Thursday, June 05, 2014

Mum-Mum

1.


One morning when I was almost five, I woke up to find my parents gone. They had left in the middle of the night with my baby sister after she decided to stop breathing. My mother’s mother, who we called Mum-Mum, lived just down the street and had come to stay with me and my older siblings until the rest of our family returned.

After I found her there, probably in the living room reading a book or magazine, she covered the frightening nature of her impromptu visit by pouring me a bowl of cereal, explaining briefly and carefully what was happening, and assuring me that all would be well.  

2.

One evening when I was about eight, we were just getting ready to sit down for dinner when my older sister looked out the window and said, “What’s that?” and a massive thunderclap exploded practically inside our house. A drunk driver had flown down Central Road from the direction of Mum-Mum’s house and scored a direct hit on my parents’ bedroom, knocking it off the foundation and opening a crack in the wall through which I could look up at the ceiling and gaze upon the stars.

Soon the police were there, and the fire department, bringing with them many vehicles with many flashing lights. And, as I sat quietly amid the ruckus and ate my dinner, Mum-Mum appeared, ready to bring my younger sister and I back to her house. We stayed there for two nights while our parents dealt with the logistics of figuring out how to literally put a house back together.

3.

I got my first bike when I was nine or so. Nobody had ever taught me to ride, and our driveway was too short and steep for bike-riding anyway, so it makes sense that I ended up at Mum-Mum’s house to learn, with her large, flat, evenly paved driveway.

One moment stands out. We were out there after school, practicing, and it must have been cool but not cold out because she was wearing a light, grey, hooded sweatshirt. She grabbed the back of the bike and we started to move, but within seconds I was skidding out of control as the back tire kicked out. Somehow I kept my feet, straddling my ride as it fell to the ground beneath me. Mum-Mum wasn’t so lucky; she lost her footing, fell, and did a complete barrel-roll on the ground before springing to her feet, laughing, and getting me ready to go again.

Thirty-four years I knew her, and that’s my very favorite memory: a woman in her late-sixties laughing like a schoolgirl, demonstrating for her grandson exactly how you should respond when something knocks you down.

4.

All of this hit me tonight while I was visiting, of all places, the grocery store. I was walking through the bread aisle, a grown-ass man looking for cookie dough for his wife, when it suddenly got misty enough that I had to pull off my glasses and wipe the tears from my eyes, all the while hoping that anyone who saw me would feel sorry for that poor fellow with the severe allergies.

I found the cookie dough and set about procuring a dessert for myself. I thought about Ben & Jerry’s before eschewing the idea. Who wants to pay five bucks for a pint of ice cream, anyway?

5.

Mum-Mum died on Memorial Day, May 26, just before 9 p.m., with her children and her oldest grandson by her side. Since then I’ve told everyone who asked, and some who didn’t, that it’s okay: she lived a long life, squeezed as much value out of her time here as anyone I’ve ever known, and impacted the lives of countless people. “I’m sad,” I said, “because I loved her and I’ll miss her, but I can’t feel bad.” I told a lot of stories, laughed and smiled a lot, and tried to remember the good times.

I’m not lying when I say that stuff, or putting on some sort of act. I really do feel that way. But if we’re being honest, let me also say this: Mum-Mum’s death has left a giant fucking crater in the center of my soul. I’ve never felt this way before, can’t begin to know how to process it, and have no idea how to fill it.

I had previously lost three grandparents and assorted great-aunts and great-uncles, but no one this close to me has ever died before. That makes me lucky until the first time it happens and my emotional immune system has no way to handle it. How do you come to grips with the loss of someone who did all of those things I talked about above, who took you to the New England Aquarium and Boston Museum of Science, who showed you how to body-surf in the waves at Rye Beach, who lived down the street your entire life, who was always there, who always loved you, who was never supposed to fucking die?

6.

Mum-Mum worked until she was in her late-sixties, but retired when I was about seven or eight, so most of my memories of her are as a woman of leisure, unencumbered by the necessity of having to wake up early every morning and punch a time clock; instead, she seemed to wake up early every morning and wonder what adventures the day held for her.

She traveled the world. She painted beautiful pictures. She had coffee with friends and neighbors. She walked on the beach. She lived life the right way.

We always went to her house for the big holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, making sandwiches from leftover turkey and partaking in whatever snacks and desserts she had prepared. As I remember, she wasn’t a big drinker, but I can still remember her asking if anyone wanted a gin and tonic after dinner (even before I knew what a gin and tonic was). When one of her grandkids wanted a treat, a certain ritual followed: our parents would say no, at which point Mum-Mum would catch our eye and give a nod that said, “Go ahead and have one. I’ll take care of this.” She knew that a good grandmother should be her grandchild’s boldest co-conspirator and greatest ally (and also that she wouldn’t be the one dealing with sugared-up children later on).

We played board games on those nights, mixing it up for years before eventually going almost exclusively with Trivial Pursuit. The true joy of playing that game with Mum-Mum was knowing that no matter what, if she thought she knew the answer to a question, she was going to call it out – even if it wasn’t actually directed at her team.

There was nothing quite like hearing a question, seeing Mum-Mum get excited and start to work her way through the answer, and waiting in anticipation for someone on her team (usually one of her children) to stop her before she could give it away.

At the end of those nights, it was inevitable that she would complain about “Sheridan Long Good-Byes,” which can probably best be described as when you start off by attempting to say good-bye to everyone still remaining at the gathering and end up holding a full conversation with each person. More than once in her final years, I thought to myself that her life was turning into the ultimate Sheridan Long Good-Bye, a drawn-out farewell when all she really wanted to do was call it a night and go to bed.

7.

At her funeral, the priest basically recapped the obituary, telling everyone in the church a bunch of stuff that most of them already knew. Then my brother spoke briefly before our cousin Kate stepped up and delivered a beautiful eulogy that had the entire congregation in tears. Later on, after we went back to Mum-Mum’s house to eat, tell stories, and continue celebrating her life, someone pointed out that as Kate went on, the priest became more and more visibly displeased, apparently trying to will her with his mind to wrap it up already.

This made me think of my favorite Mum-Mum story, one I told at least twice, including shortly after arriving at the funeral home for her wake (it’s not a stretch to say that it kept me from losing my mind that day). When my wife and I were preparing to be married, we had to take a written exam, a compatibility test of sorts, to show that we were serious about the whole idea. Usually, couples take this test, the priest looks at it, they go back and review it with him and all is well. Not us. I did so poorly that we soon had a weekly appointment with Father Kelly, the priest who was to marry us.

Somehow Mum-Mum got wind of this. She had long recommended that her grandchildren forget about getting married and “live in sin”, but if we wanted to tie the knot and some stuffed shirt in a collar was standing in the way of that for no good reason…well, that didn’t sit right.

“If he doesn’t think you two ought to get married,” said my 82-year-old grandmother, “you tell that jackassy priest to come talk to me.”

It’s common knowledge in our family that one of Mum-Mum’s favorite words was jackass, usually directed at other drivers on the road. Still, this was a different level; I’d heard a lot of things, but I’d never heard anyone talk about a priest like THAT before.

I think she might have done it again in reference to the officiating religious figure at her funeral, if given the chance, simply because his behavior warranted it. I do believe I might have to do it for her from now on.

8.

So Mum-Mum is gone now, has been for ten days or so. I keep telling myself it’s for the best – really, it is – but that still doesn’t change that hole in the middle of me, the feeling that I’m now incomplete and will never be whole again. It’s an idea that I fear I don’t have the capacity to fully understand.

Walking around the grocery store, though, turning this over in my head, something occurred to me. When that driver hit our house all those years ago, it pretty much destroyed my parents’ bedroom. My dad ended up taking that room right off of the house – I can still see him and a couple other guys knocking it down with sledgehammers – but never put anything up in its place. I suppose he figured that it was so close to the road that building in that area again would just be tempting fate.

For the longest time, that hole just sat there, a reminder of the near-disaster that our family had endured. Then, over time, something interesting happened: it slowly started to fill in. I think my father would throw dirt and rocks in from time to time, and he may have put a much bigger load in at some point to speed things along, but the point is that it eventually filled up. It’s still noticeable because I know it’s there, and we’ll never forget the reason it looks like that, but there’s dirt and grass and plants and stuff where there used to just be a big hole in the ground.

Maybe I’m the same way. Mum-Mum was a beautiful person that I will never forget, and that piece that her passing carved out of me is never going to be completely filled in. It will never be the same. But gradually, it will begin to hurt less. Old memories, of her and the rest of our family, will start to fill it in; new memories will make it grow. It will never be exactly the same again, but somehow it will be okay. In the meantime, all I can do is pick myself up, laugh, and keep going.

9.

In the end, I knew what I had to do – or, more to the point, what Mum-Mum would have done were she in my shoes. I went back to the freezer section, picked out a flavor of Ben & Jerry’s that I wanted to try, and headed to the checkout.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

The Hospital

On February 8, my wife called from her counselor's office and asked me to bring her to the emergency room. Once there, she made an incredibly brave decision, asking to be admitted to the hospital for treatment of severe depression. I wrote this in the day or two after, when I was alone and scared and had no idea how things were going to turn out. I'm pretty sure I pounded out the last couple hundred words at 4:15 one morning. I had to work in four hours, but getting the words out was important, for my sanity.

While waiting for her to come home and give the thumbs up or down on posting it, I thought about maybe doing some editing, adding more thought and detail and perspective and turning it into a more complete story, a better piece of writing. But my friend Chris, one of only two people I showed, gave me some great advice. He said, "You can't edit feelings." I thought that made sense, so I decided to leave it largely as is, an emotional outburst from a vulnerable moment.


They take her coat. They take her clothes. They take her purse, her belongings, and most of her dignity, and they lock it all in a closet.

She was lucky (or smart) enough to be wearing footwear without laces, so she gets to keep her shoes.

They give her a pair of scrubs, a bed in case she wants to lie down, and chairs that look and feel like they were pulled directly from the waiting room. They pretend to care about her comfort, but that locked closet, the security guard waiting patiently outside the open door, and the signs warning that she is under video surveillance suggest that they’re more concerned with making sure she doesn’t hurt herself.

When it comes down to a choice between taking away her self-respect and keeping her alive, they choose the latter.

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As the observer, you want to question the approach. It feels so cold. You want to explain to them that you know her better than anyone, that the fact that she’s even here means she won’t hurt herself, that she’s not nearly capable of hurting anybody else.

You want to step up and fight for her dignity with a strength that she doesn’t have.

But then you realize that this is the wrong response. Understandable, but wrong. These inconveniences are important because they keep everyone safe. You, her, the hospital staff, the other patients. They’ve seen others like her in their day. They’ve taken in people that would never hurt themselves or anybody else, and then had to stop them from doing exactly that.

And while it’s humiliating to feel like she’s being treated, at her most vulnerable moment, like less than a person, part of the reason you’re there is to remind her – while all these indignities are being imposed and freedoms compromised – that she is still a person, that she still has value, that this too shall pass.

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The hardest part is going home to pack her bag. She gave you a list of things she needs, but she always handles this sort of thing, and this is out of your league, and by the time you’re done half an hour has passed and you’ve reached for the phone at least three times to call her up and ask where things are.

The problem with that, of course, is that her phone is in your jacket pocket, where you put it when she handed it to you before they wheeled her out of the emergency room on a stretcher. They don’t allow electronics where she’s going. You’re told it’s for reasons of privacy, which makes sense, but they also want her to focus on getting better instead of worrying about the phrasing of her next status message. That makes sense too.

It’s not until you actually reach for the phone and start to run through the conversation in your mind – “Hey…where did you say that black t-shirt was? Next to the desk…are you sure, I don’t see it…” – that it sinks in. This is what it could have been like if she hadn’t had the presence of mind to get help, if you hadn’t given her that last little push to be selfish, to stop worrying about everyone else and just focus on herself, on getting better. It sucks to have to make it about yourself, but that’s what it takes to drive the point home: you’ve just walked into a version of the future, a scary version. A version without her.

You have a chance now to make sure it doesn’t happen. You hope you don’t blow it.

It occurs to you that if she dies before you someday – a long, long, long time from now – you will feel this again. And despite that, you find yourself hoping that when the time comes, many years from now, she goes first, because you never want her to feel this kind of desperate loneliness.

That’s when the tears come.

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It only takes a couple days to understand what those folks in the hospital, the ones who deal with this stuff every day, knew all along: self-respect can be rebuilt, retaught, replaced. A person can’t.

She still hasn’t slept, and the med situation is precarious at best, but the lack of stress means she already looks a little bit better. The tears that marked her days for the past two weeks are gone, at least. She’s had visitors, and made a couple of friends, and is intent on completing every puzzle this community room has to offer.

She’s in good hands. She wants to get better. She’s trying to get better. She will get better.

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In a few days, she’ll come home. And that second chance, the one you don’t want to blow?

It’s go time.

Because you have to be honest with yourself: you should have seen this coming. Maybe you did. Maybe you saw the dark clouds forming out there on the horizon, and instead of wrapping her tight in your arms and telling her everything was going to be alright, forcing everything to be alright, you closed up shop and cared only about yourself. It’s an attitude borne of the loner’s life, of a life lived just below everyone’s radar, a life where you’ve never had to be too necessary, never had to care too deeply about anyone other than yourself, because there has always been someone else to worry about it for you.

That mindset protects you, allows you to keep your anger and sadness inside. You thought it protected those around you as well, to an extent, kept them from the worst side of you, kept them from seeing too much of your unhappiness.

You were wrong.

So now, the challenge: to be there, in body, mind, and spirit. To put the computer aside more often and allow for more family time. To remember what you have and how quickly it can be lost. To give her the time and space to find herself, to figure out exactly who she is and what she wants and how she will get it.

To remember what it was like to reach for the phone and know that no matter how many times you dialed the number, there would be no answer.

Maybe you can’t stop the bad things from happening. Maybe this is your life now, dealing with the constant ebb and flow of human emotion, doing your level best to handle each day as it comes. If it is, so be it. It will be a mighty struggle, but it will be worth it.

Together, we will get better.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Talking With Erin Andrews

Following my interview with Tina Cervasio in mid-September, I decided to go for broke, email ESPN, and inquire about the possibility of speaking with Erin Andrews. It took a few weeks and several email exchanges with an ESPN PR rep, but we finally managed to set up an interview for last Thursday afternoon.

I spoke with Erin for about half an hour, during which time I became very impressed with her overall love of sports. It is also obvious that she's a professional, as evidenced by the way in which she took a first-time live interviewer (the Cervasio one was via email) and did her best to make sure I got good in-depth answers regardless of the quality of the original questions (and trust me, there was a lot of stammering and repeating and whatnot; I should probably just stick to writing).

OMDQ: Erin, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

EA: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for inquiring.

OMDQ: The first thing I’d like to ask you about is your schedule, because it seems like every time I turn on ESPN, you’re there. You’re doing college football, college basketball, baseball – I mean, how do you find all that time? Are you pretty much working year-round?

EA: Yeah, I basically I guess that’s kinda the one thing that I pride myself on - I’m really the one sideline reporter that works year-round, I do basically every sport, which to be honest with you, I have never played a sport, I obviously (intelligible) at all, so I think that makes me more versatile as a reporter because I can cover so much ground, so that’s one thing that I’ve really enjoyed and I take pride in the fact that I’ve done so many sports.

The bad part is that you don’t really get time off because you’re always going and football leads right into college basketball and college basketball leads right into major league baseball. I mean, I’ve worked the last couple of years, my first baseball game, the first opening week we’ve had has been around the national championship, and of course the last two years has been when the Florida Gators have played, so that hasn’t been too fun for me. But it’s cool, I like being involved in all the sports and at the same time it’s neat when the other athletes see that too. A lot of baseball players see me at football games and they call me for football tickets, so it’s kinda cool. It gets conversation going and I think it adds a little bit of credibility to my job as well.

OMDQ: Do you have one sport that’s become your favorite over time?

EA: No, not really because I broke into the industry being an NHL reporter, a sideline reporter, so I think I will always hold that sport near and dear to my heart because that’s how I got my in, but I grew up in the south, so college football is huge to me because of where I grew up, in SEC country. But there really is no particular sport. I think if there was, I would probably try to tone it down and cover a couple sports at a time. But because I like so many of them, I’m not in a hurry to give any of them up.

OMDQ: I think it’s interesting that you mention starting out in hockey, because I was doing a little research and I actually listened to the Bill Simmons podcast that you did, and I thought it was interesting that you didn’t really know anything about hockey before you started that.

EA: Yeah, I didn’t know a thing about hockey. I was reading “Hockey For Dummies” the night before I got the job. I didn’t know A THING about hockey and I think that was one of the best things for me because I learned so much about how to prepare, I learned how to talk to athletes and the coaches, how to deal with losing teams because the team that I was working for at the time, the Tampa Bay Lightning, they were the laughingstock of the NHL, they were the worst team in the league and I was traveling with them, so they’d get on and off the bus and on the plane and even though it wasn’t me that was losing I had to learn to kind of carry myself with the players and coaches.

OMDQ: So, I get the sense that you take pride in being very well-prepared mentally?

EA: I do, yes. I wouldn’t have my job if I didn’t know what I was talking about.

OMDQ: Absolutely. I asked this question of Tina Cervasio, and I’d like to get your take: Do you ever get the urge to “stick it to The Man” and do a game just wearing ratty old jeans and a T-shirt, no makeup or anything, just to say, “Look, I’m not just a pretty face, I know what I’m talking about,” or do you feel that comes through regardless of how you look?

EA: To be honest with you, I think guys would like to see me in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and no makeup. You know, tonight (Thursday) it’s gonna rain, in Blacksburg, and I’m so excited because I get to wear a baseball hat the whole game and just throw my hair in a pony tail. To be honest with you, I would wear my hair in a pony tail and wear no makeup, but let’s think about it: when people go to their jobs, when they go to an office, they don’t wear jeans and a ratty T-shirt and no makeup, it doesn’t matter if you’re in TV or not. Unfortunately in our business, there’s this thing called “Hi-Definition” television, and every little pimple scar you have or incoming pimple or ingrown hair people are gonna see and whether you’re a guy or a girl, and the guys I work with wear makeup, everybody’s wearing it, you kind of have to, that’s just what the protocol is for television. So, I personally think that a lot of guys would like to see me in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and I’d love to wear it. But my job, it’s not so much dressing up, it’s just that that’s what we’re expected to wear to work. It’s just like my mom has a dress code when she works at an elementary school and so forth.

OMDQ: Alright, that makes a lot of sense. I’m the sort of person that gets nervous when I have a boss hanging over my shoulder watching me work, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be on TV like that and to be in front of millions of people and know that they’re judging you. I think a lot of it is the sense that they’re waiting for a mistake, waiting for a slip-up somewhere.

EA: Yeah, they are, and most people point it out, even sometimes your bosses point it out when you make a mistake more times than not. I’ve learned very quickly in this industry that you have to develop a very, very thick skin and if you don’t, you’re not gonna succeed. I remember one of the first times I ever saw something on the Internet that was written about me I ran out into my parents’ living room and I started to cry. Somebody had written about the size of my nose and that I needed a nose job. And my dad is in television, and I grew up in the industry, so I never found it weird to see my dad on the six o’clock news because that’s what he does, but when I came out crying - and this is when I first started - he just said, “Look, do you want to do this?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he’s like, “Suck it up, because this is what it’s about, and because you’re a female, people are gonna take notice more than anybody else,” so…it’s a fantastic job, it’s an amazing thing to be a part of, I have the best seats in the house, it’s what I want to do, so to me, those little things are worth it.

OMDQ: So do you Google yourself now? Because I know Bill Simmons told you that you probably shouldn’t.

EA: I have seen a couple of things. The one thing is, I check out certain web sites just because I think it’s good reading. I love the Extra Mustard web site on CNN SI. I think Deadspin’s just hysterical. You know, I’ve seen some stuff, but over the past year, it’s gotten worse with me. Every little thing I do, whether it’s eating a sandwich to you know, anything, it’s just all over, or who I’m talking to on the sidelines so that must mean I’m dating them, who I’m having a drink with at the bar, so that must mean I’m dating him, it’s turned into, it’s turned into almost like a mockery, so I’ve stayed away from it. You know, I’ll see some things sometimes if it’s on web sites that I’m looking at, but I won’t Google myself, no.

OMDQ: I think you’re right on in that because it seems like lately that there has been more focus on you. It’s like every blogger (including me) has to write something at some point.

EA: I can’t do anything on the sideline without somebody making a big deal out of it. So, you know what? At one point, I can look at it and be like, “Oh my gosh, why do people care?” But at the same time, it’s so flattering because who am I? I’m nobody. I’m just some (intelligible) who goes to coaches meetings and reads a lot of articles and talks to players and then I filter it back out to people. So, who am I, you know, somebody that people want to either write about or take pictures with or get autographs with. So in a way it is very flattering, and I need to look at it that way.

OMDQ: I actually did a Google search for you, just to see what was out there, and the one thing I noticed was that I didn’t find an “official” web site for you.

EA: Yeah, I don’t have one.

OMDQ: Really? Because I’ve seen Bonnie Bernstein and Tina Cervasio, they have a place where they can sort of showcase their work or things like that. Is there any plan for something like that?

EA: Um, my agent’s talked about it. I guess I’m just kind of like, I look at myself like a big nerd, and I’m just like, would people even go to my web site, and if they did, what would I put on there? Pictures of myself and the crew going out? I just feel like I’m not that big of a deal, why would people wanna look at me on a web site?

OMDQ: Okay, so…you’re in sideline reporting right now. Down the road, I know you’ve said you’d like to have a family, maybe settle down a little bit, you know, not work year-round, but where do you think professionally, ten, twenty years down the road, would you like to be?

EA: Professionally, obviously I’d like to calm down a little bit with all this sideline reporting, maybe just pick a couple sports. But right now, it’s really hard for me to imagine not working the sidelines. It’s just something about being on the field and being near the players and being near the coaches and hearing the inside stories that I really, really enjoy. I’ve gotten to taste a little bit of the studio recently, and I’ve really enjoyed that, but I just feel personally that I have a lot of things I need to perfect on the sidelines before I can think about maybe where I want to go next, because there’s a lot of things I want to improve on.

OMDQ: One thing that I wondered: starting out as a hockey reporter – you did that for a few years, correct? A couple years, at least?

EA: I did it for a year actually. It felt longer, but I just did it for a year.

OMDQ: Coming from that background, do you have any personal insight into what the NHL can do to regain relevance, because they’re grasping at straws a little bit.

EA: You know, I’m sad that the NHL isn’t catching on, because as a person that’s around athletics, I feel that hockey is by far – those players, are the most fit, are the most physical. It’s really frustrating sometimes when you see hockey players, what injuries they play with, and how they’ll still go out there with an MCL tear, their leg hanging off, their arm hanging off, and you see other athletes in different sports get carted off for a dislocated shoulder or an arm injury. It’s really frustrating because I tell ya, I’ve never been around such a competitive or physical group as NHL is, and what’s nice about it too is they remind me a lot of what the Colorado Rockies are: they’re just a bunch of guys. And they just sit around, and they have a good time, and that’s the Canadian in them, and I think that’s also a lot of the fact that they don’t have a lot of notoriety in the states. I mean, in Canada, they’re huge stars, in Russia, in Europe, they’re big stars, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that NHL I just think they could do such a better job marketing their guys. They are such fantastic guys and they have great stories and they’re wonderful human beings and I just, I wish there would be a different way that they would go about marketing them.

Branching out to women – I feel that NASCAR did a very good job of making these NASCAR drivers almost like sex symbols to the women. I’ve never been to a NASCAR event so I don’t really know, but gosh, they did a tremendous job reaching out, and I feel almost like NHL should do that, because if you branch out to women, guys’ll say “What are you watchin’?”, and they’ll bring the guys to come and watch.

The hardest part is people I think have this philosophy that it’s such a difficult game to understand, well then I’m not gonna understand it. Now, that’s not the case at all…

(And so begins amateur hour at One More Dying Quail. In planning this interview, I took into account a number of details, right down to the best way to feed my son if he needed a bottle at an inopportune time. One thing I didn’t consider: the running time of the tape I was using, which apparently is only about 15 minutes per side. Ergo, we lose 15-20 seconds of Erin’s plan to fix the NHL. The bad news? It was the most interested she sounded in the whole interview. The good news? We were only talking about hockey.

15-20 seconds later…)


…make people wanna watch the sport, because it’s an awesome sport and the athletes are incredible. I’m very passionate with it because I really enjoyed my year with hockey and I’ve stayed very close with a lot of the players and the coaches and people who worked with the NHL and it’s so frustrating that the sport hasn’t caught on.

OMDQ: I can tell that passion definitely comes through – just hearing you talk about it, I can definitely tell that you’re a fan.

EA: Yeah, I loved it, I had a great time, those guys are tremendous. And the neat story for me is when I worked with the Lightning, I said they were the worst team in the NHL and the players were always so good to me and I have like a brother-sister relationship with a lot of the players. And when they won their Stanley Cup and I got my job with ESPN, that’s how I got my in, those boys didn’t forget, and they helped me out, and they gave me stories and I broke stories for ESPN that year with the NHL coverage and they’re just terrific guys and incredible athletes to be around and it’s a shame that the States hasn’t caught on to the sport.

OMDQ: Switching gears: I did not know this until the Simmons podcast, but you’re a Red Sox fan.

EA: Yeah.

OMDQ: That’s just fascinating to me, because all we’ve had for years now is Ben Affleck and Stephen King.

EA: Well, I obviously don’t think I’m as big as those guys are. They’re big time celebrities. But my entire family is from New England, my sister and I were born there, and that’s the reason why I’m in sports. I sat on the couch with my dad and he doesn’t have sons, he just has two daughters, and he made us big sports fans. He told us, “This is the Red Sox, and they will break your heart every year,” and “These are the Celtics and Larry Bird is king.” For some reason he wasn’t much of a Patriots fan so I grew up a Packers fan, so we’re Brett Favre fans and enjoying the ride this year. But that’s the cool thing about the business is that I think everybody that works at ESPN are big sports fans and you kind of learn who everybody’s team is and obviously when you’ve got the microphone in your hand and it’s time to do a job you have to separate that because my job’s a little more important than my team, but yeah, I grew up a Red Sox and Celtics fan.

OMDQ: Do you have a prediction on the World Series?

EA: Um…how I was raised, my father told me that these are the Red Sox and they will break your heart. My heart obviously thinks that the Red Sox will win, my head says, “Not so fast my friend, these Colorado Rockies made it here for a reason.” They had an incredible run to get there. I actually got to work with a few of them a couple of weeks ago and I don’t think it’s gonna be as easy as it looked last night (Game 1). So, I don’t really have a prediction. I think Boston will come away with it, but I think the Rockies starting tonight against Curt Schilling (Game 2) will put up a little more of a fight.

OMDQ: Yeah, they’re a very scary team.

EA: They are, and I think people forget that. They didn’t get here just by luck. They won those games.


OMDQ: So your moment in your youth was when your dad kind of sat you down and looking up to him and wanting to follow the teams that he followed?

EA: You know what, I have an incredible relationship with my father, he’s one of my best friends in my life and I’m a daddy’s girl, and I just always grew up rooting for the teams that my dad cheered for. I never really went off on my own and said, “Well Dad, you’re a Packers fan so I’m gonna be a Buccaneers fan.” No, I enjoyed rooting for the guys that my dad pulled for and it’s neat now when I get to meet those guys that my dad cheered for. I got to bring him to a Red Sox game last year for the first time and I brought him on the field and introduced him to all the players. They were so fantastic with my dad. David Ortiz instead of shaking his hand came and gave my dad a big hug, and it was just really neat. I think he’s enjoying this more than I am, just hearing the stories about the teams and the coaches and whether it’s football, baseball or basketball, he enjoys the inside stuff. Because as much as people say about me and their perception of how I look on the sidelines, I am very much a tomboy and I’ve had guys I’ve dated in the past say, “Can you just turn it off SportsCenter? Do we have to watch it all the time?” So, I’m very much a sports fan and a tomboy.

OMDQ: Alright, I have one more question before I let you go. I always say my wife likes to get the last word. So when I started trying to interview some people, I said I would give her the last question, I would give her the last word. And she’s not much of a sports fan at all, she likes the local teams, but her question was, “Who is Erin Andrews?” She claims that she’s never heard of you but I like to think she’s getting a little existential on us and wants to know, “Who IS Erin Andrews?”

EA: Well, I don’t blame her if she’s never heard of me. To be honest with you, I don’t find myself to be a household name or a really big deal. I don’t. That’s why I think it’s funny when people call or ask to do interviews, because the way I look at myself is kind of a big nerd. I just have never thought of myself as any big deal. I think it’s funny when people ask for my picture or they ask for my autograph. I just feel like I’m just your everyday girl next door that’s kind of really a tomboy. You asked about me wearing all the makeup and dressing up on the sidelines. When I’m not on television, you can ask anybody I work with, I’m in a ball cap or I’m in a pair of slacks with a T-shirt. I don’t know, I guess that’s maybe been one of the hardest parts of the whole job is understanding that people are watching all the time and I just sit back and I think to myself, “Why, who am I?”

I just kind of look at myself as your typical chick next door. That’s how I look at myself.

(Photos: Awful Announcing)

22 Comments:

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Do You Believe In Miracles? YES!

My RSS feed reader is packed with blog posts featuring datelines as old as last Tuesday. My email gets checked approximately once every thirty hours. The only thing I’ve posted on a blog in the last several days is a hastily written entry on why I blog about sports for Just Call Me Juice. Thursday night, I actually forgot the Red Sox were playing until my wife’s cell phone chimed with the final score. And you know what?

I’m perfectly fine with all of that.

Why, you may wonder? What could, in a matter of days, completely alter the worldview of a sports and Internet-obsessed individual? The answer, my friend, is an arm’s length away, currently weighs a shade over eight pounds, and goes by the name of Joseph Reed.

He’s my son.

Joey, as his mother has taken to calling him, was born on Tuesday, July 10, at 8:54 in the A.M. He started things off as a pretty big little man, tipping the scales at 8 lbs., 10 oz. and measuring 21 inches long from toe to top. He sprang out of the gate as a four-tool baby (eating, pooping, crying and sleeping), but I think with a little bit of work and some formula, his puking ability could be unparalleled. The kid’s got potential.

Originally, I wanted this post to be about how every parent thinks his or her kid is special. But you know what? There are really no words that can accurately explain the way I feel when I look at my son and realize that already, at five days old, he is my magnum opus (note to any future children: don’t worry, I love you all equally). Or the feeling of awe that hits me whenever I say or write the words, “my son.” Or the frustration I feel when he cries and there’s nothing I can do to fix it. None of it can truly be defined – not by me, anyway.

Here’s something I can do, however: use this space to thank the people who have helped us out over the past few days:

--The nurses: If you have ever been forced to stay in a hospital for several days at a time, you probably have some sort of appreciation for nurses and the work they do. The knowledge that these women possess and the caring attitudes they display toward complete strangers truly amaze me. Amber, Nancy, Sharon, Teresa, Tiffany, Renee, Cheryl, Cynthia, Terry, Rosemary, and everyone else I know I’m leaving out – there’s a special place in heaven for people like you.

--My in-laws: From 7 o’clock Tuesday morning to 11 o’clock Friday night, one or both of my in-laws made time in their work schedules to be at the hospital with my wife and I. Their presence allowed both of us to take time for ourselves in different ways: my wife actually had the chance to get some rest every afternoon while her father watched the baby, and I was able to run home from time to time, secure in the knowledge that my mother-in-law was keeping an eye on things. I don’t know if that SOUNDS like a big deal, but it might have been the one thing that kept us sane.

--The doctors: Counting the doctor who performed her Cesarean, my wife saw something like four different people with an M.D. tacked onto their name. Each one displayed a genuine concern for her well-being and made sure she was receiving the best care available (and a couple were even nice to me). Likewise, the representatives from the pediatrician we chose convinced us that are son is in good hands. The initial exam was done by an older gentleman who responded to my uncertainty about a name (Joseph wasn’t among the three finalists we had brought to the hospital and I needed to speak to my wife before going public with it) by cheerfully suggesting that my son “looks like a Michael” and proceeding to call him Mike for the rest of the exam. Kinda quirky? Yes. But he had a definite likeable air about him. And don’t even get me started on the guy who did the circumcision – possibly the driest sense of humor I’ve ever stumbled across. Everything was delivered in a total deadpan (think Stephen Wright without the droning monotone). Completely put me at ease, which is surprisingly difficult when watching one’s offspring get his tallywacker snipped.

--Aunt Kathy and Christine: As luck would have it, my wife’s aunt and cousin both work at the hospital where she had the baby and were able to be in the operating room during the procedure. I wasn’t sure what to think about that at first, but it became obvious soon after I entered the room that their presence was a huge positive. For starters, Vicki was able to tell Kathy what she was feeling (she had a local anesthetic and was awake, which can be disconcerting when you start feeling tugging and pulling from down below) and know that Kathy could calm her fears by telling her that everything was normal. Add in Christine’s boundless energy (she’s a nurse – go figure) and obvious enthusiasm for this particular case (right after Joseph was born, she poked her head around the blue curtain separating us from the crime scene and crowed, “Vicki, he’s BEAUTIFUL!”) and the situation couldn’t have been any better.

--My wife: The true star of this show. She carried that little bowling ball around for nine months, took great care to manage her weight (even after a gestational diabetes diagnosis) and was smart enough to cut back to two packs of cigarettes a day (I keed, I keed. The only thing she smoked during her pregnancy was crack). It was an impressive performance even before the doctors cut her open and left a twelve-inch incision across her stomach. The strength she has shown over the last week, even when she can barely get out of bed or walk across the room, has been remarkable.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

My Father, My Hero

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; but it cannot be the pride of a [father] in [his] children, for that is a compound of two cardinal virtues -- faith and hope. – Charles Dickens in “Nicholas Nickleby”

For most of my life, from the time I was born until shortly before I graduated from college, my father was a full-time member of the Rye, New Hampshire Fire Department. As a kid, this was often more a cause for frustration than anything else – staying quiet during the day so he could sleep before overnight shifts, dealing with the overbearing smell of smoke when he came home from a fire, the knowledge that he might be pulled away at any moment (even on Christmas morning, which happened more than once) to go out on a call. There were times other kids made jokes about my dad’s job, especially in our small town, where nothing exciting like a FIRE ever seemed to happen, and all I did was smile and laugh along, wishing that he did something, anything else to earn a living.

As I got older and wiser, I began to understand, thankfully, the importance of and inherent danger in the career path that my father had chosen. Along with that understanding came the realization that my father was a good and selfless man, the type of man I wanted to be. In addition to working the long hours required to feed a family of six, he cared for both of his parents after they became ill in the mid-1990s, then did the same for my disabled Uncle Jimmy after my grandparents passed away. He could have complained – I would have complained – but we were more likely to win the Powerball (still one of his great unrealized dreams) than to hear my old man suggest that there was anything he couldn’t handle.

Somewhere, lost in the importance of family obligations and work responsibilities, my father introduced me to the game of baseball, beginning a love affair that has lasted nearly twenty years and figures to continue to the end of my days. A pretty fair player himself as a young man – he once told me that even now, forty plus years later, he wonders how far he could have gone – he was always available to play catch for a few minutes, watch the Red Sox on TV (assuming they weren’t on NESN – this was in the days it wasn’t a part of our basic cable package), or hit some ground balls in the back yard. Most importantly, he did all this without being the type of overbearing parent that appears all too often on the news these days, choosing instead to let me stand or fall on my own. He cared about my success and was pleased that I loved the game, but was not going to ruin that love by forcing it upon me.

The result was, by the spring of my junior year at Portsmouth High School, a reasonably talented player. I had entered ninth grade with high hopes, thinking of all I could accomplish in the next four years, but not much had gone right for me on the field my first two seasons on the team; twelve at-bats as a freshman, followed by a .300 batting average as a platoon outfielder on the junior varsity squad as a sophomore. By the time 1997 rolled around, it was becoming clear that I was a JV lifer: supremely capable of beating up on less talented and slightly younger opponents, but virtually unable to compete against varsity caliber talent, even in a state like New Hampshire, where the overall level of play was generally unexceptionally.

But that junior year; what a year! It’s almost a cliché to talk about athletes who enter “the zone”, that magical place where the ball looks like a grape fruit and the bat feels like a toothpick. Before I knew it, before I even considered that it might be possible for someone at my relatively low level of play, I was there, charting a course that would take me on the greatest hot streak of my baseball life, the magnum opus of my high school career. Nothing was impossible with a baseball bat in my hands – I was invincible, if only for a couple of hours three afternoons a week. If our field had had fences, I might have slugged a handful of homeruns; as it was, I managed my fair share of doubles and triples, all on balls that were hit far enough to allow my squat 5’9”, 220 lb. frame to careen around the bases, usually ending up with an awkward flop and a cloud of dust.

Despite his unbearable schedule – by this time, my grandfather had passed away and my grandmother was growing steadily sicker - my father was there to see every baseball game my team played in high school, with the exception of two, whether I was on the field or not. Until I got a car my junior year – my grandmother’s old Ford Escort wagon, which my dad figured I could use – and could drive myself to and from games, I assumed his presence was a matter of practicality: he needed to pick me up anyway, so why not take a break from the day and attend the game first? My final two seasons, I realized how untrue and naïve that mode of thinking was: he was there to see what the fruits of his instruction had wrought, to witness firsthand the application of the skills he had handed down. He understood that my meager talent and lack of 100% focus on the sport – I was starting to discover money and girls by this point – meant that I would never progress much beyond high school in terms of ability, but I think he hoped that I would one day take what I had learned and use it to do something special.

Every athlete at every level should have at least one game to remember, one game that they can look back on years later and appreciate as a fine moment in their athletic careers. Mine was late in my aforementioned junior year. We were playing a home game against Spaulding High School of Rochester, and things were not going well. Our pitchers couldn’t pitch and our hitters couldn’t hit, two sad realities that resulted in an 8-0 deficit and a no-hitter for the opposing pitcher through four innings. Yeah, it had all the makings of a great afternoon.

Then things changed. In the bottom of the fifth, facing the top of our lineup, the Spaulding pitcher started to wear down, walking the first two batters. I remember thinking, as I headed up to bat, that he really wasn’t anything special – didn’t throw very hard, didn’t come at you with a lot of junk, didn’t have a deceptive delivery. This wasn’t Nolan Ryan shutting us down; it was Bobo Holloman. I knew, even with an 8-0 deficit to overcome and just nine offensive outs at our disposal, that this game was completely winnable. All we had to do was be patient and wait for our opportunity.

It didn’t take long for opportunity to arrive. Early on in the at-bat, the pitcher left one out over the plate and I turned on it, driving the ball to deep right-center; both runners scored, I ended up on third and our bench went nuts with the sudden and shared realization that this was OUR game. From there, we never stopped scoring. The next inning, I found myself on third base again, two outs, now trailing 8-7, and knew – KNEW – that I was going to score. It wasn’t a question of if; it was a question of how (it ended up being a passed ball).

After the game, which we ended up winning 9-8, I walked toward the parking lot with my dad, still absolutely giddy about the way the final three innings had unfolded, the heart our team had shown in erasing that daunting deficit.

“Whaddya think of that?” I asked as we crossed left field, a huge smile creasing my face.

“I’m proud of you,” he answered in his deep, quiet voice. It wasn’t necessarily the response I had been expecting. My father has always been a quiet man, slow to deliver both criticism and praise. One of the only previous memories I had of either was from elementary school, when I had come home with a less than stellar grade on a test. Even then his reaction hadn’t been so much outspoken as a reflection of the years of baseball instruction I had received: he had simply declared with a certain forceful insistence that this was not my best work and such results would not be acceptable in the future, then left it to me to apply the appropriate amount of effort to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. This scenario felt slightly different, however, in that it was the first time in my ten years as a ballplayer that any of my athletic achievements had elicited this type of reply.

He didn’t get many more chances to express that feeling, if in fact he ever felt it again. My senior year was similar to my freshman campaign, right down to the coach; I made the varsity, but played sparingly and had only eight at-bats in eighteen games. My dad actually missed my first varsity hit, a seeing eye single past a diving second baseman during a mid-week makeup game that I forgot to tell him about, but he was there for my second and final one: a two-run homerun in a 10-5 loss on the last day of the season, the final time I ever came to bat in a baseball game that meant anything; my Ted Williams moment, as I have often referred to it since. This time, however, he seemed more bothered than proud, more upset than happy, wondering if perhaps, with a little more playing time and a few more plate appearances, I could have done that a few more times.

I’m twenty-seven years old now, nearly ten years removed from my days as a high school JV baseball player/benchwarmer, and a lot of good things have happened in my life since then. I graduated from college with honors, met and married a woman I love, and eventually settled into a good job. Along the way, I’ve come to appreciate the way my father taught me to play baseball, realizing that it has a lot to do with the way he taught me to approach life: by giving me an outline and allowing me to fill in the blanks to the best of my ability. Free will at its finest. Still, I look in the mirror sometimes and wonder what my father thinks of me, if the way I have lived my life jives with any expectations he had when he conducted these subtle lessons. Is he happy that I have become a somewhat successful, well-adjusted young man? Does he ever think to himself, “What else could I have done to help him along the way?” Does he know that in everything I do, a part of me wonders what he will think or say when I give him the news? When he tells people where I am and what I’m up to these days, does it make him proud to refer to me as his son?

That’s what it all comes down to in the end: that word, “pride”. Like any son, I’ve always wanted my father to be proud of me, of my accomplishments, of my life. Explicit acknowledgement of such a feeling was not always forthcoming as a child, which could be difficult for a young boy looking for acceptance. When those compliments were handed down, however, it was a feeling like no other.

Recently, I have begun to experience a fundamental change in my relationship with my father; it started to take shape six years ago, around my 21st birthday, an otherwise happy occasion that was marred by the passing of my Aunt Evie, my grandmother’s sister. A physically diminutive woman in her early 90s, Aunt Evie for years had helped care for my Uncle Jimmy and my grandparents’ house; it was not unusual to drive past the home on the way to visit my parents and see her working in the yard, raking leaves or cutting the grass. The continued physical activity undoubtedly helped her remarkable mental acuity – it could be said that the only sure things in life were death, taxes and a card from Aunt Evie on birthdays and Christmas. She never missed an event, and her last Christmas was no different. As always, my father suggested I write a “thank you” note; he knew that she appreciated, but never expected, the small gesture of thanks. Teenagers are strange creatures, however; something always comes before doing the right thing, something that seems more important at the time. My father said I should write a note, and I kept telling myself that I would get around to it eventually.

Of course, I never did. After awhile, it seemed crazy to write a thank you note for something that had happened months before. “I’ll just wait,” was the final decision. “She’ll give me a nice card and $20 for my birthday. Then I can write a note telling her how much I appreciate her thoughtfulness.” Sadly, she didn’t live long enough for my plan to come to fruition, passing away three days before my birthday.

From great sadness came enlightenment; Aunt Evie’s funeral was the first and only time I cried in my wife’s presence, the only time I can ever remember being overcome to that degree and literally burying my face in her shoulder and sobbing. Simultaneously, there was the realization that this was one of life’s great lessons, one of those moments you make a point to file away and remember for future reference. In this case, I was learning that the biggest mistake we can make in life is to wait until it’s too late to tell those close to us how we feel about them.

I’ve never told my father, who turns 61 years old today, any of this. I’ve never mentioned how much I appreciated those long hours in the back yard, learning to play the game I love. He has no idea that as much as I want him to be proud of me, I am as proud of him for the stoic and fearless way he has guided his family through nearly four decades, in both good times and bad. He has never heard that I believe I am a better man, and will be a better father, for having been his son. I have never told him, until now, that he is the best man I have ever known.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sports Memories I'll Tell My Grandkids About: Tim Wakefield, Fenway Park and My First Red Sox Game

Following my most recent visit to Fenway Park, I decided to sit down and make a list of all the major league baseball games I have ever attended. It was an exceedingly easy task, I discovered – despite my long-time geographical proximity to Boston, I have never liked visiting the city and don’t often make the effort to do so, two facts that kept me from seeing Fenway Park up close and personal until 1995 and have limited me to just six subsequent visits.

A lot of interesting stuff has happened in those seven games: Alex Rodriguez hit a homerun off Pedro Martinez. Devern Hansack held the Baltimore Orioles without a hit for five full innings. My wife stood on her seat and cheered as the benches emptied against the Yankees. Pedro and Roy Halladay engaged in a tense pitcher’s duel. Rickey Henderson played his final game at Fenway Park and received a car from Red Sox management. I haven’t been to many games, but the ones I’ve seen have always seemed to contain at least one memorable event.

One of my favorite Fenway moments, however, remains the first game I ever saw there, a contest between the Red Sox and California Angels late in the 1995 season. The date was September 3, a Sunday. The Sox were competitive for the first time in years, running away with the American League East division by fourteen games over the second-place New York Yankees. The Angels, meanwhile, had been enjoying a dream season, steaming toward their first division crown since 1986, but like that previous campaign it was quickly becoming a nightmare; the Halos entered the September 3 game in the midst of a terrible and historic free fall, with eleven losses in twelve games allowing the charging Seattle Mariners to chop seven games off the lead. The Red Sox advantage in the East ultimately held, with the Yankees taking the wild card, but three weeks later the Angel’s collapse was complete, the team overtaken for good by the Mariners following a nine-game losing streak.

The game started just after one, so my father and I got an early start so we could pick up a pair of binoculars from Rich’s department store in Portsmouth before meeting up with my soon-to-be brother-in-law Ron and his son, Jaymes, at their house in Melrose. From there, we headed into the city, where I was to get my first glimpse at the place writer John Updike once called “a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark.”

I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw Fenway Park from the outside or even what the concourse below the stands looked like; my first viewing of the playing field, however, more than compensates for those missing pieces in the mental jigsaw puzzle. Our seats were in the centerfield bleachers (I didn’t realize it at the time, but the centerfield bleachers at Fenway Park are actually located several miles away in Cambridge; hence the binoculars) but we somehow ended up entering the seating area on the opposite side of the ballpark, behind the first base grandstand. My first experience with the playing field of Fenway Park was straight out of a movie: the field laid out in front of me, the green expanse of center field stretching out endlessly, the Green Monster looming high above the truncated left field, the net on top making it seem that much higher.

The game itself might have been forgettable if those Red Sox hadn’t been so damn good. They refused to show mercy on the sliding Angels, jumping out to an early 3-0 lead on Tim Naehring’s first inning homerun to left (which I missed because every fan in our section stood as one to see if the drive would carry over the Monster) and chasing starter Chuck Finley with three more by the end of the fourth.

Boston’s early advantage was safely held by Tim Wakefield, the 29-year old pitcher who had traveled a winding road before coming to Boston in late May. A knuckleballer in the tradition of Hoyt Wilhelm, the Niekro brothers and Charlie Hough, Wakefield’s major league career had begun in fine fashion with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1992; after being called up from AAA Buffalo in late July, he won eight games against just one loss to help the Bucs reach the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves. He became a national sensation in the NLCS, winning both his starts – including a must-win in Game Six to avoid elimination – and indicating that, at the age of 26, his career as a solid major league pitcher was just getting started.

The knuckleball, however, is a fickle pitch – one day it’s working perfectly and seems untouchable, the next it rolls up to the plate screaming, “HIT ME!” Such was the case with Wakefield, who watched fame, fortune and his future disappear along with his knuckleball into thin air. In a complete reversal of fortune from the previous year, he couldn’t get anyone out, starting the season by walking nine Padres and finishing 6-11 with a 5.61 ERA, nearly 3 ½ runs higher than his rookie mark of 2.15. It got so bad that the Pirates shipped him off for a midseason stint in AA Carolina in an attempt to regain control of the pitch. The maneuver didn’t work – Wakefield’s numbers in the minors were even worse than his major league stats – although he showed a spark with back-to-back complete game shutouts over the Cubs and playoff-bound Phillies in his final two starts of the season.

The positive vibe didn’t carry over to the 1994 season, as Wakefield was banished to Buffalo for the duration of the season, presumably with the hope that he would finally work out the kinks in his bread-and-butter pitch and cash in on the potential that he had flashed two years before. He rewarded the team’s faith by demonstrating consistency for the first time in his career, struggling to a 5-15 record and 5.84 ERA in thirty games. The frustrated Pirates had had enough, releasing him on April 20, 1995.

Six days later, Boston called, offering Wakefield the chance to play with their AAA team in Pawtucket and work toward becoming a major league pitcher again. He took the opportunity, worked with both Phil and Joe Niekro to make changes in his mechanics, pitched well in four games for the Paw Sox and was wearing a Red Sox uniform by the end of May. He won his first four starts for the team before losing to the Blue Jays, then won ten more in a row to keep them ahead of the pack well into August. By the time we saw him in September, he had come back down to earth, losing two consecutive starts en route to a 2-7 finish that took him out of the lead in the race for the Cy Young award (he eventually finished third behind Randy Johnson and Jose Mesa), but his role as the anchor of Boston’s pitching staff through the dog days of summer was not to be taken lightly.

On September 3, we saw the Tim Wakefield who had pitched for the Pirates in 1992 and the Red Sox earlier in the summer. His knuckler was working to perfection; the Angels could barely touch him. As the game wore on, I looked at him on the mound a few times through the binoculars and admired the confidence he carried out to that solitary hill, the sense that he was in total control. He ran into trouble only once, in the second inning, when three singles and a hit batsman plated the only run he allowed in eight innings. His poise was most evident under this extreme duress, however: with the bases loaded and one out, nursing a two-run lead, the game in danger of turning into an offensive slugfest, he induced back-to-back pop-ups to end the threat and break the Angels’ spirit.

Knowing that Wakefield had the game safely in hand allowed me to take in some of the other things that were going on around the ballpark at that time. Most notably, a lifelong fear of the right field bleachers was drilled into me that day by the denizens of that area, who at one point began loudly taunting Angel’s right fielder Tim Salmon with a long, sustained “Saaaaaaaaaaaaalmooooooooooooon!” chant. It was the type of thing that has stuck with me, a fairly quiet fifteen year old kid; to this day, I haven’t dared venture into those sections (although I did wind up in the next section over on my last trip – I needed to point out the Ted Williams Seat to my wife and see just how far from home plate it is, but we were separated by a runway).

Beyond all that, the memories are hazy – I know I brought my glove and put it on every time Mo Vaughn came up, even though we were almost five hundred feet from home plate, and I remember Jaymes, barely four years old at the time, curling up in his seat and falling asleep during the late innings – there are certain areas beyond even Retrosheet’s scope of information. But I think I remember enough to know that it was a good day. I saw Fenway Park for the first time, my favorite team won (the first of a 6-1 record with me in attendance; I’m drafting a letter to Theo Epstein to get myself some complimentary tickets) and I watched the pitcher who was and is my wife’s favorite player as he struggled to overcome his personal demons and prove he belonged in the major leagues. Yes, it was a good day indeed.

Tim Wakefield Statistics - Baseball-Reference.com
Tim Wakefield Statistics - The Baseball Cube
Retrosheet
All aflutter at Fenway - Boston red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield - Column Sporting News, The - Find Articles
Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu by John Updike

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Sports Memories I’ll Tell My Grandkids About: Kevin Romine, Morgan Magic and the Day I Came To Love Baseball

The Boston baseball historical landscape is littered with the remains of teams that ascended nearly to the peak of sports achievement before awakening from the dream and crashing back down to earth. The late 1940s were a particularly difficult time for Beantown baseball – the Red Sox lost the World Series on a controversial play in 1946 and were bested in down-to-the-wire pennant races in 1948 and 1949, while the Braves lost the 1948 Fall Classic to Cleveland – although in many ways the late 1980s and early 1990s were even worse, characterized by a heartbreaking World Series loss in 1986 (the fourth consecutive Series in which the team lost Game Seven) and mind-numbing thirteen consecutive postseason losses. There were some memorable moments, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the Boston baseball community finally reached the top of the mountain.

Most Red Sox seasons end in an agony that feels like agony (see 1986 and 2003 for vivid examples); there are two campaigns in recent history, however, that ended with less than the desired result - a World Series win (take a seat, 2004, you’re not a part of this discussion) - yet somehow avoided the feeling that the sky was falling and the sun would decide not come out tomorrow. The first, of course, was the 1967 “Impossible Dream” team led by Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg – the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner, respectively – that overcame the weight of a recent team history clouded by institutional racism and bad ball clubs to finish within one game of a world title. There were few hard feelings when the Dream ended because few had expected the Red Sox to be in contention past April, let alone advance as far as the seventh game of the World Series. The lower level of incoming expectation led to a lower level of regret when the fairy tale ending didn’t come true.

The second season that ended with a positive feeling despite an undesirable conclusion – in this case a sweep by the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series – was 1988, the year of “Morgan Magic” and my debut season as a baseball fan. This was the year that the Red Sox fielded a quality team, with a lineup composed of solid veterans (Dwight Evans, Wade Boggs, Jim Rice) and good youngsters (Jody Reed, Ellis Burks, Mike Greenwell) and a pitching staff spearheaded by a feared lefty-righty combination (Bruce Hurst and Roger Clemens) and an All-Star closer (Lee Smith), yet limped into the All-Star break as the fourth best team in the American League East division with a 43-42 record that left them nine games behind the Detroit Tigers.

At the break, Boston general manager Lou Gorman made a change, replacing manager John McNamara with “Walpole Joe” Morgan, the manager of the team’s AAA affiliate in Pawtucket and a native of nearby Walpole, Massachusetts. Morgan was hired during the All-Star break and managed his first games on July 15, a doubleheader against the Kansas City Royals. The Red Sox won both games to begin a streak of twelve wins in a row (a record for a manager at the start of his career) and nineteen of twenty overall under their new skipper. The streak (which also occurred within the framework of twenty-four consecutive wins at Fenway Park, a run that extended from June 25 to August 13) earned the nickname “Morgan Magic”, virtually guaranteeing the return of the “interim” manager the following season. Most importantly, Boston closed the gap in the division race: after trailing by 8 ½ games at the close of play on July 14, Boston found itself side-by-side with Detroit atop the AL East on August 3.

This is the time period to which I date my interest in the Boston Red Sox and the game of baseball. For me, the game is rooted in Jody Reed taking the field to pinch-run for Spike Owen and somehow becoming one of my favorite players, Bo Jackson ending a game against the Sox with a leaping catch against the wall in foul territory in Kansas City, and watching a game with my grandfather (who forced me to admire both halves of Boston’s double play tandem with the solemn intonation, “Marty Barrett – he’s a good player.”) These are minor happenings, of course, but much of the joy in baseball, as in life, is in the little things.

The summer of Magic in Boston might never have transpired without the game that took place on Saturday, July 16. With the All-Star break still visible in the rear-view mirror and Joe Morgan still finding his way around his new team, the Red Sox prepared to meet Kansas City in the third game of a four game series. Perhaps upset over its poor showing in the previous day’s doubleheader (swept by the Red Sox, 3-1 and 7-4), the Royals jumped out to a 6-0 lead after five innings, including a mammoth Bo Jackson homerun that ricocheted off the back wall in centerfield; it is considered by some one of the longest drives in Fenway Park history.

Boston’s offense finally figured things out in the bottom of the sixth, scoring four times to trim the deficit to 6-4. The inning included two important lineup changes: Kevin Romine pinch-ran for leftfielder Mike Greenwell and scored the third run, while Dwight Evans drew a walk as a pinch-hitter for Randy Kutcher. Both players stayed in the game – Romine in Greenwell’s leftfield position, Evans at first base. The switches proved beneficial as early as the eighth inning, when Evans greeted Kansas City closer Steve Farr with a game-tying two-run homerun.

The game entered the bottom of the ninth knotted at sixth, with Romine leading off against Farr. It was an unusual spot for Romine, then 27 years old and in his third year with the Red Sox; an All-American at Arizona State in the early 1980s, he had become a utility major league outfielder who under ordinary circumstances would be safely on the bench in such a tense situation. These were no ordinary circumstances, however; thanks to Morgan’s sixth inning shuffling, his only remaining bench player was infielder Spike Owen, who only started twice in the manager’s first twenty games with the club. To bring Owen into the game would not only mean losing the last extra bat, a strategic no-no considering the possibility of extra innings, it would also require moving certain players out of position to accommodate everyone. In any case, Romine wasn’t the most desirable option to start off the ninth against Farr (that honor probably belonged to Greenwell, enjoying a career year on his way to a second place finish in the MVP voting), but he was pretty much all Morgan had to offer.

Romine didn’t disappoint. He lofted a Farr offering high and deep to left (memory says it was the first pitch, but there is no way to verify that information), where it settled into the screen above the Green Monster for a game winning homerun. It was Romine’s first career homerun (in his 127th at-bat), the only homerun he hit in 1988 and one of only five he hit in a career that ended in 1991.

For the next three weeks, the Red Sox rolled. On July 20th, Todd Benzinger hit a walk-off homerun of his own to guarantee win number seven (Benzinger’s round-tripper came in the bottom of the tenth inning, with Boston trailing by a run). Two weeks after Romine hit his game-winner, he factored into another big moment, scoring the winning run on a Marty Barrett single to give the team sixteen wins in seventeen tries. In a nice touch of parallelism, he had once again pinch-run, stayed in the game and led off the ninth, doubling off Teddy Higuera to start the game-winning rally.

Though Boston didn’t play well over the final two months, finishing with a 27-30 mark in the final 57 games, the charge to the front of the pack had been enough. Despite losing six of their last seven games, the Red Sox held off four other teams – Detroit, Toronto, Milwaukee and New York – to claim the AL East title for the second time in three years. Given the relative weakness of the team and the fact that West division winner Oakland boasted a powerful lineup and strong pitching, not much was expected from the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. They didn’t deliver much, being outscored by a 2-to-1 margin in four straight losses to the A’s.

Still, from the perspective of a new, young fan such as myself, the season was a success. The Red Sox had found themselves in a tough spot, played nearly perfect baseball for three weeks to charge into the lead, and then held off all comers despite not having their best stuff. And somewhere in there, maybe on July 16, I found myself a favorite player. Kevin Romine wasn’t the best player on the field at any time during his seven years in a Red Sox uniform, but he might have been something more important – as he proved against Steve Farr and Teddy Higuera, he was the type of guy who could be counted on to come up big just when it was needed the most. Despite this, he never really earned the opportunity to play full-time with Boston (largely due to his lack of power and the All-Star outfield of Greenwell, Evans and Ellis Burks), although injuries to Burks and Evans allowed him to play a career high 92 games in 1989, when he hit .274 in 274 at-bats. And of course, the fact that his birthplace of Exeter, New Hampshire was minutes from my own hometown didn’t hurt his standing in my eight year old eyes (even if he had lived in California since very early childhood), if only to prove that even a kid from the northeast could make it big someday.

1988 might have been the last carefree season I remember experiencing with the Red Sox; in other words, it’s the last time I felt something less than sadness at their failure to win the World Series. Of course it was disappointing, but the entire season had been so much fun to watch that I just couldn’t muster much sadness when it ended. After two more division titles in 1990 and 1995, the wild card provided entry into the postseason in 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2005. By the time I’m writing this in July 2006, playoff appearances are almost expected around Boston – we’ve exchanged the joy that comes from an out-of-the-blue run like 1967, 1988 or 2004 (although I’m not entirely comfortable using the word “joy” to describe 2004; it was dramatic, exciting, intriguing, and tense, but not necessarily joyful – at least not until the Yankees were vanquished) for a sense of entitlement, a feeling that we always deserve to be one of the eight teams that remain at the conclusion of the regular season. That’s not entirely a bad thing – it’s nice to root for a winner - but sometimes it’s nice to be surprised. Someday, maybe in the near future, maybe for several years at a stretch, it is likely that the Red Sox won’t be one of the best teams in baseball. When that happens, when we are forced by the Baseball Gods to experience seasons like 1961-66 or 1987 again, I hope we are rewarded with another “Impossible Dream” or “Morgan’s Magic”, because those are the types of teams that are the most fun to follow and the most fun to remember.

(Thanks to Retrosheet for all statistics used in this article.)

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