October 27, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Fenway Park welcomes a newfound fan

Marge Lee, 90, attended her first Red Sox game last summer.

Rare is the diehard Red Sox fan who doesn’t have a Fenway Park story.

click image to enlarge

Marge Lee of South Berwick is an avid Red Sox fan and attended her first game last summer. The photo, taken after the game, shows Marge surrounded by members of her family and holding a sign she made addressing NESN announcers Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Marge Lee’s happened last June on her first-ever visit to the oldest park in Major League Baseball.

Marge is 90.

“You feel like you’re in another world,” she recalled last week as she served hot coffee and cookies in her stately home on Main Street in South Berwick. “You see the green grass. And then you take part in singing that ‘Sweet Caroline.’ What other ballpark does that?”

None, of course – at least not with the full-throated passion of Fenway.

Nor is there another place in baseball – in all of professional sports, for that matter – that gives a newcomer the kind of welcome Marge received on June 30, the day the Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 with a dramatic rally in the bottom of the ninth.

More on that in a minute. First, a scouting report on Marge:

She grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she married Mick Lee – they met while starring together in an amateur-theater production of “The Bohemian Girl.”

They moved to New York City just after World War II because, as Marge puts it, “the streets were paved with gold.” Better yet, as they soon discovered, the Dodgers were playing in Brooklyn.

To this day, Marge remembers her first visit to Ebbets Field after listening to Red Barber, Connie Desmond and a young Vin Scully call countless games over the Philco radio. (“They’re really tearing up the pea patch today!” she can still hear Barber exclaiming over the scratchy airwaves.)

Those were the days of Preacher Roe and Pee Wee Reese and, of course, the legendary Jackie Robinson. And who could forget the antics of “Shorty Laurice and the Brooklyn Sym-phony” entertaining the masses with the worst music known to mankind?

Then the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1958 and Marge and Mick, by now the parents of four children, found themselves without a home team to call their own.

The Yankees? Don’t even think about it.

“I think the Dodgers were more hometown kind of guys,” Marge said. “There was an elitism about the Yankees, a hauteur, if that’s the right word to use about them. The untouchables. They were really the bitter enemies.”

If Marge sounds like an educated woman, it’s because she is. After attending Juilliard in her younger years, she returned to school at age 60 and proceeded to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, followed by a doctorate in psychology from St. John’s University. (She later earned a second master’s, at Mick’s urging, from the University of New Hampshire in 2007.)

They retired 17 years ago – Mick from a career in retail marketing, Marge from her job as a psychologist at a New York psychiatric treatment center. And given their distaste for Yankee pinstripes, it seems only fitting that their twilight years landed them right smack in the middle of Red Sox Nation.

“I didn’t catch the fever for several years,” Marge confessed. “I don’t know why – maybe we were still in mourning about the Dodgers. But all of a sudden it came upon us.”

It may have been the legendary brawl between the Red Sox and the Yankees during Game 3 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. All Marge knows is that in these rough-and-tumble Red Sox, she and Mick heard the echoes of their beloved, hardscrabble Dodgers.

And so, night after night, they sat in front of the television in South Berwick and got hooked.

Then last March, with a season for the ages at their doorstep, Mick passed away at the age of 99.

“He was my darling,” Marge said wistfully. “We were going to be married 69 years.”

Fortunately, Marge has plenty of family nearby. So, as she did her best to adjust to life without Mick, grandson Jason Shifrin of Concord, N.H., took it upon himself to buy eight tickets to the Sox-Blue Jays game on the last day of June.

“He said he wanted to do something for Grandma to cheer her up,” said Marge, who’d grown to love Fenway from afar but never dreamed she’d actually cross the threshold of baseball’s most cherished shrine.

The seats were just a few rows back from the third base line. Emerging from the ramp into Fenway and all its century-old glory, Marge found herself reliving that first day she and Mick paid three bucks apiece for tickets and walked, wide-eyed, into rickety Ebbets Field.

Hence the large, cardboard sign that Marge meticulously prepared for the game, addressed to Red Sox television announcers Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo: “HI JERRY AND DON! I’M 90 YEARS OLD AND THIS IS MY FIRST TIME AT FENWAY! BUT I DID SEE JACKIE ROBINSON PLAY AT EBBETS FIELD. MARGE, SO. BERWICK, MAINE.”

Marge still doesn’t know if the sign got her on TV. But this she does know: When she stood up with her back to the field and held it high, fans for as far as she could see applauded and cheered – so much so that she and her family flashed the placard repeatedly (and with the same response) throughout the game.

“Like a bunch of hams,” Marge admitted.

Then came the best part. After yet another trademark, walk-off win by the Sox, while she and her clan posed for a photo with Fenway’s infield in the background, Marge felt a tug on her sleeve.

It was a 6-year-old boy, staring up at her with a slightly scuffed baseball in his little hand.

“Oh, aren’t you a lucky duck!” Marge said. “You got a game ball!”

“It’s for you,” the boy said.

“Oh, no. I can’t accept that. It’s your ball!” Marge protested.

“No,” the boy insisted. “It’s for you.”

Marge, not knowing what to do, looked around for guidance. That’s when she spotted the boy’s parents, watching from several rows away, silently nodding and smiling their approval.

Grandson Jason has the ball now – after prominently displaying it in her living room for a couple of months, Marge decided it belonged with the guy who got her to Fenway in the first place.

In other words, one family’s act of kindness is now another family’s heirloom. And as Marge sits up late these cold October nights and roots for her newfound boys of summer, Fenway will no longer be that abstract, mythical place the out-of-town announcers can’t stop gushing about.

She can still see where she sat.

She can still hear the applause – not for the Sox, but for her.

And for as long as she’s on this good Earth, she will never forget that little boy.

“Fenway is my Ebbets Field,” Marge said. “The same camaraderie, the same fierce dedication to the team. All of that.”

And then some. 

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:bnemitz@pressherald.com

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