I would dream all week of making spectacular leaping catches against Fenway Park's centerfield wall, then making a brilliant throw to nail a runner trying to advance. It was just the way that Dom DiMaggio did it. Dom wore glasses too, you know, just like me.
I have spent the last few days trying to pinpoint exactly when I realized I wasn't destined to be the centerfielder for the Boston Red Sox. I know that it was pretty early on because I flat out had no talent.
Was it the first time that I agreed to play catch with a kid with a strong throwing arm? He kept blistering the ball into me, and pretty soon my glove hand began to throb with soreness -- I mean really ache. It got to the point where I was trying to snag every throw he made in the webbing of the glove, but webbings back in those days weren't nearly as big as they are now, so occasionally I'd completely fan on a toss and have to chase the ball down until it stopped rolling. Then, I'd be confronted with the fact that I didn't have the arm strength to throw it all the way back to the other kid. I'd have to jog back to where I could get it to him while he hollered, "C'mon, hurry up!" Sooner or later he'd tire of playing catch with me and seek a new partner -- much to my relief.
Or was it the fact that I couldn't hit a lick? When I came up to the plate, the infielders would all move in close in case I'd connect with a soft roller to someone. As for the outfielders, they'd actually lie down while I was batting. I never did hit the ball beyond the infield in those days.
On defense, second base would have been a natural for me because I could actually throw to first on the fly from there -- shortstop and third were out of the question. If I could only have handled ground balls. I had trouble judging the hops. If I kept my glove down, the ball always seemed to hop up and hit me in the chest, arm, or even the face. Sometimes it would hurt a little, sometimes a lot, depending on how hard the ball was hit. If I kept the glove up to defend against that happening, the ball would scoot between my legs for an error.
By default, then, my regular position became rightfield unless a left-handed batter were up, in which case I would be switched to leftfield.
But I loved it. I would dream all week of making spectacular leaping catches against Fenway Park's centerfield wall, then making a brilliant throw to nail a runner trying to advance. It was just the way that Dom DiMaggio did it. Dom wore glasses too, you know, just like me.
The next Saturday morning, I would head to Perkins Field behind Merrymount School in Quincy, only to be confronted once again with the reality that I had no talent for the game. That didn't dim my love for it, though. A lot of the other kids in the neighborhood were just better at it than I was, and that was that.
It struck me that if I were going to get along in life, I had better find something that I was pretty good at, too -- better, at least, than I was at hitting or fielding. It certainly wasn't my father's real estate and insurance business, for which I had no aptitude. After flailing around in it for a few years, I gravitated toward political press work and speech writing, where I finally began to find my sea legs and build a bit of a reputation.
I well remember being asked by Eddie McCormack to help out with a speech he was to give to the Clover Club of Boston, a group composed mostly of successful businessmen of Irish extraction. Their politics tended to be Republican and, just a few weeks prior to the event, Eddie had been swamped in the 1966 gubernatorial election by more than half a million votes at the hands of Republican Gov. John Volpe. The dinner was, as always, black tie and male only. McCormack began his speech to the throng of 500 as follows, "My fellow Democrats [moderate laughter] -- you must be Democrats. Why else would everyone be wearing black?" The ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel shook with prolonged laughter. I have no idea what I wrote in the rest of that speech, but I'd done something I'd never done back at Perkins Field, hit a home run. I had found something that I was pretty good at, at last.
By the next gubernatorial election, I had weaseled my way onto television, where I was delivering commentaries, always from the viewer's perspective and, when I could find it, with a humorous twist. After all, that's the way I viewed baseball -- from up in the stands. I wasn't any smarter than the average viewer; I just tried to represent him or her. I discovered along the way that if I delivered my commentaries in rhyme, they'd gain more attention, so that's what I did. I had no more aptitude for reading from a teleprompter than I did for fielding a grounder, so I trained myself to memorize all my scripts. I got pretty good at it, too, but that was all a long, long time ago.
Eventually, my penchant for writing in verse merged with my lifelong love for baseball and the Red Sox, and I came to be called the Red Sox poet laureate, I even authored a best-selling book called, "Red Sox Rhymes." Who knew?
These days, I muse weekly about baseball and other things in the sportsworld that interest me and, I hope, interest you, too. It keeps me young or, at least, younger than I otherwise would be.
Recently, I took a drive past Perkins Field in Quincy, the site of all those early baseball memories. There was no one there except for a few kids in the playground beyond the outfield. I thought back to the days, all those summers ago, when it would be teeming with neighborhood kids choosing up sides for the next ballgame. I'd be taking my usual position in right field and hitting ninth in the batting order. I was reminded of the title of a memoir written by James Michael Curley, the great Rascal King who dominated Boston politics for the first half of the 20th century.
I thought to myself, "I'd Do It Again."
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.
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