Life in Boston can feel like a seriously tumultuous relationship. After the whirlwind romances of summer filled with outdoor dining and public consumption of joints on front stoops, you move into the comforting snuggle of fall only to get clobbered by the winter. It’s a common tale.
When the honeymoon is over, the realities begin to rear their ugliness. You still love Boston, but what is up with it lately? Every time you step outside, the cold air breaks at your face and constant wind invades any and all vulnerabilities. Every now and then, the Hub gets dark for days at a time, while parking one’s car can activate adrenal glands formerly reserved for Neanderthals about to fight to the death for a lizard carcass. You look around and realize, I’m still in love, but this is more work than it used to be.
Fortunately, just as you begin to get a wandering eye and Googling spots like Las Vegas, something happens. You’re walking down the street and glance inside a bar, and on the flat-screens, instead of showing breathless wide-eyed reporters standing next to large piles of snow, it’s showing guys from the Red Sox playing baseball.
Suddenly, the green grass strikes you. It’s beautiful. The amount of sun shining on players and casting long shadows seems familiar; you may even shake your head a little. You’ve been here before, and as a result you feel hopeful as you pass by and stare through the dead branches of trees. The sky is getting clearer.
As spring training signals the end of a Boston winter, it also summons baseball optimism. We spend the rest of the year criticizing every player, but in the spring we can dream. Prospects are vastly overrated, and insanely unrealistic hopes can be placed upon the most random of players. But that’s the fun of it. Also, if anything looks bad or doesn’t make you feel good, you can always just say, It’s only spring training. It doesn’t matter.
So when Jimmy Dunn (the comedian) and Sam Adams (the beer) called and offered me the chance to head south to Fort Myers, Florida, where the Red Sox have held spring training since 1993, and do a 16-night stretch of comedy shows near the ballpark, I immediately agreed without hesitation and began buying shorts.
As soon as I got off the plane in Fort Myers, I braced for cold air out of habit, only to feel the unfamiliar breath of humidity. A newly cured ex-vampire, upon stepping outside for a moment and seeing the green grass and bushes, I took a selfie for a “rub it in” Instagram post before even retrieving my bags. They actually had a little area that I believe was designated for the making of such posts.
Prior to arriving, I had some childish ideas about how my trip would unfold. Basically, I thought that it would be like camp, with me squarely in the midst of all these Red Sox people, all of us casually running into each other and hanging out. And that’s the beauty of baseball—it’s a child’s game, and sometimes childish ideas come true.
I casually ran into ex-MLB manager and current Red Sox Vice President of Baseball Operations Tony La Russa in a hotel lobby and handed him a flyer for our comedy show. I was chatting with NESN Director Michael Naracci about how his dog was having a hard time adjusting to Florida, not long after which former Sox catcher and current broadcaster Jarrod Saltalamacchia walked up and, like some sort of dog whisperer, got down on one knee and poured water into the palm of his hand for the dog to drink out of. Sports anchor Tom Caron gave me a tour of JetBlue Park, and iconic announcer Joe Castiglione told me how much he respected comedians. Seriously. He said that.
I even made friends with Wally the Green Monster. I felt like I had climbed inside my own flat-screen and was living on NESN. If Charlie Moore jumped out of the water and asked if I wanted to fish, I would have grabbed my bait and tackle.
By day, we arrived at the ballpark early before the fans were let in. I’d watch the visiting squad warm up from 10 feet away; when you’re starved for baseball, just watching guys play catch is amazing. After that, I watched games from a tunnel behind home plate and talked baseball with an usher named Ken who has worked for the Sox for 13 years and originally lived on the South Shore.
At night, we did it up. The great Jimmy Dunn hosted, while cameramen, television hosts, MLB scouts, ex-ballplayers, radio guys, general Boston bigwigs and their families, and others came to drink beer and watch stand up. It was a little bit of back home in a strange and foreign land.
Because despite the beautiful weather, we all missed home.
Florida is just not Boston. The grass really is greener and sure, Boston can be difficult and moody. But Boston’s personality makes up for the hard times. Florida feels like flirting with a coworker: It’s fun, and you may even think of them from time to time when you’re not there, but Boston is who you are married to, and sometimes they are warm and loving. The trees are beginning to look less dead. And the Red Sox are about to return, hopefully with enough magic to last the whole season.
Just like that, the spark is back.
Will Noonan is a stand-up comedian living in Boston. His newest venture “The Noonan Show” is available on YouTube, and on all podcast platforms. To find out more about his adventures and upcoming performances, follow will on twitter @willnoonan visit willnoonan.com.