The most enduring memory for most Red Sox fans from the building of the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx was the news that a surreptitious construction worker had buried a David Ortiz jersey in the concrete deep within the new park. When the Yankees heard about the feat, they dug up the shirt — if not to spoil a prospective curse, then at least to give fans less to talk about in coming years if the team started choking.
The Yankees were more than fine that inaugural season, christening their new stadium with a World Series title. The Red Sox, meanwhile, began a sharp fade that culminated with this year's collapse, when Boston posted its worst record in decades.
But as New York prepares to return to the playoffs and sets its eyes on banner No. 28, Red Sox fans can have a little chuckle in knowing that the new Yankee Stadium hasn't exactly been free of Boston's tricks.
The stadium officially opened for baseball April 16, 2009, but on Monday, April 13, a baseball memorabilia merchant was due to display his wares as part of a series of events and store openings at the park. The week before, however, he discovered he had one very big problem — he had nothing on which to show his work.
The businessman, who lives near Boston, scrambled to find a solution. He couldn't just run to Target or grab a few tables at a garage sale. He was going to Yankee Stadium, after all, and he needed something classy to show off his finest offerings.
He turned to the modern-day solution for such a problem — Google — and soon found a site called bostonfurnituremaker.com, which advertises the work of Mike Fitzpatrick, a fine-furniture-maker in Westborough, Mass. A phone call later, and the two were negotiating, with Fitzpatrick explaining that four days was no amount of time to make the number and quality of tables this man wanted, and the businessman saying he was really in a bind.
"When you look for a Boston furniture-maker, I come up one or two, so I think he was just looking for someone," Fitzpatrick said. "I don't know what his Plan B was — I think I was his first call.
"He was such a nice person. I wanted to help him."
Fitzpatrick haggled with the businessman, who wishes to remain nameless due to the many people (of both Yankees and Red Sox allegiances) who use his services. They eventually reached a compromise. Fitzpatrick could work 18-hour days to get the three large tables and three small ones built, but he would need some help with what can be the most time-consuming part of the job: the legs.
It turns out he was talking to the right guy.
The businessman, whose company makes a variety of memorabilia, is also in the practice of making bats — and not just any bats. Major League bats. Custom-made bats. Bats cut perfectly, with slices as slim as 1/64th of an inch, made specifically for each MLB player with the perfect blend of wood, grip, size, weight and finish.
"It's like coming in and fitting a gunstock for them," Fitzpatrick said of the bat-making process, which he doesn't do personally. "They keep handing [the players] bats and asking them, 'What do you need? What do you need?' until they say, 'This is the one.' "
Such a conversation had happened with the Red Sox' Ortiz — the businessman's company was the one Big Papi came to for his custom-made bats.
Turning a bat on a carpenter's lathe isn't too much different than turning a baluster, in the basic concept. The wood goes on the lathe, being spun and trimmed with tools into its round shape. Some carpenters even use old bats to practice cutting pieces for a set of stairs, or a table leg.
Fitzpatrick told his new customer that he would make the tables if the bat-maker could provide the legs — Ortiz-style legs, that is.
"Since four days is not a lot of time to make anything, I suggested we simplify the design to use maple baseball bats as legs," Fitzpatrick said. "He had access to raw baseball bats, and I asked if he had any David Ortiz bats, thinking like a Red Sox fan of the desperate search for his jersey that was buried in the concrete in the stadium."
The businessman obliged, giving him 12 Ortiz bats for the four legs of the three large tables and 12 "warm-up" bats for the smaller ones. He even came and helped Fitzpatrick put the tables together, rushing to get them built so they could go to a finisher Monday morning for a coat of lacquer.
In the end, they had the six tables — each supported by the fine shape of one-of-a-kind bats.
The tables were sprayed Monday morning, Fitzpatrick said, and loaded in trucks for their trip to New York, curing along the way. The businessman had added one final touch to obscure any suspicion, putting the "NY" symbol on the table legs.
Fitzpatrick said the tables were put up in the stadium and "loaded with Yankee-licensed gear — with no one knowing they were supported by raw Ortiz bats." Not even Big Papi himself knew he was part of the ploy.
The moment passed, the Yankees played, and baseball history rolls on.
But, for one fateful day, as the Yankees were honoring a stadium meant to host new legends and generations of diehard New York fans, a Boston fan had found a way to infiltrate one more time.
The players at Fenway Park may fumble their way through games and seasons. Management may get criticism, and managers may be run out of town.
But when it comes to competing with the Yankees, you can never count out Red Sox Nation.
Photo courtesy of Mike Fitzpatrick