The price of no Fenway opener? The end of an epic streak.

Rob Bradford
April 01, 2020 - 5:19 pm

Just about 32 years ago a group of freshmen at Westfield State unwittingly started a tradition.

Gary Trask, Neal Dempsey and Wayne Fox thought it might be a good idea to head into Boston for Opening Day at Fenway Park back in 1988. So the threesome ventured to Trask’s sister house in Braintree the night before to play some poker as a warm-up for that first Red Sox game of the season, meeting up with Trask's cousin, Dom Loiacano.

The next thing they knew 6 a.m. became 7 a.m. which ultimately led to heading over to Landsdowne St. with four tickets and no sleep. For the four men that became a thing that they looked forward to each and every year after watching Lee Smith give up a 10th-inning home run. This season was going to be no exception.

“I’m sure there will be some texts going out. We shouldn't be here, we should be there,” Trask said. “It's one of those things where everybody is in a good mood. There has been a lot of laughs. A lot of shenanigans over the years.”

The group — which were scheduled to be joined by eight more friends and family this time around — aren’t exactly blindsided by the news that there will be no Opening Day at Fenway Park as scheduled Thursday. We have seen this coming for a few weeks now. But when they look at those tickets which were already mailed to each address the reality will likely set in.

For the first time since they were seniors in high school, the four 50-year-old’s will not have the first day at Fenway experience that was always a highlight in their year.

“It's cool,” noted Trask. “I don't get emotional with that stuff, but I do every year when I walk in on Opening Day when I walk up those bleachers and walk up those steps and start seeing the green and we've been whooping it up for a few hours and we're all feeling pretty good and we get the seats with your buddies. Unfortunately some of these guys this is the only time I see them. But every year I know I'm going to see them on Opening Day.”

Fenway opener
Courtesy photo

The actual games or the teams and playing in them have always been a small part of the equation. The tales that come with everything about the experience is what sticks.

Something as seemingly mundane as securing the tickets, for instance.

When they first started out the application would come in the Sunday newspaper. It would be cut out, filled out and faxed in, hoping that the process worked. Thankfully for the group, it did. Then came what Trask calls that “Goddamn virtual waiting room” when the team was really hot, which ultimately led to recent times. “The last few years,” he said, “it hasn’t been difficult to get tickets.”

Throughout the 31 years the group has tried to abide by their routine.

The all-night poker game lasted for years, as did the annual pregame meal at the Beacon St. bar Father’s Too. “They used to have self serve hot dogs for 50 cents that you would take on the honor system,” Trask said. “That place was legendary.”

The seats? Always the bleachers. That has been non-negotiable.

“If you gave me front row tickets behind home plate I would still sit in the bleachers on Opening Day,” the longtime journalist said. “It's more of an event than watching the game.”

There was the time the game was rained out so they went to watch the Master’s until 8 p.m. ultimately heading home to tell wives and girlfriends this was going to be a two-day commitment because the opener may be a day later, but that didn’t mean it was going to be missed.

Or when the group decided to chase the 1990 opener at Fenway with a trip over to the Boston Garden where the Bruins were playing the Whalers in postseason hockey. The problem was that because of all the in-game imbibing they hadn’t prioritized some important details, as was discovered when told their tickets were counterfeit. 

There are, however, memories made inside Fenway, as well, even if it took a few years for the group to fully grasp that part of the experience.

Fenway opener
Courtesy photo

“The one true memory of actually being at the game was in 2005 when raising that first banner,” Trask said. “I'm not the type of guy who gets emotional at that type of stuff. I have it in perspective. But to be standing there and to actually see a World Series pennant go up after years of heartbreak and being told they were never going to win it by my grandfather, that was pretty cool.

“(Before) you anticipated who was going to be booed and who was going to be cheered. That was about it.”

For the time being all they will have are the memories, and the hope they can reconvene a few months later than normal. And if that first game has no fans in attendance?

“Maybe we'll break down the door at the old Father’s,” Trask joked. “There are probably some old hot dogs still sitting around.”








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