Back to Being the Bums from Beantown

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As I write this, the Boston Red Sox made it official: they can finish no better than .500 this season. To do that they will have to win their final 14 games, which appears about as likely as Mitt Romney winning a Friend of the Poor award. The team’s management effectively threw in the towel in August and started dealing off players. Look for more to head to the sale barn when the season ends — as well as the usual sacrificial offerings to the baseball gods of manager Bobby Valentine and other front-office personnel. Heads will roll. After last season’s spectacular September collapse, followed by this abysmal season, we long-suffering Red Sox fans are back in a familiar place: rooting for a team mired in mediocrity.

Aaah, but we had a good run in the first decade of this century with six playoff appearances and the end of the 86-year Curse of the Bambino in 2004, when the Sox won the World Series. And another World Series win in 2007; I spent too much money to attend the first game in Fenway that year but don’t regret it. Way it’s going, it might be another couple decades before they make it there again. If they do, I will be watching that series on television.

About this time of year 45 years ago, my dad, brother Scott, best friend Bruce Courtemanche and I were headed the 70 miles south to Fenway Park from Allenstown, N.H. for the next-to-last game of the season, between the Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins. My dad had bought tickets early in the season — a rare treat for us kids. I had just turned 12, old enough to have already spent half my  sentientlife watching the Red Sox finishing near the bottom of the pack each season. I checked their record. From 1960-1966, in the 10-team American League the Sox finished: 7th, 6th, 8th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 9th. There was no reason to expect much better in 1967.

That’s why the season became known as “The Impossible Dream.” That is why those of us who experienced it will never forget it.

The Red Sox were only 42-40 at the All Star break, which was pretty good for them but hardly pennant contender material. But the team caught fire in the second half with a 10-game winning streak. My boyhood hero was Carl Yastrzemski, the hawk-nosed left-fielder, who that year won the Triple Crown. That is not winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. It is leading the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. No two-legged creature has won the Triple Crown since.

By late September, the Sox were pennant contenders, which had never occurred in my young lifetime. And we had tickets to the next-to-last game of the season, out in the right-field bleachers of Fenway Park. Bruce and I could hardly sleep. This was better than Christmas, actually. We made a banner to hold up in hopes of getting on television. Remember, this was 1967. Even if we got on television, likely we would never know it, and chances are nobody we knew would either, since most everyone got at most a couple channels — the Manchester station and one or two out of Boston, depending on which way the rabbit ears were pointed.

Bruce and I have kept up with each other over those 45 years and a couple thousand miles’ distance, albeit infrequently. He told me last time we saw each other, three years ago, that he still has the banner. That’s a New Hampshire, die-hard Red Sox fan for you.

Anyway, on a sun-drenched, glorious fall afternoon, Sept. 30, 1967, the Boston Red Sox faced the Minnesota Twins on the next-to-last game of the season, one game behind in the American League pennant race, as we sat in right field bleachers. Yaz hit his 44th home run in the seventh to give the Red Sox the lead. Harmon Killebrew matched it with his 44th round-tripper in the ninth for the Twins in a comeback that just fell short. The Red Sox won, 6-4 to tie the Twins. My dad was always my hero, a quiet man who played catch with us in the front yard, created magic on a drawing board with pencil and paint, a fellow who always had our backs. But he was really up there on the hero list after having the foresight to buy tickets to such an important game. How could he have known?

Well, he didn’t of course, which he freely admitted. Truth was, he was a Cardinals fan, which is who the Red Sox lost to in the World Series that followed. Still he basked in the admiration from his sons and Bruce.

So this season ends, and once again the Red Sox are well, those Bums from Beantown. I’ll root for the Rangers in postseason and hope they get a third chance at the World Series. By March, I’ll have to learn a new roster of players, as the current lineup gets scattered and the brain-trust tries to put together a winning combination. Maybe we can get back up to Fenway next year.

There is always next year, after all. Until there isn’t. I think that is engraved on at least a few Red Sox fans’ tombstones.

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