Sunday, January 03, 2010
There are things that I have come to accept; things that are just not financially prudent. It's with that knowledge that I didn't even attempt to get tickets for the Winter Classic in Boston at Fenway Park. I figured I'd watch it on TV.
Enter Harold. He had another idea.
Harold is a Boston Bruins fan. Monstrous. Passionate. Knowledgeable. I will never question it. I knew how badly he wanted to go the Classic but he's smart enough to know that the money might not be wisely spent that way. What he did find was another way to see Fenway Park set up as a hockey site. He found that there would be a charity game, featuring Bruins and hockey legends, along with some entertainers.
The AT&T Legends Classic.
Yet after being in Fenway as a play-by-play broadcaster for the Renegades and Spinners in 2008, with Harold as our trusty "producer", wasn't it worth seeing if we could score a couple of media credentials? Well it was and with a little dedication, Kelly Mohr in the Bruins office confirmed that we were in.
We set out in a light snowstorm at 6:30 Saturday morning, in advance of the 2:00 faceoff at Fenway. Traffic was moderate and the roads started out OK. That is, until we left Hartford on Interstate 84. If ever I needed another reason to hate that road, I had it. Still we were in Boston by 10:00, and were even able to park extremely close to the park.
We were, however, placed in the penalty box for one hour for early arrival. The Bruins media staff was not ready for us yet. So we shopped, took pictures, and stayed warm before returning to the media credential window at 11:00.
My only knock on the whole day was how disorganized it was. No assigned seating. Very few notes. No bios of the players until just before the game began. Nobody had answers to anything. Was there a pregame interview session? Yes, but we didn't know about it. I imagine folks were still hungover and worn out from the Winter Classic, won by the Bruins 2-1 in overtime.
So we walked. We checked out the ice. We went to the Monster seats. I could tell they would be open, but it didn't seem like they were accessible. Yet we got there. It cost me a quarter, since Harold bet me we would get up there.
Even lunch was a little screwy. I spied a sign that said a pregame meal would take place in the State Street Pavilion, yet what did it mean? The media dining room was open as well. Harold and I ate there in 2008 (cost: $5) so I was skeptical. We chose to try the State Street Pavilion and that was the right choice. Never mind the food (good - pasta and chicken and chocolate chip bread pudding, though the clam chowder was awful) and the cost (FREE!). What made this incredible was shaking hands with an older gentleman as he walked by. I felt confident who he was, but Harold confirmed it: Milt Schmidt, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, whose number 15 is retired by the Bruins.
We also spotted actor Neal McDonough, who portrayed Buck Compton in the classic TV series "Band of Brothers." A few others, like Derek "Turk" Sanderson wandered through.
Back to the press box, we thought about where to watch the game. Hmmm...why not just go down to the ice? So long as we weren't doing anything wrong, what would the harm be?
That's where we spent the game. Now, granted, the press box would have been warm, but the experience of spending two hours or so on the field at Fenway Park, watching a hockey game, hanging with legends would be worth the potential for frost bite, and being soaked from snow.
We stood within reach of the players as they were introduced. We listened to the roar of the 33,000 in attendance. We sat right next to the rink, sometimes making eye contact with the participants. Bobby Farrelly (the director) gave me a nod after his white team scored a goal. Of course, he was probably sipping on his Budweisers from the cans attached to his helmet. Referee Paul Stewart opened the rink door to chide linesman Don Garcia for not having gloves. "Rookie", he said to Harold and I, as we laughed.
For Harold, he got to see the players that he admired up close, specifically Rick Middleton and Cam Neely. Privately, I held a goal that I was going to get him to meet Middleton, his equivalent to Bobby Murcer for me. I would accomplish that later.
Between periods (they only played two), we warmed up by popping into the Red Sox dugout and standing near their batting cage. It was funny to me how, despite my being a Yankees fan/baseball guy, and Fenway Park is obviously geared to baseball, I thought almost exclusively of hockey all day.
Oh, but baseball wasn't far away. During occasional breaks in the action, some of the participants were interviewed. Tim Robbins, a fine actor and a Mets fan, decided to curry favor with the Boston faithful by firing up a "Yankees suck" chant. I won't tell you my reaction to it but it involved spicy language and Susan Sarandon.
Maybe Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) could have taken care of him for me. Still all I could do was laugh, with the knowledge that the same might happen when it takes place in New York.
Following the game, the players gathered for a group picture. Sensing an opportunity, Harold and I both stepped onto the ice for some pictures. A priceless moment for both of us. We then made our way into the Bruins/Red Sox locker room for interviews.
It was almost too easy, and had there been more time, we could have interviewed a lot of people. Cam Neely, Dennis Leary, and Bruins coach Claude Julien were the most popular in the room, yet I felt that if we were vigilant, we could make it happen. As it was, we got general sound from Neely, and short, personal interviews with Brian Leetch, Rick Middleton, and Neal McDonough. We also chatted informally with Pat LaFontaine.
The Middleton interview was important to me. I saw him sitting at his locker, turned to Harold and said "follow me." I talked with Middleton (GREAT guy), stopped the recorder, and said to him, "Can I tell you something off the record?"
"Sure", he said.
"This guy", pointing to Harold, "loved watching you play."
That gave them a chance to talk. Look, I met Bobby Murcer and he was wonderful though I never had the chance to interview him. So to give my friend this opportunity meant so much to me.
Oh and every person in this room was ultra-classy and nice. Pat LaFontaine was so willing to just talk, showing us special sweaters (this is hockey, folks) that he made up for he and his son, each with "LAFFER" and the nmber 16 on the back. He actually pulled them out of his duffel bag. He told me, with a wink, how New York is in good shape to get the Winter Classic.
Now there were moments when you needed to remind yourself that you were in a locker room, like Tim Robbins walking by me in close proximity, wearing only a towel. A nude Cleon Daskalakis will scar me for life!
I'm missing pieces of the day for sure. There was so much to tell you about.
It snowed all day, but we made it back to New York in a little over three hours, with a stop for dinner thrown in, capped off with a cup of Tim Horton's coffee.
It was a true hockey day, after all.