The Universal Notebook: Darn those Red Sox!

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For decades I have known that the only Red Sox game I attended as a kid was a game in which Ted Williams hit a solo home run to beat the Kansas City Athletics. I didn’t know exactly when that game was until I mentioned it to my son-in-law Jim, who is an avid baseball fan, albeit it of the New York Yankees ilk. (It’s okay; he’s from Connecticut.)

When I woke up the day after mentioning that Red Sox game, I had a text from Jim informing me that it must have been July 17, 1956. Williams hit a first-pitch line drive homer in the sixth to score the game’s only run. As it happened, it was also Ted’s 400th homerun, making him only the fifth major leaguer to hit 400, Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Mel Ott and Lou Gehrig being the others. Today there are 57, including Red Sox greats Yaz and Papi.

Edgar Allen BeemThat summer I was seven years old and we were living in Groton, Massachusetts, while my father covered nearby Fort Devens for Met Life. My guess is he must have gotten free tickets at work.

What I remember most about my sole Red Sox game was the great revelation of Fenway Park, walking out from the dim structures beneath the stands to see the bright green field like an emerald in the middle of the city.

My youthful focus was on the Red Sox outfield. Williams in left, Jimmy Piersall in center, and Jackie Jensen in right. Williams, of course, was the last player to hit .400. Piersall was as famous for his heroic battle against mental illness as for his onfield heroics, a battle chronicled in his biography “Fear Strikes Out.” Jensen, the Red Sox answer to Mickey Mantle, suffered from anxiety as well, briefly retiring in 1960 primarily because he had a crippling fear of flying.

Williams, Piersall and Jensen are still my favorite all-time Sox outfield. Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Smith and Ken Harrelson were good. Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans were better. And I loved Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts because I saw them all play with the Portland Sea Dogs. But Williams, Piersall and Jensen were the best.

Though we lived in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, from 1958 to 1960 we never attended a Pawsox game. It wasn’t until the Portland Sea Dogs came along in 1994 that I discovered the simple joys of being a minor league city — small crowds, cheap seats close to the field, and a chance to see future Red Sox players before they played in Boston.

Among the Red Sox I saw as Sea Dogs were Josh Beckett, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis. Back in 2018, half the Red Sox roster consisted of former Sea Dogs like Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Mookie Betts.

Having followed the Red Sox for close to 70 years, I must say I kind of preferred the Sox back before we started expecting them to win. Most of my young life, the Red Sox specialized in breaking our hearts…almost making it and then folding down the stretch. Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox fans were so ardent because they were so long-suffering.

But with general manager Chaim Bloom disrespecting Sox fans by letting favorites like Benintendi, Betts, Bradley and Bogaerts go, I do shop around for another team to support. I’m thinking maybe the Cleveland Guardians. They haven’t won the World Series in my lifetime.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen review column.

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