R is for Red Sox

When my father was in the Emergency Room the other day, I knew he was missing the Red Sox game so I brought it up on my phone. Through the Red Sox website, we couldn’t watch the game, but we could get details of what was happening.

I read it off as best I could. “Okay, Dad. Machado is batting for Baltimore. Sales threw a slider. It went low and inside for a ball.”

At first, he said, “How do you know all that?” and I would show him the tiny words on the screen.

Later in the game. “Okay, next pitch — a swinging strike for Santander,” I said.

“Who’s Santander?” Dad asked.

“Baltimore’s right fielder,” I said.

“Oh, okay,” he said, and closed his eyes while he laid back on the bed.

Still later. “Sales threw a fastball and –”

My father interrupted me. “You’ve got to make it sound exciting! Put some enthusiasm in your voice!”

I told him I would try, but I was tired and didn’t. A radio announcer I am not.

I’m sure he listened to many baseball games on the radio when he was a boy. I know that he and his brother sometimes took the train into the city to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play. Once, when they were riding the train, they saw Mel Ott, a well-known NY Giants player. He was wearing a suit and trying to keep a low profile. When my uncle went over to ask for his autograph, Mel Ott carefully looked this way and that to make sure nobody else would notice, then signed as surreptitiously as possible. My father laughs whenever he tells the story, imitating the expression on Mel Ott’s face and the way he looked around him.

When the Dodgers moved to the west coast, my father had to choose another team and opted for the Red Sox.

His two baseball heroes represent those two teams — Jackie Robinson from the Brooklyn Dodgers and Ted Williams from the Red Sox.

“How’s your father doing?” someone asked me the other day. “He must be happy with the way the Red Sox season has started.”

They ARE doing well. From the Red Sox website:

The Red Sox are just the seventh team in the modern era (since 1900) to win at least 16 of their first 18 games. They are the first to do it since the 1987 Brewers. Of the four previous teams, two won the World Series — the 1984 Tigers and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

“Yes, I think he’s happy,” I replied. “He’s a pretty avid fan.”

“Avid? AVID?” the man said. “I think you mean RABID.”

Avid. Rabid. You get the picture.

He and my mother used to make pilgrimages to Fenway in the summer.

I remember going with them as a child. I don’t remember the baseball game, but I remember waiting afterwards in a long line to eat at a restaurant call Durgin Park.  The line went up a flight of steep narrow stairs. At the top I leaned in to see how much longer we would have to wait and a waitress picked me up to move me out of the way.

My mother and father had eaten there years before. From their scrapbook:

Durgin Park 1954?

Durgin Park menu

One summer my parents took my oldest sons with them to Fenway. The only thing the boys ever told me about that game is how the dugouts emptied for some brawls.

Philip, Sam, Owen, and my mom before the Red Sox game

When my father retired in 1999, someone wrote a song for him called “Amazing Don.” One verse, undoubtedly written by a Yankee fan, addressed his love for the Red Sox —

The cards from his recent party also reflect his love for the team —I could go on and on —

Mom and Luis Tiant

Lego man

Johnny Damon

Scrapbook program

Books (a mere tip of the iceberg)

Not to mention bobbleheads, t-shirts, sweatshirts, caps, pins, you name it.

Somewhere upstairs is the 1967 “Red Sox Impossible Dream” vinyl album. Somewhere in my treasures is a Carl Yastrzemski pin from that same year.

The photo challenge word of the week is “prolific.” This is more an abundance.

And abundance that comes from decades of cheering on a team through thick and thin.

Authentic fandom.

He still fist-pumps when they score a run or make a good play.

Even in the emergency room with an unenthusiastic announcer telling him about it.

My Baseball Hero

I live in a baseball town, and yesterday (I think) they announced the 2018 inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As part of a Christmas gift, I wrote the following poem about my favorite baseball moment ever. It’s a true story.


The outlook wasn’t brilliant for Philip’s team that day
Down one run, bottom of the 9th, not much more time to play
When the first kid hit a single and the next one drove him in
The winning run stood on 3rd. Why, yes — they just might win!

Next the powerhouse was up, swinging with such might
But never once connecting — a strike-out was his plight.
The next batter puffed his chest out; he had it in the bag
Strike One! Strike Two! Strike Three! We watched his shoulders sag.

Their final hope now rested on a boy who never hit —
Philip straightened up as best he could, and whispered, “This is it.”
Inside his floppy uniform, his heart was beating fast.
His team-mates in the dugout sat with eyes downcast

They couldn’t bear to watch their hopes whiz by in swingless strikes
They packed their gloves in waiting bags, and eyed their waiting bikes.
Philip took some practice swings, and caught his Grampa’s eye
Grampa winked and nodded — and Philip knew he had to try

He stumbled to the pentagon that marked where he must swing
He looked up at the pitcher — and then he did this thing
That his grandfather had told him — Just a give a little wink
When you’re looking at the pitcher. He won’t know what to think.

So Philip winked, the pitcher threw, and Philip swung bat
And, by gum, he hit that ball in a satisfying whack.
It sailed over the infield. It sailed to center-right.
I wish that I could tell you that it sailed right out of sight.

It fell in outfield grass and the fielders scrambled to it
But the guy on base came safely home, and Philip’s whole team knew it
He had hit the winning run. He had saved the day.
He had winked right at the pitcher, and then hit the ball away.

Graceball

 

IMG_8900Cleaning off the shelves in my father’s study reminded me of the things he loves to read about — history and baseball. The older I’ve grown, the more I’ve loved reading about those things as well.

I’ve always loved reading about baseball. Not modern baseball, but the old days. Like the deadball days in The Glory of their Times by Lawrence Ritter, one of my favorite baseball books ever. Or the Brooklyn Dodgers. Or the Negro Leagues, both awful and beautiful.

So I grabbed a book on my dad’s bookshelf called The Teammates by David Halberstam. It’s a story about the enduring friendship between four ballplayers: Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky.

Ted Williams was one of my father’s heroes. An unlikely hero, in my mind, because he was a hero with baggage. He was foul-mouthed and arrogant. Loud. He wasn’t gracious, wouldn’t tip his cap to the crowd, even in his last game, at his last at-bat, where he nailed his last home run.

John Updike, in Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, said about Ted Williams, “Gods do not answer letters.”

But Ted Williams could hit the ball.  Lou Boudreau came up with the Williams Shift for a reason. Why Ted Williams, in that instance, didn’t follow Wee Willy Keeler’s motto — “Hit ’em where they ain’t” — is a mystery to me.

The Teammates softened my thoughts on Ted Williams. It showed a more human side to him.  One Ted Williams story lingers with me.  In the words of Bobby Doerr  —

“… and when lunch was over Ted turned to us and said he wanted to take and show his dad’s photography shop.  And so we went across the street from the hotel, and there was a building there, all the offices empty now, nothing there but an empty building. Then he began talking about his father, who had not been successful, was out of work a lot, and had been drinking a lot. And as he talked you could just see it roll out, this little kid in this terrible world, all the unhappiness, all the things which had never gone away, and which had been stored up for so long. It was clear that his dad had never been there for him.  And then when we came out he took us to this nearby corner, and he said, ‘This is where my mother made me march with the Salvation Army, and I would try and hide behind the bass drum.’ As he talked I could see it all, the little boy back then, the shame, and the pain, and the broken home, and how much he hated all of it. As we were walking around, and he was letting us into his childhood, I was thinking to myself, ‘This is where it all started.’ I’ll never forget that day when he took us around because all you could feel was the sadness of it. The sadness of that little boy, and the sense that it had weighed on him so heavily for so long.”

As I read that story i understood better how baseball is a game of grace. The very best players fail two-thirds of the time when they get up to bat. A batter is allowed three strikes. A pitcher is allowed four balls. A team three outs.

Baseball is not like the pure athleticism of a race, where the first one to finish wins. It’s a game of trying and trying again. Perseverance. Moving on past a failure. And another failure. And another failure. Grace.

The whole game is grace. There’s always another pitch, another at-bat, another game, another season.

It’s why the battle cry of the Red Sox — “Wait till next year” — rings true.

Hope is a cornerstone in baseball. It exists at every single base.

*****

Today my daughter Mary follows in my footsteps (and her aunt’s) by starting a job at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

When combined with the Daily Prompt: “Childhood”, and the fact that this post turned up when I did a draft folder search of that word, you can understand why I’m posting this today.

Originally written last October. Never posted till now.