Steve Cishek, who grew up about 75 miles due south of here on the Cape Cod peninsula, once imagined that his backyard was Fenway Park and he was former Red Sox slugger Mo Vaughn, peppering the roof of his childhood home with Whiffle-ball blasts.
Once he outgrew Vaughn, he fancied shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.
After that it was pitcher Derek Lowe.
In time, Cishek came to idolize Bronson Arroyo, another Sox hurler.
For Cishek, the sidearm reliever for the Marlins, there were few things he loved more than the Red Sox. And it’s why he can’t wait to step foot on the mound of Boston’s century-old home when the Marlins open a three-series there on Tuesday.
“I’ve been thinking about this moment ever since being drafted, thinking that if I ever made it up to the big leagues I might get a chance to play at Fenway,” said Cishek, the Marlins’ fifth-round pick out of Carson-Newman College in 2007.
Cishek has had Fenway on the brain since this season’s schedule was released and it showed the Marlins visiting Boston for only the sixth time ever, and first since 2009.
“Trust me,” said veteran Marlins reliever Randy Choate, “he’s been talking about it since the beginning of the year. He’s had it marked down.”
Cishek is so excited about the series that when the Marlins were facing Tampa Bay last week, he confided in Burke Badenhop – a former Marlins reliever who is now with the Rays – that he worried he might become overcome by nerves.
“I told Hopper that I’m probably going to throw up on myself,” Cishek said, laughing. “I think when we first walk out there, I’ll get butterflies for sure. But once I throw that first pitch, I’ll be back to normal.”
Cishek grew up in Falmouth, a town of about 30,000. He designed a cut-out diamond in his backyard and dreamed of becoming the next Vaughn or Garciaparra for the Red Sox.
“I have a poster of Nomar that’s still in the wrapper,” Cishek said. “I didn’t want it to ever get ruined. I still know where it is at the house, too.”
After Cishek started pitching, he wanted to model himself after Lowe but – with his natural sidearm delivery – couldn’t. Eventually he became fascinated with Arroyo.
“He always seemed to step up and eat up innings,” Cishek said. “Nobody ever paid any attention to him, so I figured I would.”
Cishek’s fiancèe, whom he dated at Falmouth High School, once gave him a Red Sox jersey with Arroyo’s name on the back. Cishek had Arroyo, who now pitches for the Reds, sign the jersey when the Marlins were in Cincinnati. Cishek said that Arroyo signed his name and “World Series Champs – 2004.”
“I have all kinds of Red Sox caps, one of every color probably,” said Cishek, who turned 26 on Monday. “I know I have a camouflage one, a white one and a red one. But the only jersey I have is the Arroyo jersey.”
Cishek has been to Fenway only once before, when he was 9.
“They were playing Milwaukee when the Brewers were in the A.L., and I remember sitting on the first-base side,” he said. “I was just in awe of the stadium. I had always seen it on TV. But, until you see it in person … it, like, blew my mind at that age.”
Cishek can’t wait to see the place again.
“When we get there, I’m going to take in as much as I can,” he said. “I dreamed about this playing Whiffle ball in the back yard, always pretending I was a player at Fenway. To be able to set foot in the bullpen is going to be incredible. It’s going to be amazing.”