Welcome to Day 8 of the "EMPTY SEATS" Blog Tour! @EmptySeatsNovel @4WillsPub #RRBC #Baseball
Red Sox Winter Weekends
In 2015, the Red Sox began an annual fan fest they call Winter Weekend. I had to go, even though the site was several hours away and required not only an expensive ticket but also an overnight hotel stay.
Held at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut for the first five years, Winter Weekend features a town hall meeting, as well as autograph and photo sessions with Red Sox players and alumni. Those first five at Foxwoods also provided a chance for kids to attend baseball clinics with professional baseball players.
My son, Tim, and my friend Donna (who’s a Yankee fan but also likes to gamble) went with me for those Foxwoods years. Tim and I would immerse ourselves in Red Sox lore and hang out with our fellow Sox fans while Donna played games at the casino.
During the first one, the Red Sox held auditions for fans to sing The National Anthem at Fenway Park. This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve sung The Anthem at a minor-league park near my home, but I’ve always wondered what it would be like to stand on the grass at Fenway and hit those high notes. I have no doubt that I can do it, although both of my adult children fear that I would have a heart attack and keel over if I actually set foot on Fenway grass.
I went in and signed up. Donna was with me, since Tim hadn’t arrived at that point. I started with “God Bless America” as a warm-up. The judges were two people—one from Fenway Park and one who had competed on “The Voice” or “America’s Got Talent” or something. They began asking me questions:
“Do you think you could sing in front of a large crowd?”
“Yes. I’ve sung The National Anthem at the Tri-City Valley Cats games. They’re affiliated with the Houston Astros.”
“How big is the field?”
“I believe it holds six thousand, but I’m not sure.”
“Do you know that there’s a five-second delay at Fenway Park, from when what you sing goes into the microphone and when it comes out?”
“Yes. I was the public address announcer at Fenway in 2012. I experienced that same delay when I was in the PA booth.”
“Okay. So let’s hear you do The National Anthem.”
I gathered myself and began singing. I hit all the notes, stayed on pitch, and sang the song—the way I was taught to sing it from elementary school through high school. I don’t embellish the song or put any notes into it that don’t exist. The fans at the Valley Cats games have told me that’s the way they like it.
“Come back at four when we’ll announce the people we’ve chosen,” they said.
“Thank you. I will.”
Off I went to participate in the other events.
I had my photo taken with Hall of Famer Jim Rice. I told him I’d always loved him just before the Red Sox photographer snapped the picture.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“I have always loved you,” I replied. (I am not shy. Not anymore.)
He grabbed me, gave me a huge hug, much to the delight of everyone who was watching, and my son caught the whole thing on film.
We spoke for a while, as Red Sox staff members told him to hurry up, that he was holding up the line.
“Hey, this is my show,” he said. “If I want to talk to this woman for a minute, I’ll do it.”
I told him I’d been to his Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown in 2009, and that I almost wore a red shirt from that day, but instead had chosen the dark blue one.
“You really want the truth? Because this one makes me look thinner.”
We both laughed and I moved on.
Later, at four, I went back to see if I’d been chosen to sing The National Anthem at Fenway. I told my son I had a bad feeling about this. Both he and Donna were confident I would be chosen; I was not.
When they made the announcement, I was not one of those who got the call. Instead, the ones who were selected were people who had changed The Anthem through embellishments and trills—that is, not the way I learned the song.
Then the woman who was on one of the television shows (I’m pretty sure it was “The Voice,” but I wouldn’t swear to it) took the microphone and sang The National Anthem, telling all of us in the room before she began that “this is the way it should be done” in front of a large group. Essentially, she turned the nation’s song into a rhythm-and-blues song. I’m not capable of doing that, so I’d say that’s why I wasn’t selected.
Onward. To 2016.
The Red Sox didn’t have National Anthem auditions the next year. They had some good sessions about baseball and brought back some of their more famous alumni, some of whom had left the team to go play for other teams, such as Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs.
I had a difficult time standing in lines to get into the autograph and photo sessions. I was about seven weeks away from having my left knee replaced and waiting in line was brutal. No chairs or benches were in sight, and I was afraid that if I got out of line I’d lose my place. I wish I’d have brought a cane or something or a little stool to sit on while waiting, but, as the old cliché says, if wishes were horses…
I had a photograph with pitcher Joe Kelly and received an autograph from Manager John Farrell. They were cordial—but it was nothing like the encounter I’d had the year before with Jim Rice.
The most notable thing about 2016 was the snowstorm raging outside. Probably eight inches fell when all was said and done. The Red Sox had a new player from Cuba, outfielder Rusney Castillo. The established players were taking him out to look at the snow. Since he’d never seen snow before, he kept asking (in Spanish—but I can understand a minimal amount of it) if the building was going to collapse, or if we were all going to die. The other players were cracking up at how distraught he was.
In 2017, my son and my grandson attended together. My grandson was so excited that he was able to participate in baseball clinics with people who had played in minor- or major-league ball. He had just started Little League following T-ball, and he was anxious to learn new things.
My friend Donna “volunteered” me to do a simulated broadcast of calling David Ortiz’s 500th home run with the people at the New England Sports Network (NESN) booth. I had fun doing this, since I’m one of his biggest fans.
My autograph that year was Andrew Benintendi, the young outfielder for the Red Sox, and my photo was with relief pitcher Matt Barnes.
In 2018, my photograph was with Alex Cora, who was then the new Red Sox manager. I spoke with him in Spanish for a while. He was surprised that someone who looked like me knew any Spanish. My autograph was with Red Sox alumnus Jason Varitek, who’s my daughter’s favorite player. I told him that, and he told me to give her his personal regards.
In 2019, my son brought both my grandson and my granddaughter to Winter Weekend. I was thrilled to see her taking baseball clinics with Billy Conligliaro, the brother of one of my favorite players from the 1960s, Tony Conigliaro.
The other highlight for me was meeting Guerin Austin, who’s the sideline reporter for the Red Sox during the season. I told her my story, of having aspired to be a sportswriter nearly 50 years ago. I told her how much it meant to me to see her as a working journalist in sports, and how I admired her work. The both of us ended our conversation in tears and a hug.
My autograph was with Blake Swihart, who was traded later in the season, much to my chagrin, since I had followed his career for quite some time. Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox’s outstanding shortstop, who speaks many different languages, took a photo with me.
Things changed in 2020, when the Red Sox moved the event to the MGM Casino in Springfield, Massachusetts. While I can appreciate their desire to conduct the Winter Weekend in their home state, I don’t think they realized how difficult this location would be, due to space and security issues.
They had to increase security efforts following a near-fatal attack on their All-Star alumnus David Ortiz in his home country, the Dominican Republic, last year. Fans had been used to Foxwoods, where they were able to travel freely from one event to the other, stopping along the way for snacks and drinks. The MGM did not have those conveniences, and the smaller space interfered with my personal enjoyment.
My daughter, her husband and three sons were supposed to attend this year, but, because they were unable to, my son, grandson and I had extra autograph and picture sessions to use. We met more Red Sox players and alumni this time. I was pleased to find stars of today and yesterday in a couple of the rooms, specifically, designated hitter J.D. Martinez and outfielder Dwight Evans, as well as Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez.
Despite space constraints and limited choices for food at MGM, my family and I will most likely return to this event—that is, if the Red Sox choose to hold it again, given the lack of a season so far due to the Corona virus.
What Little Leaguer doesn’t dream of walking from the dugout onto a Major League baseball field, facing his long-time idol and striking his out? Empty Seats follows three different minor-league baseball pitchers as they follow their dreams to climb the ladder from minor- to major-league ball, while facing challenges along the way—not always on the baseball diamond. This coming-of-age novel takes on success and failure in unexpected ways. One reviewer calls this book “a tragic version of ‘The Sandlot.’”
(Winner of the 2019 New Apple Award and 2019 Independent Publishing Award).
Following a successful 40-year career in public relations/marketing/media relations, Wanda Adams Fischer parlayed her love for baseball into her first novel, Empty Seats. She began writing poetry and short stories when she was in the second grade in her hometown of Weymouth, Massachusetts and has continued to write for more than six decades. In addition to her “day” job, she has been a folk music DJ on public radio for more than 40 years, including more than 37 at WAMC-FM, the Albany, New York-based National Public Radio affiliate. In 2019, Folk Alliance International inducted her into their Folk D-J Hall of Fame. A singer/songwriter in her own right, she’s produced one CD, “Singing Along with the Radio.” She’s also a competitive tennis player and has captained several United States Tennis Association senior teams that have secured berths at sectional and national events. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Northeastern University in Boston. She lives in Schenectady, NY, with her husband of 47 years, Bill, a retired family physician, whom she met at a coffeehouse in Boston in 1966; they have two grown children and six grandchildren.
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