The Yazmobile(Continued from Carl Yastrzemski, 1981)
won’t you stay with me
just a little longer.
In 2004, the day after the parade, my brother and I drove from his in-laws’ house in Brookline, where we were both staying, to Fenway. I forget why. Maybe to buy a couple souvenirs, maybe just to bask a little longer together in the glow of victory before we went back to our separate lives. On the way there, another driver passing us on the right lay on his horn and leaned his face out his window. He was about our age.
“Yazmobile!” he shouted, beaming.
I didn’t want the good feeling to end. My brother and his wife had to get back to Brooklyn. It was Halloween, and their route home was back through the Bronx, where anyone in the mood for a little Halloween car-pelting would be sure to enjoy a target festooned with red and blue signs with Red Sox lettering singing the praises of victory and Yaz. My brother’s wife wisely instructed my brother to turn the car back into a nondescript gray sedan. I still have the main Yazmobile banner, folded up and stored in a plastic container with other personal keepsakes. I like to hold onto things like that, especially now that I’m older and have had so many things like that disappear that it makes me wonder if I would still have Carl Yastrzemski’s autograph had he ever written back to me. I think I would still have it, but who knows? Sometimes it seems as if even things you make a point to hold onto slip away when you’re not paying attention.
Maybe this is one reason why my midlife crisis has taken the form of paying an insane amount of attention to my childhood baseball cards. It’s a way to hold on, I guess. The card at the top of the page is one of the very few cards I have from my last season of buying them, 1981. A couple years earlier, during our annual summer visit to see him in New York City, my father had taken my brother and me to Shea to see the Mets get pummeled by the Pirates. Before the game several Pirates ambled over to the stands and signed autographs. My brother and I got in on the action, our very first real contact with the world we’d been worshipping for years. I don’t remember which of us got which autograph, but one of us got Omar Moreno and one of us got Ed Ott. It was a good feeling, holding the pages that held these somewhat random but still godly names. But my point is I don’t know what happened to those pages.
Anyway, the day after the parade, as the former Yazmobile was heading south, I was on a plane bound west, to Chicago. The plane got delayed for a long time on the runway. I had a commemorative Sports Illustrated celebrating the Red Sox, and even though the lights in the cabin were on low I managed to kill some time leafing through it, revisiting the long history of the team from their early successes in the dead-ball era all the way up through the end to the 86-year championship drought. In the magazine, as in almost every printed version of the team’s story, the drought was referred to as a curse, a curse that began when the team sold its star, Babe Ruth, to the Yankees. There was a photo of the Babe in the magazine looking young and thin in a Red Sox uniform. The picture made me happy.
The runway delay went on so long I gave up on finding any unread tidbits in the magazine. I put it back into the holder on the back of the seat in front of me. I don’t remember quite how we started our conversation, but I began talking to the woman beside me. She was a soft-spoken woman in her 40s who worked as a remedial reading teacher. Her name was Anita. We talked about where we were going (we were both going home, she to Nevada by way of Chicago) and about what had brought us to Boston: me for the parade, she to visit her daughter. Eventually the delay went on long enough to allow those facts to expand into deeper stories about our lives. She learned that my trip to see the parade was in some ways a trip to infuse my relationship with my brother with a booster shot of joy. I learned that her daughter was working as an intern for the Red Sox. And then I learned that her daughter had been able to get the internship because she was the great-granddaughter of a certain former Red Sox player.
“My husband is Tom Stevens,” Anita explained. “Babe Ruth’s grandson.”
Ever since I wrote a book called Classic Cons and Swindles, I have been on the paranoid lookout for someone planning to put one over on me. So it occurred to me that the woman was a professional grifter who had seen me leafing through my Red Sox magazine and had then tailored a way to get me awestruck and vulnerable for some sort of fleecing. I held onto this faint suspicion even as the warm feeling between the two of us grew with her family stories of Babe the doting, tender family man. But I didn’t need to have worried about a set-up. Sometimes these nice things just happen, I guess. As it turned out, Anita never asked anything of me. But she did give me her address and urged me to write to her mother-in-law, Babe’s daughter Julia, who lived with Anita and Tom Stevens in Nevada.
“Sometimes it takes her a little while to respond, but she loves getting mail,” Anita said.
A few weeks later I did write to Babe Ruth’s daughter. I told her that I had been moved by her daughter-in-law’s stories of Babe the loving father. I told her that my wife worked in a group home with children who had grown up with little or no parenting, as Babe had, and that his ability to be a caring parent after growing up that way seemed to me as big an achievement as any of his miraculous feats on the diamond. In some ways the letter was like a bookend of the letter I’d written decades before, to Yaz. I’m still waiting for a reply to that earlier letter, but within a few weeks of my letter to Babe Ruth’s daughter I got a brief, gracious letter from Nevada, thanking me for writing and wishing me the best. I framed the autographed picture she enclosed with the letter, and even to this day it has the ability to make me feel as if I’m hanging on to that good feeling just a little longer…