Archive for the ‘Carl Yastrzemski’ Category

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Carl Yastrzemski’s kielbasa

September 17, 2010

Back in June, I told the story of how my childhood wish for an autograph from my hero, Carl Yastrzemski, was finally fulfilled by way of a circuitous combination of some long ago promotional endorsement of encased meats and the kindness of a Boston Globe reader, Ann Beaudoin, who’d seen a story in that paper about me and my gods that mentioned my unrequited desire for the Hall of Famer’s scribbled name. Yesterday I got another piece of mail from Ann with a newspaper flier inside and a message relating that she had seen the photo on the cover of the flier and decided to pass it along.

Sometimes I wonder about things. I wonder a lot, obviously, about the past. I suppose all this wondering is a way of asking if the past and present can ever meet. I don’t know if they can. But now, at least, I know that there is a place “where the past and present meat” and that they do so in the very spot where Yaz once stood.

I also wonder about the future. I wonder what happens when we die. Will there really be a question and answer session when the final out is recorded? This is a common story we like to tell ourselves anyway. Maybe it’s true.

And what did you do with your one brief life? I’ll be asked.

I picture a guy at a desk, holding a clipboard. (In my version of the afterlife, celestial intake workers have not yet been upgraded to computers.)

I’m not really sure, I’ll reply.

Come on, give me something, the intake worker will prod me. It’s on my list, and we can’t leave it blank. We had a whole meeting about it.

Well, I guess there’s this, I’ll say. I don’t know if it says anything about what I chose to focus on in my life, but there was one time when someone I’d never met saw Carl Yastrzemski holding kielbasa and thought of me.

Whether or not this tidbit gets me processed to some higher plain or to a more purgatorial or even punitive realm or, worst of all, to nonexistence altogether, remains to be seen (or not seen), but in this world it made the past and the present and the future meat and I couldn’t help but smile.

***

A “book tour” note:

I’ll be part of a reading at a bar in Chicago this Sunday.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 19TH, 6 PM CENTRAL
Orange Alert Reading Series
The Whistler
2421 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL
also reading: Adam Golaski (“Color Plates”), Davis Schneiderman (“Drain”), Ben Tanzer (“Lucky Man”)
Free and open to the public
(Metromix listing of event here.)

Hope to see you there. If you can’t make it and are suspicious that my ability to read is a hoax, I’ll leave you today with some grainy, Zapruder-ambiguous proof in the form of a bit of digital-camera video taken by my Uncle Bob at a reading I did this summer at the general store where, long ago, I first made the acquaintance of most of the gods who live in a shoebox on top of the file cabinet next to my desk. 

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Letter to Yaz: an Update

June 28, 2010

As I’ve mentioned on this blog and in my book, when I was a kid I sent a letter to Carl Yastrzemski asking for his autograph. I started checking the mailbox within a day or two of sending that letter, and continued checking the mailbox for years, long after a reply would have been plausible in any way. This bit of unrequited yearning made it into a recent Boston Globe article on me and my book, and a kindly Globe reader named Ann Beaudoin from Worcester, Massachusetts, took note and contacted me:

Hello, I just read the story in the Boston Globe about your book appearance, and it mentioned your favorite player was Carl Yastrzemski who never sent you back an autograph. Funny, I was just going through old stuff in my attic and came across Yaz’s autograph, which my husband got at a local grocery store back in 1977 when Yaz was doing promo hawking Hilshire Farm kielbasa.

 

An envelope from Worcester arrived in my hands a couple of days later with this slip of paper inside:

Some words jotted near the upper right corner of this side of the slip of paper hint at what is on the back of the slip. But I have waited a long time for the markings on the back of the slip to make their way to me, so I feel compelled to search for clues on how the circle that started with me sending a letter to Yaz was finally completed. I think the list along the left side may shed some light. Of all the grocery store items listed in the left-hand column, only onion rings remained elusive. A can of onion rings.

Onion rings seem to have been an issue that predated the creation of the list. The bearer of the list had perhaps brought onion rings home once before, but not inside a can, leading the possibly frustrated list-maker to underline not once but twice the word can.

“We need onion rings, but in a can. You got it? A can.”

“I got it, I got it.”

“Because last time—”

“I know, I know, I know. Jeez.”

“Don’t ‘jeez’ me. A can.”

I’ve been a husband for a little while now, so it’s pretty easy for me to imagine this exchange. Who among us husbands hasn’t been sent off with such a list, only to return home, shoulders hunched, some crucial part of that list unfulfilled? I know I have. So I find myself imagining the bearer of this list wandering the aisles at length, unable to locate a can of onion rings.

If it were me pushing the cart, I would begin to think, not without some self-pity, about how I’d never even seen a can of onion rings before. Who knew they even existed in can form? Such a capitulatory line of thinking would give way to me daydreaming about the onion rings sold on Nauset Beach, back when I was a kid and my grandparents lived on Cape Cod. The onion rings at the Nauset Beach snack bar were greasy and good, and the smell of them wafted out over the beach, combining with the other smells, the sea, sand, suntan lotion, to create one of the more indelible scent memories of my life. I’d wish to go back, not only to Nauset Beach but to my childhood, to when my grandparents were alive and would go with me and my brother and our whole family and aunts and uncles and cousins to the beach to lie around and get sunburned and try to bodysurf on the thrashing waves in the freezing cold Atlantic.

But meanwhile, back in the grocery store, no onion rings in a can. And so to compensate I’d do what the bearer of this list seems to have done—cross out each found item extra hard and thoroughly, as if to prove my list-fulfilling capabilities.

Then I see myself taking one more mostly hopeless loop through the aisles, glancing at shelves I’d already looked at but not really seeing them this time, instead letting my thoughts reach forward to my arrival home, where I would deliver an impassioned speech on the impossibility of locating a can of onion rings anywhere on earth, given the great time and dogged attention devoted on my part to the search.

And that is when, rounding a corner to the encased meats section, I would come upon a commotion, people beginning to form a line by a relatively small, tired-looking man with flecks of gray in his hair, seated behind a folding table, a pen in his right hand, the scent of Hilshire Farms kielbasa aloft on the muzaked air. I would join this line and ready the only signable item on my person, the back side of the grocery list.

Though I wouldn’t have thought of it this way at the time, when I sent my letter to Yaz over thirty years ago I was asking a question of the universe. The universe answered with silence for so long that I thought silence was the only answer, but it turns out the answer to the deepest question I could think to ask as a child is this: onion ring. Do prayers come true? Do gods answer letters? The answer is neither yes nor no. The answer is empty. The answer is a circle. The answer is an onion ring.

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Carl Yastrzemski, 1960 (via 2010)

April 15, 2010

I bought some baseball cards last week, something I haven’t done in a while. I have a guest article up on GQ.com (yes, the same GQ that is to my grasp of manly stylishness as Gourmet magazine is to a convenience store Slim Jim) that mentions my lack of connection to the new cards, and how that feeling dissolved with the appearance, near the end of the second pack, of this reproduction of Carl Yastrzemski’s 1960 rookie card.

The card was seemingly targeted toward me specifically, as if marketing consultants had known that I would inevitably be drawn once more to the gods of my youth. (It was part of a subset of the 2010 offering from Topps called “The Cards Your Mom Threw Out.”) Usually I chafe at being the prey in the consumer culture, but here I didn’t mind. I guess I never will mind when it comes to baseball cards. I bought packs of cards as a kid to find the best and happiest parts of myself inside them. It’s the same now, and while most of the cards in my recent purchase seemed to report back that the best and happiest parts of myself were disappearing in this new, slick world, when I came to a reproduction of the first-ever appearance in the Topps universe of my hero, Carl Yastrzemski, I felt all the things you’d want to feel in this life: lucky, happy, connected.

And ever since I found the card in the pack, it’s been sitting on my desk where I write, growing on me. I can’t get over how young he looks. When I first learned about Yaz, he seemed to me as if he was as old as the mountains, as if he had been around forever. The numbers on the back of the first Yaz card I ever got, in 1975, supported this notion. They were small and voluminous and stretched back way before I was born. But now here he is, a cheerful, clear-eyed boy half the age I am now. He hasn’t learned or forgotten anything yet. He doesn’t even know where he might fit in (note his listed fielding position: “2nd B.”).

It reminds me of a photo of my grandfather that I saw for the first time a few years after he died. When my grandfather was alive, I’d never really considered that he’d been a boy, but in the photo he is a rail-thin Missouri adolescent hanging by one arm from the beam of a lamppost. A goofball. Somehow it brought him back to life in a way that a photo from when I knew him could not have.

And now this goddamn Yaz card is making me sad: I miss my grandfather. I wish he were around to see my book. Jesus, he would have crowed about it long and loud to anyone and everyone he came into contact with. I remember going to the supermarket with him when I was a teenager and he was pushing eighty: he’d introduce me to the lady handing out samples of Cheese Whiz as if she wasn’t a stranger and as if I was the World’s Youngest Pulitzer Prize-Winner instead of a mumbling pothead with a GED.

I spent the whole summer with him after being expelled from boarding school, no college prospects looming in the fall. He never once brought up a single thing having to do with my expulsion or what my plans were for the future. We ate together, watched Red Sox games and M*A*S*H and Magnum P.I. together, went to the movies together, went swimming at a nearby pond together. He was using an oxygen tank to help him breathe by then, but when we went to the pond he laid the portable tank down by our towels and waded out into the water and sort of collapsed down into it. Then he gently flipped over so he was looking up at the sky, and he began making a gradual circuit around the perimeter of the pond by performing a slow but methodical version of the elementary backstroke. I stuck close to the shore, splashing around for a little while before getting out and sitting on one of the towels. I watched him circle the pond. Just a couple years earlier, Yaz had played his final game, and at the end of it he circled the whole park, jogging slow, trying to reach out and touch as many people as he could before he said his final goodbye.

I see Yaz, Yaz as a boy on a 1960 card, Yaz much later, on his last day in the majors. I see my grandfather as a boy, hanging by one scrawny arm from a lamppost. I see my grandfather circling the pond. I feel the water on my body evaporating in the sun. He’ll get back to shore eventually, and dry off, and slide the plastic tubing from the oxygen tank back into his nose, and we’ll ride back home, and eventually the summer will end, and the next summer he’ll be in worse shape, unable to live on his own, and the summer after that I don’t want to talk about. I don’t want to talk about anything except sitting in the sun on the little beach of Slough Pond on Cape Cod. I see my grandfather circling the pond. I see Yaz circling Fenway. Can the circle be unbroken?

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Carl Yastrzemski, 1981

November 5, 2007
  

 
The Yazmobile

Chapter 5

(continued from Carl Yastrzemski, 1980)

OK, I don’t actually have a 1981 Carl Yastrzemski card. As I’ve mentioned before on this site, in 1981 my card-buying dropped off precipitously. I can’t really remember why this happened, but it probably has a lot to do with the fact that my older brother had stopped collecting cards by then. Also, I had just slammed into puberty, so I had other things on my mind. And if that’s not enough, 1981 was also the first time a player strike wiped out a huge swath of games during the season. Unlike the later player-owner standoff, in 1994, baseball was able to return in time for the World Series, but everything seemed a little flimsy during that postseason, as if the proceedings were occurring under an asterisky mist. To that point I had been drawn to baseball in large part because it had been devoid of ambiguity for me, so things never quite seemed the same after the season where everything only sort of counted.

I stopped gathering Cardboard Gods, but I never really let go of some of the dreams that had gone hand in hand with that gathering. One of them was that Yaz would acknowledge me, that he would acknowledge the letter I’d sent him, that he’d somehow hear my praise and the praise of all the other Yazites and break into a smile so wide as to banish sadness forever. Another was that the Red Sox would someday win it all. The picture above is of course from the parade celebrating the attainment of the latter dream. That’s my brother in his just-returned Yaz hat, a piece of victory confetti dangling from the misshapen brim. You can see by the figure at the left that there are duckboats passing by. We must have decided to break from our frenzied cheering to take a picture of one another (I also have a matching shot of me) during one of the happier moments of our lives, the conquering heroes finally riding past, almost close enough to touch. I had heard that former players would be riding in the parade, and I hoped that Yaz was among them so I could cheer him as a champion. But he wasn’t there. In fact, in late October 2004 he was little more than a month removed from losing his only son, Mike. Yaz appeared the following April at Fenway to raise the championship banner with Johnny Pesky. I still hadn’t heard about his son’s death, so as I watched the banner-raising I wondered why Yaz seemed so subdued. The days of suffering are over, I wanted to tell him. Come on, Yaz!

Yaz threw out the first pitch of the World Series this year, and he seemed a little happier, surrounded on the mound by some of his teammates from the great 1967 pennant-winning team. All in all the 2007 championship season was less freighted by the weight of history. This element seems to have extended to the parade, which by all accounts was a buoyant, laughing celebration, best defined by the jigging relief ace and free of thoughts of the past and of loved ones gone beyond and tears of gratitude and joy.

I wasn’t there for the parade this time. If I lived closer I probably would have gone, but in some ways I’m glad to have the parade of 2004, my brother by my side, as the only one in my memory. After the moment captured by the photo above we cheered some more for the last duckboats, then we walked around dazed for a while. I remember seeing a pack of shirtless teenaged boys stagger past with a crudely rendered cardboard sign that read “Show us your boobs!” I bought a championship T-shirt from some guy with a garbage bag full of them. We passed a big guy in a Pedro shirt and an afro wig saying into his cell phone, “So you get the bail money yet?” Eventually my brother and I found ourselves packed in with a crowd on a bridge stretching over the Charles River. We yelled as the duckboats floated by beneath us and then moved up the shore, a continual roar following them from the throngs at the water’s edge and echoing across the river and up into the cold gray sky. Winter was on its way, but for the first time in our lives we were going into it as champions. The sound of the roar rippling up the shore for the 2004 Red Sox sounded exactly like the first crowd-prayer I’d ever heard, that one long unbroken syllable, as if we were all yelling as loud as we possibly could for Yaz.

(Continued in Epilogue)

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Carl Yastrzemski, 1980

November 2, 2007
  

The Yazmobile

Chapter 4

(continued from Carl Yastrzemski, 1978)

Here is the baseball card I love the most. It’s pretty beat up. I handled it a lot as a kid, then as an adult had it taped to the wall by my writing desk for many years. That’s how you’ve got to do it, I told myself, looking at the card. Dig in. Stay balanced. Wait. Hang in there. Wait. Be quick when the right pitch comes. The statistics on the back of the card provided further instruction. The tiny type, the many seasons, the stunning number of hits, the even more stunning number, hidden but revealed by simple subtraction, of outs. You’ve got to work at it for years. You’ve got to fail thousands of times. You’ve got to keep getting back in there, each time as awake and alive as you were your very first time.

I must have looked at the card thousands of times. I don’t know if any of it rubbed off on me. Eventually I put it back in with the rest of my cards, but then four years ago I made a wall-hanging by bordering a copy of the front page of the October 28, 2004, Boston Globe with the holiest of my Cardboard Gods, the Red Sox players from my childhood in the 1970s, and this card found a place in the upper left hand corner. It was a crude piece of craft-making, the kind of thing a little boy would do. But I guess I wanted to hold on to the feeling of late October 2004 a little longer, the feeling of being a little boy again.

By October 2004 I had moved to Chicago. My decade or so of trying to cling to boyhood and hide from adulthood by sharing an apartment with my brother had come to an end a few years earlier, those first years apart painful for me, as if below the surface entangled roots were being torn. Our stuff had been mixed together for years. Now some of my stuff was missing, and other stuff that I did have made me feel guilty to have it, because it wasn’t mine. I’m reaching for metaphors here, but there actually were some real objects involved. I ended up with some of my brother’s novels; he ended up with some of my comic books. I ended up with an autograph made out to the both of us from cartoonist Daniel Clowes; he ended up with an autograph made out to the both of us from Steve Balboni. But of all the things I ended up with that weren’t mine, the one that made me feel the guiltiest was perhaps the one that had cost the least. I’d been with my brother when he’d bought it, at a souvenir store outside Fenway a couple years after Yaz retired, a closeout item, the price slashed: a white painter’s cap with the word Yaz on the front and various career achievements listed on the sides. Somehow over the years of living together in New York I’d appropriated the cap (the cap is mentioned elsewhere on this site in a description of a grisly fight-filled Opening Day at Yankee Stadium), and it had been among my things when I’d moved off on my own.

I wore it to a Red Sox bar in Chicago to watch the fourth game of the 2004 World Series, and one of my favorite memories of that beautiful night was walking through the packed bar after the final out, on my way to take my first piss as a champion, and accepting the Yaz-based congratulations of other Red Sox fans who patted the top of my Yaz-capped head and shouted “Way to go, Yaz!” or “We fucking did it, Yaz!” or just, simply, “Yaz!!!!!”

It was a good moment, but since it was my brother’s cap it should have been my brother’s moment. I tried to assuage my guilt about this with the fact that I’d soon be handing the cap back to my brother; we had decided to meet in Boston for the victory parade. I don’t know if my brother feels cheated out of his own rightful Yaz-cap moment, but if he did it didn’t stop him from manufacturing his own Yaz moment, festooning his car with Yaz-related signs and banners in preparation of the drive from his house in Brooklyn to the parade in Boston. He had decided, in short, to turn his car into The Yazmobile:

 

(to be continued)

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Carl Yastrzemski, 1978

October 29, 2007
 

 

The Yazmobile

Chapter 3

 (continued from Carl Yastrzemski, 1977)

A couple years after the dud peyote in Truckee I moved in with my brother, who was living in a tiny railroad apartment on 2nd Avenue and 9th Street in Manhattan. I’d just finished my aimless post-college trip around Europe and I needed money. I got a job as a UPS driver’s helper for the holidays, then when the holidays ended I switched to loading trucks at the UPS warehouse on 10th Avenue and 42nd Street. My shift started in the middle of the night, but for some reason instead of taking the 3rd Avenue bus uptown from 9th Street and then transferring to the crosstown 42nd Street bus I walked the whole way. I set out at around 2 in the morning. Nothing ever happened to me on all but one of the nights, even though for most of the way I walked out of earshot and sight of any witnesses. But one night I got hit by a car. The driver had been blazing up 3rd avenue and made a left-hand turn onto the west-bound street I was crossing. He hit the brakes, but I still got scooped up onto the hood and then tossed back down onto the street. The guy got out, his eyes wide. I struggled quickly to my feet. The two of us stood there, staring at each other.

“I’m OK,” I said. I said it a few times, trying to convince the both of us. “I’m OK. I’m OK.”

I banged up my knee pretty bad and ripped my jeans and the elbow of my shirt, but nothing was broken. I walked the rest of the way to work and punched in and worked my shift, my knee hurting more and more as the shift went on.

My job was to grab packages coming down a long groaning conveyer belt and sort them into one of four trucks parked behind me. Four other guys also worked the conveyer belt, each with four trucks to load. Five guys facing us worked a second conveyer belt. A cheap boombox played Everybody Dance Now over and over. The guy to my right shadow-boxed during the occasional lulls in packages coming down the line. The guy to my left had an African name and made an anti-Israel comment one night. I was the only white loader, but the supervisor was a harried white guy with a receding hairline and a mustache. He wore a tie and white short-sleeve button-down shirt and was always in a rush.

It was tiring, monotonous work. The boxes turned my hands black and all my clothes gray. During the daily 10-minute break, I sat in one of my trucks and read Dante, hell then purgatory then paradise as the months went by. At quitting time I walked home down the west side and cut across 29th Street past towering early morning prostitutes, spent condoms strewn all over the sidewalk like kelp left behind by the receding tide. Near home I yanked a newspaper out of the trash and read it back at the apartment while eating generic three-for-a-dollar mac and cheese and drinking cans of beer, the blinds shut against the morning light.

One day near the end of my walk home from that job I stopped at a light and looked across 3rd Avenue and saw my brother standing there, staring back at me. He was on his way to work. He had a heavy duffel bag weighing him down. I had my newspaper from the garbage. We both started laughing. Why not? One minute you’re a kid and the next you’re chained all night long to a conveyor belt. And your brother, your hero, is lugging a duffel bag full of undone work to an office job where his biggest thrill in many months has been finding and correcting a misspelling of the proper noun Yastrzemski.

(to be continued)

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Carl Yastrzemski, 1977

October 26, 2007
  

The Yazmobile

Chapter 2

(continued from Carl Yastrzemski, 1975)

i.
Sometimes you ain’t got nobody and you want somebody to love.

I’ve never asked God to show me a sign, but when I was a kid I wrote a letter to Yaz. “Dear Mr. Yastrzemski,” I wrote. I may have used this 1977 baseball card to get the spelling right. I told him the Red Sox were my favorite team and he was my favorite player, then I asked him for his autograph. 

I sealed and stamped the letter and took it out to our aluminum mailbox, flipping the red metal flag up to signal to the mailman that there was an outgoing letter. Later in the day, when I saw that the flag was back down, evidence that the mailman had made his daily visit in the four-wheel-drive Subaru required for rural Vermont postal delivery, I felt like gravity had loosened its hold just a little. My letter was on its way to Yaz!

In a certain way my real life began that day, my life in the world. To that point I had never wanted anything beyond what was close at hand, beyond my family, my home. I began waiting for something more. Weeks went by, months, years.

ii.
Then you don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus, 
You just want to see his face.

By 1987, a decade after I wrote the letter, I was still waiting, though the waiting had come to encompass more than a hope for a reply from Yaz. I don’t think I even thought much about Yaz anymore. He had retired four years earlier after popping out in his last at-bat, that at-bat and its disappointing result an echo of the disappointing Yaz pop-outs that ended the 1978 one-game divisional playoff against the Yankees and the 1975 World Series against the Reds.

I spent the summer of 1987 in California, farther from the Red Sox than I’d ever been. My brother met me out there at the end of the summer, and the plan was that he and his friend Dave and I would drive all the way back east together. Actually, I had not yet learned how to drive and was hoping (and dreading) that I’d get a chance to practice as we Kerouacked ecstatically across the vast continent. I’d been in driver’s ed at boarding school in 1985, but I’d gotten expelled from the school before completing the course. I probably wouldn’t have passed the course anyway; I was an awful driver from the start, profoundly tense and unfocused, capable of provoking a beady-eyed expression of fear on my instructor’s face even when we were inching down remote dirt roads. After the expulsion, I’d shied away from any chances to learn to drive. Though I was more comfortable being a passenger, and still am, I lived in fear that my inability to drive would turn out to be a tragic flaw, that I’d be called on to drive a guy having a massive coronary to the emergency room, and the last words he’d have to hear would be my apologies for never learning to drive a stick. I was hoping that somehow on the long drive across the country I’d free myself of all my limitations; somehow I’d no longer be myself, but someone better.

The car was an Audi that my brother and Dave had arranged to drive east for a relocating businessman, and it broke down before we even got out of California, on a long uphill part of the highway just outside Truckee. We’d detoured to a Grateful Dead show the night before (obviously something not mentioned in the agreement signed by the businessman) and had during an acid trip bought three buds of peyote from some guy. I think we were probably hoping to try the peyote in a spectacular locale on our drive home, the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon. Instead we ate them in a cramped hotel room in Truckee as we waited for the Audi to be repaired. They tasted so awful that we had to crush them up and shove them into ham sandwiches and wash each hideous bite down with several chugs from our stash of Budweiser tall boys.

Once we finally choked them down we began to wait. During the acid trip the night before we’d passed the peyote buds around and agreed that they seemed to be pulsing and glowing in our palms. Now in the hotel room we thought about that glowing pulse, now presumably inside us, and we waited for the inevitable moment of liftoff. We waited to soar to other worlds.

We’d find out the next day that the engine of the Audi was damaged beyond repair, causing us to abandon our cross-country drive and fly home. By then we’d have realized the peyote was bogus. But that night with the repulsive taste of it burning through the cheap beer on our tongues we sat in that hotel room and stared at one another, giggling, waiting to see the face of God.

(to be continued)

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Carl Yastrzemski, 1975

October 24, 2007
  

The Yazmobile

Chapter 1

My earliest memory is of chasing after my brother, a toy machine gun in my hands. I wanted to be part of the war game he was playing with his friend Jimmy, but he and Jimmy were too big for me, their legs too long. I couldn’t keep up. Some time around then, my brother began serving as my interpreter. I could make sounds, but no one could understand them as words except my brother, who passed along my wishes to the grown-ups. This arrangement didn’t last that long, but in a way his role as my conduit to the world lasted for many years, stretching into adulthood. We drifted through our twenties together, sharing one small Brooklyn apartment after another, trying to salve the various disappointments of our lives by using the language we’d shared since before I’d even fully known how to speak. The gaps between us grew, our lives inevitably continuing to diverge even as we remained under the same roof, the clutter of our directionless lives entangled. But we always had at least one way to connect, a shared language that had been there for most of our lives, the center of that language the prayer-word Yaz.

The card above is from 1975, the year the shared language got its center. I was seven and my brother was nine. It was our first full year living in Vermont, away from our father, away from the sidewalks and toy machine guns of New Jersey. I’d never paid any attention to baseball before, but suddenly my brother was playing little league and collecting baseball cards, and what he did, I did. This imitative way of being was something that would in many ways define my life, my imitations often going beyond mimicry to become a kind of inward orthodoxy that seized on one or another of the various pursuits of my brother as if they were the exploits of a visionary, each detail worthy of the impassioned scrutiny of a solitary monk. I understand my connection to baseball in this way. My brother liked baseball a lot. In fact, he was a better player than me, bigger and stronger, even able by age 13 to throw a curveball. But I don’t think he grabbed hold of its details as fiercely as I did, something I noticed early on, when we were both still in little league and he tried to argue that Rogers Hornsby, and not Ty Cobb, held the record for highest lifetime batting average. It may have been the first time in my life that I knew more than my brother about something, ironic given that I studied the baseball encyclopedia so assiduously because I subconsciously believed it would bring me closer to my brother.

I had trouble when he went away to boarding school for his junior and senior years. Who was I supposed to be now? When he came back for visits we would stay up late talking, lying on our beds in the dark. He did most of the talking, telling me about the kids in his dorm. True to form, I built these friends of his into the larger than life figures of myth. When I visited him for a weekend at the school and met some of the friends he’d spoken of all I could do was laugh uncontrollably, hysterically, even the most mundane utterance from their mouths seeming to me to be the funniest thing I’d ever heard. Even at the time I realized that I was laughing in large part out of terror. Who was I to be in the presence of these impossibly sophisticated, hilarious gods?

After my brother graduated from the boarding school I followed him there, per the mimicking script of my life. The terror of my earlier visit persisted throughout most of my truncated stay at the school, but it was certainly at its worst in my earliest days there. One bright and sunny Sunday a few weeks in I slipped into the TV room on the first floor of my dorm. The TV room was not a cool place to be, especially on a bright and sunny Sunday when you could be out talking and laughing in your Izod shirt with a gaggle of beautiful girls in front of a leaf-pile, your lacrosse stick perched on your shoulder. My other stints in the TV room thus far had been sad, shame-filled congregations with other dateless and misshapen fellows to watch Michael Jackson and Prince prance around on Friday Night Videos while all the regular kids groped one another through L.L. Bean garments under the soft, English Literature-enhanced boarding school stars. But on this particular Sunday I had no company at all. It was just me and the television, and as I kept my eyes locked on the screen I could occasionally hear people on their way out to join the laughing sounds of autumn, the passers-by probably wondering why the weird kid who looked exactly like his more normal brother was subjecting himself to the unprecedented indignity of watching television during the daytime.

But I guess to my credit, at least in this one instance, I didn’t really care what anyone thought. I had to watch television on this particular Sunday, for it was October 2, 1983. It was Carl Yastrzemski’s last game.

Come on Yaz, I said whenever he came up to bat. I probably meant to say it to myself but I’m sure as the game went on and he kept failing to homer and thus match the renowned adieu of the man who had always cast a shadow over his career, Ted Williams, my little prayer began to sneak out of my mouth, no doubt prompting the more well-adjusted kids ambling by to note that now the weird kid was talking to himself.

By his last at-bat I was pleading out loud to the television, my cracking voice slapping off the concrete TV room walls. It seemed like something I had been doing all my life: pleading for Yaz. He settled into his familiar stance, twirling his bat forward and leaning toward the pitcher slightly, as if trying to hear the pitcher’s internal monologue. The TV thinned the crowd noise to a hollow buzz, but I could still tell that they were all shouting the same syllable as I, everyone wasting the last of their voices on that yawing, fizzling, incantatory sound.

“Come on, Yaz!” I hollered. “Come on, Yaz!

(to be continued)

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