WRNI political analyst Scott MacKay has some thoughts on the Boston and Pawtucket Red Sox.

New Englanders know that times change, but baseball doesn't. While other teams play at Behemoth Bank Park or Telecom Goliath Stadium, our games are played at Fenway, named for its Boston neighborhood, and McCoy, named for Pawtucket Mayor Tommy McCoy, one of Rhode Island's legendary rouge politicians.

Fans know that nothing, not even the Red Sox or a gray, chilly afternoon can ruin Opening Day in Boston, where the rituals of kids bunking school and the swells conspicuously consuming in the prime seats are reminders of spring and seasonal renewal, as timeless as daffodils, Easter and Passover.

Seven Year olds will walk up the Fenway ramp for the first time, eyes wide in awe of the Dartmouth green wall in left field, the emerald lawn and the huge scoreboard hanging over the bleachers.

The Sox play in the same ball yard that opened six days after the Titanic sank, in 1912. Boston Mayor John `Honey Fitz' Fitzgerald, grandfather of John F. Kennedy, threw out the first pitch that day.

Shortly after 1 p.m. this Friday, announcer Carl Beane will intone, ``Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Welcome to Fenway Park.'' There will be the usual pageant of pre-game ceremonies with the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing from center field. Then all the players and coaches from both teams will line up along the first and third baselines to be introduced individually. This year, the foe will be the rival New York Yankees, aka the Evil Empire.

Rhode Islanders are more fortunate than the rest of Red Sox nation, for we are home to the Paw Sox, Boston's top minor league affiliate. There will be a tinge of sadness this Thursday at their season opener. For the first time since 1977, Ben Mondor, the burly man with the wide smile, won't be sitting in his owner's box along the third baseline.

Mondor died last fall, shortly after the season's last pitch. He was 85-years-old and suffered from cancer and heart trouble. For several years before his death, Mondor hinted at retirement. But every April, he was, back at McCoy. When asked why he never retired, Mondor once said, ``What am I going to do, go to Florida. There's nothing there but old people.''

Mondor will forever be revered as the man who saved professional baseball in our state. He bought a bankrupt team in the 1977 and turned it into arguably the classiest franchise in minor league baseball. As a tribute to Mondor,, Paw Sox players this season will wear uniform patches with the name BEN emblazoned on their right sleeves.

There is a timelesness, too, to the Paw Sox. It is the ultimate in family entertainment; where else these days can you take a carload of kids for less than the cost of going to the movies.

Red Sox fans once mired in futility. In the 20th Century, Boston was known as the team that regularly shattered fans hearts by taking them to the mountain of victory only to dump them into the valley of defeat. Four times in the 20th century, the team went to the seventh game of the World Series, only to lose in the end.

That changed in 11 giddy days in October, 2004, when the Red Sox improbably won eight straight games and in the post season to become the world champions for the first time since 1918, when Woodrow Wilson was president. In 2007, they did it again. Red Sox nation is pumped for this season, with Boston picked to march toward the playoffs and get back to the world series.

It's time strike up the Star Spangled Banner and listen again as the immortal words, ``Play ball'' ring in a new season.

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