Archive for the ‘Boston Red Sox’ Category

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Bronson Arroyo

April 4, 2017

Bronson Arroyo

All the stars are gone but one.
Morning breaks, here comes the sun.
Through the night, now sinking fast.
Show me something built to last.
–“Built to Last,” Hunter/Garcia

Somewhere in my twenties I saw a team picture of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers on the wall of a bar in Brooklyn. I can’t remember where, and most likely I saw it in more than one place. It was something in the same family of wall hangings as portraits of Jesus or JFK. Here is a pinnacle, a point of beauty or truth or certainty, to hold against the tendency of everything to fall to ruin.

I wanted to someday hang a similar picture on my wall. I didn’t know what people would be in the picture but I knew what jersey they would be wearing. I doubted it could happen.

But it happened. The picture is still on my wall. It always will be. Always? What a ridiculous word. I watched from my window as the World Trade Centers fell. There’s no always. But I guess as long as I’m around and have a wall the picture will be on it.

The picture changed. It used to be about something else, and now, like everything eventually, its main subject has become time.

The players in the picture gradually passed from the present into the past. It seemed for the last couple of years as if the central figure in the team picture, figuratively if not literally (he is in the middle row but off to the left of center), David Ortiz, would be the last to pass out of the picture’s state of grace. When he retired at the end of 2016 there were no other members of the 2004 World Series champions left on any major league rosters.

But this spring the player on the upper right margin of the picture, the same player shown in this card, has made an improbable comeback. He has in essence defeated time, at least in terms of winning a battle. For the previous two years he’s been out of baseball, but he got healthy again and pitched well this spring for the Reds, and he’s scheduled to make his first start on Saturday, back in the majors.

***

It’s 11:47 a.m. on September 6, 2003. A Topps photographer snaps a shot of a 27-year-old pitcher who to that point hadn’t been able to stick in the majors. He’d spent the previous three seasons shuttling between the majors and the minors for Pittsburgh before the Pirates waived him, and he’d spent most of the 2003 season with Pawtucket, the Triple A affiliate of the team that had claimed him off waivers. In August he pitched perfect game for Pawtucket, and soon after that the Red Sox brought him up. He looks confident in this picture, as if the fleeting feeling of perfection is still lingering in his limbs.

Behind him, just above the level of his steady gaze, is the iconic white frieze of the old Yankee Stadium, one of those buildings that seem as if built to last forever. And for me it had been up to that point so continuously a place of defeat as to suggest something to outlast any building, and it was still a little over a month away from delivering its worst moment yet, when Aaron Boone would drive a ball toward the stands the young man in this card is pointing to, as if a figure of subtle prophecy in a religious painting, with his left index finger.

A little higher, just over his right shoulder, you might just barely be able to make out the two teams listed at the top of the out-of-town scores: “CHI” is facing off against “MIL.” The number of the starting pitcher for MIL is difficult to see, but it seems to end in a zero. The starting pitcher for CHI is clearer: 22.

On September 6, 2003, Mark Prior, wearing number 22, beat Matt Kinney (number 50 for MIL) to bring his record to 15 and 5 for the year. Most guys scrape their way into the majors like the player on this card, and you figure they’ll kick around for a little while and disappear, but then there’s the rare phenom like Mark Prior, who looked to be one of those guys who would be around forever.

***

Mark Prior’s fifteenth win occurred a few miles north of where I was on September 6, 2003. It featured the return to Milwaukee of Randall Simon, who in his last visit had clubbed a woman in a sausage suit. Life seemed somewhat ridiculous around then. I was five days away from spending the second anniversary of 9/11 driving an hour and a half from Racine, Wisconsin, to the suburbs of Chicago to start a job as a part-time freelance proofreader. My girlfriend and I had moved from New York City to her parents’ house in Racine a few months earlier, and had been looking for work in Chicago. I was the first one to get a bite.

Everything about the job felt temporary. I sat in a cube with no nameplate on it. I worked a day here, a day there. A week or so in I heard someone taking a new employee around from cube to cube to introduce her to the people in the cubes. They neared my cube and then passed it by, as if passing an emptiness. At lunch I’d leave the building and go sit by a manmade pond and watch some ducks and wonder what I was doing in this place where I knew no one and no one knew me.

***

“What if I could walk on air?” my son Jack said the other day.

I was walking with him and his younger brother, Exley, to the playground down the street. Here’s how I came to be walking down the street with two sons: I stuck with the proofreading job, moved with my girlfriend to Chicago, Bronson Arroyo drilled A-Rod during a game in July, a brawl ensued, the Red Sox caught fire, Bronson Arroyo got bombarded in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, but then he helped keep the Red Sox alive in Game 5 with a perfect tenth inning of relief against three Hall of Fame caliber hitters, Jeter, A-Rod, and Sheffield, and then the following game he survived another tense inning of relief that included those same sluggers and the fiasco of A-Rod slapping a ball out of his hand. Arroyo was always somehow right in the middle of the sublime and ridiculous way in which that team, the 2004 Red Sox, changed my life, or if not my life at least my wall. Basically, I put a picture up on the wall. I married my girlfriend. The two boys came along. We go to playgrounds and talk about miracles.

“Walking on air would be great,” I replied to Jack.

When I was a kid I had dreams of walking up into the air, dreams that felt absolutely real. I’d wake up in the morning, and for a few moments I would let the brief absence of doubt, the very weight of life in the world, linger. I’d be up in the air, in a loft bed, and among the first things I would see would be my poster of David “Skywalker” Thompson, the Denver Nuggets star, seeming to have found an invisible shelf four feet above the ground. I was waking up to a life of doubt, but I believed in levitation, not in the sense of a scientist believing in empirical facts. I mean I believed the way someone does when they need to believe.

Something about the line of thinking, going in an instant from being here with my two boys to being a boy myself dreaming of walking on air like David Thompson, to being back with my boys: it brought some magic into the moment. Or more accurately it revealed the magic that’s always there. Even the earth below our feet is transient. We’re already levitating.

***

04 sox

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Bob Bailey

March 3, 2017

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I hate, among other things, and in no particular order

  • Bucky Dent
  • fascism
  • football
  • America (the band, not the country, which I love and hate)
  • saying the word “poop” (the way you have to pop your lips at the beginning and the end of the nauseatingly cutesy sound; you wouldn’t think it would come up much, but with young children you’re always having to converse about the subject)
  • having a job
  • not having a job
  • the song “Life in the Fast Lane”
  • fruit (yes, all fruit; this is probably a subject needing expansion at some other time)
  • the practice in Chicago of “dibs” (when it snows more than half an inch people murder the idea of society by hauling out deck chairs to claim a public parking space for after they drive away)
  • baseball cards that show only the most recent five seasons of a player’s career

I could go on, but let’s instead talk about the last item, which reared its hideous head the other day. I was looking with my son at some 2017 Topps cards, the first I’d seen of the new season of cards. I noticed that the numbers on the back of Rick Porcello’s card literally didn’t add up. I checked another card, for Adam Wainright, and determined pretty quickly that his lifetime win total was far beyond the sum of the individual seasons shown. With this confirmation, my blood began to boil. I couldn’t believe that the worst thing I’d ever seen in baseball cards—the presentation by Fleer [ed. note: actually Donruss] in the mid-1980s of “recent major league records”—was being duplicated by Topps.

Oh how I hate those Fleer [ed. note: what can be said to be reliable with this clown’s writing if he can’t even tell Donruss from Fleer?] cards. I’ve got a few of them, and every time I make the mistake anew of looking on the back of them it’s like seeing some vision of the heart of life itself being amputated. And so when I saw it on the new cards by the company that to my certainly less than comprehensive knowledge has never made this hideous mistake before, I became enraged. You may think this is an insane notion on my part. I mean, who cares? But for me baseball cards are and have always been a way toward some completion, a way to search for stories in the numbers, to see and dream of a beginning and a middle and—though there is no end on any card, for every player in theory could have another card the next year—the intimation of an end. Truncating the span of seasons so that the beginning or even the beginning and middle drops out: it kills the card. Kills it.

Maybe another way to explain what I mean is this:

You complete me, Bob Bailey.

It was this way in 1978, when I got this card, and it’s still this way. I’ve always been incomplete and always will be incomplete. When I was ten years old, I couldn’t put any words to what this incompleteness compelled me toward, but surely, Bob Bailey, when I found you in a pack I was drawn in by the color and the familiarity, a player on my favorite team, always the best find in any pack, and also drawn by the jarring unreality of the doctored helmet and uniform, the hardened, sardonic face, the cartoonishly alliterative name, but while the front of the card made the first contact with the wanting incompleteness that was my self, the back of the card was what drew me in.

Bob Bailey was a veteran, and so the most important word on the back of his card—the word “COMPLETE” in “COMPLETE MAJOR LEAGUE BATTING RECORD”—allowed for an impressive sprawl of numbers stretching far back before I was born, all the way to 1962, before my mother had even met my father. That year Bob Bailey, age 19, managed just 7 hits in 42 at bats for an average of .167. Bookending that first line on the card was the last line, his season statistics for the 1977 Red Sox, and these numbers were even more anemic, the closest you could get to nothing without being nothing: 2 at bats, 0 hits. In between the intimations of the nothingness from which we come and into which we go, there was an estimable swell of competence, if not excellence, Bob Bailey logging many years with solid numbers. He was never a superstar but was a regular in the major leagues, and a good one. What more could you ask for? What better story could there be than rising from nothing to that?

If this card came out in 2017 it would leave out the beginning and middle. You’d only have the end. As for his actual end, it came the following season. He had his last at-bat, as a pinch-hitter, in the one game playoff against the Yankees, the first batter Goose Gossage faced. He hadn’t had a hit in weeks, and he was facing mustachioed death incarnate. He struck out looking. He had no chance. A thought occurred to me that day and it’s never really left: I’ll never be complete. I’ll always need to imagine completeness. I’ll never be complete.

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Bill Lee

December 2, 2016

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“Baseball will survive . . . everything because the game is played by kids.” – Bill Lee

I want to be Bill Lee when I grow up. Or maybe I’m already on the wrong track with this line of thinking, this notion that as time goes on we grow up, or should aspire to grow up, or even that there is any inherent hierarchical structuring, any fixed orientation of up and down, to our brief partial awakening here on Earth. We can grow up, we can grow down, we can grow sideways. We grow old, if we’re lucky, but if we’re even luckier we grow young too. Just ask Bill Lee. He just keeps growing.

***

This year, at age 69—as with all ages he’s known since he was no older than my younger son, who’s 2—Bill Lee played baseball. Pitching for the Burlington Cardinals of the Vermont Senior League, he logged the eighth best ERA in a league made up of lifelong hardball players twenty and thirty years younger than him. He wasn’t just appearing in games as a stunt either: no one with a better ERA had more innings pitched. After finishing third in the league in wins, with 9, he went all 11 innings in his team’s quarterfinal 2-1 victory and won the semifinal with a complete game 3-1 victory. The championship game went into extra innings. You can probably guess who pitched them all. Courtesy of the Vermont Senior League site, here’s the box score:

champ-game It’s not what’s generally understood to be a masterpiece. It’s a mess! The pitcher shown in his 1975 card at the top of this page, young and handsome and riding a crest of excellence that would see him win 17 games three seasons in a row, not far away from pitching in the seventh game of the World Series, seems to have been knocked around a good deal on this day by some middle-aged north country amateurs: 14 hits allowed, 8 runs allowed, 4 of them earned. But maybe the real masterpieces are messy, failure and success interweaving. Bill Lee wasn’t anyone’s idea of perfection that day, but he did go 2 for 4 at the plate, and on the mound he walked just one player, and then there’s that most old-fashioned and now maligned of pitching stats, connoted by the letter I still see hanging from windows and porches here in Chicago, tangled in with the Christmas decorations: the W. Yes, failure is always going to be part of any life, but on this day Bill Lee—white-haired 69-year-old Bill Lee—went 12 fucking innings and won.

***

Bill Lee also lost this year, garnering just 2.8% of the vote in his run for governor of Vermont. (He’s run for office once before, in 1988, when he vied unsuccessfully for the presidency on a platform that included a vow to repeal the law of gravity.) After his loss this November, he was asked by a Canadian journalist whether he’d now make good on a desire he’d voiced earlier in the year to move to Vancouver Island. The question was less about Lee’s personal election experience than it was about the impending presidency of Donald Trump, who Lee had recently characterized thusly: “He’s an anal-retentive white homophobe with short arms, deep pockets, and he’s made his living screwing the American public by stealing their money through bankruptcy. The guy’s a crook. Should be in jail. I can’t believe there’s that many stupid people in America that would even consider voting for him.”

“Oh my god, I’d come there in a heartbeat,” Lee told the Times-Colonist in Victoria, British Columbia. It’s not an empty notion—Lee’s married to a Canadian woman (“I always marry Canadians as an exit strategy”). But he sees that now is the time to stand your ground.

“I’d come there,” Lee said, “if I didn’t think I was running away from a problem.”

***

In the 1975 card at the top of this page, Bill Lee signs just his name, but nowadays Bill Lee signs his autographs, “Bill Lee, Earth.” This suggests that he, as his nickname Spaceman suggests, has travelled to other worlds. This is just one of them. This also suggests that he’s a citizen of Earth, the whole world, all its people, all its living beings, all its grasses and trees and seas and mountains. It also seems to me an affirmation of life. Here I am on Earth. I won’t always be here, at least not in this particular body. But I’m goddamn here right now.

***

The 1975 card at the top of this page reminds me of a moment from this past weekend. I managed to capture it in the video below. I was in Asheville, North Carolina, where my mom and dad and brother and his family now live. My mom and dad live right next to a baseball field that’s bordered by a hill similar to the hill shown behind the young Red Sox southpaw in his 1975 card. The video catches my younger son, Exley, imitating my imitation of a pitcher and throwing an imaginary baseball to my older son, Jack, who swings and (you can hear this if you listen closely) makes a faint clicking sound with his tongue and the roof of his mouth, a sound effect for connection. Some running ensues, rules and baselines only faintly suggested, and then both boys hustle back to their points of origin. The video ends as it starts, with Exley bringing his hands together to the set position, just like Bill Lee is doing in his 1975 card, just like Bill Lee did before recording the last out of a championship game earlier this year. When I watch my boys, and when I think about Bill Lee, the same beautiful hope arises: no matter what, the game will go on.

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Dustin Pedroia

October 11, 2016

dustin-pedroia-2012Jack was holding his bat in one hand and looking toward one of the corners of our carpeted basement. I stood a few feet away, ready to start lobbing him underhand pitches. Jack usually can’t wait to start rocketing line drives all over the room.

“Laser Show!” he says sometimes as the line drives are flying. Jack has his own little shoebox full of cards now. This 2012 card of the original Laser Show is the first card Jack wanted as his own, the beginning of his collection.

It turns out Dustin Pedroia was on his mind yesterday as he gazed into the corner. I could tell a question was forming. Jack asks a lot of questions. He asks about animals, planets, food, numbers, himself, me, his mother, his brother, injuries, death, measurements, baseball, the meaning of words, the meaning of the world. He asks, nearly as constantly as he breathes, why.

Why? Why not? Why? Why not?

I never know, not really.

I looked down at the foam Boston Red Sox softball in my hands. The ball had some chunks taken out of it, courtesy of Jack’s younger brother, Exley. Jack turned to me.

“Ready?” I asked.

“Is Dustin Pedroia afraid of spiders?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. Lately I’d been wondering about all of Jack’s questions and my inability to answer them. I needed to start reaching beyond my limited knowledge somehow. “Maybe we can write him a letter and ask him.”

Later that day, Jack asked, “What does Dustin Pedroia like better? Dustin? Pedroia? Or Laser Show?”

I took my best guess on that one, and Jack started pressing the tip of a red magic marker to a piece of paper. He writes big letters and when he runs out of space on a line he just goes to the next line.

LASE
RSHO
W

This was all that was going to fit on this page. I’d suggested Jack write “Dear Laser Show,” but Jack, already averse to sentiment except in relation to his mother, told me he wasn’t going to write “Dear.” On the other side he drew a baseball player. He started drawing baseball players a while ago, at no one’s prompting. One day I came home from work and he gave a picture to me. He’d never given me a picture before. He’d given my wife all sorts of pictures of hearts and rainbows and the like.

“That’s Mookie Betts,” Jack said that day. It made me want to cry.

“This one looks more like an alien,” he said now. There wasn’t much room left on the page, certainly not enough for more of Jack’s big letters, so I asked Jack to dictate to me the question we were asking. I wrote it down to the right of the alien:

Are you afraid of spiders?

Jack then drew a tarantula at the alien’s feet as I Googled Dustin Pedroia’s address. I came up with something in Arizona. When I was a kid, I’d written to Carl Yastrzemski in care of the Red Sox and had never heard back, so I figured it was worth trying a different approach and wrote the Arizona address on an envelope. Jack put on the stamp.

It had occurred to me not long after Jack asked it that his question had an ironic twist to it, in that Dustin Pedroia was later that night facing elimination at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, a franchise that began in 1901, two years after the disbandment of the city’s previous major league team, the Cleveland Spiders, who were also sometimes known as the Indians because of the presence on the team of a member of the Penobscot tribe, Louis Sockalexis.

This was all happening on Columbus Day, of course, so I had the day off. Jack didn’t ask why I had the day off, as he sometimes does on holidays, but when he does someday I will tell him what I know about Columbus, most of my knowledge coming from the Bugs Bunny offering “Hare We Go.” I’ll probably also tell him that not everybody is such a big fan of Columbus or of there being a day to celebrate him.

Why not?

Well, I’ll say, there were other people living here first before Columbus came from across the ocean, and he said the following of them (and acted upon this sentiment, in both word and deed symbolically if not actually setting in motion the annihilation of the native inhabitants of this continent):

“With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

What does subjugate mean?

I’ll tell him what subjugate means, which will prompt more questions, and on and on we’ll go, eventually, the whole bloody mess of his world slowly, clumsily rising into view. How does anyone ever even get out of bed? Forget spiders: human history is made up of one long unbroken log of horrific subjugation. Jack already has some inclination of this, thanks to the U-Boat on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Every few days he asks why “the mean guy from the U-Boat” (we go with this construction without clarifying things for him because neither my wife nor I want to hear the name Hitler spilling out of Jack’s mouth on a daily basis) tried to take over everything, and how he forced people to do what he wanted, and if we’re glad he’s dead.

But Jack didn’t ask about any of this yesterday. It turns out he had a fever. The night before, tossing and turning with a sore throat, he had a nightmare about “No Noggin,” a figure from a Curious George Halloween cartoon.

“No Noggin was tearing me to pieces,” Jack said as we were sitting on the couch. It was nighttime, after he’s usually asleep, but he’d dropped into a nap earlier in the day because of the fever, so he was wide awake now. I had an earbud in my ear, listening to the Red Sox game as they tried to stave off elimination at the hands of the Indians.

I’d started following baseball when I was just a little older than Jack and not that long after I began having night terrors. Nothing has ever been scarier to me than those night terrors, which are beyond nightmares. When Jack is frightened in the middle of the night I want to protect him from crossing over from seeing scary images inside his head to seeing the whole real world looking infinitely wrong, which is how it was for me with the night terrors. For me, baseball was something to hold onto in the face of that terrifying chaos.

“Mommy and Daddy are here for you,” I said. “Also, No Noggin isn’t real.”

Neither of these statements had any impact. They felt flimsy coming out of my mouth. What can you do to help someone who is scared? Well, there’s always baseball.

“Dustin Pedroia is coming up,” I told Jack.

I took the earbuds out of my phone and we listened together to his ninth-inning at-bat. If he made an out, the season would be over. He battled his way on base with a walk, which pushed the tying run to second base. Jack has asked enough questions about baseball to know that this is a good thing. The inning and the season and Big Papi’s career ended shortly thereafter. I turned off the radio and recapped these events. Jack had more questions.

“Why is he called ‘Big Papi’?”

“Papi is Spanish for Daddy,” I said.

“Why is he Daddy?” Jack asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, hesitating because any answer would seem like I was glorifying the idea of a father. What is a daddy anyway? There’s no end to these questions.

“Well, he’s there for the whole team. He’s someone they could count on.” Just like when I got the Mookie Betts magic marker portrait, I felt like I was going to cry. As for Jack, he was in fine spirits, despite the fever. Dustin Pedroia had done something good!

“Dustin Pedroia scored a walk, right?” he asked. I nodded. Jack raised his arms and cheered.

Jack’s letter to his favorite player, with its scrawled lettering and oblong alien portraiture and tarantula and single, ominous-sounding question, is now on its way to what may or may not be Dustin Pedroia’s address. I can’t imagine the letter getting a reply. I told Jack I never heard back from Carl Yastrzemski. What exactly was I trying to say?

Son, you will be disappointed by life.

“But if he doesn’t write back we won’t know if he’s afraid of spiders,” Jack said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Do you think he’s afraid of spiders?”

“No,” Jack said. I then took a turn with one of his favorites:

“Why not?”

“He’s brave.”

“I’m brave,” my spider-fearing wife pointed out from across the room.

“Yeah, Mommy’s brave,” I agreed. Watching someone give birth to a child gives you some perspective on the concept of bravery. At some point earlier in the day Jack had asked who the first person to ever see him was. I was the first person to see him. Maybe a doctor or nurse spotted some wet protrusion of his head before I did, but I was the first to see him completely, with joy and terror, with love.

With questions.

Who knows the answer, or even if an answer will ever come?

“Everyone’s afraid of something,” I said.

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Last Hurrahs

October 4, 2016

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How do things end? This is still in question for David Ortiz, who is set to get at least a few more at-bats in the playoffs. His final regular season at-bat is now a matter of historical record, at least, a meek squibber up the first-base line, for Big Papi a rare intimation of baseball mortality in a season that may stand as the best final season in baseball history. So that’s how it ended for him, a little ground ball, a roaring ovation.

I already compared that last at-bat with the most memorable final at-bat of my life, Yaz’s final turn, but what I left out of the memory of Yaz was his final moments on the field, after the at-bat, when he took a lap around Fenway, touching as many hands as he could. I cried when he did that. I’ve talked about Yaz’s final day before—why do I leave that part out? No ending will ever top that for me, no matter what happens with Big Papi in the playoffs.

How does it end for the rest of us? At some point it’ll end for me and the box of cards shown above that contains my childhood, at least in my eyes, will become someone else’s possession, devoid of the memories, cardboard without the gods.

This is may or may not be relevant, but yesterday, thinking about all my Octobers and about October itself, the favorite month of Jack Kerouac, I wondered whether Jack Kerouac watched the 1969 World Series, the crowning moment of the Miracle Mets. He was a couple of weeks away from dying at the age of 47. I’m a year older than he ever got, and yet still his unwanted dufus apprentice! He ended in Florida living with his wife and mother and drinking a lot and watching TV. He had a terrible liver from all the drinking and an untreated hernia and had gotten beaten up in a bar fight a few days earlier and had a head stuffed no longer with visions but rather with angered ranting, about communists, hippies, Jews. According to a recent Boston Globe article by James Sullivan about Kerouac’s daughter, Jan, Kerouac had $91 to his name at the end. So that’s kind of how his last at-bat went, and maybe why I want to imagine him marveling at the Mets in his last October.

Most final at-bats don’t come in October. This has to be true because most games occur before that time, but it’s also supported by some research on my part, if this type of thing can be called research. I don’t so much research things as look for ways to escape the inevitable. This latest attempt was built around the conceit of last at-bats for Red Sox standouts at every position who actually had their last at-bats as a member of the team. I had to leave out many players who drifted away from the team at the end and had to be lenient with some position assignments (e.g., Williams shifting over to right, where he played for a while as a youngster).

Anyway, the list:

  • Catcher: Jason Varitek singled in the go-ahead run in a late September win against the Yankees as the Red Sox attempted (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to stave off the worst final-month collapse in baseball history.
  • 1B: Yaz popped out to second base in October.
  • 2B: Bobby Doerr grounded out to short in early September. In the following inning, Doerr, who had been suffering from a bad back, was taken out of the game after completing the pivot in a 6-4-3 double play. This might be, all things considered, the second best final moment noted here, next to only the one below that was immortalized by John Updike: the second-baseman who died with his boots on, or rather his cleats high.
  • SS: Speaking of injuries, Joe Cronin reached on an error by the opposing second baseman in April. He broke his leg on the following play and had to be removed (by himself—he was the player/manager) for a pinch-runner.
  • 3B: Rico Petrocelli drew a walk in a September loss.
  • LF: Jim Rice flied out to deep right-center field in an August loss. He was replaced before his next at-bat by Randy Kutcher. Randy Kutcher? I can’t find out why this happened, but Rice’s last years were injury-riddled. He may have tweaked something and then never made it back.
  • CF: Dom Dimaggio popped out in a May loss.
  • RF: Ted Williams homered in September (attendance: 10,454).
  • DH: David Ortiz grounded out, in October, 2-3 if you’re scoring from home, like a failed attempt to reach base by a bunt.

Only Yaz, Ortiz, and Williams had moments of knowing goodbye. Everybody else was like the rest of us, never really knowing when it will be over, or when it already is.

 

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David Ortiz

October 3, 2016

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I remember watching Yaz’s last regular-season at-bat. The Red Sox were bad that year, most of the superstars from my childhood gone. There weren’t going to be any postseason at-bats. I watched the game alone in a TV room at a boarding school that I’d be expelled from the following year. I’d started attending the boarding school a few weeks earlier. I hadn’t had any particular desire to go to the school but had gone because my brother had gone there before me, and I was in the habit of doing what he did. Also, to send me to the school, my mother was willing to go into debt that would take years to go away. Probably she was concerned that I’d gone from a bubbly little boy who loved learning to a sullen teenager accruing shitty report cards.

Things can change. You can be a boy running on superstar feet up the road to get to school like he’s sprinting up the first-base line, and then all the superstars can leave. In Yaz’s last at bat I wanted Yaz to hit the ball five hundred feet, a thousand feet, so far it would never be seen again, the stories about it going on forever. He popped out to the infield. The game ended. It was Sunday, still the afternoon but getting dark already. I had trigonometry homework to do. Thirty-three years later, it’s still undone.

***

Things can change.

David Ortiz said those words twelve Octobers ago. I was thirty-six and a few months into a new life in a new city. The Red Sox were losing to the Yankees. They’d lost to the Yankees the year before, as painful a loss as any of them, and that’s saying something. The Red Sox had always been losing to the Yankees. I knew from experience that things can change in one direction, but I didn’t really believe they could change in the other direction.

Still, I watched the games, every one of them, every inning, even the last innings of the savage beating that put the Red Sox in a 3-0 hole. The next game went late into the night, as everyone knows. I watched the last innings of that one alone, my girlfriend, Abby, asleep in the next room. We’d moved to Chicago to take a stab at a life together. This is a scary step to take, especially if you’re in the habit of believing that things can change, but only for the worse.

So when David Ortiz hit that home run, a feeling coursed through me that was just about as powerful as anything I’d ever felt. The Red Sox were still down three games to one, and I was still the same person weighted down by reams of gray trigonometry homework of one shape or another, everything so far squandered, undone. But still: there was life. I ran around my apartment on superstar feet.

We’re alive, I said. I didn’t say it out loud because Abby, who I was in love with, who was becoming my life, was asleep and had to get up early to go to her job at a group home for wards of the state. I said it with every fiber of my body, believing it, thinking about everyone I knew and loved as David Ortiz disappeared into a scrum of ecstatic bodies at home plate.

We’re alive.

***

Yesterday, I watched David Ortiz’s last regular season at-bat in a scrum of my two young boys, Jack and Exley. We were sitting on the floor in our carpeted basement, and I had a tiny version of the game on my phone. My wife, Abby, was at the grocery store.

“When is Big Papi going to bat?” Jack asked. He’s the five-year-old.

“Whack!” said Exley, Jack’s little brother, two. This is his word for baseball.

“He’ll be up soon,” I said.

“Is Dustin Pedroia going to bat?” Jack said.

“Well, he batted last inning, so he prob—whoa!”

I can’t remember which of the boys went flying at that point. Do you have an image in your mind of Andre the Giant when he wrestled a couple of guys at once? This is analogous to the standard mode of behavior for the three of us, especially when we’re on the carpet. Two smaller people hurling themselves at the bigger person. Bodies are always sailing through the air. Forget any semblance of coherence to a conversation.

“Why does space go on and on and on?” Jack asked when the flurry of flying tackles and somersaults next hit something like a pause.

“OK, I’m watching this,” I said, because David Ortiz was coming to bat for the last time. I stood up and showed Jack the phone, but he was now more interested in trying to shove a large beach ball up under his shirt. Exley wanted to do the same because he’s already in the habit of doing whatever his older brother does, but he had previously taken off his shirt, so he began whining for his shirt in the manner in which he generally makes demands of the world.

“Me,” he said. “Me!”

“Does it go to infinity?” Jack asked.

“What?” I said. “Yeah infinity Exley Exley Exley your shirt is upstairs hold on.”

Me!

“I don’t want it to go to infinity,” Jack said, his voice also leaning toward tears.

“Just hold on a sec,” I said, the words I say these days more than any others. I was already being pulled back to my life, and in a moment I’d be running up the stairs to get a shirt so Exley could shove a ball under it while also telling Jack that I didn’t like infinity either, infinity sucked, I’d be saying, and there would be tears anyway and then more wrestling and laughing and bang someone’s head knocking into a wall and more tears and on and on, things always changing, changing, the very pulse of life, onward, always onward, but out of the corner of my eye before life surged ahead I saw on a tiny screen David Ortiz hit the ball maybe twenty feet, surely one of the shortest journeys into fair territory of any ball off his bat, I saw this with the eyes of this life I’ve been blessed with, my we’re alive eyes, my eyes of gratitude and love, saw it as if it were the first batted ball of a boy just starting out, everything still in front of him, and this boy will race toward first on superstar feet.

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Dick Pole

October 7, 2015

Dick Pole@midnightWhen I was a little boy living from pack to pack in rural Vermont in the 1970s, I knew my dream would one day come true of having a card from my collection serve as the backdrop for a riff session by three very funny people on a late-night cable television show. The Dick Pole stuff starts at around the sixteen-minute mark here. Particularly gratifying is that the Sklar brothers, arguably the funniest sports-obsessed comedians in the world (and the creators of the hilarious, sadly defunct baseball-card sitcom “Back on Topps”), are leading the Pole-stroking session. (Thanks to Bo Rosny for the lookout on this.)