April is the busiest month in New England. Everything happens at once and it reaches a point of mania just about now. Tulips are coming up, forsythia are blooming, the ground is thawed and ready for working, and at least three sports teams are playing in “trophy town.” It’s all I know, but I can’t think of any other sports market where so much intensity is crammed into such a small geographical area. “Peak sports” arrives in New England at about the same time as “peak spring” and if you’re like me, nothing is going to get planted without some way of listening to the games while you’re in the garden.
Thursday was one of those “peak sports” days in New England. The Red Sox travelled to Detroit for their season opener, the Bruins were in Ottawa for play-off hockey, the Celtics were in Chicago for play-off basketball, and the Boston College men’s hockey Eagles were in Tampa for the Frozen Four. A friend from work, Mathilde Murdoch (we call her Tildee) asked me if I could “check in” on her middle-aged yellow Lab, Betsy, after work while she went to a “Green Drinks” mixer for young attorneys in Concord, the New Hampshire state capitol. Tildee loves anything green; I wasn’t surprised when she told me she needed to attend a “happy hour for earth-friendly professionals.”
Betsy’s pretty green too.
I don’t think Betsy really likes me. It all started one cold winter night early in 2011. I was “checking in” on her while Tildee did something important. Betsy and I had taken a walk, I’d given her the requisite dish of kibbles and 3 peanut butter-coated Wheat Thins. On the recommendation of a friend, I was reading Gogol’s “Dead Souls” and decided to read a few pages out loud to Betsy. It didn’t go over very well and after a few paragraphs, she got up from the couch and walked out of the room, casting a disgusted look at me out of the corner of her eye.
Since then, I’ve “checked in” on her a few times. I never bring Russian novels any more. She will tolerate Jane Austen and she perks up even more if I’ve got a box of Triscuits or Wheat Thins with me. She’s just a little bit sneaky about snack food. Of course, I’ll throw snacks at her and laugh when she jumps up on her arthritic knees; it’s the cracker she tries to weasel out of my hand that makes me question her commitment to British novels.
On Thursday, there were no books to read to Betsy because we were both going to watch the Celtics game. I could tell she was a little down because the Red Sox had lost their season opener to the Tigers. It was a heartbreak of a game and Betsy wouldn’t even eat a Triscuit after her kibbles. She just sat down on the floor in front of the Tee Vee and sighed. I plugged in my MP3 so I could listen to Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell call the game while watching it.
Maybe it was because it was almost a full moon or maybe it was because I was on sports overload, but I started nodding off about 5 minutes into the second quarter. The last thing I remember hearing was Max saying “kiss the baby, she’s crying!”
The next thing I knew, I was walking Betsy down Yawkey Way and through the Gate A turnstiles. She was on her leash and we were going to a Red Sox game. But it wasn’t the Fenway Park of today. It was Fenway before John Henry started selling bricks, before there was a State Street Pavilion, and before private escalators silently whooshed fashionable fans up to the EMC level. It was smelly, sticky Fenway with beer-soaked peanut shells and cigarette butts under our feet.
Betsy knew where she was going and she was yanking on her leash, slyly eying low-hanging pretzels and hot dogs. It was crowded and smoky, but the throng parted as Betsy headed through the concourse and up the aisle towards the field. I won’t be the first or last person to write this; something strange happens when you see the green Fenway diamond for the first time. It’s surreal and striking; it’s even more so in a dream.
Suddenly, we were in the dugout and Bobby Valentine was scratching Betsy’s head and she was sneaking sunflower seeds from Dustin Pedroia’s glove. Our presence in the dugout didn’t seem to surprise anyone. Catcher Jared Saltalamacchia had suited up and was standing behind home plate, waiting for the pitcher. In real life, pitchers warm up in the bull pen, but in a dream, they can warm up anywhere they want. All of a sudden, there was some motion in the bullpen as the door opened; the cheering crowd rose to their feet and Uncle Bob came running out, wearing his Robert’s 88’ers uniform. Seriously. Uncle Bob did play for a season in the Cape Cod League in the late 1950’s and he was inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame last summer, so he looked good taking his place on the pitcher’s mound at Fenway Park.
Salty got down into his crouch and (I kid you not) he and Uncle Bob started lobbing meatballs back and forth.
I was in the dugout, filing my nails, and Betsy slipped away, trying to chase the meatballs. No one seemed to notice that each time the meatball would go from pitcher to catcher or catcher to pitcher; it would be slightly smaller because Betsy would jump up and take a bite out of it. This went on for a while until finally, Bobby V. motioned Uncle Bob back to the bull pen and Salty ran into the dugout. Betsy was left alone on the pitcher’s mound and she sat down and sighed.
I went out to the mound and snapped her leash on. I tried tempting her with a Triscuit, but she had obviously shagged just a few too many meatballs. I pulled and tugged on her leash with no luck and the crowd grew restless. Finally, a Boston police officer ran out to the mound and we both struggled to move Betsy.
I don’t know how it all ended because I woke up when I heard Betsy’s collar jingling as she rolled over on the floor. I’d done my “checking in” duties; she’d been fed and occupied for a few hours and I left Tildee a note outlining Betsy’s good behavior and her lack of interest in snack foods. I didn’t write anything about the meatballs.
The next time I “check in” on Betsy, I’ll remember to bring my copy of “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.”
Are you growing any Betsies this year?