by admin | November 1, 2013 2:38 pm
My first at-bat in organized baseball was at age 7. I rode the bench all year in this ersatz league, which didn’t abide by any rule requiring kids to play. The town was so small that the team had players from my age up to about 12. The league wasn’t connected with any official organization like Little League, so there weren’t requirements to play all the kids. But in the last game of the season the coach took pity and put me in for an at-bat in the final inning.
I crowded in close to home plate, squinting out at the pitcher. My parents had not yet figured out I was terribly nearsighted. A couple more years would pass before that revelation occurred. I was fairly terrified, all 4-foot, 8 inches of me as the first pitch came across for a ball. Whew. I would be happy with a walk. The bat felt as if it weighed 20 pounds. I truly didn’t know if I would be able to swing it.
The next pitch arrived and plunked me in the back. It stung a bit, but I was thrilled when the umpire told me to take first base. I was on base in an actual baseball game! I advanced to second on the next batter’s hit. My first season ended with me stranded on second. I played the game into my teens and then played softball until I was pushing 40 — never a star but always taking joy in being out on the field.
My love affair with the Boston Red Sox began about the time of that first at-bat, maybe a bit earlier. I sat in front of one of the early generation color television sets on Sunday afternoons in my grandparents’ home in Hopkinton, N.H. watching games played in Fenway Park. My grandfather at the time worked for Sears, so I figure he got a discount on the TV, which were rare for folks in our income bracket. Our family made do with grainy black-and-white images. Going to the Bourque’s on Sunday and watching the Sox play in color was a treat.
Grandpa Bourque was an enigma — taciturn, pipe-smoking, at times explosive, a Renaissance fellow who built the home they lived in, played violin and could fix anything. He died of a heart attack at 67 shoveling snow off the roof of their house. Grammy Bourque sat in her chair knitting afghans, of which I have several to now pass on to grown daughters. Except she called them “Africans” for some reason. I think that’s what she thought they were called, and nobody had the nerve to correct her. She would berate the players in her French-Canadian accent.
“That Yastrzemski, he just needs some help out there,” she would say of the Hall of Fame left-fielder who became my childhood hero. My cousins would gather around as well, watching a few innings until we all got bored and headed outside to a glorious New Hampshire summer afternoon, playing in the brook or the woods beyond. It was a magical childhood.
Just more than a year ago I wrote a piece about the abysmal Red Sox season, how the team had reverted to its losing ways and were once again the Bums of Beantown. They finished last in their division and began shedding players well before the season ended. By season’s start, only David Ortiz — Big Papi — remained from the squad that pulled off the miracle eight-win run that took them in 2004 to their first World Series championship in 86 years. And only a few players were left from the 2007 Series, when I sat in Fenway Park for the first game, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Something amazing and unexpected happened this season. A team put together in the off-season along with the nucleus that remained jelled from the beginning. Most took a vow to quit shaving in spring training, so that by August many looked like refugees from “Duck Commander.” No matter. It worked.
My daughter Abbie and I watched Wednesday night as the Red Sox accomplished something that hasn’t happened in 95 years — they clinched the World Series in Fenway. (The last two Series championship wins were in their opponents’ stadiums.) Watching the delirium of those fans — and Boston fans are the most vocal, entertaining and on occasion brutal one can find — as the last Cardinal struck out was such a joyful sight. I know my cousins, aunts and uncles across New England were watching as well.
This year’s version of the Red Sox rekindled my joy of baseball with their wild beards and nearly flawless execution of the game. It was a great year to be a Red Sox fan, especially after the senseless bombing at the Boston Marathon. Boston Proud, indeed.
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