A lifetime of Fenway farewells

 

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays

David Ortiz drops to a knee and tips his cap to say thank you to the fans at Fenway Park. His father, Enrique, looks on. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) 

 

The first time Pat Goggins came to Fenway Park to say goodbye, he was 13 years old and riding in the back seat of his father’s 1956 Plymouth station wagon with his younger brothers, 11-year-old Tim and 6-year-old Mike. His dad, William, was driving. The boys’ grandfather, William Sr., sat alongside. Three generations come to bid The Kid, Ted Williams, adieu.

It was Sept. 28, 1960. The turnpike had not yet been finished, so the drive from Northampton in the western part of the state seemed endless. All was forgotten, though, when they took their seats on benches set atop the grandstand roof, between home plate and first base, and they gazed down upon an emerald sea. It was from that perch they watched the 42-year-old Williams, in his last at-bat, hit a home run. “He hit a fly ball earlier in the game that looked from where we were sitting like it was going out but was caught,’’ Pat Goggins said. “So I tried not to get too excited. But then, on the last one, it was like, ‘Holy cow. Unbelievable.’’’

They didn’t know until they were driving home, the car radio tuned to WBZ, that Williams had elected not to play when the team traveled to New York for the final series of the year, thus making them witnesses to the final act of a great player’s career. “Ted was my guy,’’ Pat Goggins said. “He was my dad’s guy. My grandfather’s guy.

“I have a picture of that home run, signed by Jack Fisher.’’ Fisher was the Baltimore pitcher who surrendered that home run. “Of course, I wish I had it signed by Ted.’’

For his next Fenway farewell, Pat was behind the wheel of his 1982 Jeep Wagoneer. His youngest brother Mark, who had not yet been born when Williams retired, was with him, along with two Northampton buddies, Denny Nolan and Mike Noonan. They were all working men by then, the 36-year-old Pat Goggins already well established in the real estate business, and by 1983 had already been sharing season tickets for years. They were sitting in Loge Box 136, row LL, just to the left of home plate. Prime real estate from which to observe the final hours of Carl Yastrzemski’s career.

They had come of age as Red Sox fans while rooting for Yaz. Impossible dreams and a Triple Crown, the near-misses in ’75 and ’78, and the slow but unmistakable decline in the twilight years. They had suffered alongside Yaz during the stalled countdown to his 3,000th hit, relieved when Willie Randolph of the Yankees gave unhindered passage to a ground ball through the right side.

And now on Oct. 2, 1983, they were there to see off the 44-year-old Yastrzemski, who in the closing stages of his career had been used primarily as a first baseman and designated hitter, but on this final day had returned to left field, the position he had inherited from Williams more than two decades before.

Like Williams, Yaz at the end was playing for a losing team that generously could be called mediocre. There was no dramatic last at-bat; instead, Yaz popped out to a Cleveland second baseman named Jack Perconte.

But there was something better. The pregame ceremony had been simple but emotional, Yaz shedding a few tears. Then after the game, this great ballplayer but reluctant celebrity emerged from the dugout in his jacket and spontaneously circled the field, shaking and slapping hands with fans and taking in the cheers of an adoring throng, this most private of men cracking the door open for the occasion.

“We were so surprised,’’ Pat Goggins said, “because he was such an introvert. There wasn’t a lot of warmth. But Yaz in 1967 turned the experience of what it meant to be a Red Sox fan around, and we all loved him for it.’’

Pat Goggins.JPG

Pat Goggins (in gray jacket, left), with Denny Nolan, Mark Goggins and Mike Noonan, has been present to say goodbye to Ted, Yaz and Big Papi (photo by Gordon Edes)

On Sunday morning, Pat Goggins drove east on the Turnpike in his 2012 Rover, accompanied by the same three men who had made a similar drive exactly 33 years earlier. David Ortiz was playing his last regular-season game; another farewell was in the offing. Pat Goggins is 69 now; Big Papi turns 41 in November.

Goggins, still an occupant of Section 136, Row LL, imagines there must be others who said goodbye first to Ted and then to Yaz and now to  Papi, but surely they are few in number.  “Each one was special, in its own way,’’ he says of the three sendoffs that have marked the decades he has spent as a Red Sox fan.

The Big Papi goodbye is an elaborate affair, scaled to the expectations of its time. There are politicians and former teammates, glamorous singers and 6-year-old heart patients, anthems from three countries, video tributes and a bat hewn out of gold.

Gov. Charlie Baker is there to present Ortiz with a sign that officially makes the Brookline Avenue overpass from Kenmore Square “Big Papi David Ortiz bridge.” Pat Goggins’ father had worked for an earlier Massachusetts governor, Foster John Furcolo, in the ‘50s. William Goggins was the governor’s patronage secretary. “Back then, they believed to the victor go the spoils,’’ Pat Goggins said. “My father gave out the jobs and the drivers’ licenses and the favors.’’

It is spectacle, but with a soul, never more so than when Ortiz takes to the microphone, his father Enrique next to him, and offers a litany of thanks—tearfully to the mother, Angela Rose, he had lost in a car accident 14 years before, and then to so many others.

And then came the moment that will stay with Pat Goggins the longest: Big Papi dropping to one knee, offering his gratitude to the fans.

“It was a really wonderful ceremony,’’ Pat Goggins said. “Exhilarating. It made everyone enjoy him even more. His speech at the end was really well thought out and right on target, and I thought it was such a nice gesture when he knelt down to thank everybody.

“Papi is beloved from the inside out and from the outside in.’’

Pat Goggins has placed on hold the sadness engendered by the imminent departure of Ortiz. This is different from saying goodbye to Ted and Yaz; with Papi, there is still the promise of more games to be played. The playoffs open Thursday in Cleveland.

“He has such a flair for the dramatic,’’ Pat Goggins said. “I’ve got a feeling we’ve got a lot more celebrating to look forward to.

“It’s been a wonderful time to be a Red Sox fan.’’

 

 

 

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