Carl Yastrzemski, 1977

October 26, 2007

The Yazmobile

Chapter 2

(continued from Carl Yastrzemski, 1975)

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.

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)


  1. 1.  Very cool . . . can’t wait to see where this one goes . . .

    I attended a baseball dinner in NH in the early-80s. The keynote speaker was Ted Williams. Guests paid something like $50-$75 to attend the dinner; the meal sucked, but afterward all guests could go to into a particular conference room to meet the players and former players, and get their autographs.

    When the players started to come in, the excitement was palpable. One enters. Cool. Two enter. Aswesome. People swarm around them. Three. Groovy. Four, and five, six , seven. “Where’s Ted Williams?,” everyone started asking. We all waited and waited. The youngest guests were all crestfallen, when we all realized that Williams was not going to come down from his hotel room.

    The coolest player I ever met was Lance Parrish. I brought some drawings I created for some of the player/speakers that came the next year. Lance Parrish signed my drawing of him, and wrote some really cool personal stuff on the drawing. He kept telling me how good my drawing was. Then, I asked him where Sparky Anderson was (Sparky had spoken earlier, but evidently, he too was pulling a “Ted Williams”). Lance was so damn cool. He said to me, “Hey, I see you have a drawing of Sparky too. You want him to sign it?” I said, “Yes, of course.” Lance leans over towards me and whispers, “He’s in room 304.” I said, “Wow. Thanks a lot Lance! I’ll go up and see him right now!”

    I made my way up to room 304. Nervously, I knocked. A voice shouts from the otherside of the door. “Who is it?” I weakly replied, “Um, Mr. Anderson . . . I uh, have this drawing I created . . . and uh, I was hoping you would sign it for me.” I hear the latch unlock, and then the door was opened slowly. And, there he was . . . Sparky Anderson . . . in his underwear! Sparky says, “What do you have?” I handed him my drawing, and said, “This drawing I did of you, Sparky.” In a sleepy voice, he says “Hey, that’s pretty good,” and then he signed it for me. Then, the man in the white underwear says, “Hey, have a good night kid.” Cool. I went back downstairs and ran up to Lance Parrish, and thanked him like crazy. He just smiled, and thought it was great. Lance Parrish rocks.

  2. 2.  Now I’m bummed the Dodgers fired Lance Parrish this summer. Not sure I’d want to see Sparky in his underwear but still a great story.

  3. 3.  You didn’t grow up to be Brett Tomko did you?

  4. 4.  1 : That’s too bad you couldn’t meet Mr. Ted Williams, but nice story about Lance Parrish and Sparky. My favorite “meeting a ballplayer” story is a fictional one in Russel Banks’s great novel Continental Drift, when the main character in the book, a New Englander spiraling toward rock bottm, has an encounter with Ted Williams in a bait shop in Florida.

  5. 5.  I’ve had a chance to talk to Bill Lee and Jim Willoughby, a couple of ’77 Red Sox. I’ve also seen a few old players speak at SABR meetings and an occasional rubber chicken dinner.

    Back in 2000, I made my annual trek to Fenway for a game vs. the Mets. This was a couple of days before Carl Everett flipped out. My brothers and I showed up really early to get SRO tickets. We had lunch at Uno’s over by Fenway and I encountered a familar looking figure washing his hands in the men’s room. He looked like Brian Daubach. So I asked him, “Is that you Brian?” He nodded sheepishly and I wished him luck for the game. I wouldn’t think of taking any credit for his game winning double that nite, that was more Armando Benitez’s doing, but that’s my favorite Close Encounter of the First Base Kind.

  6. 6.  With regards to getting ripped off while buying drugs, I worked with a bunch of stoners at Caldor’s while I was in High School. One guy (who had an outrageous blond mullet, BTW), once told me he needed money to take the bus home and sold me a joint for a buck. I figured I could resell to one of the other guys and make a profit (I forget how much this stuff cost circa 1985. It’s been suggested that I was naturally stoned anyways and I only partoke a handful of times.) Alas, I was the proud owner of pencil shavings rolled up in a Zig Zag.

  7. 7.  Ah-

    How you pine for the Caldor days, Mr. Keeler. If I was armed with a frogs-tounge (Bickford’s circa 1985), I would have snatched that psudo-dubage from your hand.

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