One such occasion was Tuesday evening last week in Wilde’s, when three guys strolled into the bar, and one ordered with an unmistakeable New England accent.
“Where are you guys from?” said I.
Now we know that Connecticut is, in the words of Rick Hough, “a twilight state”. It is split pretty much 50-50 between the Red Sox Nation and the Evil Empire. So, with some trepidation, I asked: “Sox?”.
Not just Sox, it turns out, but someone who has actually played at Fenway. Who was coached by Johnny Pesky and Bill Lee.
Cue serious Sox talk, while his colleagues chatted amongst themselves. Being Sox fans, we first of all discussed the disappointments and the failures of many, many years. We moved on to those greats who never won a ring (Peskey, Tiant, Williams). We spoke of Tim Wakefield and, through him, to those players who gave back so much to the community, especially those whose work was so often unheralded.
And Mark, because this is you Mark DeLuzio, told me a story about Hall-of-Famer Jim Rice, our own power-hitting left fielder, who hit for power and average, which I have his permission to write about here.
Mark comes from New Britain and is an alumnus of New Britain High School, where he was a year ahead of Tom Thibodeau, the Associate Head Coach of the Cs a few years ago and now Head Coach of some team called the Chicago Bulls.
Anyway, Mark told me a story about a young kid, maybe 12 years old, from New Britain, who wrote to Jim Rice asking for advice on hitting, mentioning that he was scheduled to be in Florida during Spring Training. Now, you can be sure that almost every MLB player gets scores of such letters everyday, and the huge majority of them are ignored. If the kid is lucky, he gets an autographed photograph and a scribbled note about working hard, staying off the booze etc etc.
Not this one. Jim Rice called his home and told him to be at the Sox training ground at 5am on a given day. The kid turned up. So did Jim Rice. No-one else.
This was not a photo-op. This was not a publicity stunt.
With no-one else around, Jim Rice taught this kid everything he knew. And he was hard on him, too. He wasn’t going through the motions. He was taking it seriously. Because baseball is serious and Jim Rice took hitting seriously.
But, as anyone who saw that moment in 1982 when he left the dugout and rushed into the stands to help a 4 year old boy who was bleeding heavily after being hit by a line drive, he was so much more than a baseball player. Rice carried the boy onto the field, through the home dugout and into the clubhouse, so that he could be treated by the Sox medical staff.
Jim Rice was voted into the Hall of Fame at the 15th and final attempt. There are still those who argue that vote, citing a plethora of sabermetric stats. But in my view he should have been a shoo-in on the first ballot.
And anyway, as Arthur Schopenhauer famously said, "The longer a man's fame is likely to last, the longer it will be in coming."
It took a long time coming. But Jim Rice's fame will last long. As a ball-player. And as a human being.
Almost time for Pitchers & Catchers. My tickets for the opening homestand in April are confirmed. Go Sox!
Today from the everysmith vault: Stumbled over a Jefferson Starship show, but have no details of date or venue. Set list sounds as if it's about 2008, but can't trace it. Wherever it was, the locals heard a great gig.