BOSTON – Les Otten knew.

Five hours before Red Sox hero David Ortiz blasted a game-winning home run over Fenway Park’s left field wall, the team vice chairman watched the slugger take batting practice.

And he listened.

“You don’t even have to see it,” Otten said Friday afternoon, standing on the pathway of Pennsylvania brick dust that surrounds the historic field. Twenty feet away, the 6-foot, 4-inch Ortiz swatted another.

Crack!

“You can tell by the sound it makes,” Otten said. “It’s a deeper sound, a different pitch. He’s going to have a good night.”

For Otten, the Bethel ski executive turned ball club partner, this is a game-day ritual.

“There’s nothing I’d rather be doing,” he said. “I stand here, and I watch. Most of the time, there are 75 people on the field and we’re all family. Today is different.”

Much different. The Red Sox are trying to break an 86-year-long streak of near-misses. As fans of the rival New York Yankees are quick to point out, Boston hasn’t won a World Series since 1918. However, the Sox are in the playoffs again.

Otten arrived around 1:30 p.m. Friday for the 4 p.m. game, bicycling to the ballpark from his part-time home just five minutes away.

Inside the players’ parking lot – among the Mercedes, Hummers and Lexuses – Otten walked to a metal screen door and shook it.

“Hey Bobby, want to let me in?” he said. A moment later, a uniformed worker appeared, sliding open the locked door and letting the team’s co-owner inside.

Half an hour before the public can enter the park, its halls bustled with vendors preparing their food and souvenir stands.

As Otten headed for the entrance to the field, a golf cart glided past, carrying team manager Terry Francona.

He gave Otten a wave, a thumbs-up sign, then pressed a finger to his lips in a wordless “shhh.” It’s a game the two play.

“We say hi’ to each other but the we don’t engage in conversation before or during a game,” Otten said. That might jinx it.

It’s emblematic of Otten’s self-defined role with the club.

The former chief executive of American Skiing Co., which runs the Sugarloaf and Sunday River resorts, Otten helped put together the group of investors who purchased the team in early 2001 for more than $600 million.

These days, his most visible role is as a fund-raiser for the team’s charity foundation. When invited, he speaks to groups about the team, and he runs an annual one-day fantasy camp at the park.

He has no responsibility for running the club, but he has gold-plated access. And he is careful not to take advantage of it.

“People say hi and wave,” said Otten. However, he is reluctant to cross from the encircling orange path onto the field, where the players and the coaches work.

“That’s their office,” he said.

Otten’s place is a luxury suite high above first base. As the game began, he seated himself with his wife and daughter, Meredith, on balcony-like seats. Inside were leather couches, hi-definition TVs and a spread that included hot dogs, popcorn and bowls of M&Ms.

By the fourth inning, with the score Anaheim Angels 1, Red Sox 3, Ortiz came to the mound for his third at bat.

Otten sat in his seat, biting the tips of his fingers. When the big man hit the ball deep into center field, scoring another runner, Otten bolted onto his feet and thrust a fist in the air.

“I told you he’d hit one,” he said.

The lead didn’t last. Anaheim Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero hit a grand slam home run off Boston pitcher Mike Timlin.

“He missed his pitch,” Otten said. “Guerrero took him downtown.”

But Ortiz, whom Otten predicted would have a “good night,” instead had a great one.

It takes only an instant to see the great hits, Otten had said as he watched Ortiz during practice.

“It’s like an artillery gun,” he said. “You know it hit the target by the way it gets launched.”

Ortiz’s two-run blast in the bottom of the tenth inning ended the game and thrust the Red Sox into the American League Championship Series.

A minute later, Otten was back on the field with the team. Players sprayed champagne and beer in celebration.

More than 35,000 people yelled. The public address system played “Joy to the World.”

Otten lit up a cigar and breathed deeply.



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