Saturday, October 07, 2006

Life in the wind

This is one of those fall days in Minnesota where you begin to realize what a man feels when taking his dying breath. The sun is warm, the trees are golden, the baseball game is on TV and the air has the faint aroma of fallen leaves spiced with everything good that happened to you when you were young.

Breathe deep and savor it; tomorrow we die. Winter's out there somewhere, moving this way.

And so I raked my suburban lawn today and then knelt into the pile of leaves to gather them into a trash bag...small handfuls at a time, like a man looking for something lost.

For me it's 1967. I was 13 years old with time on my hands. The Red Sox -- the Impossible Dream team -- were playing the Minnesota Twins on the last weekend of the regular season, with a chance -- a poor chance when you think about it, but a chance just the same -- of winning the American League pennant back when it meant something; back when there were 10 teams and no divisions.

I spent much of that last weekend with a glove, a tennis ball, and a radio... listening to the Red Sox game and throwing the ball when Ken Coleman said, "Lonborg winds and throws..." Thump. The ball bounced back and I, now Rico Petrocelli, would field it to end the inning against the dastardly Twins, who were also playing for the pennant.

For the next inning, I moved to the side of the barn just up the street, because it had a tall roof and if you throw the ball just so, it would bounce at the end of the slate roof, and fly back.... back.... back to the five- or six-foot-high stone wall of Mr. Murray's house; the one that protected his prize gladiolas.

It played well the part of Fenway Park's left field wall. And I was now Carl Yastrzemski. Except that Yastrzemski never had to deal with pieces of slate falling from the sky.

And so it went, until the game ended, or the Murrays chased me away from the gladiolas, until finally the Sox beat the Twins, and the team captured the American League pennant.

Eventually the Sox went to the World Series and fell in 7 games to the St. Louis Cardinals and -- though I was a bigger Cleveland Indians fan than a Red Sox fan -- joined the ranks of New Englanders who'd gone before, heartbroken in the fall by a team they followed.

It was many years later -- 2004 to be exact -- when the Red Sox finally won their World Series. "It'll be the worst thing that ever happened to those people, " I said to a friend. "They don't realize that their joy is born from their heartbreak." Take a Red Sox fan's heartbreak away, and you've taken away their soul.

But like fall, Sox heartbreak returns every year. And the true New Englander learns to savor both.

Breathe deep. And find your youth.

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