Halls of Fenway
By Jeff Idelson
I spent last night in Fenway Park enjoying the final game of a three-game series between the Red Sox and their rival, the New York Yankees. There’s no bigger rivalry in baseball and it ranks among the all-time greats in professional sports.
There were four Hall of Famers in the house: Joe Morgan, in town to broadcast on ESPN with 2010 Ford C. Frick Award winner Jon Miller; Jim Rice, a fixture at Fenway as a pre and post-game analyst for the Red Sox’ cable rightsholder, NESN; Pudge Fisk, in town to spend a few days in the Red Sox Legends Suite, entertaining clients for the Red Sox, and Orlando Cepeda.
Orlando, or Cha-Cha as he’s known in baseball circles, was in town for an event with EMC2, a worldwide leader in digital data storage. Orlando flew cross country from the Bay Area and made his first visit to the Fenway since 1987, 14 years after making history as the first designated hitter in Red Sox history in 1973.
Since he was already at the ballpark, Cha-Cha was asked to participate in a pre-game ceremony on Mother’s Day Sunday. He was to don a Red Sox jersey – with his number, 25, on the back, and a dark blue Red Sox cap — and escort a cancer-surviving mom to the mound and deliver the first pitch baseball to her so she could throw it out prior to the game.
Before the event, Orlando, Pudge, Red Sox manager Terry Francona, Hall of Fame PR Chief Brad Horn and I sat in the dugout for a few minutes and exchanged some banter.
“Orlando! What are you doing here? Can you still hit?” Francona asked the 1999 Hall of Fame inductee who hit 20 home runs in 1973 for Boston. “I don’t think so, my knee is not too good,” Cepeda said smiling. “How about you Pudge? Can you catch a few innings?” Fisk just rolled his eyes and chuckled.
Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez came out of the tunnel, and Francona introduced his starting catcher to the two legends. Martinez’ eyes lit up.
Next was Kevin Youkilis. “What size bat did you use, Orlando?” asked Youk. When told that he swung a Louisville Slugger B83 model, weighing 40-ounces, the Red Sox infielder raised his eyebrows in disbelief, then turned to Francona and said: “Can you imagine swinging something that big against the fireballer (Nefti Feliz) from Texas?”
Francona wanted to know who the fastest pitcher was that Cepeda faced. Without thinking twice, Cha-Cha stated, “Nolan Ryan, but there were so many others. Bob Veale. So many.”
“How about Marichal?” asked Francona. “He threw around 92,” Cepeda replied.
Fisk swung Youkilis’s Mother’s Day pink bat and marveled at the feel of it.
Cepeda walked down the dugout to meet Dustin Pedroia, who grew up near his home in Fairfield, Calif. They talked about living in the Bay Area. Then David Oritz came into the dugout and the two power hitters exchanged hugs.
“I loved to watch your dad, Tito, hit,” Cepeda told Francona.
Francona smiled and told Orlando: “He loved watching you hit too. You and Rico Carty were the two guys who really could hit the ball hard.” “And Yaz,” said Cepeda. “He swung harder than anyone I know.”
As the pregame ceremony started, Orlando left the dugout for the field. I wondered if the 15 minutes of levity helped the Red Sox at all as the team salvaged the final game of the Series with New York.
Jeff Idelson is president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.