A mighty sticky wicket
The Inside Scoop: Flashback to the summer of 2000. Me. In Bed-Sty. The coach looks down the bench and waves me in. But it's not a baseball game: it's cricket. And I am the only non-Jamaican on the field. I wrote about my cricket tryout for the New York Times' Weekend Warrior section, not my best work but a great lead. So when Thomasine Berg pitched this story to me, I knew the subject cold. The main character was very very talkative -- any other reporter wouldn't have been as patient. But I'm glad he took me seriously and this was his moment in the sun. So I listened. And transcribed. And transcribed. And transcribed...
A cricket player takes his place serving the Red Sox faithfulBy Peter DeMarco, Globe Correspondent | April 9, 2006
On his first evening in Boston as a freshman at Boston University, Marty Ray looked out the window of his Warren Towers dormitory room and saw the light.
It came from across the Massachusetts Turnpike, and it glowed above the rooftops.
''Is that some sort of stadium?" he asked the resident assistant on his floor.
She told him it was Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play, of course.
Ray looked at her. ''Who are the Red Sox?" he asked.
Eight years later, as Ray tells the tale, he mindlessly fidgets with the giant gold and diamond-studded ring on his finger. It's one of those Red Sox World Series Championship rings that all the players and Sox staffers got after the 2004 season. His last name is engraved on it.
As meteoric rises go, this one is up there. When Amartya ''Marty" Ray, an ace cricket player from Calcutta, moved here in 1998 to attend college, he didn't even know what a home run was. Today, at age 26, he is coordinator of fan and neighborhood services for the Red Sox.
For the past week he's been on overdrive, attending to 100 or so details for Tuesday's home Opening Day ceremonies, from the jet flyover to the proper placement of flags to the proofreading of public address announcer Carl Beane's script.
In 2003, he manned the phones the day after the Red Sox fell to the Yankees, logging complaint after complaint. The following year he drove the World Series trophy to towns across the Commonwealth, strapped safely next to him in the passenger's seat.
He knows how late into the night general manager Theo Epstein works because Ray usually works 60, 70, or 80 hours a week, too.
''Growing up in India I knew baseball was a sport," he says. ''I knew the Yankees were 'the best team.' Cal Ripken Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr. -- those were the players who were most famous. But I didn't even know what teams they played for. I didn't even know who the Red Sox were."
Like other boys in India, Ray grew up addicted to cricket, the British game in which batters hit bounced pitches with flat bats and run back and forth between two posts to tally runs.
In high school, Ray started for Calcutta's all-city junior team, one of 40 boys in a city of 8 million to make the squad. He had serious hopes of a professional career until a rotator cuff injury forced him to quit the sport his senior year. With cricket no longer an option, Ray opted for college in Boston, returning to America for the first time since he was a young child. (Ray's parents moved from Philadelphia to their native India when Ray was 4.)
That first night on campus, he wandered to Fenway Park, bought a standing-room-only ticket, and found a spot behind the third base grandstands. But he had no idea what he was watching.
''The natural tendency was to compare it to cricket," he says. ''My first thought was, 'This is odd. This is very odd.' The field has weird dimensions. The foul balls didn't make any sense to me. Then I thought, 'What's up with the gloves? They can't catch a ball with their bare hands?' "
But with Sox fans everywhere he turned, at school and in Kenmore Square, Ray couldn't help but start to pick up the sport.
He learned the rules, learned the lore -- by the time he attended his next game, Ray knew who Ted Williams was and ''that the Red Sox had sold Babe Ruth" -- and fell in love with baseball's strategies, which, though different from those of cricket, felt familiar.
His transformation from baseball foreigner to fan became complete in October 1999, when the Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians in a must-win playoff game.
''Pedro Martinez came out of the bullpen and pitched six innings of shutout ball. It was one of those life-changing games," he says. By 5 the next morning Ray was in line outside Fenway Park with hundreds more crazed fans desperate for tickets. ''I was hooked."
The next summer Ray spotted an advertisement looking for Red Sox ''Fan Ambassadors," and sent in his resume. He was one of 25 people, from a pool of 3,800 candidates, picked for the job.
Working nights and weekends, he did everything, from helping first-time fans find their way to the park to forwarding autograph requests to ushering fans through the park during Williams's memorial service.
By 2003 he was working full time at Fenway, assisting team president/CEO Larry Lucchino and other Sox brass when called upon. The following summer he was put in charge of writing the daily pregame script, the one that begins ''Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls . . ."
''I was talking to the Major League Baseball guys during the World Series and they were like, 'When has an Indian guy ever written a script for the World Series?' " Ray says with pride.
''It's the biggest stage of anything. It's like writing scripts for the Super Bowl. They were like 'Well, even if it has happened, it hasn't happened that much.' "
The Sox victory and parade -- which Ray helped plan -- were whirlwind experiences, he says.
By the time he finished the trophy tour, accompanying the hardware to 79 communities, Ray was a full-fledged member of Red Sox Nation. He now dreams of one day becoming the first Indian CEO of a baseball team.
So, after all Ray's seen and done, which would he choose: cricket or baseball?
Ray laughs when asked the question. Cricket will always be his first love, he says. But baseball, it turns out, is his life.
''I think I have to spend as many years in baseball as I did in cricket -- at least 18 years -- to really answer that," he says.
''Then we'll see what happens."