February 2008

The Red Sox Go To Washington

ortiz-and-trophy.jpgBeing Vice President of Red Sox Nation is like being dropped into an alternative universe where you wake up some mornings and say, "I had the craziest dream," and then you realize, it wasn’t a dream at all, and whatever dreams I DID have couldn’t have been as wild as the reality.

Today will go down as one of those days. I woke up in my bed in Boston, left my five children and wife sleeping to catch a 7am flight to Washington, D.C., drove to the Supreme Court building where Red Sox Nation President Jerry Remy and I were officially sworn in by Justice Stephen Breyer in his chambers during his short break from a hearing on the Exxon Valdez case (with Larry Lucchino and John Henry at our side), drove over to the White House for a tour with Red Sox owners, front office personnel, and members of their families, then went outside to join over 1,000 members of Red Sox Nation on the South Lawn, sitting in the second row behind Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, to see the Red Sox line up behind President George W. Bush for a special ceremony honoring the World Champions. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to join the team when they visited Walter Reed Memorial Hospital after the White House visit, but I hear it was quite a memorable and meaningful experience for the players and the patients.

As for the part of the day I was privileged to be involved in, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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The Vice-President and President of Red Sox Nation leave the Supreme Court after being sworn in by Justice Breyer (a die-hard Sox fan). Our pledge: "I, Gerald Peter Remy [and Robert Crawford], do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President [and Vice-President] of Red Sox Nation. I pledge to be true to the game, true to our fans, and to the best of my ability preserve, protect and promote all that is great about the beloved sport of baseball and the Boston Red Sox."

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Regardless of your politics, it’s pretty humbling to walk through the White House and think about the fact that Abraham Lincoln (whom you KNOW would have been a huge baseball fan) lived in and directed the Civil War from there.

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Red Sox Nation congregates on the South Lawn. This photo was taken from inside the Blue Room during our tour of the White House, about 45 minutes before the ceremony with the team.

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More than 1,000 members of Red Sox Nation await the arrival of the World Champion Boston Red Sox and the President and Vice-President of the United States — including Senator John Kerry and writer Mike Barnicle (who, when he writes about baseball, is just about the best baseball writer there is).

 

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This is me with a couple of loyal members of Red Sox Kid Nation from Kensington, Maryland who got there early and were right up front — Quentin and Bryce Auster. What a blast for all of us who had the good fortune of applauding the Sox at the White House!

The_brick_22708_1 Back at Logan Airport after the trip to D.C., we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by members of the United Airlines staff, who had confiscated our historic Fenway Park brick while going through security in the morning. We had wanted to use the brick for the swearing-in ceremony, but instead, Rem Dawg and I placed our left hands on an Offical Major League Baseball, imprinted with a gold Red Sox logo, that Justice Breyer had sitting on his desk. (Like I said, he’s a true fan.) Pictured here are Michael Castro (United Airlines), Mardi Fuller (Red Sox), Regular Rob, Debbie Neal (United Airlines), and Joe Januszewski (Red Sox).

Quotes of the day:

1. From Red Sox Vice President Chuck Steedman, next to whom I sat at lunch in a White House dining room: "They don’t do this [fun stuff] for teams that come in second."

2. From George Bush: "I see Manny’s not here. I guess his grandmother died again. Just kidding. Tell Manny I didn’t mean it. But I do want to quote him. He said, "When you don’t feel goocheney-bush-pap-lowell.jpgd, and you still get hits, that’s when you know you’re a bad man." (Laughter.) I don’t know what that means. (Laughter.) But if bad man means good hitter, he’s a really bad man."

3. From George Bush: "Red Sox Nation extends beyond the South Lawn, extends beyond New England — it obviously goes to the Caribbean and even the Far East. So we welcome Japan’s Daisuke Matsuzaka here to the South Lawn. His press corps is bigger than mine. And we both have trouble answering questions in English."

For the full text of Bush’s speech (it was pretty good, actually), click here.

And certainly, one of the great highlights of the day was getting home in time to tuck in my 8 year-old son and present to him a ball autographed by Josh Beckett: "AWESOME, DADDY!" and to tuck in my 5 year-old son and present to him a ball with George Bush’s autograph imprinted on it: "This is perfect, Daddy, since I don’t really like baseball, but I really like famous people! And clean baseballs!"

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What I Love About Baseball

baseball-bats-and-batting-glove.jpgThe leathery-dirt smell of a Rawlings baseball glove. The feel of a high-seamed baseball under my fingertips. Kids imitating their heroes’ batting stances. Defensive replacements in the 9th inning. The allure of an expansive green lawn. The thwack of a fastball slamming into a catcher’s mitt. Luis Tiant. The count. Inches. Emphatic umpire’s calls. Outfielders throwing bullets over long distances to a precise point in space. The pivot at second base. Stealing third. A catcher nailing a would-be base-stealer at third. Acrobatic centerfielders. Baserunners flying at full speed at the crack of the bat, with less than two outs, knowing the line drive will drop in. Earl Weaver. Fielders balanced on the balls father-and-boys-outside-fenway.jpgof their feet as the pitch is delivered, imagining infinite possible outcomes. It’s every day. The black of the plate. Jason Varitek. No-hitters. Extra infield work. Broken-bat singles that end a slump. A perfectly executed suicide squeeze. A totally botched suicide squeeze. Anticipation and hope in the bottom of the ninth inning. Peter Gammons’ old baseball columns in the Sunday Globe. Big league dreams in the imagination of a nine year-old. The scoop at first base. A pick-off at second base, in slow motion. Taking the first pitch, all the way. Taking the 2-0 pitch, all the way. Purposefully moving the runner over. Catchers who frame the pitch just inches off the plate, and umpires who don’t fall for it. Jackie Robinson. Two-out RBI hits by the player the pitcher preferred to face, following an intentional walk. Meaningless chatter when managers visit pitchers on the mound, and umpires who go out to "break it up" after ten seconds. Dewey nailing a baserunner at third. Batters who sprint to first base after getting drilled in the back, expressionless. Stealing home. Catchers who back-up first base. Curt Schilling in the post-season. A 3-2 change-up….three times in a row. Grown men playing a child’s game. The Red Sox. Players who talk to, smile at, or wink at fans while in the on-deck circle. Catchers who block the plate, and baserunners who barrel into first-base-line.jpgcatchers blocking the plate. Old men and women who keep score, every game. The marvelous sensation of my bat connecting with a ball on the sweet spot. Listening to the game on the radio – in my car, in my kitchen, on the beach. Take Me Out To The Ballgame. Fenway. Wrigley. Eliot Playground in Brookline. Hot dogs. Kids who wear their gloves in the stands and expect to catch a foul ball. Putting on a baseball cap and transforming into myself. Pennant races. Dr. Charles Steinberg’s "Path of the Fan Experience." Pitchers who use numerous arm angles. The knuckleball. Baseball Tonight on ESPN. The expression on a kid’s face when he/she walks up the ramp into a major league baseball stadium for the first time. Cal Ripken. Poring over the sports section, 365 mornings a year. Fathers and mothers playing catch with sons and daughters in the driveway. Hitting fungos to my brother on a 90-degree day…. just one more. Rem Dog’s astute color analysis. The first practice of the little league season, when kids get their t-shirts and begin to bond with their uniform number. Tommy Lasorda. Sunflower seeds. Eye black. Pitchers who show no emotion. Overly emotional pitchers. Batting averages. Box scores. When the home team trots onto the field in the top of the first inning. Francisco Cabrera and Sid Bream. Grown men and women wearing shirts with the names of their favorite players on the back. Ticket stubs in my little-leaguer-1976-photo.jpgfather’s mirror over his dresser. Kids seeing "the wave" for the first time. Fans high-fiving perfect strangers around them after a home run. Barehanded plays. Taking the whole family to see a minor league game, in good seats. Dirt dogs. Relief pitchers who sprint in from the bullpen to the mound. Starting pitchers who stay in the dugout after they’ve left the game. October. When someone in the dugout throws a ball to the first baseman who’s running off the field. Nolan Ryan. Pinch hitters. Double-switches. Pine tar. Batting gloves in the back pocket. Ripped uniform pants. Spectators at "over-40" amateur baseball games. High schoolers who can hit 90 on the radar gun. Pitchers who shake off three or more catcher’s signals. Catchers who call time out to tell pitchers who shake off their signals to throw the **** pitch they called. Dan Gladden. Complete games. The words, "I can’t use my tickets tonight, would you like to go to the game?" Homers that clang off the foul pole. Opening Day. Vin Scully. Joe Garagiola. Curt Gowdy. Ned Martin and Jim Woods. Jon Miller. Deer-in-the-headlights pitchers on the mound for the other team in critical situations. Manaroberts-steals-second.jpggers who go out to argue with the intent of getting tossed. Knee-buckling curveballs. Home team pitchers who induce a swing-and-a-miss on a fastball that everyone in the stadium knew was coming. Taped fingers. Trivia. Opinions about who belongs in the Hall of Fame. Derek Jeter. Dave Roberts. Anything can happen. Triple plays. A walk-off balk. The hyperventilating rush of watching a ball I’ve hit curl down the third base-line for a potential double. Bill James’ Baseball Abstract. The day pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Game 7s. The authenticity and excitement of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Rookies making their first major league appearance. Watching the game from "standing room only" and feeling as lucky as anyone in box seats. Wiffleball. little-leaguers-on-the-bench.jpgMemories of my own glory days and goat days on the diamond. Players who sign autographs for kids… all the time. When a left-handed hitter strokes a hit off a left-handed reliever who was brought in to face one batter. Pitchers instinctively covering first base on ground balls hit to the right side. Pitchers who back-up third. Ichiro. Hot stove talk in December. Trade offers in fantasy baseball. Those incredibly rare little league coaches who make every kid feel special and aren’t in it for their own competitive reasons. Holding tickets to Fenway in my hand. Hitting streaks kept alive on the final at-bat. Player superstitions. Rally caps. Baseball card collections in shoe boxes. Ninth-inning miracles. Outfielders who get a jump on the ball before it’s even hit. The bleachers. Taking the T to the game. Curses obliterated. Pepper. Former power pitchers winning with finesse. Holding a 32 or 33-inch bat in my hands. Hitters battling the twilight shadows between home plate and the pitcher’s mound. Managers who don’t believe in "letting the pitcher work himself out of a jam." When ball girls, ball boys, and base coaches toss foul balls to kids in the crowd. Kirk Gibson.

What would you add to this list?

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Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, and the Red Sox

jackie-robinson.jpgOn Friday night, February 1, the day after Jackie Robinson‘s would-be 89th birthday, I attended the Red Sox’s celebration of his life in the EMC Club at Fenway Park. The event featured a panel of speakers, the star of which was the legendary basketball hall of famer, Bill Russell (who, on February 12, celebrated his 74th birthday). Russell, one of the greatest Celtics of all time, shared some memorable stories and insights (transcribed below). But first, panelist and author Steve Jacobson reminded us of Jackie Robinson’s own connection to Boston – one that is painful for Red Sox Nation to acknowledge.

It’s fitting and ironic that the Red Sox are the only team that formally celebrates Robinson’s birthday, for while the Red Sox were the last team to field a black player (Pumpsie Green in 1959, three years after Robinson’s baseball career ended), the Sox were the first team to give Jackie Robinson a major league "tryout." This took place at Fenway Park in April 1945, two years before Robinson was named Rookie of the Year as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgpumpsie-green-1960-baseball-card.jpgers.

Of course, the tryout was a sham, and it only happened because of public pressure by Boston city councilman, Isadore Muchnik, who threatened to revoke the Red Sox’s permit to play Sunday games at Fenway Park unless the Red Sox offered a tryout to three black players. Those players were Marvin Williams, Sam Jethroe, and Jackie Robinson.

"The workout was supposed to be supervised by four Red Sox hall of famers," writes Jacobson in his new book, Carrying Jackie’s Torch. "Joe Cronin, the manager; 78 year-old Hugh Duffy, a coach; owner Tom Yawkey, a South Carolina lumberman;tom-yawkey.jpg and Eddie Collins, the general manager. Cronin refused to give an evaluation of the players he’d seen. Duffy said one workout wasn’t enough. Yawkey said any judgment had to come from his baseball people. And Collins said he couldn’t be there because of a previous engagement. Don’t call us, we’ll call you — and the Red Sox never did call."

It’s mind boggling that the Red Sox had "first dibs" on Jackie Robinson. Can you imagine how different Red Sox history would be — indeed, Boston history — if Jackie Robinson had played at Fenway from 1945 to 1956? Writes Jacobson: "The Red Sox, who won the American League pennant in 1946, the last year of the all-white major leagues, did not win another pennant until 1967. The effect was clear."

I didn’t know the whole story of Robinson’s bogus tryout with the Red Sox until Jacobson retold the tale. And when he was finished speaking, it was Bill Russell’s turn. I took notes of everything Russell said, and I’ve done my best to represent his words below.

"I’m proud to be here tonight, and I’m so glad the Red Sox are honoring Jackie Robinson on his 79th birthday. Anytime the Red Sox want me to be part of something honoring him, I’d be glad to do so, even though I live in Seattle and you can’t get here from there."

"I remember Jackie liked to bunt the ball down the first base line – that meant the pitcher would have to run over and field the ball as Jackie ran past, and Jackie was a football player…." Bill Russell smiled. "Slight collision!"

"The day after Jackie died, I got a call from Rachel Robinson, and she asked me to bbill-russell-2-2-1-08.jpge one of the pallbearers in Jackie’s funeral. And I asked her, ‘Rachel, why would you ask me?’ And she said, "Bill, you were Jackie’s favorite athlete.’ And when I hung up the phone, I remember thinking, How does a man get to be a hero to Jackie Robinson?"

"There were people along the way who tried to discourage me. But I lived a charmed life, because there were many people – black, white, Jewish, Christian – who pushed me forward, too. My high school basketball coach was one of those people. [Russell mentioned that Frank Robinson and Curt Flood attended his high school in Oakland at the same Russell was there.] He just looked at kids and saw baseball players or basketball players. And that’s what I encountered in Boston with Walter Brown and my coach – and my friend – Red Auerbach."

"Now I came to Boston believing I was the best player in the land. But I didn’t get along with my college coach [at University of San Francisco] for one single day – yet we managed to win 55 straight games and two straight NCAA championships. And my Olympic coach was from Tulsa, and we didn’t get along at all, either – but we won the gold medal. So when I came to Boston, I expected not to get along with the coach. But the first time I met Red, he said, ‘You’re among friends.’

"I was with a friend of mine in an airport and a stranger came up to me and said, You’re tall. Are you a basketball player? and I replied, No. Then another person came up to me and askbill-russell-and-red-auerbach.jpged, Are you a basketball player? And I said, Nope. So my friend asked me, Bill, why do you keep telling them no? And I told him, Because basketball is what I do, but it’s not who I am.

At one point, a woman stood and asked a question about what Bill Russell thought about urban kids all wanting to become athletes or entertainers, like the heroes they most admire. Bill’s response:

"I think it’s a myth that black kids today all just want to be athletes or entertainers. And my view is, we shouldn’t discourage kids from wanting to be special. I teach that we have to make changes inside-out rather than outside-in. I tell kids if you do work hard and use your intelligence, there are people who will give you a helping hand. But just giving help all the time [outside-in] can become a negative."

"I don’t see any problem with a kid wanting to be an athlete or an entertainer, and I reject that the only thing all these athletes are teaching kids is to be athletes and entertainers. That’s just not true. You know, almost all of the best players in the NBA have foundations and are doing a lot of work with kids in the community – almost all of the best players – and we rarely hear about that, but it’s true. And these players are teaching kids a lot more than how to be a professional athlete or entertainer."

Russell_ali_brown_jabbar "In schools across the country, physical education programs are being cut as budgets are slashed. And this is a big problem. P.E. programs aren’t about creating pro athletes, they’re about creating healthy people. In my case, I have a mild case of diabetes, and my doctor tells me that the only reason it’s not severe is because of the active life I led in my youth and young adulthood. Mind and body are both important in a child’s education."

"I remember the first time my mother said we could play in our front yard. Until that time, we had only been allowed to play in our back yard, but then one day my mother said we could play in the front. But she said to us, ‘Now people may walk by on the sidewalk, and some of them may say things to you. Some of the things they say may be good things, some of them may be bad. But whatever they say, don’t pay any attention to it. Remember, they don’t know you. And when they say bad things, that’s their problem, and they’re wrestling with their own demons.’ So, growing up, I was determined that no one would stop me. Particularly no one I didn’t know."

"My daughter was one of Professor Ogletree’s students [at Harvard Law School – Ogletree moderated the evening], and her mom and I went our separate ways when she was 12 years old. So there I was, a single parent with a 12 year-old girl, and to this day, it’s been the single greatest adventure of my life. And back when she was 12, I made two promises to my daughter: 1. I will love you ’til I die. 2. When you leave this house, you’ll be able to take care of yourself better than any many you’ll ever meet. And I told her that because I wanted her to feel the same way my parents made me feel. And that’s what I’m trying to do today with kids – to teach them to have confidence in themselves and not to be afraid. Jackie Robinson was never motivated by fear. He didn’t see obstacles, he onred-sox-retired-numbers.jpgly saw opportunities, and he saw every challenge as a chance to show what he could do."

"I’m looking forward to the next great baseball player, but I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t care what color he is."

The Red Sox will never shed the facts of the team’s racist history; but the birthday party at Fenway for Jackie Robinson, featuring Bill Russell — not to mention our two World Championship teams featuring players from a variety of cultural backgrounds – shows that those facts truly are history. History to be remembered, but never to be repeated.

The Meaning of the 2007 Patriots

Bruschi_and_vrabelI don’t buy it.

Everyone says the Patriots’ season became meaningless when they lost
the Super Bowl to the Giants. All the wins, all the records, all the
great feats of 2007 — up in smoke with one pass to Plaxico Burress.

But you know what? I don’t buy into that. And you don’t have to,
either. We live in a society that has decided to shower the "winners"
with a ridiculously disproportionate level of praise and credit and to
strip all value from every other competitor or team that didn’t reach
the mountaintop (where there’s only room for one). I don’t really know
why we’ve decided to see things that way, but I, for one, particularly
in this specific case, do not buy it.

Yes, the Giants won the Super Bowl. They are the Super Bowl
Champions. They are to be commended. They earned it. They deserve it.
They and their fans should feel awesome. The Patriots did not win the Super Bowl. But the Patriots of 2007 are still one of the greatest NFL teams of all time. And the 2007 Giants are not.

Now I hear you saying: "You can’t consider a team to be the best
ever if they didn’t win the championship – you fool!" But that’s only
true if we buy into what pop culture has driltom-brady.jpgled into us since you
were tiny tots crawling on the floor in front of Sunday afternoon
football games on TV. We have been taught since we were born that only the winner can feel proud, and that
every team or competitor that doesn’t win failed. And by God, if you don’t win the big game, well, you’re just a footnote and nothing more. LOSER!

But do you really believe that about the 2007 Patriots? Isn’t part of the
reason that it’s so hard for us to make sense of their Super Bowl loss
that there’s a deeper part of us that KNOWS they had a truly remarkable
season and that they were still — by far — the best football team in
the league this year — and THIS DECADE? And this deeper part of us
(I’m talking to you, Pats fans) knows they still deserve a parade in
Boston. And this deeper part of us ACHES to go to that parade and to
cheer for them for playing so incredibly well this year, for giving us
a feeling we’ve literally never had before with any team in Boston — a
complete, unassailable belief that we are invincible.

OK, so that feeling of invincibility ended up vanishing with less
than a minute left in the Super Bowl, but that feeling was still quite
a thrill, quite a gift to all of us in Patriots (and Red Sox) Nation.
And even in losing to the Giants, the Patriots played with a level of
effort that deserves our admiration. So they lost. Dowes-welker.jpges that mean we
abandon them? Is the only reason we loved them that they kept ending up
with more points than the other team when the game was over? Was that
really the only stinking reason?

No. For me, it was more than that. And maybe I didn’t realize that
fact until they lost to the Giants. Their wins were a reflection of
their beautiful excellence. And I loved them because of their beautiful
excellence. Before this season, I always thought of the
1986 Chicago Bears as the greatest NFL team ever. (They were 18-1 too.
But their loss came during the regular season, so we don’t hold it
against them.) But if I could pick one team in history to win one game
against ANY team, I would pick the 2007 Patriots (with a healthy Tom
Brady). And you know all the TV sportscasters WANT to say the same
thing (because deep down, they know it’s true), but they are afraid to
because they know they’ll get ridiculed (as I will) for praising a team that "lost
the big one." They’ll get ridiculed (as I will) for going against the code of our
society that says, "Only the winners of the Super Bowl can hold their
heads high." That’s just hogwash. And declaring it so helps me deal
with their loss. It relieves some of the pain. It sustains my
appreciation of the Patriots, and that feels good. (Try it!)

So, what’s the meaning of the 2007 Patriots? That you can still be
considered one of the greatest teams of all time and LOSE the big game.
That no team, no competitor is invincible. (When I yelled at the TV,
"Why did you miss that??" as Samuel dropped that potential interception on Manning’s final drive, my 8 year-old son said to me,
"Because he’s human, Daddy.") Trandy-moss.jpghat you can still be considered a
"winner" by fans and by commentators even if you come in second. And
that, if you choose to buy in to the "rule" that only one team and one
set of fans has the right to feel good at the end of the season —
well, that’s a rule that’s going to give you a lot of pain in your life.

Yeah,
I’m incredibly disappointed that the Patriots lost. Still stunned. A
little numb. No doubt, winning is better than losing. But I won’t line
up behind the people that want to just forget about them. The 2007 New
England Patriots were awesome. And one play with 0:35 seconds left
doesn’t eradicate an entire season of jaw-dropping performance. Unless
you decide that it does. But I just don’t buy it.