It's almost 7 p.m., which means it's time for the Red Sox. Time for John to rise up and go behind the small overhead television in the corner of the second-floor community room of the Pine Street Inn. Time for John to switch the cable connector so that the guys can watch NESN.
"I'm the switcher," says John, who has lived at Pine Street since March. "Otherwise, we'd only be able to watch the games on Friday on UPN."
This is a Wednesday night, and the fellows are gathered on the second floor of the 112-year-old former firehouse that has been a residence for homeless people since 1980. The regulars almost never miss a Sox game. Pablo Roman, who grew up in Puerto Rico, sits closest to the 17-inch television.
John, the cable-switcher, takes a seat behind Pablo toward the back of the room while David Crump, a native of the South End, sits with his cane in a chair on the right side of the room. Melvin Clark, who grew up in Roxbury, sits on the same side of the same couch for every game.
Only Melvin was there the night Grady Little stayed with Pedro Martinez in the seventh game of the ALCS.
"They really blew it that night," says Melvin. "We were yelling, `Take him out.' "
There. Just because you are homeless does not mean you're clueless. A lot of the guys at Pine Street grew up around baseball. Several played and some used to coach. They had families and jobs before hard times and bad luck and medical issues put them at the doorstep of New England's largest homeless shelter.
"A lot of people look down on you when they hear you're living here," says David. "People hear `Pine Street' and think you either have to be an alcoholic or a drug addict or a thief. It's not like that."
The men watching the game are all over 50, most have medical issues, and all love baseball. They are part of Boston Medical Center's Elders Living at Home Program, which rents space at Pine Street and is designed to help the men transition out of homelessness and into housing. (The Massachusetts Legislature Friday voted to stop funding the ELAHP, which could close the program within a few weeks.)
Eileen O'Brien, director of the Elders Program for 16 years, says, "There's a perception that homeless people are fundamentally different. They're not. They're the same as us, they just don't have homes."
Melvin had polio when he was a child. He went to Roxbury Memorial High School and worked as a metal machinist. He's been married a couple of times (his second wife is deceased) and his mother and sisters still live in Roxbury. He walks with a cane these days, but not because of the polio.
"Got hit by a car," he says. "Worcester and Tremont Street. In the 1970s."
The guys claim there's no assigned seating, no lucky stations, but when Melvin was hospitalized, they left his side of the couch empty. Wearing his CBS Sports cap, looking up at the TV, Melvin listens to the man singing the anthem at Tropicana Field and nods in approval.
"He didn't try to jazz it all up," says Melvin.
John looks up from his book as soon as the game starts. The cable-switcher takes his baseball seriously. He grew up in Pittsfield, went to Holy Cross, served in the Navy, and repaired computers. He also coached some baseball back in Western Massachusetts and says he's detected a flaw in Derek Lowe's delivery. Sounding not unlike Joe Kerrigan, John launches into a detailed explanation of Lowe's problem:
"He's overthrowing when he pitches from the stretch. His stride is just a little bit shorter and he's dipping his shoulder. His shoulders are not square. As a result, the ball flattens out and he misses the strike zone. I can't believe nobody's talked to him about this."
There's coffee in the corner, under the TV, but no other sign of refreshments. No hot dogs. No popcorn. And certainly no beer.
"We make do with just soda," Melvin says with a knowing nod.
Melvin has been to Fenway only once, with his dad, when he was a child in the early 1950s. He likes Nomar, Manny, and Pedro, but wasn't crazy about Johnny Damon's new look.
David, the youngest man in the room at 51, played more sports than most of the guys. His dad, Jack Crump, was a local coach and David played basketball (point guard) for Brookline High School. He has worked as a chef and is still recovering from back surgery. He's also been homeless for a long time.
"I'm one of the lost legends that didn't make it," he says. "A lot of people look down on you, but you can't judge a person. There are people who care about their lives and do want to help themselves. It's not all lost. There's hope."
After Manny homers later in the inning to give Curt Schilling and the Sox a 4-1 lead, John gets up to go downstairs. He needs a cigarette and this is his last chance. The doors downstairs are locked at 8:45. You can leave, but you can't get back in after the doors are locked.
Opinions fly as the game plays out. This could be a gathering of Sox fans in a college dorm, hospital waiting room, or neighborhood party. Baseball unites. Especially when you have a room full of men who grew up during the golden age of the game.
"I loved the Yankees," says Pablo, who never went to school after moving from Puerto Rico to Miami when he was 15. "They were the team when I was a boy. But now it's the Red Sox. The only thing I don't like is that they think too much about the Yankees here. You have to beat the other teams."
Pokey Reese is a favorite. They all loved Pokey's inside-the-park home run last time the ball club was home. The guys are up to speed on Schilling's strikeout numbers and David Ortiz's spot among the league leaders in doubles. Proving that there are universal tenets that govern all Red Sox fans, none of the fellows is particularly happy with the job being done by the Red Sox manager.
"I liked Grady Little better than the one they got now," says Pablo.
John, back from his break, adds, "Grady might have had his faults, but he looks like a genius next to Francona. He just does not do the sound thing, tactically. The other night they almost lost that game because he didn't pinch run for Manny. How hard is that?"
In this room of men with fixed incomes or, in some cases, no incomes, there's no complaining about player salaries.
"You look at the salaries and you look at the entertainment value," explains John. "Compare it with
But none of them has been to Fenway in years, and they aren't likely to be going this year.
"It used to be if you got some money, you could get a ticket," says Pablo. "But I can't afford it now. Now if you get a little money, you better hang on to it."
It's not yet 10 p.m. when the game ends, a 4-1 Red Sox win. Very tidy. Late games can be a problem, because bunks where other men are sleeping are only a few feet away from the community room. The TV goes off at 11 p.m.
David likes what he sees out of the Sox so far.
"I believe we learned from our mistakes of last year," he says. "We're definitely going to do something this year."
Just another devout citizen of Red Sox Nation. More proof that the homeless aren't that much different from the rest of us. Like David says, there's always hope.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.