James Taylor, “Sweet Baby James” has a memoir just released called “Break Out”. While he’s 74 now, he’ll always be about 24 to me, as I always think of JT about this time of year when during my summers of my college years I would spend them working and playing on Martha’s Vineyard. He had a house on 175 acres of land on Martha’s Vineyard living with Carly Simon in 1972. I couldn’t wait to get there, to leave school, get home, do my laundry, enjoy my mother’s cooking for a few days and then pack up my duffel bags and get dropped off at Wood’s Hole for the 45 minute ferry ride to paradise, eight miles off the Massachusetts coast. I would be there for the next 10 or 11 weeks, never going off island, away from my home town.
I worked and played a lot there, some summers having three jobs to help pay for college, worked at the Edgartown Yacht Club as a receptionist (though I did no typing; I was more or less a gatekeeper keeping the tourists off the dock and keeping the members happy). Rumor had it that John F Kennedy was not permitted to enter EYC. I worked at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital as an assistant to the pharmacist, and mowed the lawns too. The community hospital had no more than twenty rooms and one surgeon who when he left the island on vacation, one prayed there were no car accidents, kidney stones or heart attacks. I was a dishwasher at The Sandpiper from 4-12, down the road from the Dupont’s estate overlooking the ocean.
Though not a native, I was definitely not a tourist either, one who called Oak Bluffs, Oaks Bluff. We had lots of good times at the Black Dog before it became well known and a ripoff. We dared each other to show up and swim at the nudist beach Up Island on the way to Gay Head and Menemsha, and had plenty to drink and laugh about at the Lamplighter and at South Beach. I grew up a lot there.
A few days ago I was reading through some journals and remembered my roommates when living in Vineyard Haven above a retail store: friends Tom from Chicago, Larry from Framingham, Michael from Wayland and George from Pound Ridge, New York. Christopher Reeves (Superman) was a family friendly. Two of the four are deceased (George was a suicide; he jumped off a six story building in Manhattan after never fully recovering from a concussion after a near-fatal car accident). Michael died of early onset Alzheimer’s a few years ago after a very successful career as a CFO, near-professional tennis player and yachtsman in Greenwich, CT. I saw him six months before he died but can’t say he saw me. He was in a robotic daze, walking around the kitchen and sunroom with no expression or interaction. I’ve never been able to locate Larry; he went to Hampshire College but schools don’t give out contact information as freely as they used to. Tom and I reconnected last year. He is a fervent Cubs and Bears fan. Never married, sports is his world. He hates all Boston teams especially the Patriots (like many other sports enthusiasts nationwide). Now that Tom Brady has moved to Tampa maybe he’ll like the Pats again. Which brings me to one of the other storied Boston franchises, the Boston Red Sox.
They were my favorite team growing up and they still are my favorites. I would lie on the floor with the Boston Herald and be enthralled studying the box score from the previous day or night game as my father read the Wall Street Journal. ERA, winning per cent age, batting averages, OBP (on base percentage), SLG (slugging per cent age ). Games played, win-loss record, hits allowed, walks, K’s. I memorized them all and shared them with anyone who would listen.
The best I can do now during these early summer days because of COVID-19 is to embrace rotisserie baseball, the original fantasy baseball league that Strat-o-Magic baseball was built on, and that I played at a friend’s house every day after school as a young teenager. Rotisserie baseball uses real life player statistics during the season on a game-by-game basis for scoring purposes. When you play, you’re the manager making all the decisions, player by player, inning by inning. You pick the players, you build your roster. You call for a steal, bring in a pinch runner, make the call to steal home plate. Player performance statistics are created daily and are studied by league managers. It’s close to the real thing.
And then the other day on the Internet I saw a variation of rotisserie baseball with simulations for the 2020 season (www.2020seasonsim.s.3.amazonaws.com) with plenty of statistics to pour over. But this year, I hardly recognize the names of most of the Red Sox players except for so,e regulars: Xander Bogaerts was hitting .319 with 12 HR in 51 games, and Rafael Devers is doing well but he is still striking out about once per game.
The Red Sox were below .500 at 23-27, but fortunately, the Yankees weren’t much better at 26-25 despite adding Garrit Cole to their fearsome pitching staff. Aaron Judge was still not playing, recovering from a rib injury. Give them time.
When Major League Baseball does return, you still won’t see me sit through an entire nine inning game, or see me at beloved Fenway Park. That’s not going to happen this season regardless of whether others attend. There’s too much stale air in the concession area, dirty public bathrooms and too many people sitting too close to me. I’ll watch the game listening to announcers Joe Castiglione (whose the same age as JT) , Jim Rice, and Dennis Eckersley. (He’s famous for coining the phrase “walk-off home run“).
Baseball was once America’s pastime, but other sports have taken over or as George Will, the American conservative columnist maintains “baseball remains unique – and indispensable because it tries to remain an oasis of reticence in a culture of exhibitionism”. It’s still a gentleman’s game. It’s a nice respite from the other sports.
Some feel baseball is too slow, there’s too much waiting. Players sitting on the bench or in the field, chewing a lot of smokeless tobacco, sunflower seeds or bubble gum. Pitchers take too much time between pitches, brushing off the sign. Batters adjust their batting gloves too much, clean their cleats or go through the obsessive-impulsive machinations of a Nomar Garciaparra. It is slow but at the same time there’s so much going on if you know how to watch the game, if you know your numbers and the history and the lore. So much strategy. Even when nothing’s going on, the game can be tense and quite exciting to watch.
An unexpected pick off attempt, a balk, a called third strike, a miracle grab at the wall in the outfield, a double steal or a routine groundout with so much on the line. If only, if only, the average occurred instead of a groundout. It’s not monotonous boredom. One of my favorite baseball books is “Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak and Joy: Inside the Mind of a Manager”. This book captures strategic and emotional complexities of a three game series between arch rivals St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs through the eyes and mind of Tony La Russa, the legendary manager who happens to be a lawyer as well.
When will we hear “Batter up!”?