MLB Insider 2013
Sister. NY City and the Mets
Brought Up On Baseball
The World Series program
That Old Feeling
What Binds Us Together
the way he would have wanted
All Star 2011
The conclusion of the Post Season can only mean one thing: the end of the marathon. My daughter
doesn’t like it. My father-in-law finds it depressing. And me? I feel empty. Lonely. Like there’s a piece of myself missing. All feelings which these days strike me as unexpected. In other words, I assumed that
by now I’d be more grown up. Each year I think I’m going to be immune to it—and that when it’s finally over, I’ll be just fine without it. I’m fifteen years older than my father was when he wrote a piece about the heartbreak of the season’s end. The Green Field’s of the Mind. Age, I have discovered, means nothing in relation to being able to rise above the pain. I haven’t grown wiser or more sage in my fifties about the end of the thing I look forward to all winter long. The thing that’s on my television set every day for eight months. The thing I take for granted—assuming that it will always be there. The thing I race to hold onto, as the sands of the season slip through October’s Baseball Hour Glass…the thing that’s over before I know it. And now without the buzz of a game lilting from somewhere in my house, the reality sets in, and I’m left to scratch my head, as it seems I do every year, and wonder how on earth I’m going to fill the void this time. Now I have involved others in my dilemma. Namely my daughter. I imagine that this is the same way I became involved as a baseball fan, as a very young kid--sitting at my father’s feet, listening to a game on the radio. In the car. Or in our kitchen. His passion for baseball was infectious. He made it seem like it was one of the most important things in the world to commit your energy to. He cared so I cared. My daughter, Pepper Jack as I nicknamed her, I fear is that same collateral victim of baseball’s parental passion. At five years old her consciousness took a
huge leap forward this season. She’s fallen in love with the game. I can see it in her eyes. She’s interested. Curious. She watches it with me every day. She gets it. She knows the players, the teams. It just kind of happened. Partly through osmosis I suspect. And perhaps partly through genetics. And now after having gone along for the season’s ride, she is mystified by this whole Post Season phenomenon. And saddened, of course now, by baseball’s sudden absence. It’s a lot for a father to have to explain. And it tests me. Because I’m not nearly bright enough. Because beyond baseball logistics, how do you explain a feeling? So I’ve been doing my best. Taking it one step at a time. Imparting the difference between post season and the regular season. Defining what the Big Dance has to do with anything. And how it’s not really a dance at all. I explain about the culmination of 162 games and what that means. And how the achievement of just finishing that marathon maybe the most valuable reward of them all. And I tell her about what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to compete in the Fall. In this thing called Post Season. The dedication that it takes. The discipline. The luck, and the chemistry it takes to survive. And how momentum in the Post Season can make or break the best of teams.
I make a special point about the beauty of the underachievers, like these Royals and Giants, who defy the naysayers, believing that they can do the impossible. And then proving to us that indeed they can. These are some of the fundamental baseball lessons, I tell my daughter. This simple review may seem obvious and dull to some. But for me the brush up on the game, from its rules, to its philosophical aspects, to the literal meaning of the cycle of the season, is inspiring. Because while I’m informing my daughter, I’m reminding myself about why I fell in love with the game in the first place. About what connected me to it. About why it matters, and again, about why I’ll miss it.
We were talking the other day of all things baseball, Pepper Jack and myself, when she wondered aloud if baseball would ever come back again. I assured her as the sun sets and rises, that it would. That we just needed to be patient. I asked her why she was going to miss it so much. And she said because you do. At that moment a light went off in my little brain, and I thought: her answer might be the best reason in the world as to what makes the whole thing so special. So important. Because her answer cut right to the very root of the passion--of the addiction. And to the very root of the reason for the sorrow when it’s gone--and you need it most.
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The 2013 Boston Red Sox. Beards and Bob Marley. Don't you worry about a thing. Worst to first. Who could have predicted these guys would go to the Series? Certainly not a perpetually cynical, life long fan of the Old Towne team like me. 2 World Championships or not. My father would have it no other way. Personally I was sure that all of those good feelings we'd been experiencing lately at the Fens would be taken away. Case in point: recent Sox history. A history I feared would return. You see paranoia is part of that uniquely New England Disease, inherited from another time and dimension. So to me that the tide would turn on Yawkey Way was inevitable. I can even pinpoint when it was all foreshadowed: the fall of '09. The day the ghost returned. It was a playoff game against the Angels. Right before Papelpbon, imploded, yanking the rug out from under the feet of the Nation, something eerie happened. The scoreboard door, that ancient tin thing carved into the Green Monster, ominously swung open all by itself. This was the moment I'd been waiting for. When the proverbial cosmic shovel would be leveled at the back our collective giddy Red Sox heads applied with force by the Baseball Gods breaking us out of our reverie. That day the ghost of Dame Mutability returned to Fenway Park, unnoticed, when all in the Nation assumed we were sanctified and free from the shackles of the past. Her intention: to deliver a message to the Fenway Faithful via that trademark Buckneresque sense of baseball irony and heartbreak-- casting Her spell over my team. Possessing the Red Sox, sending them on a downward spiral into the depths of baseball despair. Being an eternal Boston Pessimist, another trait inherited from those bitter adults who came before me, adults who'd never experienced the sight of a World Series flag hoisted above the Monster in their lifetime, I knew it was coming. Oddly there is a twisted satisfaction with being right…but why? Why were we being tortured again? Had we not suffered enough? Had we reveled too hard? Had we become soft with the laurels of '04 and '07?
What came next was a mediocre 2010, lulling the Nation to sleep, before the rise and incredible fall of 2011. A fall that subjected us to a September collapse smothered in beer, chicken and controversy. But what was to come…O, what was to come! Real baseball darkness.
A darkness that swallowed us whole, as the Ghost Mutability snickered from the bleachers while we suffered through The Valentine Experiment of 2012. The irony was choice in Her estimation. During the worst Red Six season since 1965 the organization tried in vein to celebrate Fenway's 100th Anniversary, while turning a deaf ear to the fact that it was also the same milestone for the sinking of the Titanic. Wiped out were the good vibes of those Idiots of '04 and Mike Lowell 's Championship team of '07. The baseball Gods decreed that we Sox followers needed to go deeper. That we were not appreciative enough. Baseball giveth and baseball taketh away. So the powers that be planned 2013 as a bridge season to the future. Fair weather fans, not having the stomach or the scars of history, jumped from the bandwagon left and right. It would be ages before we in the Nation would feel giddy again. It was over. The Ghost had returned.
Now enter John Ferrell, Victorino, Gomes and Napoli to make it interesting. And while we lined up dutifully, yet grudgingly for honor's sake, enlisting, ready you endure another bleak season, suddenly something really horrible happened. Something that had nothing to do with baseball. Or steroids. Or salaries. Or Carl Crawford. Or the hangover from a dismal 2012. It happened at the finish line on Boylston Street on Patriots Day. That it gave perspective is an understatement. Baseball and the Red Sox gracefully paused so we might gather our collective spirits. Dogs and specialists swept the stands for explosives. And then, when we truly needed it most, in their return, Daniel Nava, the ultimate underdog, hit a home run in the sunshine. A home run that would pull the Red Sox from behind that day and win the game, boosting the city, in what would be a trademark of this 2013 team. Find a way to win at all costs. The Sox never looked back. They dared The Ghost Mutability to exit the building. Which She did. For the remainder of the season. (Disclaimer: at the time of the penning of this piece I am watching WS Game 3. Allen Craig just tripped over Will Middlebrooks…jury still out on the Ghost/Spell…but I digress)…
It's insulting to compare a game with the devastation of true human tragedy, but if baseball is metaphor, and if this space is dedicated to the national pastime and the American experience, then this team, coupled with this horrific event serves as a reminder to all of us about the resilience of America. The truth in perseverance and that anything is possible. That we can bounce back.
And recover. And in that vein the accomplishments of this team are mirrored in the faces of those real heroes, the survivors who have gracefully and courageously picked up the pieces of their broken lives and shown us the meaning of the triumph of the human spirit.
If the Red Sox championship season of 2004 was for the ancestors, and 2007 was for us, then 2013 is for those players, Pedroia, Lackey, Ortiz, Ellsbury and Lester who survived baseball oblivion and proved that belief in the self and pure will can overcome enormous obstacles. And more to the point this year's accomplishment is for the City of Boston and the victims and survivors of that awful event at the finish line. Those brave souls remind us through the metaphor of baseball, and with a little help from the Ghost Mutability, about the value of enjoying the moment. They embody the spirit of being an American. A spirit reflected in a uniquely American game. A spirit of possibility that gives us the courage to overcome, and be champions against all the odds.
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I'd never been on a plane.
And I was scared
The stewardess gave me and my little brother gum to calm our nerves. And ease the pain from the air pressure that clogged our ears. But not even the alien experience of air travel could dampen our excitement, as we catapulted, with our father, out from under the grip of New England's final winter-claw- for sunny Fort Myers Florida - to visit our Grandfather Giamatti – and take in some spring training games.
Every February Babbo made the pilgrimage from South Hadley Mass. down to a small, unassuming hotel he loved in Fort Myers (then the Spring Training home of the Kansas City Royals). It had been a long baseball-less winter, and my Grandfather was not going to tolerate its absence any longer. So he took the bull by the horns and traveled to where the Boys of Summer began the first leg of their major league marathon.
Here he'd swim in the pool and bask in the warm Florida sunshine. Rejuvenating his weary arthritic legs - satisfying his Jones for baseball - taking in several Royals games a week.
Babbo was not a Royals fan, but he was a fan of a little pasta joint in the Fort Myers area— five-minutes from his hotel. I'd always suspected that this establishment was the real drawing card for his pilgrimage down south all along.
That night three of us slept on the floor under a blanket. While my father snored away between us, my brother and I - after some hushed, sibling silliness - fell asleep. Paul clutching his Tiger's hat (he was a huge Ron LeFlore fan), while I cradled my Red Sox hat - tucked carefully under my pillow - as dreams of Lynn and Yaz danced in my head.
The next morning we hit the park for batting practice. As luck would have it, the Royals were playing the Tigers that day. My brother had a conniption of joy at the sight of Ron LaFlore shagging fly balls in centerfield. We maneuvered our positions with great stealth to a grassy area above where LeFlore was situated. There with a legion of other kids and over grown kids alike, we pleaded for him to toss us a ball.
Finally he complied.
My brother caught it against his chest.
Lunch at the Pasta joint was next where we brother's sat sated and swollen.
Speckled with marinara sauce.
Evidence of the many bowls of ziti consumed.
Our Red Badge of Courage, Babbo said.
During the sixth inning I excused myself to use the bathroom. On the way back I became lost. Somehow I'd wandered out through the main gate, and ended up in a back area of the park, facing several fenced in dirt runs, filled with bats, lead donuts and bases.
Alone, I panicked.
Desperately spinning in all directions.
Next came tears.
Suddenly a voice called to me from behind the fence. It was George Brett. He asked if I needed help. I nodded through sobs. He opened the gate and motioned for me to follow him. As we walked in silence he kept a firm hand on my shoulder. We traveled through creaky doorways and musty, dark hallways, eventually ending up in the Royals dugout.
The players stared and spit at their feet from the bench as I passed.
The surreal reality of the moment began to wash over me.
I grew ten feet tall with awe and delight.
"Lost kid" Brett announced to his teammates.
Stepping up onto the field I scanned the stands, finally spotting my perplexed little family.
I turned to thank Mr. Brett.
But he was gone.
I climbed over the stadium wall and ran to my father.
I often wonder if George Brett would remember me.
Just another lost kid at the ballpark.
On a beautiful February afternoon.
During Spring Training.
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She was always different than the rest of us. Better looking. More intelligent. A superior athlete. (She was a staple in the middle of my team's lineup, and the only girl, for our neighborhood stick ball games). But what made my sister Elena truly unique was her allegiance to the New York Mets. Her favorite player was Howard Johnson. Her favorite team the 1986 World Champs. How she became a die-hard fan of that team from Queens was anyone's guess. Elena grew up surrounded by Boston fans. But perhaps that had something to do with it. Perhaps it was a defiant, renegade's reaction to my endless Beantown grandstanding. My perpetual whining, and frustration. Or maybe it had something to do with the exposure she received down the Jersey Shore where we spent the summers with my Mom's father. There the TV was often set to Mets games on WOR Channel 9. The kitchen radio most weekend afternoons emitted the classic tenor of Lindsey Nelson on WNEW, spinning yarns, as he'd broadcast a game from Flushing. Or Philly. Or Atlanta.
So it seems fitting with the All Star game being played this year in Queens for the first time since 1964, from Citi Field, that I find myself in a New York State Of Mind. Reflecting on memories of Shea, my sister, and those rides together from midtown on the 7 train to catch a game. It's a State Of Mind that pulls me back to a period when Elena, my father, then the NL President, and myself, all occupied The City That Never Sleeps, simultaneously, for a brief, yet wonderful time.
Back then the NL President's stadium headquarters was Shea. So besides our own travels out to Queen's, my sister and I spent many an afternoon keeping my father company in the stands next to the Mets dugout. Elena was in heaven. Each afternoon before game time, Gary Carter would pop out of the dugout and talk with my father. Elena still recalls evenings at Shea when we were enlisted to be my father's sidekicks at some more formal pre-game "backstage" events. Standing on the periphery we observed the scene unfolding around us: the Wilpon's hobnobbing with other club owners. Various baseball dignitaries chowing down alongside some random Hall Of Famer who may have popped in for the night. And my father, sitting in their midst, nodding politely, grazing from a giant bowl of shrimp, sipping a coke, stinging us with secret, silly looks, to keep us, and himself, amused. Elena still talks about one such time, where bored and sullen she stood in line waiting to spear a hot dog from a silver serving tray, when the man in front of her turned and introduced himself politely as one Hank Aaron. Her sullen exterior dropped, along with her fork, and she lit up like a Christmas tree, exclaiming excitedly over and over again "Really? The REAL Hank Aaron? Really?? O MY GOD!!" She also recalls another time "backstage" at Shea, where, dodging raindrops, she waited patiently as my father huddled with the umpires below. When he returned, he was so excited, she said, like a little kid, because he'd just done "the gesture" for the entire stadium, signaling that the game was officially in a rain delay.
But the best memories we shared were still the rides together on the subway, and the games in the bleachers, watching her heroes thrill the crowd: Dykstra. Hernandez. Darling. Gooden. Carter. And Strawberry. Strawberry, whom we still swear one night hit the longest home run that we'd ever seen. A moonbeam that sailed over the right field foul pole, out of the stadium, and for all we know, is still going. It seems like only yesterday that we stood and stared at one another with amazement, our jaws scraping the stadium floor, as Straw rounded the bases, while the Home Run Apple rose and lit up from behind the centerfield wall. It was all we talked about on the ride back to Manhattan, crammed between other Met's fans.
Inevitably on the ride home the entire train would erupt as one into a raucous chant, my sister joining in, her fist raised high in the air: Let's Go Mets! Let's Go Mets! Yes indeed little sister. Yes indeed. For old time's sake, Let's Go Mets.
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My grandfather, who grew up the son of Italian immigrants in Fair Haven, Connecticut used to say that he fell in love with baseball because it made him feel more American. My great grandmother never missed a Red Sox game on the radio. Down on the Jersey shore for the summers with my mother's father, the Mets were always playing in the background.
Most evenings during the season now, I sit with my three-year-old daughter Ophelia at my feet, taking in a game. Answering all of her various questions about the ins and outs of our national pastime. (She has stated in no uncertain terms that her favorite players are Big Papi and Cody Ross--because he hikes up his socks).
The how and why of baseball getting passed down the family line is a tradition we can all relate to. The connections it creates. From childhood to adulthood. Remaining a constant. The way it becomes a necessary component--woven into the culture of our individual family histories.
For the very first time I find myself on the passing down end of things rather than the receiving end. And I must confess it's a little tricky. Here's why. So much of my connection to baseball, and to a certain team growing up in New England, yes that one from Boston, is because of geography. But today I live in Southern California. A world away from my place of origin backs East. But because of those roots, I'm still a dedicated fan of that team. And luckily, thanks to the invention of satellite TV, I'm able to watch them daily - 162 games a year – along with my daughter.
Now here's the sticking point: will young Ophelia become a fan of my team of origin, via a sort of baseball osmosis, due simply to the fact that they're the game of choice always playing on our TV set? Or because of geographics, will she be influenced by her surroundings, becoming a fan of the Angels or Dodgers? For example, might she be brain washed someday, say as an adolescent, by some pimpled suitor who has season tickets down at PETCO?
I'm confused. And without my father here to add his baseball two cents, I feel very alone. And scared. Scared, because you see my father-in-law is a lifelong fan of that other team from back east. The New York Yankees. He lives here too. And lately, much to my dismay, Ophelia has begun to spout some obviously programmed Yankee rhetoric like "'Daddy, Grandpa says there are two kinds of people in the world—people who are Yankee fans, and people who wish they were Yankee fans." The level of nausea that turns my stomach is tribal. The feelings of impending heartbreak--unfathomable. What karmic injustice did I commit to be a part of this baseball riddle? My instinct is to keep my mouth shut, and not make her a pawn in some archaic baseball civil war. Because I'll lose. So to comfort myself I meditate on what my father might say if he were here: neither push nor pull the baseball river. For if she grows up to be a fan of baseball at all, and learns to respect and love the game, and the possibility that comes with each pitch, each season, and if she passes down whatever connections and memories she's collected - no matter who she roots for - that's all that matters.
I hear you.
So now with a deep breath, and fingers crossed, I will try to move forward.
O, by the way, I've just promised Ophelia that I'd take her to Dodger Stadium this year.
I'm thinking that's a good start for the both of us.
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My father called me downstairs into the living room. He told me to pull up a chair. Placing a hand on my shoulder, he looked me in the eye, and broke the news. The Red Sox had traded Fred Lynn to the California Angels. For a few seconds I lost consciousness. When I came to, my father was still there. I searched his face for an answer, praying that he would break, and let me in on the joke… no such luck. Somehow I got to my feet. He patted me on the back, and without another word, turned and walked away. I heard the back door slam as he left the house. I found myself a few minutes later in our basement, in a dark storage room…where I put my head in my hands, and cried.
I was well into high school at this point. Girls, the Grateful Dead and all things Rock n' roll were at the forefront of all I did. But the Red Sox were never far behind.
That day I lost my baseball innocence. Fred was one of my heroes. That he would always be there, beneath Fenway's center field wall, was one of life's Universal Truths. I just didn't get it. But I remained a dedicated fan of this great player. Because from that moment on, no matter where Fred played, he took a little piece of me with him.
Fast-forward to the 50th anniversary of the Al Star Game - July 6th, 1983 - Comiskey Park – Chicago - the town where Fred was born. This was his ninth trip to the Mid Summer Classic. The NL had been on a long winning streak--the AL had not won since 1971.
With the AL up 3-1 in the top of the third, Atlee Hammaker of the Giants walked Robin Yount to load the bases to get to Lynn —creating a lefty on lefty situation. This did not sit well with him, Fred told me recently. It never does for a hitter. Especially on that stage. Fred launched Hammaker's fourth pitch into the right field bleachers. A grand slam. So satisfying to put a hole in someone's game plans like that. And more importantly he told me, it helped to get the monkey off the American League's back. They would win the game 13-3, and go on a 20-6-1 run. When Fred got back to the dugout, someone offered him $500 for the bat. He had no idea why. Later he was informed that it was the first time in All Star Game history that anyone had ever hit a grand slam. No one has done it since. In nearly 80 years of All Star competition, it has only happened once… think about it. With all of those incredible hitters throughout baseball history—it has only happened once. Mark McGuire came close a few years ago in Denver. Fred figured if anyone was going to do it, it might as well be a fellow Trojan.
But no dice.
Few people remember it much anymore he said. And besides, no one has even come close to loading the bases recently, so he hasn't had to put the "whammy" on anybody.
But it remains a moment of great pride. It happened on that enormous baseball stage – surrounded by the best players on the planet – playing at his best. And above all--beating the best.
It ranks as his number one offensive accomplishment. If someone were to ever hit another one, he'd just smile and say nice job. But he won't be disappointed…
Oh, and he also loves to watch the teams he played for go head to head he told me…and he said he'd leave it up to me to decide who I think he pulls for. The kid in that dark basement room thinks he knows. Which brings a smile to his face. And peace to his baseball heart.
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There was a period of time, long ago, when my father and I lived in New York City, simultaneously. He, in a hotel room, in Midtown, and I, in a dingy, apartment on the Upper Westside. Occasionally, the anxious head chatter of my-young-actor-adrift-in-the-big-city routine, would be mercifully interrupted by one of my father's late night phone calls. After a day of work, my father relished the opportunity to relax in his room, a yellow legal pad in hand, and ruminate.
For him, this was a moment of flow. A pause seized to craft ideas and thoughts.
Thoughts for this very book, you hold in your hands. Our conversation would always start with a discourse on baseball--the connective glue in our lives, from my boyhood to that present moment, including, of course, the current state of our beloved Boston Red Sox.
(Through the fate of lineage, I had inherited this particularly reckless New England Disease). My father's secondary impetus here, was to pick my brain about some experiences that were unique to me-those of the athlete. While he was an incredible student of sports-and above all baseball- (obviously)-he had never ventured as a player beyond his childhood backyard efforts. I had been a student athlete, playing baseball, soccer-and swimming through college. I was beyond humbled that my father had a true desire to know my insights, and experiences, for this book. And subsequently, that he found them useful. After we said goodnight, and retreated to our separate corners of that sleeping Goliath, I was always filled with such a keen sense of clarity. Such a keen sense of connection. As to one, whose heart is seen, and in turn, sees. The familiar resonated, and in that precious time where it glowed, I took comfort, that I was not alone. I had him. And he had me. On our journey's arc, our relationship had evolved to that natural next step--that of maturity. That of a shared reverence. That of friendship.
If I had only known how tragically brief this new found configuration would be.
Blindsided, that unique period was snuffed out before it really began. And this mountain in my life, against a brilliant blaze of light, one beautiful September afternoon, just disappeared.
Only a few short days after my father's sudden death, I found myself alone, in the kitchen of my mother's house, face to face with a freshly opened box of books. Books, that only moments before, had been delivered to her doorstep.
My father never saw the publication of his manuscript, Take Time For Paradise.
The irony of the title became clear in that instant. Here was a man who worked so hard, rarely took a break, and died so young. Did he ever in his life have a chance to "take the time"? And if so, when? I wonder…
Solace comes with a cross fade montage of memory. For we did have baseball. As a boy, on any given summer Saturday afternoon you might find me upstairs in my room, in full daydream recline, surrounded by the images of my baseball heroes. There I would lie in wait, till I heard my father's gleeful command from somewhere in the depths of our family home. I had chomped at the bit since daybreak for this call to arms. A call that signaled the beginning of my father's self-imposed hiatus from the weekend correction of student's papers -from work. It was a call that hustled us up to grab our mitts and Red Sox hats from a broom closet in the kitchen. Now clad for battle, our hearts filled with possibility-the two of us seemingly bound on some sacred mission like Telemachus and Odysseus-we would make our purposeful exit through an antiquated, tin screen door, out towards the sun. In the oblong, pocked, back yard of our house in New Haven, under a blue sky, with a warm June breeze at our backs, we played long toss. Back and forth. No sound, but the lone cadence set only by the solitary pop of a ball in a mitt. Then a sudden shift, and infield instruction became the mode. My father fired ground balls with a passion in my direction. Always the teacher, he led a supportive tutorial in proper fielder's techniques. Finally, came my most beloved slice of the afternoon's adventure: with a flick of his glove, he gave me the familiar signal to assume the position of catcher. Now, he, Luis Taint, and I, Carlton Fisk. A sudden hush fell over the crowd, as with a weathered, buckle shoe, he toed the imaginary rubber, shrugged, and with a deep sigh, leaned in for the sign. His face, calm with focus, as he peered down at me, over his glasses. With a nod of the head (the selection accepted) he ever so slowly arrived at the set position, checked the runner on first, (somewhere over by the garage)…and froze. Motionless. I held my breath. Pa's oxford shirt, and red chino's billowed in the breeze. The world's clock closed down. And then, with a sudden kick of the leg, an El Tiante twist of the body, and a head jolt thrust heavenward, my father let loose a fastball. Right down the middle. A thunderous clap of leather shook the neighborhood as the ball arrived, and nestled tightly in my palm's pocket. Such stillness held, as a smile eclipsed his bearded visage. My hero. An instant apprehended. Lassoed. And perfected. Now, restored, with a tip of his cap, my father exited the field, back up the porch steps, through that screen door, and returned to work.
Dissolve, now memory, and fade up to nights- school nights at the dinner table, long after mealtime, where I sat, and feigned hard interest, in whatever Dickensian novel I had been assigned for class. There amongst piles of books and manuscripts, against the percussive rhythm of my father's typewriter, I was allowed to accompany him-if the bulk of my homework was completed-and listen to the Red Sox on our Magnavox stereo radio. The voice that narrated this nightly carnival, from far away exotic lands like Detroit, or Baltimore, was Ned Martin. Like some mystical wizard, Mr. Martin had the power to soothe, elate or destroy us. He had control over our very baseball existence. I was convinced that my father had a personal, cerebral pipeline set up with him. For only Ned Martin had the power to interrupt my father from the tick -tack of his creation. Only Ned Martin could make my father stop. Stop and sit back-at a crucial point in the game-and close his eyes in meditation.
"Concentrate your forces, boy". My father would say with serene assurance.
On cue, I would follow suit, and imitate his every sensibility- anything to help will the outcome of that evening's quest in favor of our most noble team. So there we sat, eyes closed, my father and I, in deep concentration, as the Wizard Martin colored the room in shades of suspense, helped us to feel, and, then inevitably, to reason.
On Sundays, we didn't go to church. We went to Fenway Park. Fenway Park, where my grandfather took my father as a boy. Fenway Park, where we headed, pre dawn, in my father's yellow VW Bug. The intention, to arrive as early as possible, and wander the ballpark's neighborhood for hours, in order to fully absorb the aura of that mythic place. Fenway Park, where the Universal Language Of Baseball was, and is, still spoken. Fenway Park, where in those days, Dame Mutability roamed the stands come the late innings, and Rice, Lynn and Evans roamed the outfield. Fenway Park, where, on these magnificent afternoons, out in the bleacher's, my father never seemed more relaxed. His arms thrown back. His face arched towards the sun. He was alive. Here, at Fenway, my father was never more animated. His voice, that of a sonic boom, would shake the Old Yard's very foundation, as he leapt in the air with joy, Or with protest. His spirit, never more radiant, as he commiserated with our fellow fans. I still sense his arm around my shoulder, as he indicated, taught, and helped me to appreciate. My father existed wholly in the clarity of that moment. Free. And I followed. Yes, Fenway Park. There in baseball's Garden of Paradise, in memory's glorious snap shot, my father sits peacefully, locked in a timeless place, where the connection to all of "it" intersected. For on these pilgrimages, our common bond solidified around the game and it's deeper lessons, applicable to life, which he imparted.
Each season is a quest. Each game a journey. A journey that embodies it's own unique, peculiar, process. A process, whose very foundation is built on the game's elusive principles of simplicity: one pitch at a time, one at bat at a time, and one game at a time. And during this process, (a process you must trust and commit to), if you are willing to make the constant, necessary adjustments in order to succeed, stay in the moment, and have the conviction of awareness to never carry your last success, or miscue with you to the plate… and, most importantly, after the mastery of these details, if you can remain mindful that the voyage IS the thing--you will be rewarded. And that reward, no matter the journey's outcome--because the outcome is always a mystery-- will be the character you acquired, for having persevered.
But whether one had the discipline to make this sport's Zen puzzle second nature or not, my father implored passionate vigil for the very essence of this beautiful game. Its endless possibilities. It's potential for surprise, failure, redemption and hope. The hope that is baseball. Value for the heart, mind and soul resides here. Honor it. Respect it. For the game fulfills an essential need. A specific, individual, release. A release in cahoots with an opportunity to dream…that is sacred. So therefore we made the time. Because it mattered. Because what it gave, and still gives, ultimately, over the years, throughout childhood, and into adulthood, is a precious connection. A connection to something more valuable than even the game can realize in its patterns and rituals. And with each new day, each new game, there comes another chance to reconnect. Reconnect to a simpler time. A late night phone call; the pop of a ball in a mitt; a stroll around that old New England neighborhood, where a Green Monster lurks; a father's hand on his son's shoulder, there under the sun, in an open green space. I cherish such comfort received in this reconnection. This gift. And thus, with the ritual observance, presently still, of each day's baseball game, I ride reconnection's wave, and let it carry me back. Back to our dinning room table in New Haven…There the Wizard Martin narrates, and my father types. And we are together again. Heart to heart. We have each other. And with the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, for a moment, all is right in the world. And once again, we are not alone.
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Mrs. Bishop continued to read aloud from Mark Twain to our eighth grade English class. There was no way I could concentrate. The 1975 World Series was set to begin the next day at Fenway Park between the Cincinnati Reds and my Red Sox. Lost in a baseball twighlight zone-with visions of postseason glory dancing about in my head-I worked the pocket of my catcher's mitt beneath the desk--until suddenly the school's Principal appeared in the doorway--and called my name. I bolted out of my seat and hustled after him. My father was on the phone. It was an emergency.
"I'm coming to pick you up." Pa said.
"I have tickets to Game 1 and 2. We're going to Boston boy!"
As we rumbled up the Mass Pike in my father's VW bug to the sounds of Willie Nelson, I was still in a state of shock that my father had actually pulled me out of school. But extreme circumstances called for extreme measures he explained--especially when duty called. An acquaintance-who could not use the tickets-had generously given them to my father that morning. But there was a catch. This acquaintance owned a chain of drug stores and the tickets were for a special group of Connecticut area pharmacists and drug store owners only. The gift of tickets-to an outsider such as my Comp Lit professor father-was strictly prohibited. So in order to blend in, my Dad would have to play the part of a local drug store owner. We brainstormed and decided to call his chain Spenser's Drugs--after his literary hero Edmund Spenser. Pa also thought it wise to avoid the Copley Hotel-where the druggists were staying-and hang instead at my Great Grandmother's house outside of Boston. In the morning we'd attend the Copley's pre-game brunch--and pick up our tickets.
My Great Grandmother met us with peanut butter and mayo sandwiches, which we ate at enormous distances from one another at a sprawling dinning room table. A more stoic, New England, woman of few words - and student of the game - you will never meet again. She listened to the Red Sox nightly on the radio and shared with us her theory that the Sox would ultimately fall short of a championship--due to the loss of Jim Rice to injury.
That night Pa and I bunked together in the attic in narrow wooden beds. The same beds he had occupied when visiting as a boy. Before lights out he led me over to a small cedar closet. There inside, under the glare of a solitary bulb, stood a caulk board wall covered with crude pencil drawings of baseball players. This was his work as a kid he told me. They were variations on his boyhood hero Bobby Doerr.
The next day we hob knobbed with the pharmacists at the Copley brunch - where we were seamlessly accepted into their tribe - and after a short bus ride, took our seats together in Red Sox Heaven, deep in Fenway's right field bleachers. Dewey Evans mere yards away. Luis Tiant and Don Gullet took a pitcher's duel into the seventh inning. El Tiante-batting under NL rules-led off the home half with a single. The Old Yard shook to its core. And as El Tiante later crossed home plate scoring the games first run-Pa squeezed my hand and whispered his assurance that the Baseball Gods were loving every minute of this. The Sox went on to win 6-0--and we celebrated as though our lives depended on it. Father. Son. Pharmacist. And all.
That evening after more mayo sandwiches and an analysis of the day's events with Great Grandma —where she warned us to temper our excitement-for lest we forget-these were the Red Sox—we headed to bed.
Unable to sleep I fumbled around in the dark for a pencil. Discovering one in a dresser drawer, I tiptoed across the room - as to not wake my snoring father - and entered the cedar closet. Under the glow of that solitary light bulb, I sat down, and carefully added El Tiante to the wall.
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The stuff we go through--the disappointment. The loss… The shattered dreams and expectations. What is it about certain people that make the way they handle adversity so extraordinary? As an actor, I have a familiar, daily relationship with rejection. But I have found that if you continue to apply yourself-eventually you will land a job…if you're lucky. Nonetheless during those periods of down time, when work is scarce and the whereabouts of my next paycheck are a mystery, I search for inspiration. To keep me going. To keep me alive. And often I turn to baseball. And lately--to Rocco Baldelli.
I remember the first time I saw the Woonsocket Rocket gliding across the outfield for the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Smooth. Easy. The comparisons to Joe DiMaggio at the time seemed spot on.
Rocco's first two seasons in the big leagues were solid-leading all AL outfielders in assists-before major injuries sidelined him for parts of the next several seasons. He was then diagnosed with a genetic mitochondrial disease—a fatiguing of the muscles. But he battled back, even making the playoff roster for the Rays twice in 2008 and 2010. Eventually his ailments proved to be too much—finally forcing Rocco to retire at the age of 29. Ah the best laid plans of men and baseball players.
The struggles. The comebacks--the abrupt end to such a promising career. How did he keep going despite the hardships? How did he fill the void after the years of hard work? How was he able to let baseball go and move on?
I had to pick his brain, to see what made him tick. And to see if maybe a little of that Magic Will Power he possessed could rub off on me.
"I'm lucky." He told recently on the phone.
Warm and down to earth, Rocco is a guy with no walls or pretentions—instantly familiar and likeable.
"I feel lucky to have been a part of this game," Baldelli, says, "There are lots of people who have it much worse than me. This is life. I know had to quit long before I should have. But I still love this game."
Injuries started as a teenager for Rocco. Making his story resonate even more. As a freshman in high school he suffered a compound fracture to his leg—missing two years of baseball. These early hurdles obviously instilled in him a mature work ethic from the get go—as well as the credo that quitting isn't an option.
But the freak injuries that plagued him into his professional career were cake compared to the mysterious disease that invaded his body, breaking him down and sapping him of energy. Suddenly his challenges were bigger than baseball.
"Health-wise, I was literally scared of dying." he said.
Imagine. Here he was a seemingly invincible twenty four-year-old baseball player, who within a year was losing coordination and becoming so exhausted, that even a simple jog through the outfield drained him. Finally the bizarre concept of having to concentrate so hard on the things that had once come so easily gave him no other choice: He would have to leave the love of his life and move on.
That reality tore him apart.
"I just couldn't do it any more," he says, "I couldn't sit in my stance because of the tremors and the shaking I experienced. I knew I couldn't compete anymore the way I wanted to. The time was right."
So it was over. The years of dedication—just gone. The void at the end of such an emotional rollercoaster ride - the angst of where to turn next - spun my head.
But here is what makes Rocco so Rocco: He loves the game and wanted to remain a part of it. So he contacted his friend Andrew Friedman, GM of the Rays. Friedman had told Rocco, if and when he retired, that they would sit down and figure out a way to keep him involved. He appointed Baldelli special assistant to baseball operations--working in the draft room, giving scouting opinions on young players and focusing on whatever the baseball calendar dictates.
"I can't imagine a better opportunity," Baldelli says, "I like meeting the young draftees and developing personal relationships…it's a scary time for them. And I want to be available to answer their questions."
There are guys who might have self destructed under similar circumstances, turning bitter and resentful. Others might have withdrawn — needing time to gather their heads — after such a premature end.
"Look I have nothing to be bitter about," Baldelli said. "I am proud of the things that I was able to accomplish. I would have missed not being involved in the game. I really would. I am a lucky guy."
Extraordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. And Rocco Baldelli is extraordinary. There is no magic button. It's simple. You do what you do because that's the only way you know how to do things--because you love it. Rocco's story of perseverance and dignity matters. He never compromises his work ethic in the face of tremendous adversity. It's his lack of self-pity. And his gift of inspiration and appreciation. A humbling reminder, that my lot in life is not so bad. And in the end -an end that is really a new beginning - his refusal to remain in a state of despair--and move on. This my friends is the stuff of greatness.
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There it is again. That knot in my throat. That hollow feeling in my gut. A feeling that could only mean one thing--the return of a bottom end, a bass note, to my baseball world. Sadly the Red Sox fell from baseball grace in the final month of the regular season-- letting a large lead in the Wild Card standings slip away. Well at least this time I'm in good company with many a loyal Braves fan who experienced a similar breakdown: from a cushy lead, and a sure playoff spot, to an early demise, and a premature end--to what seemed like a beautiful season. O that feeling. That awful, helpless feeling. A feeling I had believed I would never experience again-- not in my baseball lifetime. I just can't shake it. So I search for comfort, and find it in the arms of those who have walked this hardball plank before: The '51 Brooklyn Dodgers. The '64 Phillies. The '95 Angels. The 2007 Mets. But despite all of that I stubbornly persist to wallow in the muck of my own baseball pity party. And as I do I'm reminded by the voice of my true inner fan to drop the rock, and give props to the flip side of the coin - to guys like the Ray's and Cardinals - and those folks in Baltimore - who finally had something to cheer about - in Game 162 - during that epic night of baseball.
Okay now back to We the Hapless - and that feeling. You see no matter how or why a large lead is blown, to those who live and die with a team throughout the ups and downs of a long season, a season in which October champagne seemed so inevitable, this particular kind of implosion really hurts. And the cruelest part of all is the empty, shocking, reality that your only reward - after this long journey - is finality. A finality scarring generations of fans - robbing them of their innocence - transforming them into hesitant, untrusting types--for quite some time to come.
And so my heart goes out to you--you new members of this unique baseball Club. Come in and lay down your burden. There's a veteran's shoulder to lean on here. And trust me, over time you'll find a place to put the hurt, and carry on. I know that's mere cold off-season babble right now. I know.
But in the meantime let's help each other out, and talk about this feeling. Let's focus on what it is that weighs so heavily on our hearts - and unearth the root of it - and pinpoint its source. So close your eyes, and visualize all of those games over this past season. See yourself alone on those late nights, doing victory laps around the living room furniture to a walk off win in May. Reflect with me on those bitter afternoons of frustration in September-- after another inexplicable loss…now hold on tight - and watch the whole thing go up in flames - and crumble to the ground. Yes that's right: no matter how predictable the collapse, the end always seems to come too suddenly. And as jarring as this may be, we must find a way to function, and move on. And this - right here - is where the root lies. Here is where the wellspring of this feeling is spawned. Right here--from this pool of deep sorrow. A sorrow that creeps from your stomach to your spine – overwhelming you - as you stand and clean out your imaginary locker – pack up your proverbial baseball fan bag - and go home. Long before you were ready to. And there in lies the rub. Because you see we, like the players, are just not ready to go home yet. Not ready at all.
Man, what I would give for just one more game… one more inning. What I would give…and that notion fills me now with a feeling of hope. So I'm going to roll the dice and hang on to that feeling--and let it carry me through these cold winter months - until spring - where we get to do it all again.
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Man, those off-season blues… How many more football games can I watch? How many more re-runs of Baseball's Greatest Games? Or highlights of Free Agent Signings of the '70's? Sure these help ease my baseball withdrawal. But it's just not the same. Yup, I'll be honest with you. I am lost without it. So to bridge the gap till spring—I'll do anything baseball… Anything.
When no one's looking, I hit the back yard and run the dog through ground tennis ball drills. After several workouts, it's my humble scout's opinion, that she possess' all the tools and is ready for a tryout; somewhere… she's got a great first step.
At Target I conduct BP in the sporting goods section with my two-year old daughter. She stands at the ready in full Snow White attire--a wiffle ball bat perched on her shoulder. (Lately she's grasped the concept of choking up; it's made her a lot more selective).
I started her off with something up and in. After a few hacks she decides it would be more fun to pitch. I take some practice swings and point towards the Hallmark Card section. She tosses me some high cheese… and I nail it. A screaming line drive. Flipping my bat aside, I marveled at my work, watching it soar over several departments—finally landing with a smack into a row of Star War's dolls – scattering customers -sending the dolls - and their display- crashing to the floor.
After a beat of silence Snow White turned and whispers, "Run Daddy!!"
And so we did. Hand in hand.
How little life had changed, I thought, as ancient images of neighborhood kids scurrying for their lives dance in my head (after another towering blast left my bat and flew over the cozy confines of our backyard - and through one of Mrs. Miller's windows)…
Opening a door marked Employees Only, my daughter and I found ourselves in a hallway of pipes and florescent lights. We ducked down behind a large pillar. The surroundings transport me, yet again, to another time long past. A time lost in maze of subterranean tunnels in the bowels of Carnegie Hall--with Joe DiMaggio…
Exiting the auditorium's stage, at the conclusion of a memorial service for my father, with some other speakers - I had given a eulogy, and DiMaggio had been a special guest -the two of us, by chance, found ourselves engaged in a somber conversation. The only reason Joe was there, he said, was because Ted Williams was not. Suddenly we realized that we had strayed from the others. -And now we were very lost in the Hall's basement. Grabbing the initiative, I took him by the hand, and began to search for a way out-- up and down staircases. Around corners. Though strange doors. In and out of boiler rooms. Storage areas… broom closets. We traced and retraced our steps to no avail. As we soldiered on it grew darker. He tightened his grip on my hand…I broke out in a sweat. For a moment I thought we should stop, light a fire, and talk there in the darkness, about life, love, and baseball. But we moved on--our conversation remaining minimal--focused only on the task at hand— finding daylight. Finally in desperation I flung open a heavy, steel door- sunlight poured in--almost knocking us off our feet. Hand in hand we staggered outside into an alley filled with dumpsters. Maneuvering through the bins, we managed to reach the street, where he looked me in the eye, patted me on the cheek, and disappeared… swept away by the city's onrush of humanity…
Still huddled with my daughter, it was more apparent than ever that I need to get a life. But more immediately, what I really need is a spring training game. And the buzz of a ballpark--to make all things in the world right again.
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"A noble knight was riding swiftly on the plain,
Clad in mighty armor, and bearing a silver shield
That was deeply dented, marked with the cruel blows
Of many a bloody battle.
His fierce horse champed against curb and bit.
The knight rode easily.
Yet his face was solemn, almost sad.
Faithful and true he was in word and deed, Fearless, serious and grave;
For this was the Red Cross Knight,
And on a great adventure he was bound."
(Excerpts from St. George and The Dragon, by Edmund Spenser)
It should be noted here to the reader, that that which I impart are observations, or a
philosophy, if you will, or even more specifically, a method, of Boston Red
Sox Fan Survival, from the perspective of an "Old School" Red Sox fan. You see, the
doom, paranoia and perpetual self-doubt came with the territory growing up in
New England- before it all changed- in October of 2004- when the unthinkable, the
Unimaginable-- happened. So please forgive me, you New Generation of Sox Fan. I know
to you, I am a Boston baseball dinosaur.
O, you blessed people, who will forever go forward with the absolute comfort, the
innocent glee, that it does, it did and it CAN happen to YOU.
How odd this is for me to watch. You happy Red Sox fans of today, with your can-do winning Boston attitude…Wow.
Lucky you. How rich and strange you seem to me.
But perhaps I alone, and other survivors from the by
gone years of anguish and misery- perhaps WE are the aliens.
With furrowed brows and confused looks
you "new fans" bristle, as I rant and rave- shake and fume with fury and despair- as I through froth,
inform you of the days of the Doctrine Of The Unfair.
I have hang ups. I need help, you say, as you turn, and walk away.
"You have no idea!" I shout.
So forgive me, reader, if I sound antiquated in my Red Sox fan methodology. If my
tales of survival seem old-fashioned..
Alas, I do not posses the noble gift of prose. Or the eloquence to capture the
moment in its entire "still- now- and –then- forever-ness".
I am a merely a crude observer.
But one thing I do know, and one thing I have been, if nothing else, in this crazy life
Is a baseball fan? And more to the point: A Boston Red Sox fan.
As a life long Sox fan, from the late 1960's, it took me a while to discover, or rather
fully understand that there was a method to this Red Sox fan madness.
This addiction. This disease.
I had to grasp the concept that this- THIS -is what it is like when you have a "passion' for something. Something huge.
Something larger than yourself. And via this "passion," if you gain
awareness -and don't throw yourself out a window in the interim -you can learn
enormous life lessons-or so you are told.
Repeatedly. If you stick with the team. If you just BELIEVE.
But there were a myriad of obstacles I HAD to hurdle. Principles,
and cold hard truths, I would have to face.
Like Dame Mutability, for instance.
I, like my father, and his father before him, knew Dame Mutability. She sat
(in those days), amongst the spectators at Fenway Park. Or wherever the Red Sox would play.
As a boy, after another heartbreaking Red Sox loss, or more specifically,
after the Sox would set us up- and then, blow another Post Season game, I would look
to my father for an explanation. With eyes cast down, he would shake his head.
"Dame Mutability, boy".
Then he would convey to me the power of her spell. There was no escaping it.
She would always be there. Always.
(I imagined her in a wide brimmed black hat, cheap fur coat, huge coke bottle specs. Her visage, and countenance - wiry and mean- as she would arrive late- and disrupt the row where her seat was located.
The Dame" was not to be confused with the proverbial "Fat Lady"-different story).
I looked for Dame M. every time we went to Fenway. Or watched a game on on TV.
"I don't see her Pa…" I would say.
" O, she's here. Or will be soon. You'll see." He warned.
His eyes blank. The ten thousand yard stare. The kind condemned men have as they walk down that green mile, to the gallows loft.
There was no point of thinking differently. No point in a belief that somehow the outcome would be favorable for our Red Sox. Because she did show up. And through her wicked saucery, Dame M. would possess various opponents
over the seasons: Bucky Dent. Mookie Wilson. Aaron Boone.
She helped these opposing players and their teams, push balls out of reach, or squeak
Them between our infielder's legs. Time after time. She was pure evil.
So no matter how hard you prayed, no matter how
entitled you felt as a Sox fan, that "This time we really deserve it"…
"It can't happen again"…
She was always there. To make sure it did happen again. To smother our joy. To break your heart. As my father said.
My Lord. Why? How do you make sense of any of this?
Perhaps, I thought, as I grew older, and the disappointment continued, the addiction deepened, (as well as the affection)- I should seek the answer to that gnawing question from the inside. Sort of backwards. I will explain.
I remembered as a player, coaches would hammer it in to you: The game is
straightforward: throw the ball. Hit the ball. Catch the ball. Arrive at the plate every
time expecting to get a hit. It is a game of failure. A game of inches. A game with no
time. Honor the game, and it will honor you.
You succeed by making ADJUSTMENTS. Constantly. Daily. It is your work. It is
your religion. The only way to persevere.
Fair enough. Now mix in being raised by a man who was a scholar, avid baseball and Red Sox fan. Baseball poet. I can still hear my father wax eloquent of the game's deeper meaning. Deeper
lessons. The importance of "home." How in baseball, one is always leaving home-like Odysseus-and through the event of leaving home- adventures, and quests, will ensue on the wild seas of the infield. You will encounter struggles out there on your quest to return home. This quest is sacred.
Baseball is played in a timeless Garden, full of
mystery and hope. It is played outside- in the sunshine- under blue skies, in an
enclosed, perfect, space.
But none of this seemed to help me achieve balance. No conclusive remedy was revealed here, to aid in understanding-or overcoming- the attachment to this team.
As year after year there was no satisfaction. Perhaps I concluded, then, that the answer came from baseball's own sense of redemption. Maybe the answer to the riddle lay in the order, the structure, the
balance that the game gave me each day, of each season. Perhaps it cloaked itself in the appreciation of hope itself- that is baseball.
This seemed nice. Tidy. Simple. Sane.
But again, did it provide solace? Strength to rise above the pain? A mature approach? An "expectation" adjustment? Would this provide a Zen like perspective? One, which would give a Red Sox fan the ability to watch his team without getting hooked, set up, and inevitably shattered? There was no conclusive answer to the ultimate question of why here. No peace. For every time I thought I had achieved that balance from the list of these various ideals-they blew it Again. And again. And I fell apart with them.
So. As a loyal fan of this team, there was no simplicity. My lineage would never allow it to be simple.
(Simplicity always seemed reserved for the Yankee fans amongst us.).
And I am reminded of what George Sand said:
"Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world;
It is the last limit of experience
And the last effort of genius."
My ultimate conclusion: Something was missing.
My father (and my coaches) had left something out. Something fundamental, I would discover. And this something was the key to it all.
It all became crystal clear. And simultaneously blew my mind. I realized I was a player, a pawn of sorts, in an existential
It hit me, unfortunately after my father had left this world without warning. Unexpectedly. Tragically. That connection was snuffed out. But what I discovered in his sudden absence, was that this poet father, had failed to mention, before he left me to discover as I now
wandered these mines alone— what he knew, that I would, and now MUST realize on my own-what he did not clue me into,
as I became attached heart and soul to this incredible, beautiful game—and team- as the years mounted, and
as the pain deepened, and settled, mixing with the bitterness
of my own self pitying tears- was that I had been
set up for life. Being born into, (or as my father would say being "knighted") a
Boston Red Sox fan- you no had a choice. It was a duty. You were set on a Mission:
a lifelong quest to rise above, to persevere and one day, if you did, and if you
used the great t strength you had acquired from the suffering of this Journey- you
would see the a World Series Championship flag raised above the Green Monster in
You had no choice. That was it.
The burden that had been thrust upon me-the history- alone- not for the feint of
heart- led me to conclude that he must have known that I could take it.
That I could withstand the pain and disappointment.
He must have. There was no other explanation.
For now from this plateau I could reflect: the poet had counseled me. Preached to me. To be a fan of this team takes
commitment-total and complete. Faith. Faith that one day it WILL pay off. And IF for
some reason it never does—what is important is the journey, the process. Because ultimately in the end
It is about the character you would acquire for having endured. The wisdom of
Self. That is the real reward. That is the secret to success. That is the method.
October 2004 There I lay curled up in a ball, on my living room floor, in front of
the television- alone- with The Red Sox. The brink of elimination. At the hands, once
again have the New York Yankees.
We Red Sox fans had all recovered and arrived here, mind you somehow, to do it all
over again after the collapse of 2003 to these same Yankees. The Journey, you know.
Now, a pathetic shell of a man, I felt an odd sense of calm as I
vowed, I SWORE I would never COULD NEVER do this again. I was giving up the Quest. I had had it. I was never getting on this train ever again.
To hell with honor, duty, perseverance, FAITH!
And then it happened. Dave Roberts slid in to second base. Safely. And the rest is the
stuff made for legends. And I saw it happen. It all came gloriously together.
The pain and desperation vanished. The Journey, the fight, and the wait- the method-all made sense. And I would have it no other way.
The mantle will be passed. The Method will live on. Bear witness, as I stand now on the periphery of a different mystical path – that of parenthood. I write, now, on the eve of the birth of my daughter, our first child. She, Ophelia, will be a Red Sox fan. And, like myself, will have no choice. And through the magic of satellite TV (as I watch every day, still, with each new season's Journey-and though the Championship Flags of '07 and '04 fly, the quest each year is renewed) she will join me and watch the Old Towne team from atop this odd planet we will cohabit, called Southern California. Tinsel Town. Where I landed many years ago, due to this strange life style choice, that I sense chose me, called The Entertainment Business. The Arts. I will tutor her in the old Bosox philosophy. I will regale her with tales of '75 and '86. Maybe even "Slaughter's Mad Dash." Of Dame Mutability. For, what she can learn from my way of Red Sox survival of Olde, I know she can apply to her life in all forms. As through osmosis I have done, as an actor and musician: a one day at a time-approach every audition expecting to get the job, make adjustments, be in the moment, etc. etc. You get the idea. And Daughter, as you go into loyal Red Sox battle-like Joan, clad in tye dye, a quiver of guitars strapped upon your back, and your trusty Red Sox cap, affixed atop your beautiful head (the first item purchased for you when I heard you were to grace my life)-go boldly. Faithfully. With the knowledge of your Red Sox ancestors. Trust that whatever you do-it can happen, and it will- despite al the trials and disappointments. Take it one game at a time, one pitch at a time. One season at a time. Believe in miracles. When you least expect it. Be a vigilant guardian of the sacred game, this sacred team. Honor baseball-the Universal Language. The constant- from childhood through old age. Fear not the method of "life approach"- this game, this team will bring to you-if you follow the principles. Stick with the process. The connection is the thing. The whole beautiful, crazy mixed up thing.
I am still in a struggle, archaic human that I am, to find a way to fit in to this movement dubbed Red Sox Nation. As a walking wounded fan from the days long past, I wrestle daily with the fact that the anxiety never fully subsides. I won't kid you. Note the posttraumatic flare-ups during a losing streak in early April, just this very season, for example. But now, I can catch myself. Right myself. Since I understand. And, understand as well, that the work of baseball, the work of being a Boston Red Sox fan, is never done.
So, yes, father, I will continue my work. O, and you can rest assured that I will be forever diligent that your granddaughter, due to geographic placement, will never become a fan of The Anaheim Angels. Or, God forbid, a follower of the San Diego Padres. What could she possibly learn from that?
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Three life truths: "Great belief. Great doubt. And Great Determination."
Spring. The season of rebirth. The season of natural awakenings. The season of renewed expectation. Renewed purpose…and yet nothing delivers greater significance to these conditions of the mind- to these new beginnings-than what Lady Spring mercifully bestows upon us, we patient survivors, of yet another barren winter's chill: the birth of a new baseball season. And with this glorious, new beginning comes renewed promise. A promise wrapped delicately in the husk of anticipation. An anticipation that liberates reason-permitting it to find solace once again, in a familiar embrace. An embrace found only in the arms of that baseball spirit, who lo these many months, has wandered in exile, out on the periphery of some frigid baseball-less tundra. A spirit, who like Odysseus, at long last has returned to its proper home deep within our soul's bosom. Now with baseball mind, and spirit, well met as one, we join together-hand in hand-eye to eye—and for a tick-we pause…there it is again. That feeling. That recognition. That reconnection-in a touch so familiar-a father's touch perhaps-to a place in time still so alive—a place swirling with cherished shadows. So we honor it. We let it fill our hearts and course through our veins. Now complete, we take our cue from Lady Spring, and giddily leap upon our baseball passion's Imaginary Wings--and go for a ride. A ride that catapults us through April's showers- then soars swiftly over summer's dog days--until finally, like Icarus Descending-crashes into Celebrations Exodus-having achieved our ultimate goal--atop baseball's mountain summit…in a green space…in the sun. Here we bask amidst the glory and rich madness called The Post Season. The Post Season--where Lady Spring's spangled shoots and beads wilt, tumble, and float back to earth--in the Fall. But I stray…and quickly the adult seizes a hold of the boy. For it is the Quest-the Journey-that is the thing: One game at a time. One at bat at a time. One pitch at a time…for there is much work to be done-and many battles to be waged-before we reach baseball's mountaintop.
But for the moment let's throw caution to the wind and permit Lady Spring to electrify our beings-our daily routines-with possibility. Let her rejuvenate our connection to this a deceptively simple, Zen like game--a game that has graced our lives from boyhood to adulthood. Let us celebrate the common language that baseball offers us-as something uniquely American-with its fresh prospects for hope. A hope that is baseball. Because what spring ultimately affords us--is another chance to believe—to believe in a game that still recalls a vibrant, simpler time—a time of golden, unfettered optimism—an optimism molded from the sweat and hard labor of our nation's recent past…a time of sandlots, and rustic, pastoral fields–-tucked away in rural pockets across this great land.
Of course with this new season, come new challenges. Times inevitably will grow stressful along the Journey's path. But like a batter down in the count, or a closer entering with the game on the line-we must turn these trials-burdened with fear and cerebral clutter--steering us toward opportunities to fail—into opportunities to succeed.
So now Lady Spring we heed your festive call to Baseball Arms. The time has come fellow fans to imitate the action of the tiger. For a new season is upon us. And finally, it is simply time to just play ball.
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I looked up at the night sky, took a deep breath, and toed the rubber with a worn boot. I nodded at the catcher, Terry Steinbeck, who stood behind home plate, his glove at his chest, giving me a nice, fat target.
I wore a suit and tie. Because that's what my father would have wanted. I also wore my cowboy boots. Because that's what I wanted. At the time it was a subtle self-wink to my rebel soul.
My family had been planning on going to Oakland anyway for the first two games of the '89 Series against the Giants. There were to be tributes to my father, who had died suddenly in September. It was a mixed bag. Excitement? Sure, it was the World Series…Confusion? Absolutely. For starters the still fresh, inexplicably tragic event that had led us to the West Coast in the first place, made absolutely no logical sense. How could it - any of it - without him? Adding more confusion to the mix, the '89 Series was dubbed the BART Series, after the commuter rail line that ran between Oakland and San Francisco. It was also my father's first name. And to go even further into the realm of otherness, I'd been asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before game one. In my father's honor.
I can still remember Commissioner Vincent's phone call the day before we left: would I like to toss out, from the mound, the first pitch of the World Series? The collision of mind-bending exhilaration, and bewildering sorrow, brought me to a knee. After the blood had arrived back to my brain, I thanked him, and hung up the phone. With a sudden revived sense of purpose, and pure, boyish excitement, I grabbed the phone again and dialed my father's number. I couldn't wait to tell him. For baseball fans like us who cherished the game's essence, an essence that was our connective glue, like so many a father and son, this was monumental.
But of course he was not there.
As I hung up the phone I realized that the one person I needed to share this news with the most, the one person who would understand the swirl of baseball emotions —could not be there.
But I needed to rise to the occasion. For him. For me. To honor our love of the game and this amazing World Series moment. I needed to seize this unique opportunity. An opportunity, in that stadium, on baseball's biggest stage, to connect with him. In my heart. I needed to let go of the bitter and embrace the sweet. He would have wanted it that way.
A stage manager and camera crew arrived at our box unannounced, ushering me onto the field. It was go time. I kissed my Mom and my sister on the cheek and hopped the wall onto the playing field. I wanted to drink it all in. The enormous crowd. The infield grass, soft and warm under my boots. The stage manager whispered directions as I approached the mound--and handed me a ball. As I stood there, desperately trying to stay in the moment, I heard my name garbled over the PA system followed by some polite applause, when I caught a glimpse of my father seated in the stands behind home plate. In his shirt and tie. Smiling. A cameraman behind me counted in 4-3-2-1, tapped me on the shoulder, and I let it go.
In a blink I was back with my mother and sister. Before I had time to gage the whirlwind of emotions that spun me around, the game had started. I wanted to stop everything--and make the entire stadium acknowledge the meaning of what had just happened…
I put my arm around my Mom and my head on her shoulder. I looked down at the ball I'd been squeezing in my hand,
and then back to where I had seen my father a moment before. I had done my duty. And achieved what was important. I had made that connection. I felt a small release and then I sat back to watch a championship baseball game. Because that's what my father would have wanted. And suddenly I didn't feel so alone anymore.
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Man, am I a lucky guy. For a few seasons I have had the great privilege to attend All Star Week—the event in honor of the playing of the Mid Summer Classic—via my participation in the Legends and Celebrity Softball Game. And let me tell you--to experience this celebration is otherworldly. The vibe is electric. Fans swarm the city by the busload. Hotel lobbies are mobbed with folks young and old--donning the colors of their favorite team. You'll see ex-players. Coaches. Managers. Movie stars. For the fan there is nothing better.
And the stories–imagine sitting around a locker room with a bunch of Hall Of Famers for a day. The rush alone could fill the pages of four magazines.
But I'll pare it down to a few choice memories that pop to mind…
San Francisco 2007.
Standing in the outfield pre-softball game-the air sweet and the music grooving-I watched as the media smothered a group of fellow softball players. On the opposite side of the field I noticed a loony ring of oversized MLB mascots dancing maniacally--lost in their own dimension.
It was then that I realized he was headed in my direction--racing across the outfield--screaming my name.
It's the Cincinnati Reds mascot. (He hassles me every year).
I bolted in the opposite direction-my escape a forgone conclusion-only to be foiled-and tripped up by Mr. Met. I hit the ground hard--my head spinning. What sort of cosmic baseball vortex had I been sucked into?
Suddenly a hand yanked me to my feet.
It's Fred Lynn.
And my hero.
"Come on" he said.
"Let's warm up."
My life flashed before my eyes. I was playing catch with Fred Lynn--my boyhood-Red Sox idol. I wanted to tell someone…to call my father. I was always Fred as a kid, patrolling the asphalt outfield of the Edgewood Schoolyard for neighborhood stick ball games. Man, were all of those twists and turns in my life really just mundane obstacles leading me up to this one perfect moment?
Yes. I was twelve again.
And as I stood there casually tossing the ball back and forth, I swore I heard from within my memories archive, Vin Scully rejoicing in '83, as Fred belted the first-and only-grand slam in All Star Game history deep into the Comisky Park night…But in reality my out of body experience was just a simple a game of catch between softball teammates-on a baseball field-in San Francisco.
But you could have strung me up me from the highest tree, for all of my sins, right then and there--and I would have died a happy, happy man.
Two nights later in a pre All Star Game ceremony, Willie Mays-the man Ted Williams said the All Star Game was invented for-sat weathered with age like some ancient baseball emperor-atop the back seat of his pink convertible Cadillac-slowly motoring around the outfield's perimeter-waving to the crowd-his Giants cap doffed high above his head-his smile still universal--like the sun. As I watched chills went up my spine… I sensed there was something bigger than baseball at play here. Something that underscored what makes baseball so enduring: the individual stories. Stories of achievement and adversity. Stories of inspiration. The kind that light a fire in your gut--that move you to attempt great things yourself. Baseball here served as a reminder for me: Willie Mays started in the Negro Leagues-played in the Majors through the turbulent civil rights era--and went on to become one of the legends of the game. What guts it took- I thought-regardless of the God given talent you might have been blessed with-to just step onto a baseball field. And to do it with grace. Dignity. And style.
Hustling back for the first pitch from a refreshment break I stopped. There in gold letters enshrined on a wall were lines from a baseball poem my father had written long ago. The one about how baseball is designed to break your heart—how when you need it most it's gone, leaving you to face the fall alone…bittersweet feelings began to pull me away… and then I thought no. No Pa. Not yet. It's only the All Star break. There 's still hope—and so much baseball left to be played. The best is yet to come Pa. The best is yet to come.
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