Luis Tiant, also known as "El Tiante," is one of the most unique pitchers in baseball history. His career spanned 19 seasons, five teams and even three countries. The three-time All-Star won 229 games in his career and was a legend in Boston, where he spent nearly half of his major-league career. In his first major-league win (pitching for the Cleveland Indians in 1964) Tiant shut out the New York Yankees in an 11-strikeout performance.
Talk about a natural-born Yankee killer!
Today, Tiant is best known as an ambassador for the game and one of the most engaging personalities in the history of baseball.
Recently his diplomatic skills were on full display as he wined and dined with 25 lucky Chase Marriott Rewards card members who were selected for a “once in a lifetime Red Sox experience.” This experience included an exclusive tour of Fenway Park, a cocktail reception with Tiant as the special guest and an intimate dinner at the fabulous EMC Club behind home plate.
I was fortunate enough to be chosen to attend the event, and I’d like to share my experiences here. Whether you’re a Red Sox fan or just a fan of the game, this event is something anybody can appreciate.
The Tour of Fenway
Stepping into Fenway Park is like stepping into a piece of baseball history. Built in 1911, it is the oldest ballpark in the majors, and to the credit of the current owners, it still looks like the park that was opened nearly a century ago.
The Green Monster is still there (though it wasn’t originally green), as are most of the grandstand seats, which are probably the most uncomfortable seats in any park, anywhere.
The only reasons they haven’t been torn down are because 1) they’re historic landmarks and 2) Fenway Park is the smallest ballpark in baseball. Replacing those seats would mean lowering seating capacity, and there are at least 10,000 Red Sox fans that would riot at the idea of that.
The Green Monster seats, on the other hand, are awesome. Added in 2005, these seats give you a bird's-eye view of left field and are in prime home run territory for right-handed batters (and Adrian Gonzalez). They’re not particularly comfortable (is a seat cushion so much to ask?), but you’ll be hard pressed to find a cooler way to watch a baseball game.
I’ve been to Fenway Park maybe a dozen times in my life, and each time I learn or see something new. In fact, I even came up with a list of 10 of those things. It’s just an experience that never gets old and should be on everyone’s bucket list.
The EMC Club
The EMC Club, formerly the .406 club, was rebuilt before the 2006 season and is today one of the most luxurious places in all of baseball.
Featuring private suites and 610 stadium club seats right behind home plate, the EMC Club looks like a five-star restaurant situated inside a baseball stadium. On the walls outside the club there are plaques of dozens of Red Sox greats, everyone from Lefty Grove to Mo Vaughn.
It is here that the tour ended and the festivities began, starting with the introduction of Luis Tiant.
Chatting with Luis Tiant
Tiant isn’t the intimidating man he once was, but he’s full of life, and baseball flows through his veins. You can hear the passion in his Cuban accent, and his eyes glow with the energy of a man who could step onto that mound tomorrow if you asked him to.
On this evening, however, Tiant was just another baseball fan. He sat around signing autographs and taking photos with guests, answering baseball questions along the way.
Among the things Tiant discussed was his relationship with the late George Steinbrenner. Tiant played for the Yankees late in his career from 1979-80 and said he “never had a problem with Steinbrenner.” He described the legendary owner as someone “who just wanted to win” and was willing to do whatever it took to field a winning team. As long as players showed up and performed, Steinbrenner left them alone.
Tiant also talked about how much the game has changed since he started pitching. One of his biggest gripes was about how “today’s guys throw, but they can’t pitch.” Tiant thought most pitchers didn’t know how to set up hitters and simply tried to overpower them, with the except of a few elite guys like Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Jon Lester.
Tiant also commented on how much the game has grown internationally, with many of the league’s best players coming from MLB powerhouses like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. He said it’s only a matter of time before the game expands to Europe and Asia, with professional teams perhaps springing up all over the world.
Tiant would know, considering he left his native Cuba (where he was a superstar) to play baseball in Mexico and then eventually in the United States. He was so good in those days that the Cleveland Indians used to schedule all his home starts on Saturdays just to boost attendance figures.
It’s a fitting legend for a man who, in his own words, “never feared a hitter.”
Luis Tiant. Boston Red Sox. Fenway Park. A great way to spend an evening. Thank you Chase Marriott Rewards.