In the early 1990s, I was fortunate to see Roger Clemens pitch at Fenway in a Red Sox uniform. I went early to the ballpark, his card in hand, pen at the ready. I don’t think I, or anyone on our side of the dugout, managed to get his attention.
A shared experience among young lads, I played Little League baseball. I would love to say I was directly responsible for winning just one game. I never pitched. I vaguely remember a timely bloop hit to short left field. As many other children have, I spent most of my time battling insects and avoiding a very hard baseball.
I did like to run the bases. Being small and speedy, this was an area I could excel at- no hand-eye coordination required.
I was passed from team=to-team a few times. I can’t tell you how many years I even played. I remember playing for Denver, the Texas Rangers, and… well, that could actually be it. Once I hit eleven or so I was no longer able to compete with the other boys my age, and took to riding my bicycle, reading, and music, among other interests. Around the age of twelve I ripped a tendon off of a growth plate in my right knee, and for years I stealthily wore a protective brace.
Once I reached high school, the social divergence between musicians and those involved in athletics naturally furthered, albeit there were exceptions, although it was rare that one would happen to excel in both spheres at my high school.
Being introduced to Emerson, Thoreau, and Orwell all but killed my interest in baseball. While the Transcendentalists affirmed it was the individual’s natural inclination and civic duty to follow their own whims, it was equally important not to blindly allegie thyself to an opinion or endeavor without due scrutiny. Clearly “the unexamined life is not worth living” rang true with Thoreau. I digress.
Not lost among the Transcendentalists, but a stumping point of Orwell, was the distaste for the disparate wealth. I grew sick with baseball not only because I was no longer able to play it, but factor in the ego of players such as Clemens and the staggering amount they are paid to play a game, and I lost all interest in it.
Sadly, it was around this time that I missed what many have heralded as the best pitcher to grace Fenway- Pedro Martinez’s 1999 campaign. When I began working steadily in a kitchen, the sense of national pride Papi, Pedro, and Ortiz elicited from the Domicans I worked with was infectious. I do recall Pedro’s encounter with Don Zimmerman unfolding live.
I watched the 2004 campaign, but without a sense of urgency comparable to those who have perhaps also witnessed Ted Williams. I could not tell you the rotation after Pedro, Schilling, Wake, and Lowe.
The 2007-8 era, that of Josh and Jon, has captured my attention once more. Watching Josh is to watch a man act with deliberateness and passion, acknowledging the rising expectations rested upon his shoulders as he attempts to thread a needle at 97 mph.
While I admire Josh, it was Jon Lester whom I feel a cohortive kinship. Merely four days separate our births. I have had the blessings of largely good health. Jon has had a bout with cancer. I see bits of myself in his actions- his stubborness, his perceived lack of emotion. Jon Lester fends off the Boston media time and again with a consistent message that what matters is that he put his best effort on the table, and he is not able to control everything that occurs. It isn’t an attempt to dodge responsibility- rather, it is being responsible. I do what I am asked to. I must face my inner shame if I did not attain my objective.
Jon also is uncomfortable being the MLB poster child for cancer survivors. I wouldn’t be, either. He is quick to point out how lucky he is to have the medical care others do not. It weighs on him that some children die, and yet here he is today, charged with throwing a ball of leather and rubber. I hope that he will one day fully embrace the opportunity he has to bring lasting change to those less fortunate. He is human, and flawed.
Nonetheless, I felt sick seeing him crumple tonight after being hit in the leg by a line drive. I did not hesitate to recall all the times in Little League and gym class I traded embarassment and ridicule to avoid what he experienced.
It felt strange that he was hit without warning or the ability to avoid it, not all that dissimilar from the piece of metal on the highway that claimed two of my car’s tires this week. Adversity, injury, and insult come to us all. Pedey was quick to come to Jon’s side, and Large Father took his arm around his shoulder.
There was a display of camaraderie and genuine concern amongst these men, some young, some old, some articulate, and some struggling with language barriers. To watch this Boston team, a ragtag assembly of Japanese, Hispanic, European, Jewish, African, and Native Americans, is to feel affirmation that cultural differences can be overcome in the pursuit of a common objective.
When one man falls, another will step in to try and shoulder the load. I wish the best to your expediant recovery Mr. Jon Lester, and may the two fellows from Texas and the hero of Japan keep things in check until you return.