Tag Archives: baseball

It’s religious

My friend, the rabbi, stopped by New Bedford with his family. They were on their way home from their vacation on Cape Cod. The rabbi, and his wife the lawyer, and I had all been in college together, but this was the first time I got to meet their children. Great kids, although unfortunately they’re Yankees fans.

As they were all leaving, my friend the rabbi held out a hat that said “Red Sox” in Hebrew, with the little red socks logo stitched on the side of the hat. “Would you wear this?” he said.

“Would I wear it?” I said. “Of course I’d wear it!”

“We got some for the kids,” he said, “but my oldest just won’t wear it. He’s too much of a Yankees fan.” His oldest had made pointed comments earlier about the Red Sox and their stupidity in trading Babe Ruth, so I could well believe he wasn’t going to wear a Red Sox cap, even if it was in Hebrew.

“I’ll even wear it in church,” I said devoutly. My friend the rabbi laughed, but his eldest child asked quite seriously why I’d wear that hat in church. “The Red Sox are like a religion up here,” I said. He took me literally, and wondered out loud how baseball could be religious. His dad and I had to hastily explain that I had been making a joke.

(Well, kind of making a joke. Except not really. Not that I believe in the efficacy of prayers when it comes to winning baseball games, but I do know the whole reason that the Red Sox won the World Series two years ago is because I refused to watch the games on TV, because every time I watch their post-season games, they lose. Maybe that’s more superstition than religion, but I’d say it’s a fine line in Red Sox Nation.)

Anyway, now I have a Red Sox hat in Hebrew — and if you’re really nice to me, I’ll tell you where you can get one, too.

Day hike: Cambridge and Boston

The heat wave was getting to me. I went out at 12:30, thinking I’d climb on the subway and head off to find someplace air-conditioned to spend the afternoon. But the air felt drier, and even though it was hot it felt good. I went back home, ate a leisurely lunch, and started walking at about 2 p.m.

By the time I reached Harvard Square, you could feel the change in the air. I left Mass. Ave. and made my way to the Charles River. The air felt glorious. The wind backed around into the east, coming right off the ocean and up the river: a back door cold front. With the change in the air, my head cleared and I felt lighthearted for the first time in days.

I walked down along the Charles, past all the boathouses. The sailboats were having a good time beating up the lower basin of the Charles against the wind; right next to me, one sailor did two quick messy tacks and brought his boat up to the dock of the MIT boathouse. Crossing the Longfellow Bridge, the easterly breeze felt cool:– I was walking at a good clip, but not even breaking a sweat.

Down Charles Street to the Charles St. Meeting House, where there’s nothing left to remind you of the time when the white Universalist minister hid Huey Newton from the FBI in a Sunday school room. I went over the lower part of Beacon Hill — cool and quiet and very, very wealthy — to Boston Common.

The Common was crowded, not just with the usual crowd of summer tourists, but with all kinds of people enjoying the first good weather in days: office workers headed home, homeless people, construction workers carrying plastic lunch coolers, a gaggle of young mothers pushing strollers, older children splashing in the frog pond, a group of people sitting and talking and listening to a man playing a tenor sax.

Near the Public Garden, a crew was working on the lights at the stage for Shakespeare in the Park. Crowds of people on the path across the Public Garden: A group of Japanese tourists got their picture taken by a woman with a Boston accent. A child holding on to his mother’s hand looked down at the Swan Boats and said something I didn’t quite catch. “No, dear,” she replied. “We can’t go on them, they’re closed for the day.”

The lower end of Newbury Street was more chic and further upscale than I had remembered. Young women wearing chic dresses and chic flipflops walked the sidewalks, peering into the windows of the boutiques. Tourists held their cameras at the ready, and stopped in the middle of the crowded sidewalk to gawk at the stores. People got a little scruffier at the far end of Newbury Street near Mass. Ave. I stopped briefly at Trident Bookstore and inside no one was wearing a chic dress.

On Mass. Ave., people crowded the sidewalks getting on and off the buses. Around Berklee School of Music, young people with scruffy hair toted instruments cases for a variety of instruments — alto sax, guitar, woodwinds. But the quiet shaded back streets through Northeastern University were deserted all the way to the Museum of Fine Arts.

In the Fens, I paused briefly to look at the community gardens. A few gardeners managed to grow vegetables in spite of the shady trees, but mostly I saw flowers and ornamentals, gravel and even brick paths, trellises and chairs set out under leafy bowers. One woman industriously swept the path in her garden plot; in another, a family sat enjoying the green shade.

As I neared Fenway Park, I could hear them announcing the lineup for today’s game. People streamed towards the park wearing Red Sox hats and sometimes Red Sox shirts with numbers and names of famous players emblazoned on them. One little boy still had a shirt saying “Garciaparra,” even though Nomar hasn’t played with the Sox for a couple of years.

The M.I.T. Bridge across the Charles is still measured in Smoots, and on the far side I walked right up Mass. Ave. towards our summer home base above Porter Square. I stopped only twice: once to buy a quart of water (which was gone in minutes), and once to stop at Pandemonium Books (which has finally reopened in Central Square).

Ten or twelve miles.

Hot summer night

A hot summer night in Harvard Square. The usual crowd of upscale teens and suburbanites is missing. People have gathered around the window of Cardullo’s gourmet food store — in the store window is a large screen TV, tuned to the Red Sox game, with the sound piped outside on a hidden speaker. This is a real public service, since you can no longer watch the Sox on broadcast TV — it’s cable only.

There’s maybe thirty or forty people, much more of a mix than you usually see nowadays in Harvard Square, sort of like the Square was twenty or thirty years ago with academics and regular working people. Some fans actually brought lawn chairs to sit in. A couple of motorcycle cops sit astride their Harleys nearby, pretending to not look at the game. These Red Sox fans take up the whole sidewalk, and spill out onto the street. We walk around them, in the street — it is not wise to walk between Sox fans and a TV screen at this point in the season.

Something good must be happening in the game, because the fans all cheer and the motorcycle cops look up.

Street signs in Cambridge

The heat is making me even crankier than usual, but at least the signs I see when I’m out walking keep me entertained.

Neatly chalked on a sidewalk blackboard in front of a bar at 2046 Mass. Ave.:


Not all of North Cambridge has succumbed to the onslaught of chi-chi boutiques selling things you don’t really need. A few places still supply the necessities of life.


Spray-painted in neat capital letters, alternating lines painted in red or blue, on the asphalt sidewalk in Cambridge Common parallel to Mass. Ave.:


Yes, Virginia, we are in Cambridge.


On Oxford Street, a few blocks down from Lesley University, the “Oxford Laundry Dry Cleaning Coin-Op” displays the following sign in their window:


You probably guessed that the “o”s in “Love Story” are hearts. I’m just surprised that anyone still remembers that movie.

From Ohio to St. Louis

The alarm went off at six. Indiana is outside the train windows. Sun just touching the fields outside the window, a play of gold light on green shoots. We’re in flat country now.

I got to the dining car right when it opened at 6:30. Two Amish couples in plain dress came in just after I did. I was seated with a long-haul trucker, a woman who didn’t say much at all, and a retired man. The retired man asked the trucker to pass the sugar, then started to put sugar on his Frosted Flakes.

“You sure you want to do that?” said the trucker. “Those already got plenty of sugar on em.”

“Oh, yes.” The retired man smiled. “I’d put more on if I was at home. It’s just habit by now.”

When the trucker got off at Elkhart, the retired man told me about his hobby: visiting every major league ball park in North America. “I was just in Boston, but I couldn’t get seats at Fenway Park.”

“No,” I told him, “they sell out just about every game. You want decent seats, you have to buy them in March.”

He’s visited twenty parks so far. I asked him which he thought were the best.

“San Francisco and Toronto.” What about Baltimore, which everyone raves about? “Oh, that’s a good one too.” He was able to describe the park in satisfying detail: the old B&O warehouse that was integrated into the park; the plaques set into the ground showing where home run balls hit.

“The worst was Tampa Bay. It’s a domed stadium. The dome doesn’t open, though. And it’s so low that sometimes a pop fly will go ‘thunk’ off the ceiling. When you hear the crack of the bat, you don’t want to hear ‘thunk.’ ‘Crack, thunk.'”

On one of his first trips, to Cincinnati, he shared a taxi from the airport with someone. It turned out this other fellow was also visiting all the major league ball parks; he had two left: Cincinnati, and then Toronto. “I asked him how long it took him to do it, and he said five years. But I didn’t want to hear that. I don’t have five years.”

On this trip, he’s going to see Milwaukee, and the Chicago White Sox. But he couldn’t get a ticket to see the Cubs.


A four hour layover in Chicago. I check my pack and my uke, and head out onto the streets of Chicago.

Across the Chicago River, and it starts to sink in: buildings, people, vitality of the streets. The people are the best part: I like watching the people hurrying by — in Chicago, they manage to hurry while still maintaining that relaxed Midwestern attitude; and everyone is so much more polite than in New England.

I walk to the Art Institute. It’s worth twelve bucks just to see Georgia O’Keefe’s huge painting Sky above the Clouds IV. I look at a few other familiar art works, see a few fine paintings by Ren Yi, a Chinese painter whom I am not familiar with, and head out.

Down Michigan Avenue to the Fine Arts Building. The elevator operator is sitting on his stool looking out into the lobby. “Performer’s?” he asks. “Yup, 904,” I say. He nods, and closes the outer door, but doesn’t bother with the inner door. We stop with the wood deck of the elevator just a few inches above the floor. He leans forward, opens the door, and lets me out. I buy some Renaissance-era sheet music, and decide to walk back down to the lobby. I pass three architect’s offices, three art galleries, a psychotherapist’s office; on one floor I can hear a violinist practicing; I pass offices with obscure titles on the doors, pass a piano store, through an open gate that says “Do Not Open Alarm Will Sound” (but the alarm isn’t sounding), the steps are now marble, down another flight and out.

Last stop: Prairie Avenue Bookshop, where I buy some books including one on the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson on Frank Lloyd Wright’s design of Unity Temple.

It’s time to head back to Union Station. I walk slowly, admiring the city.


On the train from Chicago to St. Louis, I wound up sitting next to Rob. Rob lives in Tewksbury, was heading to Arkansas to see some friends. He asked me where I’ was going, and to save lengthy explanations I said, “To a conference in St. Louis.” The young woman across the aisle leaned over and asked me, “GA? That’s where I’m going, too.” Her name was Heather, she was from Nashua, New Hampshire, and the three of us wound up talking for the rest of the six hour ride.

As night was beginning to fall, we came around a bend. “There it is,” I said, and pointed out Rob’s window. The Gateway Arch was still visible against the pale blue-green sky, beautiful against the handful of skyscrapers that make up downtown St. Louis. “Wow,” said Rob. “It looks like a good place to visit. You see a place like this and you think, I’m going to come back here someday. but you never know if you’re going to see it again.”

Signs of spring

Laundry night: I load up the car with the duffel bag full of dirty clothes and head out to the my favorite laundromat, the one with an attendant. The big TV in the corner is on, with some inane show about celebrities, so once the wash is going I run out to do some shopping. A light rains starts while I’m in the store. Back to put the clothes in the dryer; now the TV has a game show, so I sit in the car and begin reading Ned Rorem’s memoir, Knowing When To Stop. I decide I like his grim but refreshing words:

Life has no meaning. We’ve concocted the universe as we’ve concocted God. (Anna Noailles: “If God existed, I’d be the first to know.”) Our sense of the past and our sense of encroaching death are aberrations unshared by the more perfect “lower” animals. On some level everyone concurs — pedants, poets, politicians, and priests. The days of wine and rose are not long, but neither are they short; they simply aren’t. Hardly a new notion, but with me the meaninglessness [of life] was clear from the start….

I disagree with some of the details of what Rorem says, but not the underlying substance. Life is meaningless, and that is probably why I am a Red Sox fan. Baseball season has begun once again, and Johnny Damon has been traded to the New York Yankees; seeing Damon cleanshaven and with short hair is just unnecessary, an additional bit of evidence that life has no meaning.

When I head back in to fold my now-dry clothes, the ballgame is on. Curt Schilling is pitching, holding off an attack by the Seattle Mariners in the fifth. He’s got quite a gut, Schilling does; baseball is the sport of all different body types. A split-finger fastball makes the last out: another reason that I know this is an imperfect meaningless world is that I have yet to be able to see the difference between the pitches when I’m watching a game. Except once when I was given tickets to an April ballgame in Fenway Park and Tim Wakefield was pitching; believe me, I could see that he was pitching knuckleballs. It rained that April ballgame of years ago, just as it’s raining tonight.

Back in the car, I find the game on WSAR out of Fall River. “Are those ambience microphones waterproof? They’ve got waterproof covers? I see. Schilling’s back on the mound…” I can follow the game better on the radio, I can imagine that I’m in Fenway Park. Fenway, where hopes springs eternal in April, only to fade in September or maybe mid-October; except, impossibly, in October of 2004.

The rain is steady, it really hasn’t increased in density…. but it’s still coming down, the pitch, a swing and a miss! The Red Sox waste another double. After eight, two-to-one Boston….

But Schilling went eight innings with only three hits. Just one more inning to go…two quick outs…a base hit by Ichiro Suzuki…and then….

…and the throw is to first, and this one is over…. Jonathan Papelbon gets the save! A two-to-one victory for the Sox!

Hey, maybe there is hope, maybe life does have meaning after all.

A few more days

Headline on the front page of today’s New Bedford Standard-Times:


I know the Curse is over after last season, but I had a hard time reading that headline. Too many bad memories.

What I really want to have happen this weekend, for the final showdown between the Sox and the hated Yankees, is to be transported out to George and Walt’s, a neighborhood bar near hte Rockridge BART station in Oakland, where I could sit sipping one of their perfect martinis while watching the games with my friend, Michelle. Universalist that she is, Michelle is always filled with hope, certain that it will turn out all right in the end. She could explain the things I still don’t get (like, I still don’t get this middle reliever strategy — why put a pitcher in for two outs? — but Michelle can make me understand it). Yeah, that’s where I could watch the games this weekend — you just can’t feel the same way about Curse flashbacks when you’re under the bright California sun.

Coming out our apartment this evening, I was greeted with a huge, perfect rainbow. The red was particularly bright because of the red setting sun. I watched it until the sun faded, and the rainbow faded into the gray clouds rushing overhead, until all that was left was a red pillar of fire on the northeastern horizon.

No more floods, but fire next time. You hear that, Yankees? You’re gonna go up in flames this weekend!

Spring watch

Home from the Boston area, where Opening Day is considered one of the great religious holidays that welcome the arrival of spring. I know some of you follow basketball, and there were a number of people wearing orange in church yesterday. I, too, hope that Illinois goes all the way. But basketball is a sport. Baseball is religion.

Depressingly, the Boston Red Sox dropped their season opener to the hated New York Yankees. (Please, no nasty comments from Yankees fans, or I will have to remind you what happened last fall, in just four games.) I’m convinced one of the reasons Universalism began in New England is because we New England baseball fans needed an optimistic religion, a religion that assures us that everything will turn out fine, that some day the Red Sox will be perennial winners.

What’s that you say? Universalism started before baseball was even invented? Bosh! I don’t believe it. Haven’t you heard of the Winchester Profession, the 1803 profession of faith of Universalism, which clearly states “We believe that there is one God, whose nature is love, who will finally restore the Red Sox to their righteous place as perennial winners”? This clause was carried over in modified form to our current profession of faith, the UUA “Principles and Purposes,” where it is clearly stated: “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote the goal of Red Sox Nation with peace, liberty, and the annual demise of the hated Yankees.”

There you have it. Now if we could just get some decent pitching….