THANKS for the memory, Wade.
In recent years I have begun to lose touch with professional sports. Not so much because I don't enjoy a hot afternoon at the ballpark or an overtime playoff game, but simply because of what I call "athlete apathy."
The barrage of strikes and strike threats, the multitude of drug scandals and the "self-before-team" mentality have sent this sports fan to the showers. Too many professional athletes do not care anymore--they do not care about their images, they do not care about the cities they represent and, worst of all, they do not really care about winning.
On Monday night the scene in the Red Sox dugout struck me like a hard line drive between the eyes. The collapse of the Red Sox after virtually winning the World Series brought the American League batting champ, Wade Boggs, to tears.
There was Boggs, the epitome of individual success, saturating a towel on national television because of his team's failure. At last, something I could identify with. Seven figure salaries mean nothing to me. Complaining about playing time is tiring. Snorting cocaine between games of a double header is repulsive. But tears...that brings back the memories.
I WAS 12 YEARS old and Big Stu Kessler was pitching for Bifulco Farms. Kessler, a giant of a twelve year old, shopped for clothes in the men's section when most of us were only midway through boys'. He was a floppy headed monster on the mound, and when he let the ball go it seemed to be coming straight down at you.
In our previous game, Kess threw three innings of no hit ball with his left hand and then three more with his right. We would cheer our foul balls as real achievements.
In the final game of their undefeated season, with their buffalo on the mound, Bifulco had us 1-0 into the bottom of the sixth and last inning. Happily, I was due up fourth in the inning, and I felt sure I would not be the one to make the last out. That is until Guy Olivieri chipped a grounder down the first base line that went for a triple.
Tying run on third. Two out. On the end of the bench is a petrified, skinny second baseman who now had to face not only the strongest kid in the neighborhood--and maybe in the state--but the angriest kid in the neighborhood. I recall the coach saying just one thing, "Sussman, don't strike out looking!" I responded with a scratchy "Thanks, coach."
It took just three pitches. He used the same hand. I missed them with both hands.
As I stumbled back to the bench, I could see Olivieri throw his helmet from third. The coach threw his clipboard. My fellow Dunkin' Donuts threw their hats.
Those still not satisfied threw their gloves. I found a spot on the bench and sat quietly with my head down. When most of the team was gone I cried. I really cried.
I can recall asking myself why big leaguers never cry when they wiff. I guess at the time I figured it was because they were grown men and grown men do not cry.
As I grew older and saw players go to jail, go on strike and go on holdouts I began to get a different answer. They do not cry because they do not care. Well, at least for a few moments Monday night I saw a big leaguer who still cares, who cares enough to send us all back to dusty fields, to a Kessler's blazing fastballs and to flying clipboards.
Thanks, Wade. This Dunkin' Donut appreciates it.