Bob Costas vividly remembers sitting in the broadcast booth at Fenway Park next to his old partner, Tony Kubek, staring down at Carl Yastrzemski kneeling in the on-deck circle in that timeless, old-fashioned way you just don't see anymore.
It was 1983, and Costas was 31 years old. Yastrzemski, a legend in Boston and a resident in Cooperstown, N.Y. at the Baseball Hall of Fame, was mere days away from cashing in his chips and ending his marvelous playing career.
"Yaz" strode to the plate and smacked one of the last of his 452 career home runs over Fenway Park's green fence. As he rounded the bases, Costas remembers thinking to himself, "I was calling a home run of a guy who I watched when I was 11 or 12."
"It wasn't that important in terms of context of the game, but it was his last season and it had to be his second- or third-to-last home run," Costas recalled Wednesday. "There was something classic about him. He was the only guy left that knelt in the on-deck circle. There was something about it that was so timeless with 'Yaz' at the plate."
To Costas, that moment and that player represented everything Fenway Park is all about, everything it has been about since it was erected in 1912. It's a magical place where legends are built and memories are made and cherished forever.
On New Year's Day, Costas will have a front-row seat to gather new memories from one of his favorite ballparks, only this time the sport is as different as the time of year.
Costas is back for the third straight year as NBC's on-site studio host for the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. He welcomed the nation to the 2008 NHL Winter Classic in snowy Buffalo and did it again Jan. 1, 2009 at Chicago's Wrigley Field.
A lifelong baseball fan and staunch traditionalist, Costas adores the idea of bringing the great game of hockey into baseball's legendary cathedrals, like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.
"I thought it was a good idea (before last year's Winter Classic at Wrigley) and I came away thinking it was even a better idea," Costas said. "You can be the biggest traditionalist, but I don't see any sacrilege in it. (The Winter Classic) is a big event. It's a great event. Part of the reason you want it in Wrigley Field or Fenway Park is you have respect of the meaning and history of those venues. It's respect and reverence for what Wrigley and Fenway stand for. I think a lot of people who love the Red Sox will be there to cheer on the Bruins in the same way a lot of Cubs fans were there last year to cheer on the Blackhawks."
Costas got his start in broadcasting as a Syracuse University student calling games for the Syracuse Blazers of the old Eastern Hockey League. He also called St. Louis Blues
games on radio.
He said his task for this year's NHL Winter Classic is to weave NBC's New Year's Day viewers through an audio tour of Fenway Park, its history and the long-standing sports rivalries between Boston and Philadelphia. He'll go beyond the Bruins and Flyers.
"I think it's appropriate that I'm referred to as an event host because this is really an event," Costas said. "It's a hockey game, yes, but it's also an event. It attracts a lot of people who don't necessarily follow hockey closely throughout the year."
Costas, who grew up in Commack, N.Y., said the first time he stepped inside Fenway Park was as a fan sometime in his mid-20s. He couldn't recall exactly when he called his first game there, saying it had to be in 1981 or '82, but it was between the Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers and John Tudor was pitching for the Red Sox.
By 1983, when he was paired with Kubek for NBC's Saturday Game of the Week, he started going to the park nestled in the middle of Lansdowne Street, Brookline Avenue, Yawkey Way and Van Ness Street.
Costas was part of the broadcast team, along with Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola, for the legendary 1986 World Series between the Red Sox and New York Mets.
He loves the nooks in left field below the Green Monster, the Triangle in center field and Pesky's Pole down the right-field line. He loves the history and the tradition. He marvels at all of the legends that have gone to work inside Fenway. He appropriately refers to the ballpark as a cathedral.
"It's a variety of things (that make Fenway so magical)," Costas said. "The idea that someone sat there and watched Babe Ruth pitch and Ted Williams bat. The specific games and events: Fisk and Dent and The Impossible Dream and Yaz. The only thing missing is when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, they clinched in St. Louis and in Colorado. They never had the chance to put the finishing touches on it at Fenway."
"The fact that it's in Boston, Bob is just going to have a field day with this," added NBC play-by-play man Mike 'Doc' Emrick.
As big of a baseball guy as he is, in just two years Costas has gained an equal amount of appreciation for the NHL's New Year's Day extravaganza. He even enjoys speculating where the next NHL Winter Classic could be.
"Eventually Alex Ovechkin
has to be in this so the Capitals could host one of them," he said. "Denver would be a great location for one of them and the new Yankee Stadium, to get the Rangers involved. I think it would be great if there was a game or two in Canada, in Montreal and Toronto. As a practical matter it would have to involve an American team, but the atmosphere there would be wild."
It will be wild at Fenway Park on Jan. 1. Costas is one of many who are counting the days.
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org