A full day wraps up at Fenway
Senator John F. Kerry diverted his campaign plane from the Midwest last evening and snuck into Boston for the final game of the Red Sox-Yankees series, but was greeted by a thundering mix of cheers and boos as he bolted out of the home team's dugout to throw out the first pitch on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.
His righthanded throw -- practiced in recent days with aides -- came up short, skidding into the dirt before home plate and bouncing off the chest of his catcher, 23-year-old Massachusetts National Guardsman Will Pumyea of Woburn, who served in the military police in Afghanistan and then for six months last year in Iraq.
The sold-out crowd's reception quieted as Kerry and Pumyea hustled off the field and joined Kerry's wife, Teresa, and two daughters in the owners' box, along with co-owner Tom Werner and his girlfriend Katie Couric, and former astronaut John Glenn.
Asked about the reception, Kerry said, ''Fabulous, just fabulous. It's great to be back in Boston for a game like this. Couldn't miss it." Heinz Kerry described her feelings as ''wah-wah-wah-WAH," twirling her hands with excitement, and added, ''I never thought I'd come here like this. I didn't even hear the reception for John, there was so much going on."
Earlier, Kerry appeared downright giddy on his campaign plane as he filled in reporters on his stealth trip to Fenway Park, shortly after takeoff from Columbus, Ohio, en route to Cape Canaveral. He stood behind the wet bar in the 757's media cabin and offered to serve margaritas, then decreed that no one could break word of the story for security reasons until he was in the owner's box.
''This plane is diverted," Kerry said, ''and we are going to Boston.
''It's the opening of the convention, it's a wonderful rivalry, and it's a great event," he continued. ''I love the Red Sox. The idea of missing a Yankees-Red Sox series right before a convention week was not acceptable, so we changed the policy. I'm going to go have some fun."
In no time Kerry was reaching for favorite Red Sox memories: He went to his first game as a teenager, with friends, because his father Richard was away at work.
Kerry said he decided a week ago to attend last night's final Red Sox-Yankees game, but kept it a secret for security reasons -- and to add a dash of spontaneity to the Democratic convention opener, campaign aides said. Spokesman David Wade, asked in midafternoon yesterday about the possibility of Kerry attending the game, said he did not expect it to happen; Wade said later that Kerry had not informed him of the plan until late yesterday.
The hometown senator's surprise appearance at the ball park capped an extraordinary day on the hustings, which included shouting protesters and an emotional dialogue between the candidate and a Muslim-American.
In Ward 62 of Columbus, a suburban tract known as Park Ridge where George W. Bush beat Al Gore by just 12 votes out of 4,806 cast in 2000, Kerry pulled up to a cul-de-sac yesterday and found a scene more typical closer to Election Day. Throngs of Democrats and Republicans were squared off on a narrow sidewalk, with dueling chants of ''Kerry-Edwards" and ''Flip-Flop Kerry."
His 90-minute neighborhood meeting, part of Kerry's six-day tour of America en route to the Boston convention, was the stuff of political theater -- not only the protesters, who reflected the divisions of this crucial battleground state, but also an unscripted exchange between Kerry, a Muslim man, and the man's 6-month-old son about the fear of Islam among some Americans today.
The man, Abdul Rashid, a coordinator in a Verizon business support center, said that he had endured feelings of animosity and separation all his life as a Muslim living in a predominantly Christian country, but that the stigma has grown far worse since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
''I'm a proud American," Rashid said, standing in the cul-de-sac and surrounded by a racially diverse audience of 150 people, as Kerry listened under a large sycamore tree. ''I'm very happy being an American, being born and raised in this country. But one thing I don't want is to make my son feel ostracized as time goes on -- especially now with a lot of Bush's theological beliefs interfacing with his political beliefs."
Kerry took Rashid's young son, Hasim, in his arms, and responded as the adorable child played with Kerry's tie and microphone.
''I want everybody to look at Hasim," Kerry said. ''How old is Hasim?"
''Six months," his father replied.
''At six months, at one year, at two years -- has anybody ever met a child who hates anybody?" Kerry asked the crowd. ''I'm a Catholic. Hasim's Muslim. And there are, I hope, Jews, other denominations here, and maybe people who are agnostic, I don't know. But here's what I know: I'm running to be president of the United States of America," he said, emphasizing the word united. ''I'm running to be president of all of the American people, all of our citizens."
Hasim interrupted Kerry's remarks by nearly ripping the microphone off Kerry's tie, drawing laughter from the onlookers. ''Can I talk?" Kerry joked to the little boy. ''Ohio State, look out."
Once the chuckles subsided, he came to his point: ''Ladies and gentleman, when John Edwards and I are in there, we are going to have an attorney general who doesn't make any American feel the way this man feels." The attack on John Ashcroft elicited strong applause, and Kerry was willing to hand back Hasim. ''Want to go back to daddy? Want to go back to daddy, or want to come to the White House with me?"
The Massachusetts senator, who has spoken about Islam infrequently on the campaign trail, wasn't ready to give up the issue.
''I know this: If I were president of the United States today, I would have long ago reached out to clerics, imams, mullahs, to leaders of other religions, to the true leaders of Islam, so that we are isolating radical Islamic extremists, rather than radical Islamic extremists isolating the United States of America. And that's what I intend to do," Kerry said.
The Bush campaign condemned Kerry after he had emphasized that his preconvention campaigning would largely avoid attacks on the president.
''A day after John Kerry promised to run a positive campaign, he slipped easily back into full attack mode, using the war on terror for political gain," said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt.
Throughout the event, pro-Bush forces hollered at him from about 200 yards away. One GOP family organized a raffle of waffle irons to mock Kerry as indecisive. An unidentified helicopter buzzed overhead several times, making it difficult to hear Kerry at times.
Kerry acknowledged the divisions and the close vote in 2000, when Bush carried the state by 3 percentage points, respectfully acknowledging the protesters at first, but then tweaking them at other points with a hint of annoyance in his voice.
''Stop shouting at each other and start listening to each other," Kerry said. ''Some of these issues don't lend themselves to a quick, easy, six-second television slogan."
When the event ended, however, both sides made an overture. Kerry went to the sidewalk to shake hands with his supporters, and wished a few Bush voters good luck while others played the theme song to the television show about a dolphin, ''Flipper."
''Good luck to you, too," one man holding a Bush sign said.
''Thank you," said Kerry as he walked away, adding: ''I can put more money in your pocket than the other guy will."
Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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