On Wednesday, July 24th, 1985, I drove to Fenway Park to see The Sox play The Oakland A’s. Not only did I witness a fabulous ballgame, I also hung out on the field, in the visitor’s dugout and in the clubhouse before and after the contest. How did it happen? Here’s the story.
In 1983, the Oakland A’s moved their AA affiliate, the West Haven A’s, to Albany, NY and renamed them the Albany A’s. In 1984 the team was renamed again, becoming the Albany-Colonie A’s. I was a part time photographer for the Albany-Colonie A’s (Steve Twardzik was their principle photographer) and I got to know many of the players. Some of the guys that I remained friendly with made it to the show, most notably Mickey Tettleton (A’s, Orioles, Tigers and Rangers), Mike Gallego (A’s, Yankees and Cardinals), Charlie O’Brien (A’s, Brewers, Mets, Braves, Blue Jays, White Sox, Angels and Expos) and Steve Ontiveros (A’s, Phillies, Mariners and Red Sox).
One mid-July afternoon in 1985, I read in the paper that The A’s were coming to Boston to play The Sox the following week. I called Steve Ontiveros’ mother and she was kind enough to tell me where the team was going to be staying while they were in Boston.
The following Tuesday morning I called the Hyatt Regency. The desk clerk put me right through to Mr. Ontiveros. After some conversation (I congratulated him for making the major leagues, asked him about his love life, etc.), Steve offered to get me and a friend into Wednesday night’s game. He gave me the address of the Hyatt and told me to meet him there at 2PM. “See you tomorrow”, I said. Who to bring? My girlfriend didn’t know a baseball from a hockey puck and besides, this seemed more like a guy thing. Nordie was my main, male baseball friend but he declined, a decision he would regret. Baseball Bob was my next call. He was up for a road trip.
I picked Baseball Bob up in my Toyota truck at 10AM the next morning. Within minutes we were on I-90 heading for Beantown. We arrived at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge (a half mile from Fenway) just after 1:30. When we got inside the hotel, the first person we saw was A’s manager Jackie Moore getting off an elevator. We hopped in the same car, rode it to the 9th floor, got off and quickly found Onto’s quarters. He was rooming with pitcher Tim Birtsas. Birtsas had recently been acquired by the A’s from The Yankees in the Rickey Henderson deal. Bob and I were imagining that the two hurlers would be busy going over stat sheets, preparing for the Red Sox batters they were most likely to face. Their door was open. We were quite amused to find Ontiveros and Birtsas NOT talking baseball, but arguing about whose socks were whose. But the funniest part was yet to come. Steve, who was in his full A’s uniform, asked if I’d drive him to Fenway Park. I quickly agreed without thinking. My truck had only a small bench seat made for two adults. Bob and I looked like a gay couple driving our huge-for-his-age son to a little league game. Two years later, Gene Clark of The Byrds would be sitting in that same seat. Weird.
Once we got to Fenway we were given the royal treatment. Player’s parking and entrance, clubhouse, dugout, field, the whole 9 yards, or 60 feet, 6 inches I guess. In 1985, players could bring friends into any and all parts of most major league stadiums. Security was tightened after the Pittsburgh Pirates’ cocaine scandals in 1986 and completely revamped after 9-11 and the steroid problems a few years later. Little did we know that this was the end of the “golden age” of MLB guest policies. The cramped clubhouse was an eyed opener with its exposed lockers, adjacent training rooms and tubs packed full of drinks, candy, bubble gum and chewing tobacco.
Steve let us walk around by ourselves for a while. After taking a few photos of the mostly empty locker room I turned around and there was veteran pitcher Tommy John (he and Don Sutton, both in the twilight of their careers had recently signed with The A’s) standing completely naked directly in front of me. Seeing Tommy John’s junk was a bit much. Luckily at that exact moment Onto invited us out onto the field. Tommy John would have to save his junk for the American League.
Walking on a set of parallel two by fours over mud and through the tunnel from the clubhouse into the visitor’s dugout gave me goosebumps. When I thought about the immortals who had walked through that dank, dimly lit tunnel before me, names like Cobb, Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and Feldstein ran through my head.
As we emerged into the dugout and onto the field I was surprised to see Bay Area rocker Huey Lewis pitching batting practice for Oakland.
Ontiveros told us to take a walk around the warning track as he sat down to chat with Tommy John’s father back in the dugout.
Later, as Lewis was being interviewed I heard him tell a reporter that he’s a HUGE A’s fan and often travels with the team when he’s not on tour.
As we walked around the field we saw Wade Boggs conscientiously fielding ground balls while simultaneously digesting a half chicken, Jim Rice stretching, Carney Lansford running sprints and Dave Kingman swinging what looked like four bats at the same time! Bob and I both posed with Onto in front of The Green Monster and I took a few more photos before it was time to go to our seats with the player’s wives. It was an exciting game. Oil Can Boyd started for The Red Sox and Don Sutton for The A’s. Sutton lasted 8 innings and gave up 5 runs, all of them earned. Boyd lasted 8 and 2/3 innings. With 2 outs in the top of the 9th and the Red Sox ahead 5-4, Sox manager John McNamara brought in reliever Bob Stanley who promptly blew the save, allowing the A’s to score the tying run on 2 consecutive hits before finally retiring them on shortstop Alfredo Griffin’s weak ground ball.
With the score knotted at 5, the A’s sent reliever Jay Howell to the mound to pitch the bottom of the 9th. Wade Boggs led off with a single. After a fly out to right field by Jim Rice, first baseman Bill Buckner reached first on a force play that erased Boggs. Dave Stapleton came in to run for Buckner. DH Mike Easler followed with a two out double just past the outstretched glove of A’s first baseman Bruce Bochty, moving Stapleton to third. Jay Howell proceeded to intentionally walk catcher Rich Gedman to load the bases. Howell then unintentionally walked shortstop Jackie Gutierrez forcing in the winning run. The Sox won in the home half of the 9th on a walk-off walk. The Fenway faithful went nuts. Bob and I pushed our way through the crowd and we somehow got back into the A’s clubhouse. There was beer, cold cuts and junk everywhere. It was time to leave.
We thanked Steve and bid our goodbyes to Mickey and Mike who offered us a few “road pops”. Bob and I drove back to Albany on Cloud I-Ninety, in total disbelief of our good fortune. The next day I realized that I had stupidly neglected to shoot any photographs once the game had begun. I guess I was in shock or something. Luckily, much of the one roll that I did shoot (can you believe I only shot one stinking roll of film?) came out OK. But how could I have only shot a single, 24 exposure roll of Kodak color film in that situation? In hindsight the only answer I can come up with is that I was young, a little nervous, and I thought stuff like that was gonna happen to me all the time. Needless to say this NEVER happened again. Well there you have it. Probably the best day a MLB fanatic could ever have. A wonderful confluence of events that could never be repeated, except maybe through the Make A Wish Foundation. At least I brought a camera and it worked. Someday I’ll tell you the story about the 2000 Cooperstown Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, the press pass, the dozen rolls of film, fifty Hall of Famers and the faulty Nikon. I wasn’t so lucky that day!
Story and Photos by Rick Bedrosian