BOSTON — Elizabeth Dooley will never be honored in the hallowed corridors of the Baseball Hall of Fame, nor will her lifetime statistics ever color the pages of dusty record books. But in the storied history of America's pastime, Ms. Dooley is among the legends of the game.
With only a few exceptions, this lifetime native of Boston has attended every Red Sox home game for the past 53 years, including away games at her favorite cities - Cleveland, Baltimore, and Toronto. Ms. Dooley has witnessed approximately 5,000 baseball games since collecting her first ticket stub as a child.
Known personally by fans, players, and the media (play-by-play radio and TV announcer Curt Gowdy would point out her new hat as she strolled through the stands), Dooley is a fixture at Boston's Fenway Park.
A friend to baseball legends from Ted Williams to Mickey Mantle, she is one of the most loyal and recognizable baseball fans since the game's first spectators cheered over a century ago. But, as Dooley will quickly assert, her dedication and interest surpasses that of the average fan.
"A fan leaves in the seventh inning. I have always considered myself a friend of not only the Red Sox but the whole game. Being a friend means being there from the Star Spangled Banner to the final out."
An active athlete since youth, she bought her first season-ticket pass in 1944, while working as a health and physical education instructor in the Boston public-school system.
"I chose this as a thing to do because other friends of mine were bringing up their families," she explains. "I didn't want to play bridge. I considered women's bridge a game of gossip - baseball is fun."
Dooley's dedication to her "hobby" dates back to her father, John - who attended every Red Sox season opener from 1894 until his death, and her uncles - one of whom found two mistakes in the first edition of the Baseball Encyclopedia. "They remembered nearly every play from every game they saw," Dooley marvels.
Capable of recounting - without hesitation - last night's attendance figures from across the league, she shows that her own mind for statistics rarely fails. "I absorb baseball the way water is absorbed into a sponge," she states matter-of-factly.
With the cosmopolitan tastes of a Boston Brahmin, and the intellectual wit to match, Dooley takes pleasure in the nuances of the game - from the sleek cut of the outfield grass to the angled slope of a screaming line drive. But watching a baseball game, she insists, is more of an activity than a pastime.
"I'm a student of the game, you see. When I took my nephews to ballgames we had certain regulations. They could only ask questions during the third, fifth, and seventh innings. They weren't there to eat, but to learn what baseball can be."
SPENDING a lifetime learning about America's game, however, has given Dooley some memories she hadn't bargained for.From the mundane throw to first, to a bizarre striptease by a fan in Fenway's center-field bleachers, she has witnessed everything the game's oldest park has to offer.
"I suppose the strangest thing that ever happened was to an outfielder who was chasing a weasel or a raccoon off the field. Well, the weasel bit the player," she says, chuckling slightly, "and ran away under the stands with his glove."
Dooley normally turns up her nose to such screwball antics and on-field gimmickry. Other than the actual game, she most cherishes a moment that generates little fanfare. "I always watch the kid who climbs up the net to get the foul balls after the game. It's the most dangerous job in the park," she remarks, with a hint of concern on her brow. "And I'm always relieved when he gets back down."
In addition to telephoning Williams on his birthday every year, Dooley sends newspaper clips of sports stories to former Red Sox great Bobby Doerr, and continues to lobby the veterans committee of the Hall of Fame to induct former center-fielder Dom DiMaggio into its ranks.
She insists on maintaining a good opinion of today's players. But Dooley admits that while today's athletes can throw faster and run quicker than before, the quality of the individual has suffered.
Amid dubious attendance figures and salaries bordering on the absurd - following 53 years without a World Series championship - Dooley continues to find inspiration at the old ballpark."Every now and then, someone sings the Star Spangled Banner beautifully," she says. "It's a very powerful, emotional thing for me. To hear this marvelous voice, and see the loyalty shown to the country. Baseball is an American game after all."