WALLY THE GREEN MONSTER AND THE STEAL OF THE CENTURY
Bang! The bobbleheads on Wally’s shelf rattled. Water splashed out of the fishbowl in which Wally kept his goldfish, Yummy. And the baseball-shaped clock hanging on the wall inside the Green Monster spun upside down.
Wally’s sister Tessie was so surprised, she almost dropped the Fenway Frank she was eating, Wally snatching it just before it could hit the ground, but not before it left a big swoosh of yellow mustard on Wally’s green fur.
“What was that?’’ Tessie said, in a voice so loud that the mouse that was trying to sneak out of a slot in the scoreboard changed his mind and scurried back into the shadows.
Wally the Green Monster smiled. Tessie had never been inside the Green Monster before. She had just arrived from JetBlue Park, where their parents had decided to retire. Tessie loved the Florida sunshine, but she missed her big brother, and after asking every night for what seemed like forever, her parents had finally — finally! — said she could come to Boston and spend the baseball season with Wally.
Wally had promised her she would have lots of fun. But what had made that huge, ear-splitting sound, like a giant’s fist banging on the wall?
“The Red Sox have just begun batting practice, silly,’’ Wally said. “They hit the ball so hard, it leaves dents in the Green Monster’s wall.
“But don’t worry. We’re safe. You might want to put your headphones on and listen to some music, because there’s about to be a whole lot of noise right…about…now. Incoming!’’
Bang! Bang! Bang!
By now, of course, Wally was used to the sounds the Green Monster’s tin wall made when a ball came flying across the left-field grass. Wally had been living inside the Wall since 1934, the year Fenway Park was rebuilt by the team’s new owner, Tom Yawkey. The Wall wasn’t as big as the Great Wall of China, but it still towered 37 feet above the field. Imagine 12 kids stacked on top of one another. That’s how big the Green Monster was.
The wall didn’t get its nickname, the Green Monster, until 1947, when Mr. Yawkey decided to take all the advertising signs down and paint it green.
Wally, who loved baseball from the time he first played catch with his dad, thought the Green Monster was the perfect place to live. Inside it was very cozy — he hung a big swinging hammock between two posts for his bed, and hung up another for Tessie — and he loved to watch games through an open slot in the scoreboard. Sometimes, the scoreboard operator let him carry the big green numbers he would hang on the scoreboard, to show how many runs the Red Sox scored.
He knew the names of all the Red Sox left-fielders by heart. Ted Williams was the greatest hitter who ever lived, a Hall of Famer. Carl Yastrzemski was Captain Carl, the man they called Yaz, the best ever at fielding balls off the Monster and throwing runners out at second base. He was in the Hall of Fame, too. So was Jim Rice, who was so strong and swung so hard his bat looked like a light saber. Then there was Mike Greenwell, who was called Gator because he liked to hunt alligators back home in Florida, and Troy O’Leary, who loved candy and sweets so much his teammates called him Yummy, which is how Wally’s goldfish got its name.
And, of course, there was Manny Ramirez, who knocked on Wally’s door in the middle of a game on a very hot night and came inside the wall because he was thirsty and had heard that Wally made the best lemonade.
But there were two things that made Wally sad. He had never seen the Red Sox win the World Series, even though they had so many great players. When a team wins the World Series, they have a big parade, and Wally loves parades. He had watched the Yankees parade time and again down New York’s Canyon of Heroes, their players covered in a blizzard of confetti.
Wally wanted the same kind of parade in Boston, for the Red Sox. He used to dream what it would be like. But the Red Sox had not won a World Series in 86 years!
The other thing that made Wally sad? Well, it might be hard to believe about a mascot, but Wally was shy. Oh, sure, he loved when moms and dads asked him to pose for pictures with their kids, and he loved to wave the giant Red Sox flag on the field.
And he was thrilled when the Red Sox took the big screen down off the Monster and installed seats on top instead. He loved to look up and see all the fans in their Red Sox jerseys, waving hello to him down below with their baseball gloves.
Wally’s biggest wish, though, was to become best friends with a Red Sox player, but he was just…too….shy. He thought Ted and Yaz and Jim and Gator and Yummy were too busy to be friends with a mascot. He thought Manny might be different, because Manny sometimes acted like a big kid, just like Wally, but Manny never knocked on his door again.
Wally sighed, and looked out on the field. The players were all standing at attention, waiting for the national anthem, and Wally took off his cap and stood at attention, too. But he couldn’t help but notice that there was a new Sox player standing in left field, wearing №31. Who was that?
Wally turned to Tessie, who was playing a game on her computer. “Tessie,’’ he said, “could you look up on your computer and find out who the new Red Sox player is? He’s wearing №31.’’
Tap, tap, tap went Tessie’s fingers.
“His name is Dave Roberts,’’ she said. “He came from the Dodgers. He was born in Japan, and he runs very fast.’’
Just then the player turned around and winked.
“Hi, Wally,’’ Dave Roberts said. “I’ve heard all about you. The batboys told me if I want to learn about the Red Sox, I should come and see you. How about if I come to the ballpark early tomorrow — about 2 o’clock. Will you meet me?’’
Wally couldn’t believe his ears. Dave Roberts, the new player, wanted to meet him? That night, he could hardly sleep.
The next afternoon, just before the electric clock on the scoreboard flashed a 2, Wally saw a player wearing shorts and a red warmup jersey jogging toward him. He opened the door a crack.
“Hi, Wally,’’ Dave Roberts said. “I brought you a bag of sunflower seeds, unless you’d prefer some bubblegum.’’
Dave Roberts gave Wally the biggest smile, and looked at Wally with about the friendliest brown eyes the Green Monster had ever seen.
“You know,’’ Dave Roberts said, “it’s hard to go to a new team in the middle of a season and make friends. All the players are working real hard to get to the World Series, and I just want to fit in.
“I thought maybe you would be my friend, and I’ll be yours.’’
Dave Roberts held his right hand up in the air. Wally happily gave him a high-five.
“Now tell me about the famous Boston Red Sox,’’ Dave Roberts said.
And every day for the next two months, before batting practice began, Wally told Dave Roberts everything he knew about the Red Sox. He told him about “Nuf Ced” McGreevy and the Royal Rooters, the team’s first fan club. Wally’s father, Walter, had been a Royal Rooter, and used to sing “Tessie,” the Rooters’ favorite song, at the top of his lungs. Yup, that’s how Wally’s sister got her name.
Wally told him about how the Red Sox won the first World Series, way back in 1903, then won four more by 1918, when they had the great Babe Ruth, who not only pitched but hit the farthest home runs anyone had ever seen. He described how shocked he was to hear that the Red Sox had sold the mighty Babe to the Yankees, and how some fans called the “Curse of the Bambino” the reason the Sox hadn’t won another World Series since.
“I don’t believe in curses,’’ Dave Roberts said.
When Wally wasn’t telling Dave Roberts about Cy Young and Duffy’s Cliff and Double XX and the Pesky Pole, and Carlton Fisk’s home run off the left-field pole, Dave Roberts was telling Wally about his own life.
He told Wally how his father was in the Marines when he met his mother in Japan, which is how he was both Japanese-American and African-American.
He told Wally about growing up in southern California, where he starred in baseball, football and basketball, until he hurt his knee so badly he missed an entire year.
“But I never gave up,’’ Dave Roberts said, “and I never will.’’
Dave Roberts didn’t play in many games for the Red Sox, but he gave the team a secret weapon they didn’t have: Great speed.
“You wait,’’ Dave Robert said. “My time will come.’’
Just like Wally taught Dave Roberts about the Red Sox, Dave Roberts taught Wally everything he knew about stealing a base. How it was important not just to be fast, but to study a pitcher, look for clues for when he was about to make his pitch, take just the right lead, and with a burst of speed race to the next bag, looking out of the corner of your eye for the catcher’s throw.
“Come on,’’ Dave Roberts said. “I want you to try it.’’
Well. This was something Wally had never done, to walk onto the field while the Red Sox were practicing. But Dave Roberts put his arm through Wally’s and introduced him to Orlando Cabrera, the shortstop, and Mark Bellhorn, the second baseman, and Kevin Millar. “Cowboy Up,’’ Millar said, gently punching Wally in his big green tummy.
Dave Roberts showed Wally how he looked for a sign from the third-base coach, took his lead, crouched low, and bolted toward second base as soon as the ball left the pitcher’s hand. He showed him how to slide into second base, feet-first and then with a head-first slide when he knew the play would be close.
Wally couldn’t run as fast as Dave Roberts, of course, and when he slid into second base, his big furry body was covered with dust. All the players laughed. “I’d say go take a shower,’’ Kevin Millar said, “but then we’d just have a big green wet furball.’’
Afterward, Dave Roberts helped Wally memorize the signs the Red Sox manager, Terry Francona, would flash when he wanted a player to steal or stay.
“You never know when I might need you,’’ Dave Roberts said.
When the playoffs began, Wally was super excited. During the season, the Red Sox had won 98 games, just three fewer than the mighty Yankees. They met the Angels in the first round of the playoffs, and after winning the first two games in the Big A in Anaheim, Big Papi, David Ortiz, hit one over Wally’s head and over the Green Monster to win the final game.
Bring on the Yankees. Wally was so excited he could hardly breathe. But then the Sox lost the first two games in New York, and when they came home to Boston for Game 3, it was awful. The Sox lost, 19–8. The Yankees needed to win just one more game, and they would be going to the World Series.
Wally tried not to cry. It looked like another year would pass without a parade.
On the afternoon of Game 4, Wally heard a knock on his door. It was Dave Roberts, who had not played in the first three games against the Yankees.
“Don’t give up,’’ Dave Roberts said. “You wait. My time will come. I’m your friend. More than ever, I need you to believe in me.’’
Wally promised that he would, but the Red Sox were losing, 3–2, when the game entered the ninth inning. Three more outs, and the season would be over. Fenway Park was as quiet as a library when Mariano Rivera, the great Yankees relief pitcher, trotted in from the bullpen.
Kevin Millar, the Cowboy Up man, was Boston’s first batter in the ninth inning. The fans behind home plate, on their feet, began to stir when Rivera threw ball one. Millar fouled off the next pitch, but then Rivera threw ball two. And ball three. And ball four. A walk! There was hope.
And that’s when Wally the Green Monster, watching through his binoculars, saw Dave Roberts put on a batting helmet and emerge from the dugout. Dave Roberts, a much faster man, was going to run for Kevin Millar.
But would he dare to steal? Everyone in the ballpark, including the Yankees, wondered the same thing. Wally watched Terry Francona go through his signs. Touching his chin, his elbow, sweeping his hand across the letters on his jersey, touching his nose. Wally began to tingle, from the top of his blue cap to the tips of his red shoes. He knew the signs. It was on!
His best friend, Dave Roberts, was going to try to steal. Wally held his breath as Mariano Rivera threw over to first base once, twice, then a third time, Dave Roberts diving back into the bag each time. Phew! That was close!
Just before Mariano Rivera lifted his front leg toward home plate, Wally remembered what Dave Roberts had told him that afternoon. “You wait, my time will come. I’m your friend. More than ever, believe in me.’’
“I believe,’’ Wally whispered, and in that very moment Dave Roberts, knees pumping, broke for second base, running as fast as he could.
The pitch was high. Jorge Posada, the Yankee catcher, rose from his crouch and fired a strong throw toward second, over the ducking Rivera. The shortstop, Derek Jeter, caught the throw and in the same motion swung his glove toward the bag, but not before Roberts, who had launched his body in a head-first slide, slipped his hand onto the bag.
Safe! Safe! SAFE!!!!!
Dave Roberts punched his fist in the air, dusted himself off, and then — and maybe only Wally could see this through his binoculars — he looked toward Wally the Green Monster and winked. He knew, Wally said. He knew that I believed in him.
The Sox had hope, and when Billy Mueller singled up the middle, Dave Roberts scored. The game was tied. Wally gave Tessie the biggest, furriest hug he could, and then another when Big Papi, David Ortiz, hit a home run in the 12th inning.
Sox win! Then Papi did it again in Game 5, with a hit in the 14th. Sox win! And then the Sox went to New York and shocked the Yankees in the last two games. Sox win! Sox win! And the Sox were going to the World Series.
Boston rocked. And Boston rolled. And when the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight games to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years, Boston threw the biggest party the city had ever seen.
And just as he had always dreamed, Wally got his parade, riding on the duck boats, alongside his best friend, Dave Roberts.
“Just like I told you, my time did come,’’ Dave Roberts said, giving Wally one more high-five. “And so did yours.’’