So I won’t try to explain why I am sitting inside the house on a perfect afternoon instead of walking in the woods or gardening under this cloudless sky. I won’t be able to make you understand what it means to me to have TV on, or why I am wiping away the tears that keep coming, one after the other. You probably wouldn’t understand it anyway.
Instead, let me tell you a story.
When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher was a crusty, demanding older woman. She wore tweed skirts and sensible shoes. She read to us every day and she always made us go back and try again when we didn’t know how to solve a problem. She hated noise, and she loved the Red Sox. In May of that year, she took the whole class to a game. I had never been to one before, and had no real expectations. But I still remember coming up from the darkness under the grandstand and stepping into the light. The grass of the Fenway Park infield glowed like a jewel, spread out before me in all its glory. I was breathless.
It was 1967. The Red Sox won in extra innings, and I was in love.
That was the “Impossible Dream” summer, where the Red Sox went from last place to winning the American League Pennant. It was the year of my first crush: Tony Conigliaro, the dashing, handsome young star who was downed by a fastball in August and never recovered.
That incredible summer and its story of impossible dreams was the first time that Boston baseball fans hung banners from buildings and screamed for their team as they arrived at the park.
Since that magical summer, baseball has continued to be the soundtrack of my life. The sweet crack of the bat, the distant calling of the vendors in the stands, the voices of the announcers coming late at night through my transistor radio. Baseball has been there.
For me, baseball has always meant hope: As a Red Sox fan for many lean years, I learned long ago to think “Wait till next year!” and to recognize unfounded optimism rising like maple sap every spring. In spite of past history, there was always hope of victory, hope of triumph, hope of undeserved good luck.
Baseball games were always on in the background as my Dad puttered around the yard on summer days. Baseball games accompanied barbecues and picnics, family vacations and camping trips. Baseball players were my heroes and my secret crushes. Handsome Pudge Fisk, Dewey Evans, Nomar and Captain Varitek.
Baseball means summer. It means youth and strength and unbelievable grace. Baseball, since October of 2004, means magic and crazy rituals to bring luck. It means belonging to a group that is larger than any I’ve ever known, sharing the most intense of emotions with millions of strangers as the Red Sox win and lose. It means always wearing a Sox hat or shirt when we travel, so that we can find other members of our tribe when we are far from home.
Baseball means America in all its innocence and optimism. It means Cooperstown and “Field of Dreams”. The smell of beer and the taste of peanuts. Fingers crossed, rally caps on. Baseball means a link to the past, to the history that we have all shared here in this “new world”.
Today as I sit watching Fenway Park celebrate its 100th birthday the sky is blue and cloudless, the sun is bright, the organ is playing. Time seems to have rolled back as we remember the first pitch thrown out by Honey Fitz, then Mayor of Boston.
On this exquisite afternoon, there are no steroids, no growth hormones, no cheating. Boys play baseball for the joy of the game. America is still the land of opportunity, and anything is possible.