April 1994 - Farewell, Old Friend

The golden voice of Sherm Feller fell silent last winter, and Fenway Park won't be the same the same without him. But the old ballyard also lost a lesser-known but just as vital denizen during the off-season: Usher Tommy Boyle.

Tommy anchored the area near the right field foul pole, and proudly wore number 78 on his hat (for those of you keeping score.) Although he didn't work every game, Tommy was there more often than not, and it was always a treat for me when he was. Just like Wade Boggs, I have a pre-game ritual. Mine dictates a beeline from the turnstiles to Tommy's section for batting practice. It was always a treat for me when I'd start up the tunnel and see him at the top of the ramp. He'd regularly greet me with a smile and an out-stretched hand. First order of business was an attendance report: He'd tell me which of my other usher friends were at the ballpark that day so I'd be prepared when I made the rounds. After we traded ideas on how we would manage the Red Sox and he told me about his lawn mowing schedule, Tommy, with a twinkle in his eye, would say "go catch a ball." He invariably shared my delight when I snagged one.

You didn't have to know Tommy to like him -- you just needed a seat in his section. I watched time and again as he charmed his patrons into their seats. People took an immediate liking to this soft-spoken but spry man, who always had a good word and a velvet touch for everybody -- miscreants suddenly became gentlemen in his presence. He was particularly adept with kids, and he had a remarkable talent to joke with the youngsters. He took his usher duties seriously, and he knew them well after 19 years at Fenway. Here was a man who ushered at Fenway Park because he loved it -- Tommy was a mail man for 40 years before he came to Yawkey Way in his "retirement."

You'd never know it from talking to him, but Tommy was almost 91 years old. He died in February when his heart gave out while he was shoveling snow! Why on earth was he working so hard? I can't help thinking it was because he wanted to. Tommy went down swinging. You gotta love it.

Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to cultivate friendships with a number of Fenway's ushers. On the last day of every season, I make my final ritual rounds of the ballpark and bid them adieu till Opening Day (last year, one of my pals gave me a big hug and told me that he loved me -- a surprising but genuine gesture, and it touched me deeply.) I would always ask Tommy if he was coming back to the ballpark for yet another year. He'd always waver and say "I don't know." Every year, I told him that the place wouldn't be the same without him. Every year, he'd wink and say "We'll see..."

Over many seasons, there were only two exceptions to our little routine: After Game 2 of the 1990 ALCS when the Sox were handed their second straight convincing defeat by the Oakland A's, Tommy came to me, shook my hand, and solemnly said "See you next year." Intuitively, he knew the season at Fenway was over. In 1993, ugly politics crept into the process by which ushers are assigned their sections (which shouldn't be surprising, given the history of the Red Sox organization.) What had always been a democratic, seniority-driven process of earning one's section suddenly became one of needing connections with the powers-that-be. Veteran ushers were shuffled out of sections they had attended to for years. Assignments that were once stable were being changed on a daily basis. The word on the grapevine was that Tommy Boyle grew weary of the situation, and late in the season just quit coming to the ballpark. As a result, I never got the chance to say good-bye to him last year, and to kid him about coming back for yet another season. I didn't get to pay my respects at his funeral, either. I learned he had died two hours after the service started.

Tommy was elemental to what the ballpark experience is all about for me. When I'm out by the foul pole, I know I'll think of him and smile. Farewell, old friend. Fenway Park won't be the same without you.

©1994 - 2007 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


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