It Takes So Little…

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“Big Papi” quilted fabric portrait by Colleen Whary

It takes so little to make a fan for life. It’s a statement I make a few times a year. Sometimes it is said as a compliment; other times it is a criticism. When David Ortiz recently announced that he is retiring after the 2016 baseball season, that statement was not the first thing that came to my mind. After all, David Ortiz is all about the big things — not the little things.

We all know the heroic Big Papi — The one who hits bombs seemingly on demand. He is the big bat that Red Sox fans want at the plate in every big moment. His contributions to three World Series championships within ten years were truly amazing. The more recent highlights often run through my mind:  His stirring speech after the Boston bombings when he declared Boston to be “our F&$@#*G city”.  The grand slam in the ALCS that turned his friend, Torii Hunter, upside-down in the bullpen. His dugout pep talk during game 4 of the 2013 World Series. His joy in lifting Koji Uehara over his shoulder after every Koji save. His 500th majestic career homerun. They are the memories that will make me shake my head into my old age and say, “He was one of a kind”.

David Ortiz Our City

“This is our &%* city!”

In 2014, opposing pitchers David Price and Chris Archer whined that David Ortiz “thinks he’s bigger than the game”. They were insulted by David’s bat flip after a homerun. Get over it. He IS bigger than the game. He is larger than life. He’s a superhero. He beat you fair and square. He’s entitled to flip his bat in celebration just the way a pitcher is entitled to strut around the mound like a rooster or pump their fist after blowing a fastball past a batter. Pull up your big boy pants and move on.

As supporters and fans, there were times we were annoyed with David. For example, the time he interrupted Terry Francona’s press conference to complain about losing an RBI to a scorekeeper, or when he smashed a dugout telephone to smithereens in Baltimore, or for griping to the press about not getting the contract he wanted and complaining about being “disrespected”. Yes, we were annoyed. Did you notice how quickly that annoyance dissipated the next time Big Papi stepped up to the plate and delivered?  In the end, he’s just a man like any other. A man who is sensitive to criticism, has his ego bruised easily, is passionate and so full of pride. You know — just an every day superhero.

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The Rookie and the Veteran

Aside from his heroics on the field — and there were many — and the wonderful and generous things he has done for people less fortunate, there are little things I will always remember when I think of David Ortiz. It’s the little things I will miss the most. The sudden buzz that comes from the crowd every time he steps out of the dugout — even just for warmups and stretching. The way he turns toward the crowd, smiles and waves when fans call his name (while most other players keep their eyes down and faces hidden under their caps). The way he enters a room and the energy level ramps up to a frenzy. Is he a showman? An actor? Is he selling The Brand? Of course he is. He excels at it. He has a Ph.D. in it. He makes the small moments big and the big moments gigantic.

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David “Big Papi” Ortiz

A few years ago, I had a moment with David Ortiz. The funny thing is that it came out of a complaint that I had about feeling ripped off when I bought a ticket to opening day though the David Ortiz Foundation’s annual auction. I didn’t feel as though it was described correctly. They were not good seats but they were promoted to be. I wrote a letter and heard from David’s friend with the Red Sox productions department, John Carter. Long story short — I was placated by getting a chance to be on the field for batting practice and then got to sit in the dugout. That was cool enough for me.  The next thing I knew, David Ortiz made an appearance in the dugout…TO MEET ME!!!  He said a few words, asked “Are we alright?”, wrapped that big arm around my shoulder, signed a quilt square for me, and had a few pictures taken for me. Yes, David, we’re alright. In case you haven’t noticed, that kind of thing doesn’t happen to fans at Fenway Park unless you’re associated with a corporate sponsor. It’s a moment I will never forget. David Ortiz, Super Hero, and little ol’ me — just a girl who has loved the Red Sox her whole life.

It takes so little to make a fan for life.  That’s me, David.

Big Papi and Me Trimmed

Big Papi and Me

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From Worst to First to Worst to Cursed

Red Sox fan, George, started the season with hope.

Red Sox fan, George.  Why the long face?

There’s nothing like a frustrating home town team to get a blocked writer blogging again.  Surprisingly, I quit blogging about the Red Sox in the middle of their miraculous streak towards becoming 2013 World Series champions.  Friends asked why.  The only reason I could come up with was that I was too afraid to acknowledge that the Band of Bearded Brothers could go all the way.  The proverbial jinx.  The clubhouse full of good guys and spare parts (as I foolishly called them in a post that previous winter) had a certain magical quality to them.  Everything went their way.  John Farrell was a miracle worker.  He allowed us to put the horrid memory of 2012 (and Bobby Valentine) behind us.  From worst to first.

Then 2014 happened.  There was no question that the Bearded Brothers would be broken up.  Some of the Bearded Brothers were not invited back to the party.  They lost their speedy centerfielder, Jacoby Ellsbury, to the Yankees, their good guy catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, to the Marlins, and sure-handed shortstop, Stephen Drew, to free agency.  The addition of the always-unpopular A.J. Pierzynski was confounding.  Adding the oft-injured Grady Sizemore was deemed necessary in case young Jackie Bradley, Jr. failed to hit big league pitching.  Neither one of them could get anything going.  2013 hero, Shane Victorino, was out with a back injury most of the year.  The chemistry that was apparent in 2013 was no more.  John Farrell didn’t seem quite so infallible.  His on-field calls were starting to be questioned.  By the middle of the summer, the team was broken.  Fire sale time.  GM, Ben Cherington, started trading off spare parts.  Only some of them were not spare. Clubhouse policeman, Jonny Gomes, took his winning spirit to Oakland.  Fan favorite (but ultimately disappointing) Will Middlebrooks was given his walking papers.  Most of the starting rotation was traded away — their ace, John Lester, a healthy but unhappy John Lackey, and the emotional Jake Peavy.  In one of the worst moves in my opinion, they let lefty reliever Andrew Miller go to the Orioles.  We sure could use him now.  Young rookies, Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts felt the heat of trying to carry a big league team before they should have had to and they were exposed in the worst way.  The only bright lights in 2014 were the young and athletic Mookie Betts, a blocked second baseman who they set loose in the outfield, young catcher, Christian Vazquez, with his cannon of an arm and pitch framing skills, and utility extraordinaire, Brock Holt, who did everything but pitch and catch — and did it well.  But, still, First to Worst was the theme of 2014.

Was 2014 just a blip on Farrell and Cherington’s screen?

Would things turn around in 2015?  Spring training was hopeful.  The Sox signed slugger  third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, and brought back former Red Sox shortstop, Hanley Ramirez.  Ramirez so much wanted to return to the Red Sox that he agreed to play left field for the first time in his career.  Don’t even get me started.  What could go wrong?

Everything.

Slugger Yoenis Cespedes who came in the trade of ace, Lester, to the Athletics disappeared in the blink of an eye and was traded in spring training.  Cherington – or someone – decided the Red Sox didn’t need an ace or two.  Nope.  Let’s just go with 5 questionable alternatives.  Clay Buchholz?  Well, let’s just see if he could finally pull on his big boy panties and be the ace.  Rick Porcello came in from the Tigers.  I liked the signing but let’s not forget that he was left off the Tigers post-season rotation.  Wade Miley?  Who?  A National League pitcher.  Whatever.  Joe Kelly with his zippy fastball.  He has  no idea where it’s going but it’s zippy.  Old friend and good guy, the inconsistent Justin Masterson returned to see if he could get his career back on track.  He didn’t and now he’s on the pretend DL trying to get himself together.  Enter long-time AAA knuckleballer, Steven Wright.  Maybe I’m still too close to watching the tail-end of Tim Wakefield’s career to want to watch another knuckleball pitcher every five days.  No ace.  No race.

But, surprise!  After their pitching coach, Juan Nieves, was fired, the starting pitchers have each stepped it up and turned in a couple of good outings.  (As if it was Nieves fault! LOL!)  The baseball fan in me said, “OKAY NOW!  We can get this season on a roll!”  But, the long-time Red Sox fan in me said, “Okay now. Waiting for the other cleat to drop.”  Bingo!

Where has all the offense gone; long time passing.  Where have all the hitters gone; long time ago?  When will they ever learn?  When will I ever learn?  (With apologies to Peter, Paul and Mary.)  Cherington filled this team with “sluggers”– David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Mike Napoli.  The lineup should be frightening.  Instead it’s pathetic. Ortiz looks his age — whatever age that is. Pedroia was supposed to come back healthy and get back to his “Laser Show” status.  Two catchers went down with injuries.  Young’uns, Bogaerts, Betts, Holt and Swihart are having their ups and downs as expected.  They are not supposed to be carrying the load.  Allen Craig and Daniel Nava were supposed to be deep depth in the outfield.  Craig has been DFA’d and Nava is not performing with the limited play he has had.  Shane “Every Little Thing’s Gonna be Alright” Victorino was going to return from back surgery and patrol right field — except he can’t stay on the field.  The Sox brought up Cuban outfielder, Rusney Castillo, and everyone acted like the second-coming had arrived.  In his very first game, it became clear that he’s not going to save this team.  Every little thing is NOT going to be alright.  John Farrell and Ben Cherington are under the microscope and in the crosshairs of the fans.  Too bad they both have brand new extensions to their contracts.  The only thing worse than being Worst is being Cursed.  Ladies and gentlemen, your 2015 Red Sox.

Fenway Silouette

Perhaps the failure of 2012 should not be pinned on Bobby Valentine.  (Ugh.  What a horrible admission!!)  Perhaps the 2013 Red Sox had their magical season and became World Series champs IN SPITE of John Farrell’s presence.  Maybe, just maybe, the failures of 2014 cannot be blamed on A. J. Pierzyski.  (What the hell — let’s blame him anyway just for being AJ!) Who can we blame for 2015?  If you tell me the season is too young to throw in the towel, I will tell you that you, my friend, are delusional.  The only reason the Red Sox are not totally out of the standings is that the rest of the AL East is underperforming.  It’s only a matter of time.  With so much of the season still remaining, I don’t feel hopeful.  Instead I feel dread.  Dread for five more months of .500 baseball.  If we’re lucky.  It’s sad.  With the payroll the Red Sox have in place, it’s more than sad.  It’s tragic.  It’s embarrassing.  It’s tragically embarrassing.   For owner, John Henry, it must be infuriating.  But he is not the only one seeing red.

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I hope you enjoy this slideshow I made up in tribute to the 2013 Red Sox.  What a season!  What a team!

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Hang On To Your Hats!

The Wave

The Wave

Finally! It’s time to resume the baseball season! Is there anything longer than the All-Star break? You may have wondered if I was so wrapped up in my Boston Strong Quilt Project (see last slideshow post) that I forgot about my Red Sox. You know me better than that, don’t you? Did you notice I said “my” Red Sox? That is exactly how it feels this year. It’s my team. Okay, it can be yours also. I’m feeling generous.

This past winter we questioned Ben Cherington’s decisions. We wondered if the pitching staff could ever right the ship. We wondered if John Farrell was who we thought he was. We had doubts that David Ortiz could be Big Papi again. While I realize that the 2013 Red Sox are not perfect, I have a wonderful attachment to this team again. Ben Cherington was absolutely correct in bringing in those “good clubhouse guys”. Players like Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Ryan Dempster and Shane Victorino have contributed in immeasurable ways to the goodness of this team — on the field and off. John Lackey has been the John Lackey of old and I am genuinely happy for him. Even with the up and down performance of Jon Lester and the physical ailments of Clay Buchholz, the pitching staff has been performing better than expected. John Farrell has brought back a feeling of security to Red Sox Nation. You may quarrel with him about when to remove a pitcher from a game or when not to attempt to steal a base, but you cannot complain about the atmosphere he has created around this team. David Ortiz has been nothing short of spectacular — both as a designated hitter and as a leader. I do not want to report player by player here — everyone can see what is happening with their own eyes — but I could not live with myself if I didn’t mention the superb season that Dustin Pedroia and Daniel Nava are having. There have been some swings and misses — the injury to Joel Hanrahan, Stephen Drew’s inability to stay on the field, Will Middlebrook’s struggles in his sophomore season, the depletion of the bullpen due to injuries and overuse — but, overall, I like what I see. Furthermore, I cannot wait to see the rest of it!

I am going out on a limb and predicting that this team will make the playoffs this year. Will they go further? Who knows. All I know is that I like what I see on the field. I genuinely like the players. I love the comradery that I see on the field and in the dugout — the Koji Uehara high-fives, the smiles and even the silly matching beards. What a difference a year makes.

I was never so proud of my team — and my city — as after the Boston Marathon bombings. Some people have complained that the term “Boston Strong” has nothing to do with sports. I would suggest that it does, at least in part. Sports are part of the life-blood of Boston. Our first responders, police, firefighters, EMT’s, are truly the heroes. The people that were injured, those who lost loved ones and who witnessed horrible, tragic scenes are my heroes. Many are my heroes because they have chosen to go on with their lives, to hold their heads up high and show the world that no terrorist can defeat the heart and soul of the city. They are Boston Strong. But, also, seeing my team — “MY” team — quietly visit the injured and embrace the city as a whole was heartwarming. I will never forget seeing the “Boston Strong 617” shirt hanging in the dugout — the shirt that Jonny Gomes and Jarrod Saltalamacchia designed. The shirt that still hangs in the dugout at every game — both home and away.

Then there’s the custom bat that Jonny Gomes had made. He had the whole team sign one and put it up for auction to raise funds for One Fund Boston.

Boston Strong bat

Boston Strong bat

Seeing Will Middlebrooks promoting the sale of “B Strong” hats (proceeds going to One Fund Boston), and reading his Tweets of support for the city made me want to always be on his side. Now that he has been demoted to Triple A to work on a few things, I will always be on his side and hope he comes back to Boston soon. I always say that it takes so little to make a fan for life. Will Middlebrooks has done that for me. I’m a fan for life.

Will Middlebrooks B Strong

Will Middlebrooks
B Strong

And then there’s David Ortiz. Who else could get away with his speech in front of thousands, on live television, stating, “This is our f&%@+#g city!” Even the FCC didn’t mind!

"This is our &%* city!"

“This is our &%* city!”

I will never forget the pre-game ceremony on the night that bombing survivor and hero, Jeff Bauman and his life saver, Carlos Arrendondo, threw out the first pitch together. Considering that I had just delivered a Boston Strong quilt to Jeff through a friend, it felt like incredible happenstance that I was at Fenway that night. It was wonderful to cry at Fenway from being so touched and moved — and not from being so disappointed and disillusioned.

Hang on to your hats, Red Sox Nation! We shall soon see how this season plays out. Meanwhile, we can be proud of OUR team and OUR city. We can know that, no matter what happens, we can handle it because we are Boston Strong.

Jeff Bauman

Jeff Bauman

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I hope you enjoy watching this slide show about the Boston Strong Quilt Project. Comfort quilts were made for people injured in the Boston Marathon bombings. Be sure to turn on the sound.

Colleen

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On Baseball

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“Why do you like baseball so much?” asked my husband’s son.

My self-conscious, stumbling answer:

To love a team from childhood,

To care so much about the players…every game.

“I know that” he said impatiently,

“But I don’t remember you always liking it so much.”

I always did, I replied,

Not willing to say more.

Knowing he could not understand,

He who never seemed to care who I am,

Where I come from,

Or what is my story.

What does he know of what I liked or did not like

Before he entered my world

and I entered his.

I’m only a road that leads to his father,

An occasional home-cooked meal,

A home at the holidays.

He turned away anyway,

bored with my answer.

Conversation over.

 

His question stayed with me.

I know the real answer.

I think of the little girl,

With a crooked baseball cap

Clutching Daddy’s old catcher’s mitt,

The old leather scent of it,

Wearing her favorite red sneakers,

Spiral notebook in hand,

Keeping score.

The snowy television screen,

and the aluminum foil rabbit ears.

While Yaz hit homeruns,

Before Tony C. got beaned,

and Jim Lonborg charmed the hitters

into making outs.

(Her first crush – Gentleman Jim.)

First, she loved baseball because of the fantasy.

She wanted to play,

To be a boy running on the field.

Then she wanted to be the first girl to play

In the major leagues.

When that passed, she just wanted to marry one.

Those intriguing man/boys

in stretchy pants.

 

Time passed, no longer intrigued.

A child’s dream died

and turned into more practical things.

But the game lived on in the background

like the soundtrack of a movie.

She often turned away

But still checked the papers,

Took note of the scores,

Listened on lazy weekend afternoons.

Saw Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans,

Saw poor Bill Buckner

make his untimely gaff,

Nomar’s fidgets and twitches,

Manny being Manny.

Drawn in by the charisma of Johnny Damon,

His grand slam still rising,

The stolen base.

They captured a trophy

That her father did not get to see.

 

Still, she gave only half of herself

Until the summer of surgeries,

The agonizing wait for results.

She turned on the television

because she could do nothing else.

And there it was again.

 

Even when the scars healed

and the results were all good;

Even when the team was broken

and humiliated in defeat and failure,

She knew their scars would heal, too,

and she would be there.

The little girl

In red sneakers,

Who always loved the game.

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Opening Day

Opening Day

Opening Day

April 1.  At work

Sitting on the edge of my seat.

Radio on.

Volume barely audible.

In a stuffy office

of buttoned-down collars

and billable hours.

I’m wound up — excited.

Game on!

Attempting to concentrate on work

Knowing it’s impossible.

Don’t let the excitement be seen.

A friend emails, “Are you at work today

or at home in front of the TV?”

Another friend sent a “Happy Opening Day” card

converted from a birthday card

because Hallmark doesn’t make them.  (Their mistake.)

A cousin sends a message

“Happy opening day!”

They know.

It’s nice to be understood.

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