Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Like A Virus

The handsome young gentleman in the above picture is my nephew, Grahm. We call him Grahmy.

My brother has decided to allow the majority of the important child-rearing decisions to my sister-in-law. Except one. An extremely important one. Grahm will carry on the tradition of following the Boston Red Sox, like his father, and his father's father, and even his father's father's father, the son of Lithuanian immigrants who passed away in December knowing the family name would be four generations entrenched in America and that the flag would fly over Fenway. He was born with the Red Sox as champions (1915) and died the same way.

He was old enough to remember a Red Sox team before Ted Williams. He saw Teddy Ballgame and Yaz and Jim Rice. He didn't think much of Manny, though. He didn't like players who didn't hustle.

His favorite player on the current squad was Kevin Youkilis, based on reports (I don't know how true) that he's part Lithuanian and also his nose to grindstone playing style.

Grandpa had polio, and his left leg was noticably thinner than his right. He made up for this by working out his upper body, eventually becoming a lifeguard and teaching CPR to enlisted Navy personnel during WWII. His leg had prohibited him from enlisting, so he served in whatever way he could.

He worked as a master tool and die maker, taking only three sick days in a forty-six year career. He worked as a bartender at the local Lithuanian social club, though he never drank himself. He loved raspberries. As in soda, cookies, sherbert, straight out of the carton. Didn't matter.

Oh, and he loved Grahm and the Red Sox.

Here he is with my father (left), my brother (right) and Grahm.

Grahm had a long day, though Grandpa didn't mind. I heard him whispering to Grahm, "You won't remember me, but I'll never forget you." We showed him the hat from the first picture, which caused him to chuckle and offer, "Yup, you gotta start early."

My father stayed behind and watched the rest of the LCS with him, and he kept singing the praises of Youk, pointing his finger, firm and crooked with age, at the TV and repeating, "That's how you play the game."

He died two months later, at ease with the cycles of this world, gently waiting for what lay ahead. But no matter the company or conversation, my father said he'd always shift it back to Grahm. He had other great-grandchildren, but Grahmy was going to carry on the family name.

His love of the Red Sox, however, is up to us.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fenway Park (6/21/06)

"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick:
but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life"

-Proverbs 13:12

Remember where you were on October 21st, 2004?

I do.

The day after the Red Sox completed The Reverse Sweep, I was in a Barnes & Noble in Phoenix.

I was meeting with someone to talk about housesitting, and he'd been held up at work, leaving me with about an hour to kill. There weren't any good used bookstores in the area, so I went to B&N to browse and kill some time. Because it was raining, I was wearing my Red Sox hoodie, which I'd purchased in Boston the previous June on my way to Ireland and, living in Arizona, didn't have much opportunity to wear it during the summer.

I was paying for my magazine when the clerk commented about my choice of clothing,
"I see you're wearing that tonight."

"Of course. It's really coming down out there."

She laughed politely and responded, "No, the Red Sox. After last night."

I assured her that I had been following the Red Sox since I was knee high to a grasshopper. My little league bat, which I still have, was a Pudge Fisk model, and explained that my father was from Connecticut and despite growing up in Dodger country, was unabashedly and unrepentantly a followed of the Old Towne Team. Then she told me that her nephew had signed with the team and was playing in one of their farm clubs.

She couldn't be any more specific than saying it was in Florida. I asked his name and she told me, "Jon Lester. No 'H.'"

I thanked her for my change and made a mental note to look that up, which I did when I got to a computer.

Jon Lester: 20 years old, from Tacoma, WA, no college attended, played rookie ball the previous two seasons, left-handed, pitching for Sarosota. Hmmm. I'd never paid much attention to the Sox minor league teams any deeper than AAA, so I thought this a good opportunity to follow a player through the bushes and see where he ended up. I'd read in Bill James' Abstract that southpaws tended to develop slower than righties, so it could be four or five years before he hit the majors.

So I stuck his name in the back of my mind, Tim Wakefield was pitching game one.

My family and I were on vacation in Cape Cod in June of 2006 and we weren't getting this close to Fenway without taking in a game. Looking over the schedule, I saw the Sox were playing the Nationals. Not exactly a huge draw, so maybe we'd catch a break on the price.

While they're weren't as high as the seats for the next week's Met series, including the return of Pedro Martinez, they weren't cheap either. Still, it was Fenway and these were the Red Sox.

The starting pitchers for the series were: Kyle Synder (ehhhhh), Tim Wakefield (seen him twice), and Jon Lester.

Jon Lester?

I'd been following as well as I could from 2700 miles away his progress through the minors and watched as he'd won his first major league game in Atlanta a few days before, so the choice was simple: We were going to see Jon Lester pitch.

Here's how he did:

A fine showing, especially for a 22-year-old lefty who hadn't quite ironed out his control issues. Granted, it was the Nationals, but with the exception of Ryan Zimmerman, who'd gone hitless, every starting National had struck out. Not to mention that the game itself was a lot of fun. Sox won, 9 - 3, and I got to see my first ever Fenway grand slam, as Big Papi smacked one off the camera shade in center (see below), after which my brother, who was watching the game from work, called me and responded to my "Hello" with "You asshole!"

Ha ha ha.

But we did buy him a Jonathan Papelbon jersey-shirt (a fireman for our fireman, get it?) and got this picture of him hanging out in the bullpen during the game:

My sister-in-law, a baseball agnostic whose upbringing included two Cubs fan grandparents and a mother who prefers the White Sox, also noted that Jon Lester was "cute."

Granted, not the way I'd try to introduce someone to baseball but hey, you gotta start somewhere.

For those who don't know, Lester was diagnosed with Anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer, in August of the 2006 season. As the Sox fell from contention that September, a fall that included a disastorous five-game sweep in Fenway at the hands of the Yankees, the season ended softly, fading into the Pats' attempt to get back to the Super Bowl. Lester's diagnosis, after losing my grandmother to cancer the year before, but baseball on the backburner, and I felt worse about Lester's condition than the fact that the Yankees won the division again. I settled into the end of September thinking, "Wait til next year." When my brother told me that December that he and his fiance were expecting, well, I had something extra to look forward to.

Nearly two years later, Lester has beaten cancer and changed his number. Oh, and he won the deciding game of the World Series, threw a no-hitter, and on Thursday pitched a shut-out in Yankee stadium. There was talk over the off-season of trading Lester plus some other prospects to the Twins for Johan Santana. Rumors are that John Farrell, the Sox pitching coach, was in the winter meetings, pounding the table and insisting that they didn't want to trade Lester away. NoMass, a Sox-hating, Met-disliking site that can be funny on occasion, made this comment about the rumors, writing that they wouldn't "trade Phil Hughes straight up for that combination of players [Lester, Crisp, Masterson, Lowrie]."

Though they're rather generous in their criticism of Brian Cashman, let's look out how that trade would have worked out had such a swap taken place, and let's just deal with the pitchers:

Lester: 7-3, 117.7 IP, 3.21 ERA, 1.309 WHIP, 76 K/41 BB, 1 No Hitter
Masterson: 4-2, 48 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.250 WHIP, 37 K/26 BB


Phil Hughes: 0-4, 22 IP, 9.00 ERA, 2.136 WHIP, 13 K/13 BB

Granted, the season isn't over yet, and I'm willing to bet that Hughes' career is far from done, but it isn't a stretch to say Lester and Masterson are surprising quite a few people with their numbers this year. Hughes is as well, though not in the same way.

My brother drafted Jon Lester in the fantasy baseball league we're in. As he works sometimes 48 hours straight, I told him I'd give him a hand as he might not have access to a computer on account of his job. While I am in second-to-last place, I would like to note he drafted Tim Lincecum on my advice.

He also drafted Lester, a move I advised him against, as I reminded him his stamina might be an issue, and as lefty's are traditional wild to begin with, he might need another year to fully recover from the cancer and treatment.

After some mediocre starts to begin the season, I was ready to remind him I told him so.

Now, he's reminding me that he's the one in first place.


Still, I couldn't be happier about losing, not the least because the league is purely about bragging rights.

And I can always brag that I saw Lester strike out ten Nationals in Fenway Park.

He's got no comeback for that one.

Also, this link is, I think, an appropriate one.