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Baseball and the Passing of Time

August 6, 2016
Baseball endures because it feels timeless. It feels timeless because it endures. Or as Jerry Seinfeld said, we’re really just cheering for laundry. The players come and go, usually without notice, but we care while they’re wearing our laundry. Yet occasionally the arrival or departure of a player feels like it’s marking something more significant. And so it was in Seattle for me Tuesday night, watching my beloved Red Sox play the Mariners. This year marks 45 years since my first trip to Fenway (in an earlier post I tracked down the box score of that game against the Orioles), which means I have seen generations of Red Sox come and go. Tuesday I saw both.
Barring any further coincidence between the Sox’s schedule and my own, I will not watch David Ortiz play in person again. No player better marks the transition from the Red Sox I grew up with (so close, but never the big win) to those of the last dozen years (Three rings. Three? Rings!). My boyhood hero, Carl Yastrzemski, did so much for his teams, but twice came up one World Series game short (in fact, he made the last out of both Series he played in, plus the infamous Bucky Dent playoff game in 1978). Big Papi felt the pain of 2003 and the subsequent glories of 2004, 2007, and 2013. He has hit so many clutch home runs that they kind of blur together in a single, late-inning montage of clutch and victory. Yaz bore the unfair brunt of his team’s failures; I remember fans booing him in the early 70s, presumably for not winning the Triple Crown and going to the World Series every year. Papi told the world not to f*** with Boston after the marathon bombing and probably could have been elected governor of Massachusetts while still playing. He’ll certainly never pay for a drink in the Commonwealth for the rest of his life. When he retires at the end of this year the Sox will lose their last link to the curse-busters who overcame the Yankees down three games to none. He helped change the psyche of a city, a region, and a Nation. He gave me memories to last several lifetimes.
Earlier today the Sox called up Andrew Benintendi, the first player they drafted last year. He was tearing up Double-A and was deemed worthy of a shot at the bigs. With a lefty starting for the Mariners, Benintendi began the game on the bench but came on as a pinch hitter in the seventh. He later struck out to end the game (but had two hits in his first start the next night). Watching him in left field alongside Jackie Bradley Jr and Mookie Betts, I thought of Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans, those kids who gave me such hope in 1975 and who looked to rule the Fenway outfield for a decade or more. My grandfather, who (with my dad) brought me to Fenway on that August night in 1971, would have said it reminded him of Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, and Stan Spence. And so it goes, back to Tris Speaker, Duffy Lewis, and Harry Hooper in the outfield of the brand-new Fenway Park a century ago.
The night was like many of my youth in another way: up 4-0 in the 8th, the Sox lost 5-4. Robinson Cano hit a three-run homer to break my heart again. But no matter. I saw more than a baseball game. I saw the passing of time.
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