In the late 1940’s, my cousin Carl was the catcher for the Stevens High School baseball team, the “Cardinals.” I pictured myself as the next “Steinie,” which is what they called him. He and Phil Kaminsky were an all-Jewish battery, the only one in the school’s history. Phil even got a tryout with the Red Sox. Carl went on to become Dave Sisler’s catcher at Princeton, and Sisler became a Red Sox pitcher.
As for me, no one ever called me “Steinie.” And I didn’t make the Stevens High baseball team. It still hurts.
Early last season, I wrote that the Red Sox were “off to a rocky start” but added “it’s a long season.” Unfortunately, the 2011 season turned out to be too long for the Red Sox. The team had a great run, and on Labor Day it seemed a sure thing they would make the playoffs. Instead, the team fell apart, leaving us with nothing except “Wait ‘til next year.”
Here it is, next year, when this not-so-young man’s fancy turns, once again, to thoughts of . . . baseball. Terry Francona is gone, so it’s up to the new manager, Bobby Valentine, to pick up the pieces. Heidi Watney is gone too. Now those are tough shoes to fill.
Why do so many of us follow the game of baseball, and feel forlorn from the end of one season to the beginning of the next? Maybe it’s because our favorite team gets to start over every spring, and we don’t. If our bones ache or our eyes dim, too bad – we’re stuck with what we’ve got. Not so in baseball. The Red Sox can simply cast off the parts that no longer work so well, the Variteks and the Wakefields, and replace them with new blood. I’m glad the team re-signed “Big Papi” Ortiz. At 36, he’s practically ancient.
Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training on my birthday last month. The rest of the players arrived a few days later, and now the exhibition season is underway. If you happen to be in Fort Myers, you can go to brand-new JetBlue Stadium and buy a box seat ticket, if they have any left, for only $46. During the regular season, it will cost more than twice that amount at not-so-new Fenway Park. No wonder they call it “Moneyball.”
You might consider going to Manchester to see the Fisher Cats. Unlike the Red Sox, they were league champions last year, and a box seat costs $10.
But, if you are serious about our national pastime, there is no experience quite like walking up the ramp at Fenway Park, 100 years old this year, and looking out on that field of green. The usher will show you to your seat and, if it’s wet, even wipe it dry. You can put worldly cares out of mind, at least for a few hours. And you can watch the food vendors throw ice creams and peanuts with deadly accuracy and make change on the fly – a show within the Show. You can even have a beer, so long as you don’t take it into the clubhouse. That era is over.
You do have another choice – high school baseball. Next month Stevens High School plays both the Conant Orioles and the ConVal Cougars. The Cardinals also had a long season last year. They were 3 and 15. If I could, I would try out one last time.