Sports: The Tie that Binds

The improbable come from behind victory of the New England Patriots against the Atlanta Falcons left fans exhausted, elated (or distraught) depending on one’s allegiance.  This ‘Win for the Ages’ joins a list of great sport moments in Boston.

I grew up in Rhode Island with a natural allegiance to Boston teams.  Memorable moments in sports, both victories and painful losses, help define who we are and where we belong.

I remember watching the Boston Bruins in my Uncle Freddy’s living room…with  Bobby Orr flying through the air in 1970.  I remember listening to my transistor radio under the blankets, long after I was supposed to be asleep, as the great Johnny Most called the Celtics play by play.

My Uncle Bob, my Dad’s mischievous younger brother, gave me my first beer at age 16 (‘don’t tell your father’) as we watched on television the Patriot’s with Jim Plunkett as the QB.

In 1978 I was working in a supermarket as a tie breaking play-off game between the Red Sox and Yankees was broadcast over the stores sound system.   I remember the cries and curses that arose when Bucky ‘##&*ing’ Dent hit a home run to break our hearts.

On Sept. 12, 1979 I witnessed Carl Yazstremski reach the milestone of  3000 hits.  Witness is a bit of a stretch. My lifelong friend, Clyde Haworth ( a Yankee fan) had a dorm room off of Kenmore Square.  We sat on the roof, sipping a favorite beverage, listening to the game on the radio…with a partial view of Fenway Park. Such are the lengths we fans go to, when a team captures your heart.

In 2000 I rode with my Dad in an ambulance as he went for radiation treatment.  His cancer had spread and the prognosis was poor.  Striving for any type of normalcy, I remember my Dad asking: ‘How did the Sox do last night?’

In 2004, four years after my Dad and Uncle Freddy had died, then living in Oregon, I watched with my friend Win Dolan (another New England transplant) as our Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.  We toasted my Dad and Freddy and all those who hadn’t lived to see this day.

Those who aren’t sport fans may think such stories are over stated, even childish.    But sports with their medley of heart-break and joy have a way of shaping who we are as we remember those living and dead, to whom we belong.  Those with whom we have a shared memory.

photo-tom-bradyThis past Sunday, like most New England fans, I thought all was lost.  But as the second half of the Super Bowl progressed, we found the impossible become the improbable become ‘a win for the ages’.  I shared the moment with friends while our buddy, Clyde Haworth (at the Super Bowl with his son Jake), texted video clips of the crowd… as despair gave way to delirium.

Such are the ties that bind us to one another.  Sports offer a storyline within which we share a lifetime of memories.  Sports serve too as a diversion from the painful realities of life.

In a few weeks, Spring Training begins for baseball in Florida and Arizona. The storyline continues as fans gather around their team and learn a new line up of players.  A new season means a fresh start for our team and for us.

We await those familiar words: ‘Play ball’!



Ernie and the Babe

Sometimes a treasure is found in the most unexpected places. Last week my wife and I were exploring Cooperstown, NY the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. We stopped by a used book bookstore which was a rabbits warren of packed shelves and heaps of books on the floor. It was a place seemingly without order, which was also part of its charm. You had the sense that hiding within each pile was a gift waiting to be found.

Being a bookstore in Cooperstown there were lots of books and memorabilia related to baseball. Over one bookshelf was a dusty photograph depicting two baseball players seated by a dugout. One was instantly recognizable, the great Babe Ruth. The other was unfamiliar. Both were young, wearing the uniform of my Red Sox. Clearly this was early in Babe’s career before being sold to the Evil Empire (the Yankees). Who was the other guy sitting beside Babe?

Babe and Ernie

The owner of the shop didn’t know. I took a photo with my phone and texted it to my buddy Bruce. Bruce knows more about baseball than I will ever know. He has kept a scorecard for the thousands of games he has attended over the course of his lifetime. He’s also a walking baseball encyclopedia. Within minutes Bruce texted me back, providing the answer to our mystery man: Ernie Shore.

Later a web search of Ernie Shore provided lots of stats on the pitchers life. I learned he had grown up and played ball in the Carolina’s, been recruited by Baltimore and traded with Babe to the Sox. One headline caught my attention:

Ernie Shore’s ‘Perfect’ Game and Babe Ruth’s Ejection in 1917

The Boston Globe covered this game with as much attention to the fracas that got Babe Ruth ejected after walking the first batter as to Ernie Shore’s feat of retiring the 26 batters he faced in relief, which, with the first batter being thrown out stealing, made 27 straight outs, if not quite an absolute perfect game. It happened at Fenway Park on June 23, 1917, in the first game of a doubleheader vs. the Washington Senators. Here’s part of the Globe’s account:

No-Hit, No-Run and No-Man-to-First Performance
Modest Ernie Shore took a place in the Hall of Fame as a no-hit, no-run, no man-reached-first base pitcher in the curtain-raiser of the twin bill with the Griffmen at Fenway Park yesterday. It was the best pitching seen in this city since 1904 when Cy Young put over a similar feat, the only difference being that Uncle Cyrus pitched to every batter, while the Carolina professor did not get into the exercises until after Ruth, who had walked Morgan, the first batter, had been removed from the pastime for striking Umpire Brick Owns. . .

The rest of the article had to do with Babe punching the ump for not calling a strike. Babe being tossed opened the door for the ‘modest Ernie Shore’ to enter the game and make history. Now this photo of Ernie and the Babe hangs by my desk. In the photo Babe seems to be looking away. But Ernie seems to be looking directly at me. Sizing me up. I wonder if he had that same look on June 23, 1917 when he pitched a perfect game, knocking back 27 batters in a row.

Sometimes you find a treasure in the most unexpected places.

A Field of Dreams

In the classic film ‘Field of Dreams’ starring Kevin Costner, his character, Ray,  is directed by a mysterious voice to plow his Iowa cornfield and build a baseball field.  The voice promises ‘build it and he will come’.   As the movie unfolds we learn that the baseball field is to welcome the spirit of Ray’s long deceased father.  It seems that during Ray’s turbulent adolescence that baseball was the one place where father and son could meet.

Through the magic of film, Ray’s father appears and father and son are able to have one last game of ‘catch’.   As the ball is tossed back and forth, old regrets fall away and the relationship between the two is restored.  Who among us doesn’t wish for such a place of meeting, healing, restoration?

There is a Field of Dreams near where I live in Oregon.  The field is on the grounds of a Trappist Abbey built by a monk named Brother Mark.  The ball field honors his relationship with hisField of Dreams IMG_0016 long dead father.  As with the character in the film, baseball was a meeting place for a son and father who didn’t always know how to communicate.

For Brother Mark, the building of this rustic field with its chicken wire backstop was a labor of love to honor his Dad.  He also built it to be a place where others could come to honor loved one’s no longer living yet who live on in the lives they touched.  People now come with baseball related mementos to place on that chicken wire backstop.  Attached to the backstop are pennants, team jerseys, rosary beads. 

In 2000 my Dad, Raymond ‘Norman’ Harrop died.  I asked Brother Mark if he would walk with me to the field.  At the field I took off my Red Sox cap and tucked it into the chicken wire backstop.  My Dad loved the Red Sox and so do I.  Brother Mark offered a simple prayer of blessing upon my Dad’s memory and asked that this Field of Dreams be a place of healing for me.

Over the years I’ve often returned to Brother Mark’s field, and a few times have brought a new Red Sox cap to replace the one which had grown faded by the elements.  One time I noticed that a Yankee cap had been placed next to my Dad’s, and I thought, “is this what heaven is like?”

On New Years day, I walked with my daughter Lindsay to the field.  We noticed that it was time for a new hat to be placed.  It was a crisp, peaceful, sunny day.  Other memorabilia honoring fans of the Mariners, Dodgers, Cubs adorned the backstop.  Each placed with a prayer.  Each seeking a blessing. 

At this Field of Dreams, I breathed a prayer:  “I love you Dad.  I miss you.  Thanks for all you did for me and our family.  Go Sox”.