My father turned 11 the spring training of 1967. That’s really all you need to know about why I’m a Red Sox fan. Soon after, Carl Yastrzemski took him and thousands of other children across New England on a ride that fell one game short of ending the Sox’ then-49-year championship drought.
Whenever the Sox needed a win that year, Yaz seemed to be there, providing the hit, playing the game hard, winning convert after convert into Red Sox Nation. My dad, growing up on the Connecticut-Rhode Island border, was one of those. He later saw Yaz play in the 1975 ALCS and as a teen, he saved up money from his paper route for a baseball glove with Yaz’s signature stamped onto the heel — the same glove I played catch with in my backyard as a kid. The baseball Yaz autographed for my father sits atop the bookcase in my office.
Yaz was clutch — not only did he save baseball in Boston, he was the
face of the Red Sox franchise for decades and he brought a presence to
the plate my dad still talks about. With the game on the line, who did
you want? Carl Michael Yastrzemski.
Today, we saw the successor to Yaz’s throne — the face of the
franchise, an ambassador of the game and the savior and deliverer of
the 2004 season — perform his magic yet again. With one out, one on
and the game tied in the bottom of the 10th, who here doubted that
David Americo Ortiz would deliver?
We are watching something special. Ortiz might not have Yaz’s career —
he’s pretty old to be shooting for 400 home runs or 3,000 hits; the
Hall of Fame appears unlikely. But he has Yaz’s touch. Single-handedly,
he delivers wins in big moments for Boston. He rescued hope from the
ashes three times two years ago, and he’s done it time and again since.
He did it today in a battle that looked like the Phillies would win —
if not in the 11th, then shortly after.
But the best thing I’ve seen Ortiz do was on Opening Day at Ameriquest
Field. A boy, maybe 6 or 7 years old, stood to one side of the Red Sox’
dugout. Big Papi was maybe 50 feet away, standing next to the batting
practice cage. The boy was wearing a Rangers cap, but he was insistent:
"Mr. Ortiz! Mr. Ortiz!" Papi turned around with that huge smile, put a
finger to his lips and gestured. Five minutes. True to his word, he
ambled over, the boy tossed his ball, and Ortiz provided the autograph.
I think about the Yaz baseball and the Yaz glove, and I think that
little boy might not be a Rangers fan too much longer. If nothing else,
I doubt he’ll ever like another sport as much as baseball.
Thousands of children watch Dacid Ortiz, their imaginations captured,
and they fall in love with the best of all sports. And they’ll grow up,
and they’ll pass that love to their children. Red Sox fan, Yankee fan, baseball fan — how can you not love that?