Tuesday, March 23, 2010

3,000 Hits, 400 Home Runs

I had a poster of Carl Yastrzemski on my wall as a kid. I dreamed of playing left field for the Boston Red Sox and becoming the third Hall of Famer in a row to grace that hallowed space, following Yaz and the immortal Ted Williams in a line of excellence stretching back to before World War II.

Alas, my dreams went up in smoke early. I had a natural affinity for baseball but my physical gifts were average. My desire made up some of the difference but by the time middle school rolled around I was too near sighted and scrawny to even make the baseball team. I switched my competitive gear and turned to track and field, becoming a pretty good long distance runner. But there is a deep pang there that my baseball days ended too early. I played Babe Ruth League but even there I mostly rode pine.

My family would sit on cool summer evenings and watch the Sox lose. The sad history of that squad is widely documented and that is not what this post is about. But the context dictates the mention. I'd had my heart broken at 6 in the 1975 World Series and thumbed through a scrapbook of the 1967 Impossible Dream season that my dad had kept. But none of that dulled the quotidian joy of witnessing the slow unspooling of hot stove drama on a tiny TV.

On nights when the games went too late I would listen in my bed.

Two milestones approached for my favorite player. At the beginning of the 1979 season, both 3,000 hits and 400 home runs seemed in reach. No American League player had ever reached both.

By mid July he'd reached 399 home runs. All of New England held their breath. A group of URI Faculty had rented a bus to go up and see a game. My dad got us tickets and we walked up to the Memorial Union on the URI campus to wait with the rest of the eager Sox fans.

The bus broke down somewhere en route and by the time word got to us it was too late to make it up to Boston. I was crushed. I remember walking home wearing my baseball glove, a glove I still have to this day. My dad put his arm around me and spoke softly to me, telling me he was sorry it had worked out that way. In my memory we went home and watched the game as Yaz parked his 400th. But that might be wrong. He might not have hit it that day...I honestly don't remember. What sticks with me is how good it felt to have my dad's arm around me.

The season wore on and Yaz haltingly raised his hit total. By this point in his career he was over 40. He was a chain smoker. How he was still in the big leagues is a testament to his natural skill. But he was not fun to watch. Labored. But still capable of coming through in the clutch.

Cut to Tuesday, September 11th. I am ten years old. I've started fourth grade. I get home from school. My Uncle Jimmy calls the house and tells me to get my glove ready. He is coming down from Massachusetts to pick me up and bring me to the game. It is already almost 4PM and I can't figure out how we are going to make it to Fenway in time. Yaz has 2,999 hits. The Sox are playing the Yankees. Former Sox ace Luis Tiant is going for the Yanks. It is a script you couldn't have written, set up for Yaz to reach 3,000 against a hated rival.

Jimmy squeals into the driveway in a Honda Prelude, which to me is the height of chic and cool. I run out in my Sox cap and glove and hop in the passenger seat. The speedometer was an LED which I'd never seen at that point. We chatted about the game and life. I looked at the LED. It read 96.

We almost rear-ended a car on Storrow Drive and hurtled Ace Ventura style into a parking spot during the 2nd inning. Yaz had not gotten a hit in his first at-bat which we'd breathlessly listened to on the radio. We hustled from the car to our seats which Jimmy must have murdered someone to get. Directly behind the first base dugout, three or four rows back. I remember vividly that Carlton Fisk was standing in the batter's box when we got to our seats and he seemed like a giant. I've never seen anyone that large to this day.

Yaz went 0-3.

He got number 3,000 the next day.

I just missed each moment. But the moments that I got from those near-misses are as precious to me as what the folks in the seats at Fenway got. And years later my dad and I would cheer from the third base line as Yaz knocked in what would be his final RBI. Impossible Dream, my ass.


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nightfly said...

Yeah, what Anon said.

And also - great memories. I can commiserate on near-misses; I was at Yankee Stadium the day AFTER Jim Abbott's no-hitter, because he was astonishingly selfish enough to throw it the day before my birthday.

Loved the Prelude part. I once owned a 1980 Prelude, quite used and worn-down. It tossed a piston inside of one month and that was pretty much the end. Part of me still wishes that I could have kept and repaired it, though. They're very hard to find. It was a fun little (little little!) car.

Brendan O'Malley said...

ooh, missing a no-hitter by a day. that's good! i saw pedro martinez one-hit the yankees and strike out 17 at yankee stadium. chili davis hit a solo home run for the only hit. best performance i've ever seen.

Anonymous said...


Your Dad let you go out with Uncle Jimmy by yourself!!..alone!!...what was he nuts?

Great Post!

Uncle Tony

Brendan O'Malley said...

hey tony!

you all got the joe-gene in one form or another. with jimmy it was right out front. with my dad it took subtler forms. like endangering the welfare of a young red sox fan!

thanks for reading it...