Thursday, May 18, 2017

My Summer of Love

This is a love story. My love story. It was when I found my first true love.
It was 1967 – the Summer of Love – when I dove and fell Pete Rose style head over heels in love with the Boston Red Sox. Oh, I like liked them prior to 1967  – a Facebook team if you will that I checked on every so often to see what they were up to which usually wasn’t high in the American League standings. But that all changed for me and Red Sox fans around me in 1967 when the six state region of New England got attached to the team like Norm to the  bar at Cheers. That’s when we became aroused then obsessed by a team that ultimately led us on a roller-coaster journey of heartbreak and misery that took, for me,  37 years to evolve into bliss and piss-in-my-pants excitement.
For the vast majority of Red Sox fans like myself, 1967 was a life- and mind-altering year and it had nothing to do with drugs, sex and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Of course, the Summer of Love is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and here in the San Francisco Bay Area where I now live they are dripping with tie-dye psychedelic nostalgia. I, however, am logging into my memories as a 13-year-old growing up in a small town in Maine who became captivated by a baseball team in Boston that spawned what is now known as Red Sox Nation.
My Summer of Love had sharp contrasts and stark differences from the one they are remembering out here.
San Francisco had Scott McKenzie. We had Johnny “Pie” McKenzie.
San Francisco had Golden Gate Park. We had Fenway Park.
San Francisco had Haight-Ashbury. We had Lansdowne-Jersey.
San Francisco had Timothy Leary. We had Dick Williams.
San Francisco had beat-niks. We had George “Boomer” Scott and taters.
San Francisco had hippies. We had Hawk Harrelson.
San Francisco had LSD. We had Tony C.
San Francisco had Jerry Garcia. We had Jerry Adair.
San Francisco had Flower Power. We had Yaz.
Yet there was no evidence that a social phenomenon of sorts was brewing in Boston in 1967. On Opening Day only 8,324 fans showed up for the first Red Sox game of the season. The only good to come out of that was my favorite go-to Red Sox trivia question:  Who was the Opening Day second baseman for the Red Sox in 1967? Answer: Reggie Smith, then a rookie who went on to play five more games at second base and 1,668 in the outfield.
Mind you the Red Sox at that time in 1967 were about as popular in New England as the war in Vietnam. Though the Celtics were nearly at the end of a dynasty run when they routinely won 11 NBA titles in 13 years, Boston was a hockey town with a budding rookie named Bobby Orr. The Red Sox were the losers – a ninth-place team with 100-to-1 odds that hadn’t had a winning record since 1958 -- who shared Fenway Park with the Boston Patriots. The only “Babe” playing in Boston then was Babe Parilli.
Then something magical happened. For me, it was the diving over-the-shoulder, back-to-home plate “tremendous” catch by Carl Yastrzemski in Yankee Stadium on April 14 off the bat of Tom Tresh that saved a no-hit bid by a left-handed rookie pitcher named Billy Rohr making his major league debut. His luck didn’t last – Rohr won only two more games in the big leagues – but the fascination with Yaz and the “Cardiac Kids” continued and went viral come summer. When the Red Sox capped a six-game road trip with a 10-game winning streak, thousands of fans were waiting for their plane to land at Logan Airport to celebrate. In July. With the team in second place.
There was suddenly a belief in this Boston team and it was spreading all around New England like lobster on rolls. I remember humid summer evenings when Bob Buzzell, the uncle of my best friend Darrell on Cherry Street, would sit and listen to Red Sox games on his porch. In those days, there was no cable TV. We had three TV stations in Bangor and only one of them showed Red Sox games on TV and then only on weekends. But the team took off and so did rabid interest. Everyone was tuning in and binge listening to games and you literally could walk down a street in Maine and hear play by play of Red Sox games without missing a word of the action.
An improbable team was now engineering an impossible season. It was called “The Impossible Dream” team and was chronicled at season’s end with an LP album filled with highlights narrated by Ken Coleman in a poetic tribute about how the Red Sox rebounded from the tragic season-ending beaning of its revered rightfielder, young slugger Tony Conigliaro.
“And then, one August night, the kid in right lies sprawling in the dirt. The fastball struck him square. He’s down. Is Tony badly hurt?  The doctors say he’ll be OK, but he won’t be back this year. If Tony’s through, what will we do? Who’ll carry us from here?”
Cue the Carl Yastrzemski song: Carl Yastrzemski! Carl Yastrzemski! Carl Yastrzemski, the man they call Yaz!
There were unforgettable moments before team captain Yaz single-handedly took over the team.  Spaghetti-armed outfielder Jose Tartabull throwing out Ken Berry at home in the ninth inning to preserve a win in Chicago in a rare televised weeknight game. The Red Sox rallying from an 8-0 deficit to beat the Angels 9-8 on a Sunday afternoon in front of a crowd of 33,840 at home.  And Ken Harrelson, released by the Kansas City Athletics, three days later becoming an overnight hero in rightfield at Fenway.
On September 7 there was a four-way tie for first place in the American League. Yaz delivered a September to remember. For the month, he batted .417 with nine home runs in 96 at-bats. In his final 15 games, Yaz batted .491 with five homers and 18 RBIs. In his final 10 games he batted .541 with four homers and 14 RBIs. His in final six games he batted .619. In the last game of the season, in a must-win game, Yaz went 4-for-4 with a clutch game-tying two-run single in a five-run sixth inning to rally the Red Sox past the Twins to the American League pennant.  The final out was a soft liner to shortstop Rico Petrocelli and, as radio commentator Ned “Mercy” Martin announced, “there’s pandemonium on the field.”
The Red Sox, with only one future Hall of Famer (Yaz) on its roster, lost the World Series in seven games to a St. Louis Cardinals team that had four future Hall of Famers. Yet, that was the least disappointing of all the aggravating World Series defeats in Red Sox history because nobody expected the team to get there and everybody fell in love with it from Eastport to Block Island.
In the end, I didn’t fall apart. I had fallen in love.


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