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Diamonds in the Shadowlands

"Diamonds in the Shadowlands" Continued...

Issue: "O Jerusalem," April 10, 2010

In October 1960 the Red Sox were not in the World Series-they had not won a Series for 42 years and would not win one for another 44-but the Pittsburgh Pirates were. I suspect many of our older readers will remember watching on television as Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of game seven to defeat the New York Yankees. Mazeroski circled the bases, waving his cap, and anything was possible.

Except to be a good player myself. In the spring of 1961 I determined to do more than watch and listen to baseball: I decided to play. My father, a good man who liked only to read, considered this foolishness, but from somewhere among the relatives an old, 1940s-style pancake glove emerged. With that and my Nestlé's-Quik-and-Fig-Newton-honed body, I went to the Little League tryouts as an 11-year-old who could hardly catch. To make up for my defensive liabilities I had a classic rusty gate swing.

Placed on a team, I received my requisite one at-bat per game and one inning in right field or left field. Since the coaches didn't spend much time with a pathetic player, I asked my father to throw me some groundballs on the street-we had no backyard or green space nearby-and he obliged. I missed the first ground ball. It rolled and kept rolling. I fetched it and yelled at him for throwing one I purportedly couldn't reach, even though the error was mine. He walked inside. We never played again.

Is it any wonder that I tear up when watching a pretty bad movie, Field of Dreams, where a Kevin Costner from my dad-despising generation yearns for a game of catch? Admit it-do some of you do that also?

The coach who cut me from my sixth-grade baseball team in 1962 did me a favor: I had better prospects in studying history and learning how to write. In 1963 I stopped going to the synagogue and started taking the trolley on Saturday mornings to the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. There I would crank the microfilm of old newspapers, often reading sports-page accounts of the Red Sox world championship years of 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918. Then I'd walk the mile to Fenway Park and sit in the right field stands. Tickets were cheap and easy to buy on game day, because the Red Sox had a losing record every year through 1966.

On April 29, 1967, I hung on through an extra-inning game where the temperature dipped below freezing. The Kansas City A's scored a run in the top of the 15th but the Red Sox scored two in the bottom to win the game, 11-10. A meaningless game between seventh and ninth place finishers the year before who weren't expected to do better in the new season? So it seemed, but the Red Sox soared that year and ended up winning the American League pennant on Oct. 1-by one game. (They lost the World Series, of course, four games to three.)

In 1968, off to college and communism, I still kept track of the Red Sox. By 1975 they were winners most of the time, and Susan and I watched on TV, in Michigan, Carlton Fisk's past-midnight walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th inning of the sixth game of the World Series. New Yorker writer Roger Angell, in an essay titled "Agincourt and After," described the moment this way:

"I was watching the ball, of course, and so I missed what everybody watching on television saw-Fisk waving wildly, weaving and writhing and gyrating along the first-base line, as he wished the ball fair. . . . John Kiley, the Fenway Park organist, played Handel's 'Hallelujah Chorus,' fortissimo. . . .

"I suddenly remembered all my old absent and distant Sox-afflicted friends. . . . I saw all of them dancing and shouting and kissing and leaping about like the fans at Fenway-jumping up and down in their bedrooms and kitchens and living rooms . . . and on back-country roads (a lone driver getting the news over the radio and blowing his horn over and over, and finally pulling up and getting out and leaping up and down on the cold macadam, yelling into the night), and all of them, for once at least, utterly joyful and believing in that joy-alight with it."

Is that blasphemous? Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," of course, proclaims that "The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. . . . The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord . . . and He shall reign forever and ever, King of Kings, forever and ever, and Lord of Lords, Hallelujah!" That's a far cry from Fisk of Fisk, even if he is a Hall of Fame catcher. But . . . through that event did we get a brief, shadowy glimpse of heaven's utter joy? So what if the Red Sox once again that year lost the seventh game of the World Series. (If I were a Yankees fan, would I mistake earth for heaven?)

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