Ken Boswell

February 16, 2017


Ken Boswell was for some reason sent out to his photo shoot for the 1976 Topps set in a generic orange helmet. I don’t recall ever seeing this on any other baseball card that came to me back in those days. The Astros’ regular batting helmet had a white H on top of a black star. Where did this plain orange helmet come from? Why was Ken Boswell wearing it?

On the back of the card you can see Ken Boswell’s lifetime numbers, which are unremarkable, but at the bottom of them there’s a note: “Ken has a .667 average in World Series play. Had 3 pinch-hits in 1973 Classic to tie all-time mark.”  The note in relation to the career numbers is something of a negative image of the front of the card, a dash of miraculous color in an otherwise mundane expanse.

The absence of a signifier on the crown of the helmet on the front of the card is so odd that it opens up a door in my mind. My memory of those days has been so trampled by all my attempts to remember, to put it all down in words, that it’s now unusual for me to have a vivid sense memory from my childhood. But this batting helmet is bringing back the batting helmets we had in little league. They were much like the helmet shown here but were dark blue. They had thick padding on the inside. Unlike this helmet, there were ear coverings for both ears. This is what I’m remembering now, the feel of the helmet as I pulled it onto my head, over my ears. There were a few different helmets in the dugout, some larger than others, and so the best part of the experience was finding one that fit snugly over my head. No, wait, that was not the best part. The best part was why I was putting the helmet on my head. It was happening soon: my turn.

I moved out of the dugout with that helmet on and stood behind the chain link fence next to the dugout. Now I was on deck. I picked up a bat and held it, tapped it against the brim of the helmet, took a few swings, watched the pitcher, the batter. When it was my turn I walked toward the plate. I felt excited, a little nervous, protected. My turn!

Ken Boswell had his turn. The note on the back of his card doesn’t mention the World Series teams for which he came through when it mattered most, but of course he was part of both the Miracle Mets of 1969 and the “Ya Gotta Believe” Mets of 1973. Those days are behind him in this photo, but he looks here like he doesn’t so much mind that things come and go.

I sat with my son tonight and told him about “yoiks and away,” the scene in the Daffy Duck cartoon in which Daffy, in Robin Hood mode, keeps trying to swing himself heroically through the forest on a rope and keeps slamming into a tree. That one killed my brother and me. We laughed until tears came out of our eyes. And as I acted it out for my son I got him laughing too. Then he started acting it out.

“Yikes and away—slam!” he said.

“Yoiks,” I said.


How can I ever complain? I love my boys so much and I get to come home every day from work and see them, a five year old and a two year old. When I walk through the door both of them squeal. It won’t always be this way. Life will go on into ever stranger vanishings. But this is my turn. This is my miracle.


  1. Josh, the pace of your writings seems to be picking up a bit in frequency. And, your writing seems to be coming from a wider expanse of your psyche: your immigrant ancestors, honest, heartfelt missives about your sons and family, politically coloured ripostes, along with the steady baseball card diet for your readers. Does writing compare to the vicissitudes of baseball with its long slumps, unexpected explosions of hits and power? Does one have to constantly adapt to your current capabilities, liking an aging hurler tooling around with a new offspeed pitch to test drive at spring training? I bet it does. And I bet it’s a visceral, real experience.

    I applaud all the change of pace. Your writing feels very real and sincere. Keep them coming. I love hearing the old stories about players who believed things like bats had “hits in them”. What a great sport, to have that element to it: people disregarding science and reality to live in an almost mystical world where such things exist, and actually believing in it. Spring is almost here and that means baseball and hopefully for you a “pen with a lot of hits in it”.

  2. Unlike Ken Boswell, and all other ballplayers, you just keep getting better and better!

  3. Hi Josh,

    Your writing is so good it hurts. I’ll fail miserably in trying to explain but I’ll try anyway. In your last (Feb 10) entry that you said didn’t amount to art…fair enough. But even there, you toss off this sentence that I’ve been carrying around with me all week: ‘The only thing that’s worse than having a job is not having a job.’ Maybe it’s like baseball; most games aren’t classics but there’s always something there to appreciate, even if it’s just the windups, the pauses, and the grassy expanses. Simple yet profound. I’m not sure I’ve read anyone else who stirs my emotions like you do. Whether it’s fatherhood, or risings and fallings and vanishings, I identify. And I love this blog.

  4. Kudos to your readers this time. And why do the numbers on Boswell’s shirt and pants not match?

  5. As jimmykc1 points out, this photo must be from 1975. In January of 75, Don Wilson died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He was number 40. The Astros must have worn his number on their sleeve that year as a tribute/rememberence.

  6. Thanks, Shannon!

  7. Sorry to crash the party – but I was just reading about a proposal to reintroduce the word “thon”
    and came upon this baseball card gem – thought you might enjoy it.

  8. Forgot to include: you need to scroll down a bit

  9. That’s great–thanks, Chris. The word and the player Thon both disappeared too soon. Mike Torrez was to blame for one of those disappearances, or maybe both. The point being: Mike Torrez is terrible.

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