Monday, November 9, 2009

Talkin' Baseball With bosox61!

Last offseason on my now-defunct FoxSports blog I did a series of interviews with other bloggers about their baseball fandom. It ended up being a pretty popular series, and I don't know if I myself ever had more fun blogging than when I put those posts together. Now that the offseason is unfortunately here again we fans of the world's greatest sport need something to keep the flame burning. I thought I'd share those interviews over here so that they don't get relegated to obscurity. You probably won't know these bloggers, but if you're like me, you love hearing baseball fans talk about their memories of the game. Since these are from last offseason, a few of the questions and answers are a little dated, but it shouldn't make them any less enjoyable.

This is the first one I did, with bosox61 (Paul), a fan of both the Red Sox and the Rays.

1. Let's start at the beginning: When and how did you become a baseball fan?

I was about nine or ten years old when my love affair with baseball began, and as I look back at my past, I tend to think that baseball served to fill a void in my life that desperately needed filling. My Dad passed away in 1953 causing a lot of changes in my home. My older brothers had both gone off to the service and my Mom had to go to work in order to support the family. I found myself alone a lot of the time and somehow became infatuated with playing baseball. At first it was on the streets by my house and as I grew a little older it moved to a playground about a quarter of a mile away.

In 1955 my Mom sent me to stay with my sister and her husband in Long Island, New York for the summer. My brother in law was an ardent New York Giants baseball fan and took me to the Polo Grounds many times to see his team play. He also taught me how to properly read the sports page of the local newspapers and I became enamored with statistics. He also taught me how to be a proper Yankee hater. I think I had that one down pat before I ever developed my life long love affair with the Red Sox.

As the summer of 1956 approached, I wasn't really too keen on going to New York mainly because of the Red Sox. I had become a fan and will never forget the lineup the Sox fielded that year. It was beyond my comprehension to even think that there was a better outfield than Ted Williams, Jimmy Piersall and Jackie Jensen. Yogi couldn't possibly be as good as Sammy White. Don Buddin was going to be the All-Star shortstop for many years to come.

It was in 1956 that I first started to question front office moves. The Sox signed Mickey Vernon to play first base (a move that made no sense to me). They already had a first baseman named Norm Zauchin who hit 27 homers the year before with over 90 RBIs and I thought he was great.

The Sox had a pretty good year in '56 and another in '57, although they finished down in the standings both years. But then the slide came. They managed to have 9 straight losing seasons after that and although I still loved the Red Sox, I accepted that they just plain sucked.

Well that's it. I was about 8 years old when I learned to love playing the game. However, it wasn't for another year or so before I became a fan of the game played by others.

2. Of all the baseball games you've attended, which one is your favorite?

I actually wrote about this last April. I'll just repeat the story here.

I was fourteen years old and probably had been to 50 or 60 games up to that point in my life. I lived and died baseball back then (as most of us did and I still do) and when someone came up with the idea of going to see the Red Sox play a twilight doubleheader against the Tigers, I was all for it. It was a Tuesday or Wednesday night right before the Labor Day weekend and school was starting right after that. We went to four different schools back then and knew that we weren't going to be seeing each other very much now that the summer was almost all over so the game was a great idea.

The Red Sox were about 20 games back in the standings but that didn't matter. We met at Uphams Corner in Dorchester and caught a bus to Andrew Station. From there we caught the subway to the Park Street station where we transferred to a trolley to Kenmore square which is less than a 10-minute walk to Fenway. Everyone else on the street was going to the ballgame and we got caught up in the excitement long before we bought our tickets. It cost a buck to get bleacher seats in right field. The first game was to start at 4:00pm and we got there early enough to get seats next to the visiting bullpen.

Billy Monbouquette was pitching for the Sox in the first game against the Tigers' Frank Lary. They both pitched pretty well but neither of them was involved in the decision. At the end of the 9th inning they were in a four to four tie and nobody but the Sox second baseman (Pete Runnels) seemed to want to win the game. Finally, after 4 hours and in the bottom of the 15th inning, Runnels hit a drive into the triangle next to the Red Sox bullpen and scored Frank Malzone from first base. It was Pete Runnels' 6th hit of the game and the place went crazy.

It took close to an hour to get the second game started. This was going to be another good one. Earl Wilson was pitching against Jim Bunning. The sore spot was that Ted Williams was not going to play in the second game. In the top of the 9th inning Rocky Colavito hit a monster shot over the left field wall to tie the game and put us into extra inning again. Thank goodness the Sox scored in the bottom of the 10th on a throwing error by the Tigers' shortstop and ended up winning both ends of the double header. Pete Runnels had three more hits in the second game to raise his total to 9 hits for the day. I think that was some kind of a record at the time.

The coolest thing about the game was not actually the game. We spent over 9 hours next to the visitors' bullpen and got to know some of the Tiger pitchers. Hank Aguirre and Paul Foytack were the two I remember most and they were terrific. Rocky Colavito was the Tiger right fielder and he interacted with us during both games. I sort of became a Tiger fan after that and grasped at the opportunity to visit Tiger Stadium in 1972 when I was in Windsor on business.

Now we ran into problems. Public transportation stopped at 1:00pm back then and the lateness of the game was only going to change the number of subway cars, not the time schedule. We ran like heck to the Kenmore Square station and caught a trolley to Park Street. There we managed to get the last subway back to Andrew Station but only found that the last bus home had already left. We had I'm guessing about a five mile walk ahead of us. It was after 1:00am and we were all in trouble as we were all 14 or 15 years old and it was not acceptable to be out that late. There were no cell phones and we couldn't find a pay phone during the walk to alert our families of our whereabouts. About half way home a Boston Police Department cruiser stopped us and the policeman inquired as to why we were out that late. Upon hearing our explanation and seeing a ticket stub he graciously drove us home.

However, this caused us more problems. All our parents were still awake waiting for us. They saw the police car drop us off one by one.. My Mom was at the top of the front steps when I arrived. She only asked me if I was all right and then getting a positive answer told me to go to bed. The next morning was a different story. Back then it was very embarrassing for parents to have their children brought home in a police car. None of us got through that unscathed. When I asked my Mom recently if she remembered the incident she only remembered the night that the police brought me home. It's funny how one of the best baseball nights of my life caused me so much trouble.

I think my second favorite game was the one that took place at the Trop on September 11th, 2002. My wife and I wanted to do something "patriotic" on the anniversary of 9/11 and going to a baseball game seemed to be the right thing to do. The Red Sox were in town and Pedro was pitching. The Sox won easily but we were both moved by the experience. The Devil Rays had a ceremony that would have moved the most stoic of people.

3. You've said that you had a feeling about the 2008 Rays in Spring Training. Did you have a similar feeling about the 2004 Red Sox?

Absolutely not! When that season started the Sox had a brand new 37-year-old pitcher in Curt Schilling. Did he have anything left? Could Wakefield give you 30 decent starts? What the hell was a Bronson Arroyo? It was Lowe and Pedro and cross your fingers. Could Keith Foulke match what he did in Oakland and Chicago? Did Timlin and Embree have 70+ appearances in them? If they didn't, it was going to be a long season.

You also have to remember that the Sox began the year with Pokey Reese as their shortstop and Mark Bellhorn in his first season with the team at second. Gabe Kapler began the season in right field because Trot Nixon was broken for much of the season. And don't forget, Nomar was broken for most of the year before he was traded.

Taking this all into account and realizing that the Sox were almost as old as the Yankees, it didn't bode well for the 2004 season from my point of view.

When the Sox were down 2 games in the ALCS to the Yankees and were losing in game 3, my wife announced that when the Red Sox won the World Series the whole family was going to get Red Sox tattoos and she was paying for them. Just to humor her, I agreed to it. It was the same for my daughters. I was just shy of my 60th birthday when I blessed my body with a red B on my left shoulder. The whole family flew into Tampa for the tattoo party in Ybor City.

4. Do you have any memories of the Boston Braves? What was the status of their fans after the franchise left for Milwaukee?

I went to 2 games at Braves Field, but I don't remember either one of them. I did see the Milwaukee Braves play in the Polo Grounds in '55 a couple of times. I knew the names but all I really remember was how high Warren Spahn kicked his right leg in the air.

The Braves didn't have much of a following in Boston that I was aware of. But then again I was just a little kid and by the time I got into the Red Sox, they had been gone for a couple of years.

5. What was your most heartbreaking moment as a baseball fan?

When Tony Conigliaro got beaned in August, 1967. For a while it was just like the Kennedy assassination all over again (as absurd as that sounds).

And of course, Bucky "Fucking" Dent. Nuff said about that!

6. I'll name some names and you tell me what comes to mind. It can be a memory, a thought, or whatever you want:

Ike Delock= (#14) I liked Ike; both in politics and on the Fenway bump. He played his whole career with the Sox. He was a pretty good reliever for the first couple of years I watched him but he became an average starter for some really bad Red Sox teams.

Chuck Schilling= (#2) He came up with Yaz in 1961 and had a real good rookie season at 2nd base. Had high hopes for Schilling but he only lasted a couple of more years.

Dalton Jones= (#3) This guy's career has never made any sense to me. He had the prettiest swing you ever saw. He played all the infield positions in a utility role and was a great pinch hitter. He was one of my favorites but could never hit consistently enough to stay in the lineup.

Rick Miller= (#16; #3) Everyone in Boston loved Rick Miller. He was a good ball player but nobody ever took him serious enough to let him play every day. He had 2 stints with the Sox; playing 3 years with the Angels in between. If memory serves me right, he was married to Carlton Fisk's sister or Fisk was married to his sister. Something like that anyway.

Wade Boggs= (#26) Wade Boggs sucks! I should have many great memories of Boggs but they were all deleted when he signed with the Yankees. I will never forgive that and refuse to acknowledge that he ever played for the Red Sox.

Kevin Romine= (#16) Not a whole lot to remember about this guy. He was a utility outfielder who was probably the 25th man on the roster for most of his career. Played his whole career with the Sox.

Tim Naehring= (#11) This guy was a good ballplayer. He was the starting 3rd baseman for a couple of years in the mid nineties and was a good hitter. John Valentin took his job away and he left the game. Another guy who played his whole career for the Sox.

Aubrey Huff= I never liked Huff when he played for the D-Rays. He was a great hitter and an adequate fielder in a number of positions, but he had this way about him. He had this "strut" that drove me crazy. He was like the villain blond headed kid who was a member of the Cobra Kai in the Karate Kid Movie. Talented, but you had to hate him. This is only my opinion though. I have never heard anyone else express this opinion of him.

Lance Carter= Somebody had to go to the All-Star game in 2003 and since they already had enough outfielders, it wasn't going to be Aubrey Huff. That Game was pretty much Lance Carter's claim to fame. If the D-Rays didn't exist, he probably never would have played at the Major League level.

7. There seems to be a lot of resentment among Red Sox fans toward "pink hats", i.e. fans who jumped on the bandwagon five years ago. What's your opinion on this issue? Do you feel that bandwagoners are cheapening the culture surrounding the Red Sox?

I don't consider it an issue. My sister has never been much of a baseball fan. She probably went to one or two baseball games a year for most of her adult life (this was during the time when you could get tickets at Fenway without taking out a second mortgage). In 2004 she got caught up in the Red Sox pennant drive; probably because her friends did. In '05 and '06, I don't think she even knew where the Sox finished. But low and behold, she got caught up in it again in '07. Should I be critical of my sister because she is a fair-weather Red Sox fan? Hell no! I'm thrilled to have something else to talk about with her that doesn't concern the family.

I personally think that people who engage in these kinds of discussions are morons. And I don't care what team they support or what sport they support. That's all I have to say about that.

8. Not counting any year where the Red Sox won the World Series, what was your favorite season of following baseball?

1967! I had just come back to the World and baseball was the only thing I could concentrate on besides the level of intoxication I needed to achieve just to function. I believe it saved my sanity, although I'm sure a lot of folks would say that wasn't so.

9. Do you think the Rays need a new ballpark, or is Tropicana Field good enough for now?

I think that the Trop is fine as far as a facility is concerned. I like the fact that I don't have to sit in a ballpark at 10:00pm when the temperature is 90 degrees with an 80% humidity level. However I will concede that the stadium is located in probably the worst place it could be as far as fan support goes. So I suppose my answer to the question is yes, they need a new stadium in a more favorable location.

10. What changes would you make if you were in charge of Major League Baseball?

I'd kill interleague play and set up balanced schedules again. I'd kill that ridiculous idea that the All-Star Game should mean something. I would do anything that makes the playing field even. Bud Selig is unfairly criticized in my opinion for not doing the things that so many of us would like to have done. The man is extremely limited in what he can do besides tend the seeds that have already been planted. After Fay Vincent resigned, the owners lopped off a great deal of the powers that the Commissioner once had. As a result, the commissioners since then have no power to build anything without the owners and the Players Association giving their blessing. All they can do today is throw a new coat of paint on it every now and then to bring in more revenue.

11. Do you see both the Rays and the Red Sox making the Playoffs again next year?

At this point I can't see why not. Ask me again in February when all these teams have retooled. You know that the Yankees are going to do something and probably a lot of things. The Orioles were not that bad last season and Cito Gaston made the Jays respectable; it was just too late to make a difference.

The Twins are for real and I think that the Indians and the Tigers were aberrations last season. The Royals may be next seasons Rays. No offense to you, but I don't see the White Sox being as good next year. And don't ever turn your back on Billy Beane.

As far as the Rays go, I don't know. When you have 14 .260 hitters and 11 pretty good pitchers, chemistry and attitude have an awful lot to do with a team's success. You never know what the successful 2008 season will do to that chemistry and attitude in 2009. I think this off-season will really determine if Andrew Friedman is the genius that he is credited with being.

The Red Sox will be there in '09. If they do nothing this winter they will be there and I don't think anybody expects them to do nothing.

12. To sum things up, tell us briefly what the game of baseball means to you.

I love the game of baseball. I think that baseball is the purest of all sports. It is a microcosm of the real world in many respects. The first pitch starts a game as birth starts life. Managers and coaches plan for that first pitch as parents plan for their baby's arrival. The last out symbolizes death. When that out has been made we all can evaluate the success or the failure of that which has past.

In the process, baseball has rules to play by as we have rules to live by and when we don't, there are authorities there to judge and sentence us. In baseball, as in life, there are mentors and teachers and supporters and antagonists. There is no time limit in baseball. A game can be short or it can be long, just as our lives can be short or long.

There are great teams and there are stars. There are also those whose names that we never learn but without who, we could never be successful. There are rewards for great accomplishments and then there are those who win the lottery. There are those who are taken for granted and those who are valued too highly.

In the end, a valued effort may not bring forth outstanding results but the effort can be and is often appreciated.

Still great after almost a year. It looks like he was right about the Red Sox' playoff chances too. You can read more of Paul's fine work here.

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