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Opening Day at Fenway
Michael Sabbatini

Opening day in Boston has rarely been the Norman Rockwell portrait of America, where shirt-sleeved clad men sit under a warm sun with wide-eyed boys and watch the home team warm up on crisp green grass under a bright blue sky.

Early April in New England is a Picasso of dark foreboding color, sharp winds and breezes off the Charles River that chill the bone of ghosts still roaming the slicked wet still hibernating grass of Fenway Park.

Nevertheless it is always charmed. Even in the midst of an epic eight-decade long championship drought, the Boston Red Sox opening day was a time of regional holiday. Never is hope so high in New England on opening day.

Never, that is, until Opening Day 2005. Where the game really was played under an unseasonably warm sun on crisp, perfectly mowed, green grass. Where the celebration before the game was far superior to just about anything that could possibly follow it. Because like an odd scene from the Twilight Zone, the fans of Fenway were there to celebrate, their World Champion Boston Red Sox. But unlike a scary "Zone" episode with a tragic twist of fate at the show's end, this surreal drama was etched in stone as a banner bigger than perhaps any ever flown anywhere unfurled in front of us chosen few - the envy of all of Beantown who actually had tickets to the game - and proclaimed for all time, that the Red Sox are indeed World Champs.

Spring in New England can't quite match fall, but its trip any baseball fan, historical nut, or just plain seasoned traveler must take. If you're fortunate, as I was during the second week of April, the weather cooperates giving you the first taste of spring. For Bostonians who had just endured a brutal winter of more than 50 inches of snow and storms so nasty a city that is known for brutal storms was summarily shut down anyway, the sun popping up in time for baseball at the Fens was like a reading a storybook where the princess gets the kiss of the prince.

We stayed less than a few blocks from Quincy Market in one of Kimpton's new ultra-modern hotels, the Onyx Hotel. Kimpton hotels are a national chain so unusual that they will change the way you feel about hotel accommodations. Each hotel - I have stayed in two in San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C. - has its unique personality. The bar is always edgy-hip with punchy drinks and exotic seating. The rooms are decorated with colors that collide like blue surf on white sand. Every detail, from granite counter tops, to extra pillows, to leopard striped robes, is taken care of. The Onyx is seemingly carved into the historic buildings just a stone's throw from historic Quincy Market. But everything inside, is state-of-the-art.

Kimpton Hotels are perfect for my wife and me when we travel. The readily available high-speed internet keeps me working, while the lavish surroundings make my wife more than comfortable whether napping, watching a movie or taking a luxurious bath.
As I headed out to Fenway with my prized ticket, I could leave my wife without regret. The Kimpton staff had made sure she would be lavishly treated to an in-room spa and facial while I was out. As I crammed into the packed T at North Station, she melted under the massaging hands of certified professional. I stood belly to belly with Red Sox adorned fans - all with sheepish grins that hadn't worn off since the October to remember - while she listened to soft ocean sounds on the in-room CD player. We both were intensely happy.

Opening day programs were gone two hours before game time. Lansdowne Street was a sea of Red Sox jerseys. The pre-game festivities honored the team as the dreaded Yankees looked on from the visitor's dugout. As Yaz and Pesky raised the championship flag, all was right in Boston. Finally.

Come game time, it just got only better. The Yanks Big Purchase, Randy Johnson, was touched up early and the World Champs dominated throughout. The delirium of October just rolled right into the joy of April. The Sox won easily and my vacation was complete for me, with a week of fun still ahead.

Our magical stay in New England included a walking tour of the city, an afternoon in Portland, Maine eating lobster roll and taking in a Sea Dogs minor league baseball game, and an outlet mall shopping excursion that had me sealing up Fed Ex boxes for an hour to ship back home.

Next, we made a brief stopover in New York, where we only had three hours to see the city before taking in a brand new Broadway play, "All Shook Up." Trying to figure out the logistics of introducing the Big Apple to my wife (I just don't like the city much. Too many guys in Yankee hats.) we decided to try something completely new. Upon landing, we guessed we could rent a car and driver. We had no idea what it would cost, but cab fair from the airport to our hotel, The Plaza Hotel across from Central Park, would be expensive anyway. So we decided to check it out.

I can't tell you what a perfect way to quickly see the city this is. For $95 plus tip, we had three hours slowly driving in from the airport. We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, and then jumped out at Battery Park. We jumped back in 20 minutes later after some photos of the Statue of Liberty and buying gifts for the kids back home, and headed to Ground Zero. Again out, while the car circled. It's amazing to visit a shrine that is basically empty sky. But that emptiness is likewise filled with sadness and sorrow so dense you can't help but stop, slow down and take it all in.

Back in the car we drove through Manhattan to Times Square, before heading to Central Park and our hotel. We arrived in time for an easy check in, a walk through the park and a rest before dinner. The play is a snappy hit that anyone can enjoy. Great songs, dramatic set changes and a beach-read type of plot, make for a fun theater event. After a quick night cap at Mickey Mantle's we called it a night.

After another quick flight we arrived in Washington, D.C., just as the Cherry Blossoms were just starting to fade. The rain, we learned watching the weather channel, had arrived in Boston, but we were bathed in sun that had been our spring companion throughout the trip. We checked into our next Kimpton Hotel, this time the Hotel Rouge, just three blocks from Dupont Circle. Again, the room was decorated to the nines. Again, the hotel staff was polite helpful and cultured. A free wine and beer happy hour showed the hotel had its priorities straight. The extra touch is highly appreciated. We paid nearly three times as much to stay at the historic Plaza in New York, and they barely knew we were there. In two days, we were on first-name basis with most of the Hotel Rouge staff.

We strolled in the sun, drank beer on a Dupont Circle patio and toured the new memorial to World War II, a striking and important monument, I didn't expect to like but truly did. I had feared that the simplicity of the Mall would be tarnished by the monument, but the designers seemingly cut it into the earth itself, making the fountain and flag tribute to the heroes of the greatest generation look as if it was there first. It's a fitting and important tribute.

As the trip wound down we capped it off being a part of another truly historic moment, and an appropriate bookend to where our adventure started. This time we bribed a cab to brave the D.C. traffic (four turned us down flat and one even kicked us out of his car) and headed out to the decaying RFK stadium for the first professional baseball game played in the Nation's Capital in nearly 40 years. The Washington Nationals, FINALLY, are in D.C. where they should have been for years, and the game was a celebration for the people of the district. The only down side was the president's insistence that he be there for the first pitch, causing ridiculous security that kept loyal fans crammed outside instead of sitting in the park for pre-game festivities. Once inside however, the celebration continued all night, including hearty boos for George W. The Nationals won and a storybook east coast vacation was over.


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