This is not an outdoor-related blog post. Most of the time (most of you will already realize), that’s what you’ll find in this space. If that’s what you expected … well … bear with me.
To say that I’m sorry about what’s to come wouldn’t be accurate. Not even close.
This blog is about sports. Kind of. It’s about appreciating a life-well lived. It’s about paying tribute to a man many of us knew of, but few of us in these parts was actually fortunate enough to know.
This blog is about Johnny Pesky.
On Tuesday night, my wife, Karen, along with her son Gordon and I, were among the 30-something-thousand who flocked to Fenway to watch another lackluster performance by our adopted hometown team.
I could have cared less.
Because this night, from beginning to end, was about Johnny Pesky.
Pesky, a Red Sox star in the 1940s who hit .307 for his career, was later a coach, and after that, became a symbol what the Sox represent to so many of us.
He was humble. He was loyal. He was a Boston legend.
And on Aug. 13, he died, at the age of 92.
On Tuesday, the Sox returned to Fenway Park for the first time since Pesky’s death. A slideshow featuring Pesky as a player and a coach was shown before the game; his son, David, threw out the first pitch. Red Sox nation stood as one.
And then the Sox came out of the dugout.
Not surprisingly, every single Boston player was wearing a No. 6 jersey (forget the old saw about “can’t tell the players without a program … on this night, a program wouldn’t have helped).
A year earlier, I had taken Gordon, then 8 years old, on his first of what I expect will be many trips to Fenway. Before I agreed to take him, he was required to learn quite a bit of Red Sox lore. Among those tidbits: What the left field wall is called …The second-baseman’s name … and the unofficial Boston label attached to the right field foul pole.
“That’s Pesky’s Pole,” he told me, proudly, back then. On Tuesday, more somberly, he said the same words.
Then I told him a story that I still can’t get out of my head, some 13 years after the incident took place.
Back in 1999, when the Major League Baseball All-Star game was held in Boston, I headed down I-95 in hopes of scoring tickets to the home run derby. As it turned out, the tickets were selling for more than I made in a week … I remained outside.
But as I walked the circuit around the park, I saw a huge crowd that I had to check out.
There, on Yawkey Way, seated on a chair, was Johnny Pesky, signing autographs. Cool, I thought.
Three hours later, as scalpers continued to hawk their overpriced tickets for the home run derby, I finally decided to leave the Fenway festival and head north.
On the way back down Yawkey Way, I saw another crowd … or the same crowd, with different members.
Pesky was still sitting there. He was still signing autographs. He was still surrounded.
Not, I thought, because he was being paid to do so (though that may have been the case). But because he thought he ought to be there.
Maybe that’s not accurate, either. But that’s the story I told Gordon the other night. That’s the image I wanted him to see. That’s the Pesky that so many have said they knew.
And as the bugle played taps and we gazed out at the No. 6 shaved into the Fenway outfield, Gordon didn’t say a word.
He just took off his cap. Held it over his heart. And stood, silently, with 30-some-thousand others, many of whom were doing the same thing.
RIP, No. 6.