Just as Tampa Bay's Paul Abbott was poised to deliver a pitch to Jason Varitek in a game at Fenway Park last week, two women in red sweatshirts, cellphones in hand, jumped to their feet from their box seats behind home plate and waved frantically toward the center-field camera. Abbott later said he didn't see them, but such antics -- now commonplace -- seem to aggravate a lot of people in Red Sox Nation. Cellphone wavers are up there with meter maids, telemarketers, and perhaps even (gulp) the "Evil Empire" in New York.
Just ask the fans in the bleachers, who want to "reach out and touch someone" in the worst way. They want cellphones at Fenway banned.
"It's annoying as all hell," said Tim Champagne of Stoneham. "They're yahoos. Nitwits. How'd you like to be the guy behind the nitwit who's slamming his arms trying to get on TV? I say absolutely ban them."
"I'd love [the Red Sox] to ban them," said Mike Sanson of Dighton. "If you're going to be on your phone waving, get out of here. It's aggravating. They were given the seats. They are attention-seeking. They are self-centered."
Mike Pires of Taunton said they also are a waste of great seats.
"I think the Red Sox should put up a sign, `No Waving,' or you get kicked out," said Pires. "Something drastic, because then I can move in and get those seats. Those are very good seats."
Julie Campbell of Hull said she is sick of people seeking their 15 seconds of fame.
"Cellphones shouldn't be allowed in churches, restaurants, and the stadium," she said. "This is a time for people to enjoy the game."
But the fans seemed more bothered than the players by the phenomenon. Abbott said pitchers pitch -- they don't look in the stands.
"You don't see them at all," said Abbott. "Your focus is on the catcher's mitt and your commitment to the pitch and the strategy of the game. You see it more watching on TV."
Taking a broader, more serious perspective, Abbott added, "I'll tell you, honestly, my whole perspective has changed with the way the fans are after 9/11. Our importance is really nothing compared to what was going on in the world. [Fans] can come and scream and wave for three hours -- that doesn't bother me like it used to." Still, Russ Kenn, who produces Red Sox telecasts for NESN, said the waving problem is getting worse. Fans also wave to cameras at first and third.
"From a TV producer's standpoint, they are distracting," he said. "They're impressing their 12 friends at home and themselves at the expense of a vast network audience."
So who are these people seeking fame one pitch at a time? One of the ladies in red behind home plate last week was Laina Smith, 24, of Methuen. During a midgame interview, she sipped a beer, showed off her Red Sox logo cellphone, and asked for mercy from the folks watching at home.
"Come on, guys, don't get mad at us," she said. "We're excited to be down here. We're never going to get to sit in these seats again in our life. These are the best seats we've ever had. A friend of a friend didn't get to go and I got the magic ticket. I called my Dad. He said, `I can't see you,' and I waved and he said, `I see you now.' So it was kind of cool.
"I'm not trying to disrespect anybody else. We're bleacher folk in the wrong section. It's like we took a wrong turn. But they shouldn't be watching us on TV. They should be concentrating on the hitter."
The Red Sox have been trying to minimize annoyances at the ballpark. They recently restricted fans from walking in the aisles during at-bats and have been more aggressive with fans blocking others' views. Smith said she was warned by an usher and a security guard in the early innings. "He said, `Don't get on your cellphone and don't get up or you'll get kicked out,' " said Smith.
Her friend and cellphone mate is Sarah Dwyer, 23, of Salem, N.H. She, too, placed her first call to her father.
"We live in a cellphone age that only communicates by that method," said Dwyer. "This isn't 1918. Luckily we're in the best seats we could possibly be in, and we're going to tell everybody we can. We're going to communicate the happiness we feel.
"If they don't like it, tough. Times change, lives change, the curse is going to change. "
One section over, in the second row behind home plate, was Lauren O'Shea and her fiance, Alex Kallianidis. They are very polite cellphone wavers; they never wave above the ear. But their cellphone activity started immediately after the national anthem. (You could call it, "O'Shea, can you see?")
"I talked to my mother and my father," said O'Shea. "Then my mother called my aunt and told her I was on TV. Then my aunt called me, so I had to answer the phone. My whole family's been calling."
While O'Shea is talking, a fan leaps onto the field and heads full speed for Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. The runner is tackled, Bruschi-like, by security personnel. O'Shea knows that television won't show this form of exhibitionism. "I better call my mother and tell her I wasn't the runner," she said.
O'Shea takes offense to other fans telling her what to do.
"We're not being yahoos," she said. "This is our first time in these seats. We're usually in the bleachers."
Her fiance said they received free seats from the Red Sox as compensation for a ticketing mistake.
"We've already been yelled at twice," said Kallianidis. "They say, `No cellphone calls while the game is going on.' We didn't know. Now we're calling between innings."
Told that some bleacherites said they hated the cellphone wavers worse than even the Yankees, Kalliandis sounded offended.
"Don't classify us with Jeter and A-Rod," he said. "That's horrible."