By the time Opening Day for the Red Sox came around 47 years ago, on April 8, 1969, I was so worked up that I could hardly eat or sleep. The previous year, as a seven-year-old, I had experienced my first real baseball summer, watching the one or two games a week that were on television, and listening to every Red Sox game that did not conflict with a family activity I had not been able to get myself out of. I sat by my radio for the final Red Sox game that September and wondered, not for the last time, how I was going to occupy myself for the next six months.
Sometime that March, 1969, I took time away from my third-grade curriculum to hand-write a multi-page preview of the upcoming Red Sox season. As far as I recall, it was read by no eyes other than mine, which is perhaps just as well. This material is lost to history but you can be rest assured that I wrote with spectacularly naive optimism. All of the Red Sox’ good players would play well, perhaps even improve, while all of their previously injured or struggling players would heal, or right the ship, or discover talents so hidden that no one yet knew they existed. As I figured it, the Red Sox would win 100 games and go on to win the pennant.
To be fair, the Red Sox were a pretty good team. They reached the World Series two years before and had won 86 games in 1968 despite two major injuries: star outfielder Tony Conigliaro missed the entire season with an eye injury, and pitching ace Jim Lonborg lost half the year with a broken leg. Now both players were back, and it was not too difficult for an eight-year-old to justify the few improvements that would get them back on top. I was up to the task.
For my first Opening Day, I rushed home from school and saw the Red Sox beat the Orioles in 12 innings. This turned out to be a mirage — the team had its moments, too be sure, but ultimately were no match for a great Baltimore team that would sand away much of my sunny optimism over the new few years. The Red Sox finished a gentleman’s third, a perch they seemed to occupy for the next decade.
But there is a greater truth. The 1969 Red Sox, and baseball in general, brought me plenty of joy along the way. I pored over baseball cards, bought yearbooks and magazines, spent day after day thinking about the upcoming contests, watched or listened to games, and feverishly absorbed the rehash in the next day’s paper. Sure, I played baseball myself, and interacted with people, and talked about other things, but the Red Sox were the constant background music to all my summers, and the anticipation of the next season helped get me through every winter.
Things have changed, to be sure, though not all that much. Jobs and responsibilities have made me turn the music down from time to time, but I usually don’t make it too far into the day without thinking, “Who’s pitching tonight?” I might not be able to work the day’s Red Sox game into my schedule, but before my head hits the pillow on a summer night I will know the essential goings on in Boston and throughout the major leagues.
So here I sit, 47 Opening Days later. David Price is pitching today for the Red Sox, in Cleveland. As it happens, I can neither listen nor watch, but I look forward to absorbing all the details this evening. The essential rhythms of the summer are back, and not a moment too soon.
And what about the Red Sox?
The way I see it, they might win the World Series. Then again, they might not.
I approach the season with spectacularly naive optimism.