It’s a couple of months to opening day 2016. It’s a little more than a couple of years since the Red Sox won their last World Series. To make sure we’re clear, that’s three now since 1918 – all in the last twelve years.
As a kid who grew up in Massachusetts and Maine, mostly, I also grew up as a long suffering Sox fan. And since they started winning the Championship in recent years, I try not to be one of those classic “what the hell have you done for me lately” kind of New Englanders. And when I say that I’m a Sox “fan”, well, let’s be honest – I’m not all that much of a sports “fan” to begin with. Up against those who are actual Fanatics about the sport, I’m a casual fan at best. I don’t follow the day to day news of trades and front office dealings or which player is in trouble for what this week or whatever. I watch or listen to a few games from time to time during the season. I have a Sox cap that I wear a lot and like I suppose a lot of people do, I certainly love a chance to get to a game in person.
Baseball, and more directly that team in Boston, for me is more about the experience of the game, of being with friends and family, of enjoying a nice quiet summer Saturday afternoon.
Some of my earliest memories involve a scene like this. It’s a warm summer day with a slight breeze. The rich smell of fresh cut grass hangs in the air. Around the neighborhood the sounds of birds and lawnmowers and kids laughing and playing come from all around. At at our house, there’s an old beat up AM transistor radio sitting on the table out on the screen porch tuned in to that afternoon’s game. At or near the table is maybe my father, maybe my grandfather, maybe an uncle or a couple of cousins. We’re all just hanging out. The men are drinking Carling Black Label – that you had to open with a church key. The kids have Cokes or maybe lemonade if mom had made some. Not much talking going on. Just listening to Johnny Pesky doing color on the radio along with Ken Coleman or Joe Castiglione. Every once in a while, after a bad inning, one of my uncles would grumble with some invective similar to “… Jesus H. Christ, if these guys’d ever figure out they’d win if they’d get better PITCHAS!!”
That uncle, by the way, was the first one to pipe right up again after the Sox won in 2004 with “… see, I told you so – been sayin’ it for fohty yeahs, dammit!”
And man, that ’04 win. Holy crap. I actually, no kidding, found myself jumping up and down in my living room that night. I talked to a friend of mine from back east who was living in Las Vegas at the time and he was nearly crying – he’d watched the final game with his two little boys on the couch with him at home. A night none of the three of them will ever forget, I’ll bet.
I suppose other sports are about family too. Football, soccer, basketball, hockey and others all create family ties and great memories. I’m not sure what it really is about baseball that holds a place in my heart. Maybe it’s just because its a slow enough game that you can actually spend time with people, enjoying an afternoon and a few hot dogs. Baseball doesn’t require the same level of intensity or concentration that some other games demand. Baseball seems somehow civilized and peaceful. Some would say “quaint”. Some even say “boring as hell”.
It probably just comes down to what you were first exposed to as a kid. For me, another one of those early memories is taking the T in to Boston, getting off at Kenmore on the green line and walking to Fenway Park. My father splurged once in a while and got box seats, just right of home plate, so we could sit and watch Yaz play first base. Even back then those were probably forty or fifty dollar tickets. Most of the time we got regular seats like everybody else – usually with a pole blocking part of your view! As I got a little older, the men taught the kids how to use the scorecard in the program to score every strike, out, hit, run and error during the game. That was a different time. Young fathers with young kids. Guys who still had the energy of youth to play and have a good time with their kids, before they themselves started slowing down and approaching grandfather age and before the kids turned in to teenagers who wouldn’t be caught dead doing much of anything with mom or dad.
Whatever may have happened later in life between fathers and sons, if you were fortunate enough to have some of those kinds of memories as a little kid, they’re something that you can hang on to and recall with fondness. Today, when I turn on a game, my head is almost always filled with those old smells and sights and sounds from when I was 8. Baseball’s about summertime and warm sunshine and time spent with people you love. Even though there’s no such thing as a “pure” sport anymore, baseball comes the closest for me, anyway.
I’ll probably tune in to an opening day game someplace this year. I actually do most years, even if its just to have the sound on somewhere in the background while I’m doing something else. Of course today I listen as often on MLB.com as I do on the radio.
But them Sox … dammit, it’s time to start workin’ on that bullpen! I can hear Uncle Bobby hollerin’ even now….