Sports

Karl Lindholm: Fenway meditations: Impressions of a Red Sox fan

DEAN LINDHOLM OF Middlebury College smiles for the camera with Dean Lindholm of Bates College (ca. 1990s). Every summer, for many decades, the two deans would gather with friends from Middlebury and Bates in Boston for dinner and a ballgame at Fenway.

I got a note a while back from a fellow named David Krell, a writer of books about politics and baseball. Somebody gave him my name.

Krell is putting together a book about the Red Sox, not one about strategy and stats — he’s not an analytics guy. He’s writing a cultural history of the Sox. I’m glad he found me because that’s right up my alley. 

When I taught my baseball classes at Middlebury College (“Baseball, Literature, and American Culture,” and “Segregation in American: Baseball and Race”), I used to tell those economics and computer science majors, “This is a class in narrative and myth, and you’re gonna have to read books and write papers!” 

Krell asks the right questions, simple questions, prompts that elicit stories that are warmly retold, such as this one: When did you attend your first game in Fenway Park?

I don’t actually remember my first game. I was too young. But I can imagine it, the incomparable thrill of it, because I have been similarly affected every time I have gone to Fenway since.

THE COLUMNIST IN the 1950s plays catch in the yard of his home in Lewiston, Maine — Red Sox country. He is likely throwing to his dad, but maybe to his cousins Charlie or Mary Jane who lived next door. The photographer is probably his mom, who had a thing for Curt Gowdy, the Red Sox radio voice.

No doubt I was clutching the hand of my dad as we negotiated our way through the throng on Jersey Street, past the ticket-taker into the catacombs of interior Fenway, up the ramp to our seats, out of darkness into the blinding light of the emerald field, where our heroes romped in their pristine whites. I glimpsed paradise. 

The very first baseball game was supposedly played on a greensward in Hoboken, N.J., named the Elysian Fields. How apt! In Greek mythology, the Elysian Fields was the final resting place for heroes and demigods. 

I do remember, dimly to be sure, another early encounter in Fenway, this one with my terrifying Uncle Charlie in 1952, a game between the Red Sox and the St. Louis Browns. I was seven years old. 

We went to Fenway on public transportation for a day game, as most were then, pretty scary for a kid from Maine: I recall the crowded trolley cars. We were there to see the great Black pitcher Satchel Paige, then in his 50s, pitching for Bill Veeck’s Browns.

Late in the game, Satchel struck out the great Ted Williams with his hesitation pitch, and Teddy Ballgame, infuriated, flung his bat into the netting behind home plate.

I have a clear mental picture of that, but I do know how memory fuses with imagination and that many retellings of the story, including embellishments perhaps, may have clarified (and amplified), over time, the images.

My Red Sox attachment is genetic and geographic. 

Through I grew up in Maine, I was born in Boston, just outside actually in Waltham, where my  dad was raised. An immigrant kid (Swedes worked in the Waltham Watch factory), sports were a means of assimilation for him. Football was his passion (he’s in the Waltham HS Hall of Fame), but the Red Sox were home to him. 

• • • • •

I spent innumerable warm evenings as a kid playing catch with my dad, times no less powerful for being a cliché. My mother, the lover of language, was a fan of Red Sox radio voice Curt Gowdy, who was known in our house by his first name. 

After I came to work as Dean Lindholm at Middlebury and my dad had retired as Dean Lindholm at Bates College, we would meet every summer at Fenway Park. Often he would bring his Bates friends, my male mentors, and I would bring my Middlebury friends, including Russ Reilly, Bates ’66. I could write a book about those visits to Fenway.

My dad and I didn’t say we loved each other. We just talked about the Red Sox. Same thing. 

AWOL at Fort Sam: The era of my greatest passion for the Red Sox was the 1950s, when I was a kid and the club was profoundly mediocre. The Sox had Ted Williams but no Black players: cause and effect. 

In 1967, the Impossible Dream year when Yaz won the Triple Crown, I was in the Army, first in Louisiana (Fort Polk) and then Texas (Fort Sam Houston) — and I missed the whole season! 

I was not going to miss the seventh game of the World Series, Bob Gibson of the Cardinals against Jim Lonborg of the Red Sox. So I went AWOL from that afternoon’s classes and drills and watched the game nervously on a TV in the PX. I was sure that I was going to be accosted at any moment by an MP and taken to the stockade.

Alas, the Sox lost and I returned forlornly to the barracks. I had not been missed. 

Man on the Moon: On July 20, 1969, I was at Fenway Park with two of my favorite friends, Jim and Susie, watching the Red Sox defeat the Orioles, 6-5. It was a beautiful clear night and the moon shone brilliantly over the Monster.

The star of the game was Neil Armstrong who was taking “one giant step for mankind” that very night.

IN AUGUST 2019, the columnist threw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game, a 16-4 win against the Angels. That opportunity was a gift from his Middlebury College friend and teammate, Peter Kovner, pictured here at right. The pitch wasn’t a strike, but it wasn’t bounced.

First Pitch at Fenway: I pitched in Fenway before a crowd of nearly 30,000 fans, just three and half years ago, August 9, 2019. It was just one pitch, the ceremonial first pitch in a Red Sox game (a win over the Angels, 16-4). 

It was a gift from college friend and baseball teammate Pete, who won the opportunity at a charity raffle and gave it to me. Nice to have kind and generous friends. It was a wonderful night. I had family there and wrote about it in the Independent here: tinyurl.com/LindholmFenway.

About the pitch itself, it is important to note: I didn’t bounce it. 

Favorite player: Not Ted Williams, a deity; not Yaz, a chilly hero; not Big Papi, his bigness can be too much. Maybe one of those players best known by their first names: Nomar, Mookie, Pedro.

Has to be Pedro Martinez. He played with such artistry and elan. He was the best ever on the mound for a few years, unhittable. He had a good time out there.

Plus, he was a player of color, dark-skinned, and offset some of the Red Sox humiliating history of racism. 

Now in my eighth decade as Red Sox fan, I could do this all night. In the interest of space and your attention spans, I’ll spare you further ramblings.

• • • • •

Back to David Krell: he asked those of us contributing to “summarize being a Red Sox fan in three words.” 

Mine were: “Bone deep. Unavoidable.”  

—————

Karl Lindholm Ph.D is the Dean Emeritus of Advising and a retired Assistant Professor of American Studies at Middlebury College. Contact him at [email protected].

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