Today is the last day of November... wow, that was fast. Today's story is another piece of something larger. I believe that baseball is one of those things that has something for everyone, it's just a matter of finding that something.
If there was one thing that Shannon Connor didn’t understand, it was baseball. She was a nerdy kid who preferred to be curled up in a corner with a book than playing or watching sports. Her brother, Sean, was the sports kid. Their dad wasn’t normally the type of guy to insist she come to a game, so when he did, she knew better than to whine or argue. It was his way of “bonding” with his kids, taking them to at least one game a year.
As they sat in the corner behind third base, she didn’t say much. Her father bought her a program and spent the beginning of the game explaining how the scoring system worked and then left her to amuse herself recording plays while he discussed the intricacies of the game with Sean.
Looking up across the park, she saw a series of numbers tacked up on the wall.
“Dad, what are those there for?”
“Those are retired numbers. They were numbers worn by great players on the team and no on else will wear that number again out of respect for the men that retired.
“Why is that one blue?”
“The blue number is Dodger blue in honor of Jackie Robinson, the player that broke the color barrier in baseball when he stepped on the field in 1947 with the Dodgers. Branch Rickey, the team’s owner, spent years preparing Robinson and members of the team and staff for that day.”
“But if he was a Dodger, why is his number retired at Fenway?”
“Because his number was retired by all of Major League Baseball. So no team uses the number 42.”
“With the exception of Mariano Rivera of the Yankees,” Sean piped up. “Figures a freakin’ Yankee would wear that number.”
Shannon asked her dad, “Why are the numbers retired?”
“Well,” he said, “if a player was with the Sox for at least 10 years and was elected to the Hall of Fame, then the team may decide to retire a number.”
“Who wore the other numbers, other than Jackie Robinson, Dad?” Shannon asked.
“Let’s see number one is Bobby Doerr. He played from 1937 through 1951 except for a couple of years he took off for the war. Number four is Joe Cronin who played for the Sox. He was a league president and a manager after he retired. Number six is Johnny Pesky. Do I need to tell you about him?
”He’s the old guy, right?”
“He is, but he’s more than that. He’s the heart and soul of the team. He’s the institutional memory and has been part of the team since 1940 when he was initially signed.”
She nodded at that one.
“Numbers eight and nine are Yaz and Ted Williams.”
“Yaz is the guy you have a photo of at home from the 60’s and Ted Williams was the last one to hit over 400.”
“Right. But remember, Yaz was the last guy to win the triple crown in baseball, hit 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. He won 7 gold gloves and had amazing fielding accomplishments as well.”
“I know 14 is Jim Rice, the guy who’s on TV before the games.”
“He was an amazing player. I used to love coming to games with my dad to watch his swing when I was a kid. Do you know number 27?”
“Carlton ‘Pudge’ Fisk.”
“The guy who danced down the line waving at the baseball.”
“Oh it was more than that. That was the end of one of the best World Series games ever. It is an iconic moment in baseball history.”
“While this stuff is cool, why are you telling me this?”
“Because your brother loves the game. You love history. If you learn the history of the team, then you’ll understand why this team is so important to this community and to so many people the world over. It’s not just the baseball piece, it’s much, much more than that. I just gave you a bunch of facts but they don’t begin to cover what those things mean.”
“Why should I care?”
“Why should you care about the Battle of Bunker’s Hill? Why should you care about the attack on Pearl Harbor? Why should you care about Gettysburg?”
“Because they’re a part of the formation of this country and the moral directions this country took.”
“The Red Sox are a great unifier in Boston. You guys look at those numbers up there and they sort of mean something. To me, I look up there and I see memories. I remember a lot of the excitement and hope I felt when I was your age.”
“Hey Doofus,” Sean said poking his sister, “there’s actually stuff you could study instead of watch. That should make you happy.”
Glaring at her brother, she turned her attention back to the program and the notes she was scribbling on the center pages. Her father looked too and then reached over to take it from her.
“Let me take a look here…. So what does this mean?” he asked as certain things caught his attention.
“That was where this guy struck out and the catcher threw that guy out as part of the same action. This is where that guy slide into the second baseman so he couldn’t throw out the guy at first. That also happened here,” she indicated an earlier inning, “and over here,” she said turning the page showing the Red Sox stats she was keeping.”
“This is amazing,” her father said. “This is much more than I taught you.”
“Well it’s more than what you told me. It’s clear that, while the scoreboard called this a sacrifice,” she indicated a frame, “it really wasn’t. It was scored that way because he flew out and he scored but the intention wasn’t to sacrifice himself for the run. He wanted to either hit it into the bull pen or deep enough for a double.”
“How did you know he wasn’t going for the sac?” Sean asked. “It’s not like you really understand the game.”
She watched the field a bit more.
“See, right there!” She pointed at the field. “The guy at the plate right now. Look at how he just shifted where he’s looking. He’s going to try and get a single to move the guy on second over to third. Now that’s intending to sacrifice yourself for the runner.”
Sure enough, the crack of the bat and drive up the first base side was a clean, clear hit that moved the runner along as a close play at first left the player safe on base by a step.
“How did you see that?” Sean was dumbfounded by his sister.
“I just read the field.”
“People study this stuff their whole lives and you figure it out the day dad teaches you to keep score?”
“It’s the way I see stuff. You see things like dad talking about the beauty of Jim Rice’s swing. I see things this way.”
“So,” their dad asked, “if you saw vintage footage of Jim Rice, you’d be able to see what?”
“I don’t know. I will say this, I would want to think about why no one has been able to hit over 400 since Ted Williams did. I’d study changes to the game. Is it the design of parks now versus then? Perhaps they’ve changed the ball or the bat. Maybe it’s more to do with how people are taught to hit. It’s worth analyzing.”
“But you don’t like baseball,” Sean stammered.
“But I like analyzing things. I like looking at how things work. I like the history of things. Dad gave me a two minute tour of the retired numbers. I think I’d like to know more about Jackie Robinson because I suspect he changed this country more than people realize. We learn about Dr. King in school, but his stuff happened after that. So I would ask the question, where people more open to the civil rights movement because they were now used to seeing black players on their ball fields? Were they more sympathetic to the frustrations of segregation if their favorite ball players couldn’t eat or stay in certain places?”
Their father just looked at her in amazement.
“I don’t get it,” he finally said. “I know your mom and I don’t think that way so why do you?”
“I just do. But I wouldn’t say you don’t think that way. It’s like when there’s something wrong with the car, the first thing you do is listen then you figure it out from there. When mom is cooking things, she tastes things and adjusts from there. Isn’t it the same thing? Aren’t you guys analyzing things, noting what is or isn’t there and then running through possible solutions? I do the same thing but I like doing it with history and stuff.”
“So,” Sean said, “you’re saying dad and I look at the beauty of the game and you look at the nuts and bolts of it.”
“I guess so.”
“Interesting,” her father said as he looked at her. She turned her attention back to the field and began to record what she saw on the paper with numbers, squiggles and notes. “I think we should go over to the bookstore in Kenmore Square before we go home.”
“Why? Can’t we go to the souvenir store instead?” Sean whined.
“I think your sister needs a good book on the history of the Red Sox.”
“That could be interesting,” she acknowledged. “Not as interesting as how the colonists managed to continually assemble, break down and move and reassemble a printing press so they could print handbills without being caught during the Revolutionary War, but it could be a pretty cool piece of information about the history.”
Her dad smiled. He had never fully understood his daughter before, but now that he was seeing how her mind worked, maybe he could find a way to connect with her.