In these times, so mind boggling and overwhelming, we are moved to look back and reminisce.
Catch up on your reading, but pining for the headline that confirms normalcy has returned. In the days ahead, there will be a recall of the way it was — the only alternative for life without games.
In the first quarter of each year, I always try to spend a few days at spring training camps in Florida — the Grapefruit League. On at least two occasions, I have also made it to Arizona for Cactus League competition.
Most of the 15 major league teams in the Grand Canyon state are concentrated in the Greater Phoenix area, which means that the longest distance between teams is Tempe to Peoria, a total of 31 miles. There are a lot more miles between the camps in Florida, but what they don’t tell you about Arizona is that traffic can often turn a 30-mile drive into an hour and a half on the interstates and freeways.
For years, it was a highlight to spend time in Winter Haven and later Fort Myers, where the Red Sox have trained in the Sunshine State for decades — 1966 through this year’s abbreviated schedule.
My first team was the Red Sox. Growing up on a Middle Georgia farm in the 1950s, the Yankees were the dominant team in baseball, which was an extension of the 1940s, which was an extension of the 1930s.
The long-held tradition of farm families in rural communities was that the weekly routine called for five and a half days of work. On Saturday, this meant that after lunch, which we called dinner, most families went to town and grocery shopped for the coming week.
While my parents tended to their grocery list, I beat it over to the county library to read for the afternoon. I was always taken by those long rows of book shelves, packed with books. I would run my hand across the spines of all those printed volumes and wonder how long would it take someone to read them all.
The books which got my attention were sports and anything about the history of the West. Never thought I would see the Grand Canyon or Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park. But I could dream. And I did. I always fantasied what it would be like to visualize the expanse of the Grand Canyon, to see “The House that Ruth Built” and to see the Green Monster in left field at Fenway Park — not the least bit convinced that it would happened someday.
A deep and abiding fascination developed for major league baseball from time spent in the library. For some peculiar reason, it developed that I read about the Red Sox when Babe Ruth was their canny left-handed pitcher without knowing that he was traded after six years to the Yankees.
Perhaps that is why I became a Red Sox fan, provincially unaware of the Yankee dynasty which featured the indomitable Ruth. At the library one day when I discovered that fact, tears ran down my cheeks. The alarmed librarian asked what was troubling me? I exclaimed dejectedly “the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth.” As I recall that library episode would have taken place about 1948, more than a quarter century after the trade which later would become known in Red Sox lore as bringing about “the Curse of the Bambino.”
With the passing of time, I maintained overt reverence for the Red Sox and saw games in Yankee Stadium a few times before witnessing one at Fenway Park. When I got there Oct. 22, 1986, my anticipation could not have been greater. It was the World Series and the Red Sox had a 2-1 lead on the Mets. I was able to acquire tickets for my son, Kent, and me, a memorable father-son outing. The Sox lost, but before the infamous Bill Bucker faux pas, the series returned to Shea Stadium, where twice the Red Sox were one strike away from ending the curse. The father-son outing became unforgettable, the Sox outing at Fenway heartbreaking.
It is not uncommon these days to make it to Fenway Park every year although more often than not, it is intermittently, like every other year. Whenever I return, the dreams are renewed. I can’t get enough of Fenway.
However, when the Braves came to Atlanta in 1966, I became a fan and got to know team officials, managers, coaches and players, which turned me into a passionate fan of the Braves.
If the Braves and the Red Sox were to meet in the World Series, I would gladly pull for the hometown team.