Take Me Out To The Ball Game (PG)

Desmond O'Brien rolled out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to hit the road for the ninety mile drive to Boston to attend a two day seminar on Human Resources Management. Whoever decided to schedule a conference for the day after the 4th of July wasn't very considerate and Desmond was still half asleep as he drove along Route 2 watching the sun rise in the east after a day of picnicking and drinking at his brother's house.

Desmond was the Human Resources Manager for the Blue County Mental Health Association responsible for nearly two hundred employees. He enjoyed trainings but not necessarily the day after a holiday. At least this seminar was being held at impressive Boston Common Hotel and Conference Center centrally located in the historic Back Bay neighborhood of the city, a block from the popular boutiques of Newbury Street, shopping at The Prudential Center and Copley Square, and a short walk to the Boston Gardens and the Boston Commons.

Desmond parked his car in the Alewife subway stop in the suburbs and took the T into downtown, arriving in the trendy South End with its restaurants and historic trails. He checked into the hotel with plenty of time to spare before the 9:00 event kickoff and refreshed up in his sixth floor room with a pretty view before making his way to the conference room holding the seminar for about one hundred Human Resources professionals.

The agenda was certainly full and Desmond was anxious to hear about new information from some dynamic presenters and speakers. He was amused to find that about 80 of the hundred attendees were female and he enjoyed circulating around the breakfast layout chatting with his fellow Human Resources professionals. The conference room was set up with seventeen round tables seating six individuals at each table and Desmond found himself sharing his table with four women and one other gentleman.

The Coordinator made her opening remarks from the front podium, updating the group on general house keeping rules and other administrative information before beginning the agenda. One of the perks of the seminar was a raffle giving away two tickets to the Yankees-Red Sox game Friday evening at Fenway Park. Desmond was a die hard Sox fan and he was happy to put in his name for a chance to win a ticket to the hot game, especially since Fenway had been selling out for years and tickets were hard to come by.

The HR Seminar was informative, interesting, and worthwhile and by the end of the first day, Desmond was overwhelmed with information, handouts, and possibilities. He had made several acquaintances during the breaks and lunch (held there at the conference center). Many of the attendees were staying overnight at the hotel and several talked about going out on the town but Desmond wasn't the most socially outgoing person around so he declined several invitations and spent the evening in his room watching a couple of baseball games while ordering a room service meal.

He ventured down to the hotel bar later in the evening and bumped into a few of the attendees, sharing a drink and conversation for an hour or so. Desmond returned to the conference on Friday morning ready for the second day of agenda events. The day started out with the breakfast bar and more conversation and then the Coordinator began the official part of the agenda with administrative announcements and, more importantly, the drawing of the two winners for the Yankees-Red Sox tickets that evening.

Desmond really didn't expect to win so he was pleasantly surprised when he heard his name announced over the groans of many in the room. Grinning, he walked proudly to the front of the room from his table and gladly accepted the ticket from the Coordinator.

"And we have a second winner," The well dressed woman Coordinator beamed. "The winner is Jen Depetrio."

Desmond glanced around the room when he heard a scream from one of the tables and he saw a laughing woman bounce up from her chair and skip toward the podium giggling with anticipation and delight. He had noticed her earlier but hadn't talked with her during the conference. She was tall with long brown hair pulled back in a pony tail and she was attractively dressed in a professional business pants suit.

"Oh! This is so great!" She laughed, surprising the coordinator by happily hugging her. "I'm so glad I won!"

She turned to Desmond and tried to give him the High Five but he was slow on the uptake and she almost slapped him in the face!

"Okay, stay here you two, because I have more great news for you," The Coordinator said as the two winners stood in front of the room with their tickets in hand. "The Boston Common Hotel and Conference Center wants you to thoroughly enjoy tonight's game so they are allowing you to keep your room overnight at no charge to you. So, go see the game, and then come back here and spend another night at the hotel compliments of them."

"Oh wow!" the woman winner exclaimed. "That's terrific!" She turned to Desmond and gave him a thumb's up sign.

It was a generous offer and Desmond was thrilled not to have to drive back to Hillsboro late at night after a typically long Yankees-Red Sox show down.

"Congratulations, bub," the lady winner told Desmond as she shook the coordinator's hand.

"You too," Desmond replied, resisting the urge to call her bub too.

The two winners returned to their respective tables to start the second day of the conference.

The first session flew by and the group was given a break. Jen approached Desmond at his table.

"Hey," she said cheerfully.

"Hello," Desmond replied politely.

"Hey, I was thinking that maybe if you wanted to we could go to the game together since we're both staying here tonight and we'll be sitting next to each other at the ball park," she said without taking a breath, looking at him with a bubbly smile on her face.

"That sounds reasonable," he agreed.

"Great!" She laughed. "How 'bout we meet in the lobby at 5:30?"

"Sure," Desmond replied. "I'll see you then."

"Okay!" She said warmly before returning to her table.

The seminar continued but Desmond had a hard time concentrating on some of the material because he kept thinking about that night's game at Fenway. It had been several years since he last attended a game in person and he was looking forward to being in the park again although he hadn't been to a game with a woman in years!

When the conference finally concluded, Desmond said his farewells to his table mates with whom he had developed a bantering relationship with during the two day conference. They exchanged e-mails and promised to network when it came to HR issues, problems and dilemmas.

Jen had already left the conference room by the time Desmond finished with his goodbyes so he headed to his hotel room to freshen up and change into casual clothes for the game. Luckily, he had brought a pair of jeans and a Boston Red Sox tee shirt so he was good to go for a game at Fenway. He adjourned to the lobby at 5:30 and waited a few moments before Jen appeared off the elevator. He did a double take when he saw that she was wearing a Yankees tee shirt and a blue NY Ball cap.
"So, I hope you don't mind that I'm a Yankees fan," she said as she walked across the lobby to meet him.

She might as well have said "Hey, I hope you don't mind that I'm an ax murderer."
"Well," he said with surprise, definitely taken aback while looking her Yankee wardrobe up and down. "I guess I'll have to live with it!"

"Good," she grinned.

"You sure you want to go to Fenway dressed like that?" Desmond asked cautiously.

"What, you afraid I might get beat up?" She teased.

"Maybe," he agreed.

"Don't worry, I can handle myself," she said with a confident smirk. "You won't get beat up being with me either!"

"Actually, I've dated Yankee fans before," Desmond let her know. "I went to UCONN."

"The middle of Connecticut is pretty much the debarkation line between the two fan bases," Jen noted.

"Most of my girlfriends have been card-carrying members of Red Sox Nation," Desmond admitted. "But there were a few Yankee fans too and for the most part I emerged unscathed. The worse one was a girl who was truly in love with Alex Rodriquez so there was no hope for me!"

"Sorry." But she really didn't sound it.

"How'd you become part of the Evil Empire?" Desmond wondered.

"Born into it," She admitted as they started for the front door of the lobby. "Family loyalties never die. My grandfather came to America from Italy and rooted for the team with players named DiMaggio, Berra and Lazzeri."

"The Sox had a DiMaggio," Desmond protested.

"Not Joe," Jen pointed out.

They took the T to the park, talking baseball the whole way.

"I was born three days after Fisk hit the Game Six homer," Desmond revealed.

"Wow, I was born three days after the Yankees lost the '76 World Series to the Reds," Jen said. "It was their first World Series since '64."

"You must have had an enjoyable childhood," Desmond remarked.

"I did!" She grinned. "'77 and '78 World Series with Mr. October, the '80 Championship series against the Royals, and the 81 World Series, again with the Dodgers."

"Don't mention '78," Desmond groaned.

"Ah yes, Bucky Dent," Jen gloated.

"Only time I ever saw my father cry!" Desmond remarked.

"Where were you for Game Six of the '86 World Series?"

"I was eleven, home with my father and brother," Desmond revealed. "We were high fiving and back slapping knowing we were about to win our first World Series since 1918."

"But then…" she teased.

"But then Rich Gedman, Bob Stanley, Bill Buckner, and Mookie Wilson," Desmond groaned. "My brother fell out of his chair as if he had been shot when the ball went through Buckner's legs. My father kicked the television set, knocking it over and smashing it. I cried all night."

"I had to wait until I was almost fifteen years before my next chance after '81," Jen remarked. "I was at Keene State when the Yankees lost to that great Seattle Mariners team in '95."

"And you've been in the post season ever since," Desmond grumbled.

"Just about," Jen confirmed with a smile. "World Series champs in '96 for my 21st birthday and again in '98 and '99, while losing in '01 and '03."

"Please don't mention '03," Desmond requested. "Aaron Boone."

"You mean when the Sox blew a three-run eighth-inning lead and lost the pennant in the bottom of the 11th?" She laughed.

"Didn't I just ask you not to mention that!?"

"Hey, you got your revenge the next year!" Jen reminded him. "Coming back from three down."

"Dave Roberts is still my all time hero," Desmond bragged. "It was because of him that we were able to go on and win the World Series!"

"We're still ahead, 18-2," Jen was quick to point out. "Don't forget we won in 2009."

"But we won in 2007," Desmond rebutted. "We lead in World Series 2-1 in the new century."

"Well, we'll see what happens this year," Jen said.

"Hey, we're only eight and a half back," Desmond said. "And with two wild card entries this year I'm not worried."

"Even after last September's collapse?" Jen challenged. "And let's face it, Bobby V ain't no Francona."

"It's July 6th," Desmond said. "I'm not panicking."

"Like '78?" She teased. "With a 13 ½ game lead!?"

"I hate you!" Desmond responded.

Actually, he kind of liked her. She had a great sense of humor, she was pretty, and she knew her baseball. So what if she was a Yankees fan?

"Did you ever date Red Sox fans?" Desmond asked as they stepped off the crowded T at the Fenway stop.

"Oh sure," she laughed. "I live in Keene. Red Sox Country."

"Are you with anybody now?" Desmond wondered.

"Na," she laughed.

He was surprised. "How come?"

"I've found that while baseball loyalties can be overcome to make a relationship work other things can't," Jen replied. Then she glanced at him. "You?"

"Divorced," he revealed sadly. "What kind of things?" He asked, glancing at her.

"Huh?

"What things can't be worked out to make a relationship work?"

"Oh, cheating for one," she replied knowingly. "A failure to commitment is another biggie. I don't like drunks either."

"Oh."

"I can't fault a guy for rooting for the Red Sox," Jen said. "But I noticed that whenever I broke up with one my friends would ask me if I had 'learned my lesson' and they'd plead with me to swear off Red Sox fans for life."

"Have you?" Desmond asked as they walked with the masses toward Landsdown Street.

"No, obviously," she laughed.

"If I could design my dream mate she would be a Sox fan," Desmond admitted. "But I'd rather date a Yankee fan that treats me well than a Red Sox fan that treats me like crap."
"Dating someone like me would teach you a lot about what you need in a soul mate," Jen announced with uncanny confidence. "And for that, it would be worth being with someone who worships pinstripes."

Desmond laughed. "I'll keep that in mind!"

They reached the outside of the ball park.

"I always get a sausage dog before I go in," he said.

"Sounds good," she said with enthusiasm.

So they found a vendor and ordered a couple of sausage dogs and beers and stood on the curb eating and talking.

"Living with a Red Sox fan can be difficult," Jen told him. "The stress of forever being the underdog against the most heavily bankrolled team in baseball can be overwhelming for a guy like you, right?" She smirked at him.

"Not so much lately," Desmond defended.

"I once lived with a guy who wasn't even a baseball fan," Jen remarked. "He lived in blissful ignorance of the alleged Curse of the Bambino. He had no idea the Red Sox hadn't won a World Series since 1918 shortly before they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Nor did he care. I found him a bore!"

Desmond laughed in reply.

"I was actually with a Sox Fan during the 2003 Championship Series against the Yankees," Jen laughed. "My poor boyfriend called in sick to work the next day. It was too much for him to take. He spent the next few days avoiding me, calling me a 'poor winner'. Worse than losing for a Sox fan is losing to a Yankee fan, of course."

"Because you have not mastered the art of the graceful winner and instead enjoy reminding Sox fans of how terribly misguided we are in our affections," Desmond complained.

"Do you know that that guy actually dumped me after that devastating 11th-inning loss?" Jen asked, still sounding hurt eight years later. "Why is it my fault that Tim Wakefield served up the gopher ball?"

"I guess that's why maybe Sox and Yankees fans can't date after all," Desmond theorized. "Too many years spent pacing the living room in agony, shouting at the television and pleading against all odds for a victory."

"That's why you put two television sets in two different rooms!" Jen laughed.

"Makes for the best rivalry!"

"My brother once told my mother with a straight face that missing a crucial late-season game was as stressful as missing his wife giving birth!" Desmond remarked. "I remember once we took a late September weekend getaway trip but there was no television or radio in the cabin. We drove ten miles looking for a bar to watch the game!"

"Rooting for the underdog requires bracing for defeat and avoiding the jinxes that plagues a cursed team," Jen said.

"The curse was broken in 2004," Desmond insisted.

"I think it came back last September when your Sox went 7-20 and got knocked out of the playoffs on the last day of the season thanks to lowly Baltimore," Jen rebutted.

"See, I guess this is why we could never date," Desmond laughed. "We both have too much passion about our teams to have a successful relationship!"

"Oh, I think its all about the passion!" Jen teased as she took a bite of her sausage dog. "Every time that Everybody Loves Raymond episode comes on about Ray's Mickey Mantle autographed baseball, I have to watch it with my father. The basement of my parents' house is decorated with old Yankee photographs. My father shows his ticket stub from opening day at the new Yankee Stadium to anyone who visits."

"Well, I'm a third-generation die-hard fan who bought the MLB TV package for 24-7 info about The Sox," Desmond reported. "I have a Boston cap that's so worn that the once-blue fabric has turned a dull grey. I sleep under a giant framed portrait of Fenway Park."

"What would you name your dog?" Jen tested.

"I'd love to name him Fenway."

"Wrong!" Jen laughed. "Jeter!"

"Maybe we'd compromise," Desmond laughed.

"Like any good relationship," Jen agreed. "Like, when you want to spend the evening watching a Red Sox game you'd have to rub my feet as payment."

"Rub your feet?" He asked with uncertainty.

"I like having my feet rubbed," she smiled.

"Maybe I'd do that," he smiled.

"And tonight, when we're in there….." she pointed at the park behind them. "You will be kind enough not to join in with the "Yankees Suck" cheers, right?"

"As long as you won't gloat too much if Curtis Granderson hits an 8th inning grand slam," he countered.

"See, I think we have it all figured out!" She laughed.

"Do you think we love to hate each other's team because they give us the fun of watching a good game?" Desmond asked.

"They give us something to root for, something to love," Jen said.

Having finished eating their dogs, the two baseball fans showed their tickets and entered through the turnstile. They stopped for another beer at one of the concession stands and then made their way to the third base boxes and found their seats about twelve rows behind the visitor's dugout. Desmond had purchased a program at the gate and he began filling out the line up card inside the booklet once they were settled in their seats.

"Do you remember the first time you came to Fenway?" Jen asked as she glanced around the field of green.

The ballplayers were still taking batting and fielding process and the park was only a quarter full.

"My father took me for the first time when I was eleven," Desmond answered. "It was Game 2 of the American Championship series against the California Angels. We sat down there in the left field stands" He pointed to his left down by the green monster. "Sox blew them out, 9-2. Wally Joyner and Jim Rice homered. The Angels third base coach blew a play and Doug Decinces got thrown out at home and that turned the game around for the Sox."

"How many games have you been to since?"

"Couple of dozen, at least," Desmond answered. "My friends and I used to come to the Monday Patriot's Day morning game every year when they run the marathon too. Sat out there in the bleachers." He pointed toward the bullpens in right center. "I was here Patriot's Day 1990 when the Sox got hammered by the Brewers, 18-0. That was a long day!"

"Sounds like my first game here," Jen replied.

"Oh yeah?"

"I was eight years old in 1984. My father brought me to my first Yankees-Sox game. We sat behind home plate."

"Wow! I've never sat back there!"

"Rookie Al Nipper had the magic that day with a complete game five hitter and Boston won 10-1. Wade Boggs had four hits and Jim Rice hit his 25th home run.

I remember Dave Winfield and Willie Randolph got hits but that was about it. New York started sore-armed Phillies cast off Marty Bystrom and Mike Pagliarulo booted a grounder early to open the flood gates. I was so bummed out that day."

"It was a long time ago," Desmond said. "You've had a lot to cheer about since those days."

"I've been to about a dozen Yankee-Red Sox games here and about another half dozen at Yankee Stadium," Jen revealed.

"The new one or the old one?" Desmond wondered.

"Both!" She laughed. "I like the old one better though. It had all the history."

"Yeah, I wasn't sure how I felt when they first started making the changes around here," Desmond said, pointing to the new green monster seats over the left field wall. "But I guess I'm okay with it now."

"Did you ever play baseball?" Jen asked.

Desmond had finished with his line up entries and he had folded the program into a roll between his legs. He was gazing out at the field watching some players sprinting across the outfield grass.

"Little league. High school. Serguci League."

"Serguci League?" Jen asked with confusion.

"Amateur baseball," Desmond explained. "It's a big deal in my hometown area."

"Sounds neat!" Jen smiled.

"It started in the 1940s in a ball park left behind when an old Army base closed," he said. "Nice place to play."

"Great."

"There's eight teams from the local towns," Desmond continued. "I played for the Browns for about ten years."

"Why'd you quit?" She asked.

"To try to save my marriage," he sighed. "She thought it took up too much time."

"She wasn't a fan?"

"In high school," Desmond replied. "But she grew out of it and thought I should too."

"Then she wasn't a real fan," Jen said and that brought a smirk to Desmond's lips.

"Beano Field features a 'mini-green monster,'" he told her fondly. "It's only eighteen feet high in left but it's still special."

"I bet."
"It's a traditional baseball league," he said. "There's no DH. There's no exploding scoreboard. There are no advertisements inside the park except for the Bulls Eye Pizza Target on the right field fence. Any player who hits the bull's eye with a batted ball wins a free pizza! The fans that come to Beano Field today see the same game their grandfathers watched in the forties."

"Baseball is timeless," Jen agreed and Desmond knew she got it. "I'd like to see Beano Field," she added with a smile.

The ballpark had been filling up during their conversation and the pre-game ceremonies were getting ready to begin. Members of the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs parachuted onto the field and members of the USS Constitution Honor Guard marched onto the field for the pre-game ceremonies.

Jen stuck her pinky finger out towards Desmond. "Take it with yours," she instructed.

"Huh?" Desmond asked, glancing at her.

"Take my pinky finger in your pinky finger," she said. "We have to make a picky promise."

"What?"

"Just do it!"

He stuck his pinky finger out and wrapped it around hers.

"Promise that no matter what happens from the first pitch through the last out that you won't go all psycho on me," Jen requested. "If the Sox are winning, don't gloat, and if the Yankees are winning, don't sulk."

He stared at her and slowly a grin crossed his face. "Deal," he agreed, wrapping his pinky around hers. "And the same for you. No swearing, punching, Bronx cheers, or any of the rest of the crap Yankees fans usually demonstrate."

"And you can't go along with the 'Yankees Suck!' cheer either," Jen said.

"I already said I wouldn't," he said defensively.

"Okay," she said. "It's a deal. Now let's enjoy the game. Israel and Palestine. Iran and Iraq. North and South Korea. Obama and Romney. Yankee and Red Sox!"

"You guys are pathetic."

It was a guy sitting behind them with two or three friends. He had to weigh 290 pounds and it was a wonder he fit into the old seat. He was wearing a Red Sox tee shirt with mustard stains on it and he was holding two beers in his hand.

"Excuse me?" Jen asked, glancing back at him.

"This isn't kindergarten," the guy remarked. "It's Boston Red Sox baseball. If you can't take the heat, get out of the ball park, Yankee."

"Whatever you say," she said, rolling her eyes and giving Desmond an amused look.

They watched the ceremonial first pitch, listened to the official line up being introduced, stood for the National Anthem, and then got comfortable (as possible in the small Fenway seats!) to watch the game.

"Oh, here comes Jeter!" Jen said with excitement as the Yankee short stop came out of the visitor's dugout.

Desmond got his line up card ready in his lap, ready to score the action. Jeter singled to center, Granderson singled to right and A-Rod got hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.

"Great start, Beckett!" Desmond groaned.

"Maybe he didn't have enough chicken and beer!" Jen laughed.
Cano walked to score Jeter and when Teixeria singled to center to score two more runs the Fenway faithful were beginning to boo loudly.

"Runners on first and third, still no out, three runs in, and Swisher up!" Jen giggled.

"No gloating," Desmond reminded her.

Swisher hit a sac fly to right to score Cano. Ibanez followed with a single to right and Desmond was visibly jostling in his seat. Jen looked away so he wouldn't see her laughing.

Chavez followed with a sacrifice to center to score Teixeria with the fifth run of the inning before the catcher Martin mercifully grounded out to third to end the inning. "New York 5, Boston coming up," Jen proclaimed happily.

"Why don't you go back to New York where you belong?" The fan sitting behind them remarked to Jen.

"I'm from Keene, New Hampshire, Mister," Jen replied.

"Well, why don't you go back there then?" The guy grumbled.

Jen laughed but ignored him.

"Well, this guy Hiroki Kuroda pitching for us isn't exactly a house hold name," Jen said to Desmond. "So, as Yogi would say, it ain't over 'till its over!"

"Hiroki Kuroda sounds like something you'd sing at Karaoke!" Desmond agreed.

Nava doubled to left to open the bottom of the first and went to third on a wild pitch.

"Oh boy, here we go!" Jen groaned.

Kalish hit a sac fly to right to plate Nava, Ortiz singled to left, Ross reached on Chavez's throwing error, Gonzalez doubled to left center, and then Saltalamacchia homered and just like that the game was tied!

Desmond was on his feet with the rest of the Fenway faithful while Jen buried her face in her hands and shook her head with disbelief. Luckily (for her), Gomez grounded out third to first and after Aviles singled to center Punto flew to left to end the inning.

"That was absolutely brutal," Jen complained.

Desmond sat back in his seat and let out a sigh of relief. "It's a whole new ball game now," he said happily.

Jeter flew out to right to open the second but then Granderson tripled to right center and scored on A-Rod's ground out to give the Yankees the 6-5 lead. Cano hit a ground rule double to right but Teixeria struck out looking to end the inning.

"Could have been worse," Desmond remarked as he doodled on his scorecard.

"Could have been better!" Jen replied with a nervous laugh.

Kuroda hit Nava with a pitch to open the bottom of the second.

"That's not the way you want to start an inning," Jen moaned.

Kalish singled to left as did Ortiz to tie the game with Nava crossing the plate but Big Papi was thrown out trying to advance to second.

"When is Papi going to realize he can't run?" Desmond groaned.

Ross flied out to left and Gonzalez lined out to center to end the inning.

"Well, we're starting all over again all over again!" Jen laughed.

Beckett struck out the side in order in the third getting the Fenway Faithful pumped up again.

"Yeah!" Desmond yelled, bumping his fists in triumph.

But The Red Sox couldn't do anything either. Saltalamacchia grounded out to short and Gomez and Aviles both struck out swinging.
"Looks like the pitchers have settled down," Jen said with approval between innings.

In the Yankees fourth, Martin popped to short before Jeter reached on an infield hit but Granderson lined into a double play at short to end the inning.

"Beckett's found his grove," Desmond announced with confidence.

In the Boston fourth, Punto doubled to center.

"Who is that guy?" Jen wanted to know and Desmond laughed.

Nava grounded out to first, moving Punto to third. After Kalish lined out to Center, the Yankees intentionally walked Ortiz to make it first and third with two outs.

"Chickens," Desmond teased.

"It's the smart baseball move," Jen countered. "Baseball is a game of percentages. Get the force. Besides, I'd rather pitch to Ross than Ortiz."

"Thank you, Joe Girardi," Desmond teased.

Sure enough, Ross fouled out to third to end the inning.

"Told you," Jen smiled.

"As if you know nothin'," the jerk fan sitting behind them remarked.

"Know more than you do," Jen replied without looking back.

A-Rod led off the third with a single to center. Cano struck out swinging but A-Rod stole second and Teixeira walked. Then the Yankees pulled off a successful double steal and that brought Jen out of her seat.

"That's aggressive baseball!" She screamed.

"Down in front," the annoying Sox fan behind them barked.

Jen sat as Swisher came to the plate. He grounded into a fielder's choice at second, A-Rod thrown out at home.

"Ha! Ha! HA!" The fan behind them laughed. "A-Rod sucks!"

"It wasn't his fault," Jen was quick to point out.

"It never is," Desmond laughed sarcastically.

"The jerk shouldn't have gone," the obnoxious fan said. "It was a dumb play."
Ibanez flied out to center to end the inning.

"The A-Rod play may come back to bite you," Desmond predicted.

"We'll see," Jen replied neutrally.
Gonzalez singled to center to open the Boston fifth and then went to second on a wild pitch.

"That's his second one today!" Jen groaned, cursing Kuroda.
Saltalamacchia struck out swinging but Gomez singled to left scoring Gonzalez and giving Boston a 7-6 lead.

"Ball game," the jerk fan behind them announced.

"It's only the fifth inning," Jen was quick to point out.

"Beckett's going to shut them down," the guy predicted.

"He better, because I don't trust our bullpen," Desmond remarked.

"Well, you're both nuts because the bullpen is already up," Jen said, gesturing to the Sox pen in right center.

"Oh no!" Desmond groaned.
Aviles popped out to second and Punto grounded out to first to end the inning.
Albers relieved Beckett to start the sixth both Desmond and the fan behind them were not happy.

"Valentine is an idiot," the outspoken fan said of the Boston manager.

Chavez singled to left but was thrown out at second trying to advance.

"We are making too many mistakes!" Jen complained.

Martin walked but Jeter grounded into a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning.

"Well, I guess we're okay," Desmond said with relief.
Nava flied out to let to open the sixth. Kalish flied out to right. The Yankees went to the bullpen, bringing in Logan to pitch to Ortiz.

"Isn't Boone Logan a great baseball name?" Jen asked.

Ortiz grounded out to second to end the inning.
The Sox changed pitchers again, bringing in Miller to start the inning. Granderson walked and A-Rod reached on an infield single to short.

"Uh-oh," a nervous Desmond remarked.
Cano struck out looking and Boston changed pitchers again, going to Padilla.

"Good!" The obnoxious fan behind them exclaimed.

But Teixeria tripled to center scoring two runs, bringing Jen to her feet with a woo-hoo scream before she quickly collected herself and returned to her seat, tossing Desmond a bashful smile.

"Sorry," she said. "I couldn't help myself."
Swisher struck out looking but Ibanez doubled to right to score Teixeria and Valentine came out of the dugout one more time.

"You should have stuck with Beckett you moron!" the obnoxious fan screamed with disgust.

With Atchison pitching, Chavez singled to left to score Ibanez before Martin struck out to finally end the inning.

"Well, a four run inning makes me feel real good!" Jen laughed as she and Desmond both stood for the seventh inning stretch.

Desmond mumbled something she couldn't quite make out above the crowd noise.

"So, are you having fun?" Jen asked with a smile.

"I was before that last half inning!" Desmond replied with a groan.

"Well, 10-7 with three at bats left for you guys," Jen said. "Anything can still happen."

"And usually does when it's Yankees-Red Sox!" Desmond laughed.

They sat as Ross came to the plate and promptly hit a homer over the monster to get the Fenway faithful back on their feet.

"Here we go!" Desmond exclaimed with excitement.

Gonzalez singled to left center to keep the crowd noise going but Saltalamacchia struck out swinging. The Yankees brought in Eppley to pitch.

"Valentine should pinch hit here," Desmond said. "Gomez is a rookie and this is the ball game."
Desmond groaned when Gomez stepped to the plate and then Desmond smirked sheepishly when the hitter singled to right.

"Maybe Valentine isn't such a moron after all," Desmond decided.

"Yes he is," the obnoxious fan behind them insisted.

Aviles grounded into a fielder`s choice, short to third and the Yankees brought in Robertson to pitch to Punto who struck out swinging to end the inning.

"How in the hell can the Sox win with guys like Gomez and Punto in the line up?" Desmond groaned. "Getting rid of Youk was the dumbest thing they ever did."
With Melancon starting the inning for the Red Sox, Jeter grounded out first to pitcher and Granderson flied out to left. A-Rod singled to left but Cano grounded out short to first to end the inning.

"Okay, boys, we need two," Desmond yelled. "Let's get going!"
Nava flied out to left and Kalish struck out looking before Ortiz singled to left and Ross walked.

"Okay, here we go!" Desmond said with excitement. "Gonzo's going to win it with one swing of the bat."

"No way!" Jen said, pointing toward the bullpen where Soriano was coming out.
Lillibridge was sent in as a pinch-runner for Ross and the fans were on their feet but Gonzalez grounded out to first to end the inning and Desmond kicked the seat in front of him with disgust.
"That was the ball game," he said.

"You still have one more at bat to get it done," Jen said.

"Are you trying to make me feel better?" Desmond wondered.

"Yes!" She laughed.

Teixeira grounded out second to pitcher to start the ninth. And when Swisher and Ibanez both struck out swinging to end the inning, Desmond actually looked hopeful but then Saltalamacchia struck out swinging, Gomez flied out to center, and Aviles struck out looking to end the game.

"The Yankees win! The Yankees Win! Theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Yankees win!" Jen screamed.

"Shut up, lady!" The creep fan behind them grumbled. "I don't know who let you in here in the first place." Then he looked at Desmond. "Buddy, you bring shame to the Sox bringing your Yankee girlfriend in here."

"She's not my girlfriend," Desmond said.

"Then what the hell are you doing with her?" The guy frowned as he and his buddies began to file out of the row.
"I'm sorry," Jen said. "I pinky promised I wouldn't be a jerk."

"That's okay," Desmond said with a shrug. "Your team did win."

"Well, I'm sorry your team lost," she said.

"No you're not!" Desmond laughed.

"Okay, so I'm not," she admitted with a smirk. "But I'm glad we came to the game together. This was fun."

"Yeah, it was," Desmond agreed. He gave her a smile. "See, I'm not one of those sore losers."

"I'm glad," she replied.

They stood in their row waiting for the crowds to thin out a little bit, glancing around the ball park and taking in the setting one last time before reluctantly heading for the exit.

It wasn't a date or anything but Desmond actually enjoyed himself even if the Sox blew another one. They had the lead in the 6th and couldn't hold on. It seemed the Yankees always found a way to win against them. Jen was relieved that she had escaped Fenway once again unscathed. She had been harassed in the past for being a Yankee fan in Red Sox territory and if that guy sitting behind them had a few more beers things might have gotten ugly, but she felt oddly protected with Desmond by her side and she liked that feeling.

They made their way among the sea of people to the T station and had to wait a good while to catch a train that had room. They made small talk, mostly analyzing the game and mentioning moves the may or may not have made. Desmond complained that the Sox had to many injuries and that they never should have traded away Youk at third base.

"We'll never win with guys like Gomez and Punto in the line up," he groaned. "Go out and get some everyday players for god sakes."

"I'm feeling pretty good about the Yanks," Jen countered. "We have injuries too but we have the depth to get through them with guys like Chavez and Ibanez and Jones on the roster."

"That's what having the highest payroll in baseball gets you," Desmond said.

"Hey, your team aren't exactly slouches with the money either," Jen pointed out.

It was obvious that Jen was a real baseball fan and that she knew her team and the game. It had been a long time since Desmond had been with such a knowledgeable baseball woman. His ex had grown tired of sports long before their marriage ended and they never talked about the game. It was nice to chat with a woman who actually knew what a hit and run play was.

It was after midnight by the time they returned to the hotel and Desmond was sorry to see the day end. He hadn't had this much fun in a long time – even though Jen was a Yankee fan! Their rooms were on the same floor so Desmond joined Jen in the elevator and walked her to her door, five rooms down the hall from his own.

"Thanks for going to the game with me and tolerating my Yankeeism," Jen said with a smile when they reached her door.

"It was a good time," he let her know. "So," he said after an awkward pause. "When are you heading out tomorrow?"

"I really hadn't thought about it," Jen admitted. "I guess I'm in no hurry."

"Me either," Desmond replied. He waited a beat. "Hey, would you like to hang around for a while and do something together?" He asked. "See a little of the city or something?"

"That sounds like fun!" Jen replied with a smile.

"How 'bout we meet in the lobby at…say 9:30?" He suggested.

"Okay," she agreed. "I'll see you then."

"Good night, Yankee," Desmond grinned.

"Good night, Red Sox," Jen laughed.

She took out her magnetic key and swiped the door open. Desmond waited until she was safely inside the room. She turned and smiled at him. "Good night."

"Good night."

She quietly closed the door and Desmond practically skipped down the hall to his room. This was great! He usually hated being in a hotel room alone – there was nothing lonelier – but tonight, knowing Jen was just a few doors away, he was okay with it. He smiled as he entered his room, flipping on Sportscenter to catch the other scores before turning in for the night with the sounds of the city outside his hotel window.

Desmond awoke early, feeling refreshed and excited about the prospects for the day. He showered, packed his overnight bag, left a tip for the maid, and headed to the lobby to check out. He was surprised to find Jen already there, seated in a lobby chair reading the sports section of The Boston Globe.

"Good morning," Jen said with a warm smile.

She was wearing a pretty white summer dress with sandals and looked great. He noticed no Yankee ball cap this time.

"Did you already check out?" Desmond wondered.

"I'm ready to go!" She laughed.

"My car is at the Alewife T station out in Cambridge," he explained. "Can I put my bag in your car for now?"

"Oh sure," Jen agreed pleasantly. She held up some pamphlets. "There's plenty we can do today."

Desmond checked out and they stashed his bag in Jen's car before embarking on their day of touring after moving her car to the parking garage at the Boston Commons. They walked through the Boston Public Garden, strolled to the North End ("Little Italy") with its cobblestone streets, architecture, and aromas of delicious food, Paul Revere's house and the Old North Church. They walked the Freedom Trail, went down to the Boston Harbor, went Boston Public Library and the Samuel Adams Brewery, strolled along Beacon Hill and past the State House, saw some of the historic cemeteries, saw the USS Constitution and the Charlestown Navy Yard (including Bunker Hill), visited Faneul Hall, sat with the Red Auerback statue on a nearby bench, and had a drink in the Cheers Bar where they learned the Yankees had beat the Sox again at Fenway (this time 6-1).

"Don't say anything about that!" Desmond pleaded when they learned of the results.

"Maybe we should have gone to that game too!" Jen joked.

During their day long adventure, Desmond and Jen talked about their jobs, their families, and their lives. Jen was the HR Director for a food warehouse factory while Desmond worked with social workers and other mental health care professionals so many of their employees came from different educational backgrounds. Jen saw much more of a turn over in her job with plenty of temporary workers who often moved on while many of Desmond's employees stayed put for years. They compared notes and discussed various HR incidents and it was fun to bounce stuff off another HR professional.

Desmond also enjoyed learning about Jen's upbringing and her family just as he enjoyed telling her about his hometown of Hillsboro which was only about forty miles from where Jen was living in Keene.

It was early evening when they walked to Jen's car at the Boston Commons garage and she drove Desmond to his car at the Alewife station. Both were exhausted from their long day but they had enjoyed each other's company and the whirlwind adventure.

Desmond directed her to his car on the third level and she pulled to a stop in front of it. He climbed out of the vehicle and grabbed his overnight bag from the back, surprised when Jen got out of the car too.

"Well, that was great," she said as she walked around the front of the car to say goodbye.

"It was," he agreed.

"Do you want to exchange info?" She asked. "You know, for work networking?"

"Oh sure," he said.

They exchanged business cards and wrote their personal cell phones and e-mail addresses on the back for the cards.

"Well, go Yankees!" She said bravely.

"We'll see where our teams are in October," Desmond replied.

"Deal," she said, sticking her hand out for a shake.

He wondered if he should try kissing her on the cheek or something instead but he decided to play it safe and he shook her hand.

"Thanks, Jen," he said. "I had a blast."

"Me too, Des," she replied with a smile before returning to her car.

He stood there watching as she drove away, beating himself up for not giving her a kiss goodbye. He drove home to Hillsboro missing her.

During the next few weeks, Desmond and Jen exchanged texts and e-mails regarding the progress of the Sox and Yankees. New York had the better month and were 18 games over .500 on July 31 while the Sox toiled at one game over .500, still 8 ½ games back.

When the dusk settled at the end of August, Boston found itself 14 games back still just one game over .500 while the Yankees were 19 games over. Desmond had long since conceded the American League east but he was still hopeful that Boston could rally for one of the wild card spots even though Baltimore and Oakland were having great seasons and at least three other teams were ahead of them for the wild card slots.

Jen, on the other hand, was pretty certain New York would win the AL East and she let Desmond know this reality with every text, tweet, and e-mail. Desmond was amused that the two HR professionals had developed such a strong friendship given that they rooted for arch-rivals. Jen mentioned the Serguci League several times, letting Desmond know that she would love to come to Hillsboro and check out Beano Field.

Was Desmond ready to have Jen on his home turf? Would that mean their friendship would take the next base if she came? He thought about it for a few weeks and realized there would be no foul ball by taking her to a Serguci Game or two so he e-mailed her and let her know that Labor Day was the final weekend for Serguci League ball and that she was more than welcome to come check it out if she was interested.

Jen replied with an enthusiastic acceptance and Desmond spent nearly a week getting his house ready for company. It was mostly the guys who had been occupying the bachelor pad since his ex left nearly five years ago with a couple of short-lived relationships tossed in along the way. The house was meant to be a 'starter home fixer upper' but Desmond's marriage was on the rocks before they got around to remodeling the place and he lived in the small bungalow home in desperate need of a paint job and other renovations but it was relatively clean and hospitable once he did his Hazel routine and got the place up to standards.

The house had two bedrooms and he assured Jen she would have her own privacy for the weekend (once he cleaned out the five years of junk piled up in the second room!). Desmond was feeling nervous as Friday of the Labor Day weekend approached. The thought of entertaining Jen was beginning to stress him out and some of his pals, aghast that he was allowing a Yankee fan into his house, razzed him about "hitting a home run" with her.

Desmond was sitting on his front porch patiently waiting for Jen when she pulled into his driveway around 5:30 on Friday afternoon having left work early to beat the Labor Day weekend holiday traffic and get to Hillsboro in time for first pitch.

"Hi," Desmond said as he stepped off the porch and greeted Jen in the driveway.

"What a lovely town!" Jen replied as she climbed out of the car, wearing her Yankees tee-shirt and ball cap of course. "I drove through downtown. This place is great! Norman Rockwell and everything."

"Did you have any trouble getting here?" Desmond asked.

"Oh no, your directions were perfect," she said, holding up the computer Map quest directions. "Here I am."

Desmond took her overnight bag from the back of the car and led her into the house.

"What a darling place!" Jen exclaimed as they went up the front steps and entered in the house.

"It's quaint," Desmond agreed diplomatically.

He showed her to her room on the second floor. There were only the two bedrooms and the bath and she said it was like being in a darling dollhouse. Desmond waited for Jen downstairs and when she arrived they headed for Beano Field, walking since it was a nice night and he lived just a few blocks from the ballpark. They talked about The American League East and Desmond professed that the season over for Boston once they traded away Gonzalez, Beckett, (the injured) Crawford and Punto to the Dodgers.

"They threw in the towel," he said.

"Well, it's looking pretty good for the Yankees," Jen countered.

"We'll see in a month," Desmond countered.

They turned their attention to the Serguci League once they came around a corner and Jen saw the green ball park ahead of them.

"Wow!" She said. "It's beautiful!"

"We're pretty lucky to have it," Desmond agreed.

They walked past The Bullpen Tavern around the corner to the main gate along the third base line. They paid their one dollar donation and entered the gate. Jen stopped in her tracks and glanced around the ball park with its covered stands behind home plate and first base line and the open bleachers along the third base line. There was a snack shack down the left field line as well as a play area for kids. There was the mini-left field monster Desmond told her about in Boston and the hill in center and the wire fence in right. She saw the 'bullpen' (outside eating area) of The Bullpen Tavern down the right field line.

"Wow!" She said again.

Desmond walked her to the snack shack where they got a couple of dogs and some soda. They sat in the open bleachers along the third base line and Desmond gave Jen a quick overview of the league, telling her how Benjamin T. Serguci bought the old ball park and named it after his son "Beano" who was killed in World War II.

"Serguci League baseball has been a Blue County tradition since the 1940s," he said. "On Memorial Day weekend, eight teams begin playing a 42 game schedule that ends on Labor Day. The original teams were the Greenville Giants, Riverside Royals, Beansboro Beansters and the Miller City Mudhens. The So. County White Sox and County Crusaders were added in the early fifties, the Hilltop Browns in the later fifties, and the Sun Rise Lake Lions in the late 1960s."

He explained how The Beansters were the "Italian" team spawned from the original Serguci Family of Hillsboro. The Giants featured Irish players from Blue County's biggest town, Greenville. The Royals and Mudhens both attracted players from the factories along the Blue River. The South County White Sox and County Crusaders (from the West County) included players from area farms and migrant workers who picked tobacco, potatoes, and pickles in the south county.

"That's pretty neat," Jen replied when he was done with the history lesson. "And you said you played with the Browns?"

"Yeah, outfield, from high school until about ten years ago," he said.

"Do you miss it?"

"It's hard not too," Desmond admitted. "I miss the guys and being part of a team. But I'm too old now anyway."

"You're like thirty-seven," she laughed.

"Yeah, but in baseball years that's like being fifty-seven!" He grinned.

The Sun Rise Lake Lions were playing the Riverside Royals that evening and Jen and Desmond rooted on both teams. Without the restrictions of the Red Sox-Yankee problem and with no real allegiances the two fans could enjoy the game and have fun cheering on both sides. Desmond was once again impressed by Jen's baseball knowledge.

When the game was over, they stopped in at The Bullpen Tavern for a beer. Jen enjoyed looking at the many Serguci League photos on the walls and she got a kick out of seeing a Browns team photo from one of the years Desmond played.

"Oh look at you!" She giggled. "Mr. Handsome Ballplayer!"

He told her about some of the guys on that team and the year they had (27-15, which wasn't bad but they were still beaten out by their arch Rival Giants).

"Browns-Giants is sort of like Red Sox-Yankees," he explained.

They walked back to the house and checked out the baseballs scores. Desmond teased Jen when the found out that the Orioles were beating the Yankees while the Sox were about to start out on the west coast against the A's.

"Wanna watch some Sox?" Desmond asked.

"Maybe for a little while," she agreed. "I'm kind of tired."

So they sat on opposite sides of the couch and watched the game. Oakland scored four in the second and two more in the third which got Desmond grumbling. The Sox wrecked the shutout with a run in the fourth but when Oakland plated two more in the fifth and their ninth run in the sixth to lead 9-1, Desmond decided he had enough.

"I'm going to bed," he said.

"I think I'll stay up a little longer and watch some more," Jen replied.

"Because you're taking great delight in my Sox getting blown out," Desmond complained.

"Hey, my team lost tonight too," Jen replied.

"Suit yourself," Desmond said, standing. "You sure you're going to be okay down here by yourself?"

"I live alone," Jen replied. "I think I can handle it."

"Okay, well, goodnight," Desmond said, heading for the stairs although he felt a little weird leaving her alone.

Desmond was asleep when he heard Jen's voice in his bedroom doorway.

"Huh?" He mumbled when he realized he was awake.

"Guess what the final score of the Sox game was!?" She giggled.

He rolled over, opened his eyes and saw her silhouette in the doorway. She was wearing a long Yankees tee shirt and nothing else.

"It must have been bad if you're waking me to tell me," He groaned.

"Guess!" She said.

"18-5?"

"It was 20-2," she laughed. "The A's had a nine run 7th and two more in the 8th!"

"And you just had to wake me and tell me that?"

"Yes, I did, Red Sox!" She laughed.

"You're mean!" Desmond said.

"I just thought you'd want to know," Jen said before she disappeared from his sight and for a second he wasn't sure if he had dreamed the whole thing. She had looked like an angel standing there.

Jen was in a great mood the following morning. Desmond took her to Johnny C's Diner for breakfast and then to Greenville to show her the historic old department store, Donovan's which she loved. Then it was back to Hillsboro to check out the Serguci League Museum which was on the second floor above The Bullpen Tavern.

"God, I love baseball," Jen said as she explored the artifacts, mementos, photographs and other collectables. "I wish I lived here so I could be around this stuff all the time."

"I guess sometimes we take it for granted around here," Desmond said.

"I think baseball exemplifies the heart and soul of America," Jen told him. "It's the most democratic in nature, especially for the young. You've got a glove? You play. And, as you get older, you're good enough? You play. Doesn't matter what color of your skin or where you came from. You can hit you can play. Baseball is exciting even when nothing is happening on the field. The pitcher is thinking. The batter is guessing. The catcher is signing. The infielders are positioning. The outfielders are ready to run. The guy on deck is watching and pondering. Managers are strategizing for plays that haven't happened yet. Then, with a swing and a crack of the bat, the ball goes flying and a choreographed, stylized, athletic ballet unfolds. It's beautiful to watch."

Desmond stood staring at her with his mouth hanging open.

"Baseball is complicated," she continued. "Do you ever see the same play twice?"

"No," Desmond said.

"I think hitting a baseball is the hardest athletic challenge in all of sports," she said. "Even the best hitter of all time made an out six out of ten times."

"This is true," Desmond agreed.

"Baseball is about life in America," Jen said. "It's about hot summer days and warm summer nights, the crack of a bat, the smell of fresh grass, the hotdogs and beer, the terrific catch and the amazing throw, the base runner stealing, and the slide into home. The walk off homer, the called strike three to end a game."

"Can I kiss you?" Desmond blurted out as he stared at her, realizing this was definitely the girl for him.

She looked at him and smiled. "Batter up," she said.