For some time now, I have been working on a series of essays, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, about a liberal Yank—I can’t say it!—a Northerner living in the very conservative south. And the part of the south in which I live is very conservative. These essays take the, somewhat cynical, point of view of the outsider, the often baffled other. As a counter balance in this series I have long threatened to write a piece on being a Bostonian (never—ever—even in the darkest of nightmares to be confused with a Yankee; a member of the New York baseball team. The enemy. Ever. This is, of course, a completely rational train of thought). You can take the girl out of Boston, but you can’t take Boston out of the girl. Some things are deeply ingrained.
I tried to explain to my Virginia-born son, Ian, the nature of this rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees, the nature of baseball. The joy of watching—of playing. The passion of the game that connects generations together.
“Wait,” he said somewhat incredulously, “You mean, you want me to go outside into a huge field, with no shade, in Virginia, in July, and just stand there and wait for something that may, or may not, happen for an undetermined amount of time? Yeah, I’ll get right on that.” His tone was, in the good Boston-Irish fashion he’d inherited, snide and sarcastic, but just in case I didn’t catch the edge to his commentary he went on, “And then, then you want me to hit an itty-bitty ball with a bat—like I’m swattin’ at flies. Then I am supposed to run, as fast as I can, at least ninety feet while the guy in the big open field, who has nothing to do but wait for the ball, tries to catch it—and no one is trying to stop him. And if he does, I just sit down until it’s my turn to stand in the field again? People from Boston are insane. You’re insane. Baseball is irrational.”
I had never considered baseball irrational before, or Bostonians insane, idiosyncratic, maybe, but certainly not crazy. Idiosyncratic.
I guess how you see the world depends on where you see it from—or how you viewed it growing up. Like other babies born in Boston, in the delivery room they put a Red Sox cap on me. My dad bought me a teething glove—and at my first communion there was an oath of allegiance to the Nation: Red Sox Nation. I learned the history, the heroes: Cy Young, Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams—he hit a homerun at his last at bat—all the smaht people know that. I know the anthem: “Down by the rivah…” Like everyone else in Boston—New England, I was transfixed in the summer of 1967 watching the impossible dream unfold. I had never considered that someone not from Boston might consider this obsession with baseball as, well quirky or strange: absurd.
1967 was the summer I went to my first game and saw Carl Yazstremski—Yaz, Tony C., Jim Lonborg, and Rico Petrocelli play. It wasn’t long before I was hopping the Red Line to Pahk Street, switching trains and riding the Green Line to Kenmore Square and Fenway Park. Even though they lost the series, even though there was no bloody sock, even though there were no Japanese superstars, they were magic. And I watched them and watch them still:
I was one of the Fenway faithful.
I was a bleacher bum.
I’ve sat in the Lone Red Seat, watched balls bounce off the Green Monster. And although I don’t actually remember Duffy’s Cliff – I know what it was. And if you don’t you should Google it.
For the Bostonian, the year is generally delineated in three ways: by semesters, by the Red Sox season, and by the weather. Opening day is in the spring semester, and playoffs in the fall semester. And, of course, there is no school during the summer just to accommodate bleacher bums—smaht people know this. The start of winter should come after the play-off finale, in a good year, that’s late October. We don’t talk about bad years when the season ends in September. Winter does not officially begin until there are six inches of snow on the ground, and it is still falling. After all, school isn’t cancelled for less than three inches—and then only if it’s still falling. Snow interrupts the semester—but baseball is planned to avoid this particular inconvenience.
Where it began, I can’t begin to know when
But then I know it’s growing strong
Oh, wasn’t the spring, whooo
And spring became the summer
Who’d believe you’d come along
Yeah, man, we’ll all be singin’ that and we’ll be “down by the rivah”…
The season opens tomorrow!
Word Count: 807 (from the archived files)