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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Tuesday, July 22, 2003  
The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the gush of the neon geyser

The White Fuel sign: Gone but not forgotten

The late lamented neon counterpart to the Citgo sign in Boston's Kenmore Square once lit up the night with a blinking gusher that was a familiar sight beyond Fenway Park's Green Monster.

A literate tribute to its landmark Citgo neighbor notes the 1970s oil crisis turned off the White Fuel derrick for good:

The [Citgo] sign's smaller fraternal twin in Kenmore Square, an illuminated billboard advertising the White Fuel Company, didn't survive the era. Atop the Westminister Hotel building at the southwestern end of the square, this green, circular affair featured an oil derrick shooting forth a luminescent gush. Its direct visual connection to fossil fuel (like Sinclair Oil's brontosaurus logo) probably didn't help its cause.

An image of the lost icon is posted in tribute to today's column by the Globe's Kevin Paul Dupont, the gifted hockey writer who has a native Bostonian's keen appreciation of Fenway tradition and writes like a dream, and according to whom I am eligible for AARP membership. Some excerpts:

* Whatever it costs, the former Fenway usher in me says John W. Henry and friends would do Sox fans a favor to open the ballyard at least 2 1/2 hours before first pitch. Batting practice is something special. Sitting in an empty Fenway, even just to meditate on a fading sunny afternoon, is also something special.

* Johnny Damon in cornrows one day, Kevin Millar the next. These are the moments we really miss the sharp eye, and sharper tongue, of Ted Williams.

* If you're old enough to remember the old Buck Printing sign beyond the center-field bleachers, may I be among the first to congratulate you on your recent AARP membership.

* Trot Nixon wears those Red Sox the way they should be worn.

* Little was right on the money the other day when he surmised that the gruff ways of Dick Williams probably wouldn't play well in 2003. The overall dishevelment of Ramirez's uniform alone would have had Williams assessing fines and ordering suspensions. But it sure would be nice to see the 2003 station-to-station Sox execute a double steal, wouldn't it? Not everything has grown old 36 years later.

* Serenity is the look of Luis Tiant puffing on one of his cigars. If Fidel Castro ever allowed a Cuban version of Monopoly, they'd have to have El Tiante pose, stogie in hand, as the caricature on the Chance and Community Chest cards.

* Once or twice a summer, before the gates open, I make a point of sitting in the Section 25 grandstand seats, where I watched my first Red Sox game with my father in 1962. Not quite the same as dropping a geranium on his tombstone every Memorial Day, but I know Mel would prefer the thought from third base. He liked to see the runner round third for home. Best seat in the house, he said. Like most things, he was right.

Another who hearkens to the mystic chords of baseball memory is Providence Journal editorial writer David A. Mittell Jr., who reminisces on years of Red Sox fandom:

I came to this bittersweet affliction through my grandfather Carl Mittell, who fervently followed the Red Sox their first 60 years. I recall listening to a game on the radio on his porch in Jamaica Plain, when a man and a boy walked by. Solemn nods were exchanged. After they had passed, Carl cupped his hand to his mouth and whispered, "They're Braves fans." A different religion.

By 1962, Carl was 82 and hadn't been well. These were his last words to my father: "Dave, I've decided I'm going to live five more years, and for three reasons. The first is that I haven't got my grandchildren quite where I want them, and in five years I think I can do something about it. The second is that Pope John XXIII is the greatest man in my lifetime, and I want to see what he can do in another five years. But the biggest reason is the Red Sox finally fired that G-- d--- Pinky Higgins, and in five years they may win a pennant!"

"That's great, Carl," my father said. "I'll see you tomorrow." He would not.

But Carl had passed this bittersweet affliction along with a noble thought, and a pennant in 1967.


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