In a much earlier post, (Dear John…, May 13, 2012) I formalized my break up with the Boston Red Sox. The incomprehensible World Series title just delivered by the Olde Towne Team would not have brought me back into the fold by itself but back I am. Ever since the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon rendered professional sports irrelevant, they were made relevant again by a band of Red Sox who took honest and unselfish inspiration from this unspeakable tragedy. I am not a frontrunner or a fan who only needs a winning record to overlook a game that has been destroyed by human growth hormone and by a commissioner who is allowing fraudulent Syringe Era records to stand. The Marathon Tragedy reminded me of something I thought I had known and taken to heart. I thought I knew that the joy and respite a team could give to a traumatized city was more important than my own petty grievances. The Red Sox reminded me that the joy baseball can still bring is about everyone.
On my desk, my 13 year old self is standing in a picture frame with the true home run champion, Henry Aaron. It is August of 1974 at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Hank had just eclipsed the Babe in May by hitting number 715 off Al Downing of the Dodgers. Aaron’s arm is draped casually around my sister’s shoulder. I stand a bit too far away, clearly trembling in the presence of a baseball god. My late father stands to my sister’s right as Aaron’s left hand almost touches the elbow of my red warm up jacket. My sister found that picture after 30 years and presented it to me in an act of unforgettable generosity. My baseball soul is in that frame.
Alex Rodriguez, the poster boy for chemically induced fraud committed on the baseball paying public, awaits a possible lifetime ban. Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers has admitted to using performance enhancing drugs and to his link to Biogenesis, the now closed designer dug cartel. This particular post is only masquerading as a sports column. It is more than bemoaning the loss of the child like pleasure of devotion to a team. Having allegedly outgrown the cult of professional sports, I still cling to a personal legacy that is immune to corporate destruction and scientific theft. That legacy is the Providence Grays.
The original Grays of the National League existed from 1878 to 1885. They won the first Baseball Championship of America in 1884, led by a hurler named Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn. He won an astounding 59 games for Providence in 1884 and then defeated the New York Metropolitans of the American Association in the first World Series. Edward Achorn captured this era expertly in his book, “‘Fifty-nine in ’84”. If there is a more masterful book on the sport anywhere, I have yet to hear about it. My friends and I brought 19th Century baseball back to Rhode Island, in part, as a means of responding to the betrayal of the 1994 baseball strike. That year, the Montreal Expos were tearing through the National League and they may have gone to the Series, had one been played.
Instead, the billionaire owners fought the millionaire players and their insatiable union. The Expos, perennial losers until then, folded their tent and rose again as the Nationals in Washington, D.C. The Providence Grays reappeared in 1998 and the team is about to start its 17th year. Our roster is filled out by dedicated ballplayers who are skilled, courageous and stubborn enough to live out the values which are often lacking in Major League clubhouses.
They are men like Kevin and Gil Faria, Charlie Dryer, Brian Travers, Scott Olson, Rick Stattler, David Watson, Tony McClennan, Tom Hoffman, Mike Duggan, Eric Olson and many others. There are many 19th Century style teams dotting the country and they are every bit as dedicated as the men who agreed to share my dream. From barehanded, old time baseball to my summer softball league to the unutterable privilege of tossing a two year old his very first whiffle ball, I have learned that joy is never lost when it comes to baseball. It is only transformed, reconsidered, recreated, reevaluated and passed along to those who have the capacity for undiluted wonder. This is their legacy and it will be given to them, no matter how many A-Rods try to render their joy fraudulent.
The 2013 Red Sox did more than win a title. They allowed the city stitched across their chests to begin to heal. Sox outfielder Johnny Gomes said, “People say that the city climbed on our backs. The truth is, we climbed on theirs.” How can I refuse that kind of grace? How could I let my transient complaints about old Red Sox teams deny me the transcendent meaning of the current one? I was so angry at the Josh Beckett teams with men who made indifference a high art. After that black day in April, I only wanted the Red Sox to win for the injured and fallen marathon victims. In so doing, my own fandom was reclaimed. When men compete for something higher, perspective is the byproduct for everyone else.
Be it the Red Sox or the new Providence Grays, the game still belongs to those who dream. It is still our pastime and there is no room for despair. A game is about to begin.