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Gary Borders: 'Angels of Fenway' makes Boston trip a homecoming

Gary Borders

There are magical times when one gets to witness a small piece of history being made. They are rare but stick with you. At Boston’s Fenway Park, built in 1912 and one of my favorite places in the world, I watched the Red Sox clinch a tie for the pennant in 1967, beating the Minnesota Twins. They won the next game as well to make it to the World Series for the first time since 1946, but they lost to the Cardinals in seven games. They lost again in the 1975 and 1986 World Series.

In 2004, the curse of the Bambino ended. Eighty-six years after the Sox traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees after winning their last World Series, the team roared back from a three-game deficit in the AL championship to take four straight from the Yankees. That had never happened. They swept the Cards in the World Series. Families wept with joy, visited gravesites to tell dead relatives the news. I thought about my maternal grandmother, Hedwig Bourque. She and my grandfather indoctrinated me into the Red Sox Nation. I grew up in New Hampshire. There really wasn’t much choice. We watched games most Sunday afternoons during baseball season.

Grammy Bourque was still alive in 2004. But at 97, dementia had sent her to a place only she could visit. So she did not get to enjoy that improbable streak. Grammy was 10 or 11 when the Sox last won in 1918. She lived in Canada and likely was not a fan. That would come later.

I thought about her last Thursday night, while again seated in Fenway, but not for a game. James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt were to perform in Fenway. I bought tickets six months ago.

Taylor and Raitt are both in their mid-to-late 60s — “swimming in the deep end,” as the latter put it. Neither has lost a smidgen of their chops. Raitt still flat tears it up on slide guitar. Her voice is as strong and pure as ever. Taylor remains thin, dignified and brought a stadium of 35,000 people to their feet to sing along with “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Taylor is a longtime Sox fan, but this was his first Fenway concert. His album of new material arrived in mid-June, the first in 13 years. I bought it to bone up on the new tunes before the show. The CD included “Angels of Fenway,” a tale of the longtime suffering that Sox fans endured until 11 years ago

Grandmama was a Fenway fan
Even after Grandad died
I still remember her holding my hand
Taking me along for the ride

Taylor briefly introduced the song for those who might not have known what was coming. I got it. I will never forget the season of 2004. “Angels of Fenway” tells that story.

Watched them win in ’004
Oh my God, it was beyond belief
Down three, needing four in a row
Holding on by the skin of our teeth
Like a hungry dog on a bone

I discounted that first win as a moral victory. But they kept winning. And I kept watching and hoping for a miracle.

The whole world held its breath
People got down on their knees
Ready for the sudden death
Praying to heaven for hell to freeze

Indeed, hell froze in 2004. On Thursday night, nearly 11 years later, the final date of his tour, with a cool breeze and a pastel sunset as a backdrop, James Taylor stood on a stage in centerfield of Fenway and said, “This was written for this night, tonight.”

And he sang “Angels of Fenway.”

I hope you heard it, Grammy.

Gary Borders has been an East Texas journalist and editor for more than 40 years. He works now as a freelance writer, editor and photographer. You can see his work at garyborders.com. He has written for World Wildlife magazine, Texas Monthly, Texas Observer and Airstream Life.
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