The full-page picture of David Ortiz from the most recent Improper Bostonian (sent to me, with touching thoughtfulness and a little note paperclipped to the front cover by Kristen) is now taped to the wall about two feet from my face, behind the desk and just slightly to the right of the computer monitor where my typed words are picking up speed across this screen.
The first time I opened the magazine (which has an equally impressive photo of Ortiz on the cover), it flopped open right to this page, and I looked at it, took a deep breath in, and let out a sigh of contentment. Then I kissed the page next to Ortiz's smiling cheek.
I do that. I kiss the television or hug it sometimes. I kiss pictures.
This picture, like a few memorable photographs I've seen in my life, fills me instantly with a sense of warmth and well-being. Ortiz, nattily dresed, studded in diamonds at the hands, ears and neck, is giving me his gap-toothed grin, and his great, strong hands are in the foreground, each index finger pointing at me, the rest of the fingers curled, with the championship jewels jutting out from his left ring finger. He's smiling as if he sees me.
I put it up by my desk as a kind of positive affirmation. A weird anthropomorphisis of a piece of glossy paper into my own personal, imagined cheerleader.
In short, just looking at this picture (as I have continually, and probably will until the novelty wears off) makes me feel like everything, no, really, everything, is going to be all right.
I love David Ortiz.
At my last company, with only about fifty employees the vast majority of whom were blue-collar, beer-guzzling devotees of the Patriots (nothing against that, of course), I was The Resident Red Sox fan, a role I gladly accepted.
Now I work for a company with well over 400 employees, in an office suite the size of a football field, divided into many, many cubicles, most of which bear some form of Red Sox memorabilia. Jerseys, t-shirts and sweatshirts can be glimpsed on many days given the casual dress code. And yet again, I've taken on that reputation. Maybe because, as with most things, I am outspoken about my obsession...but sometimes even I am mystified at how quickly I am labeled and dealt with as a complete, almost scary fanatic.
From inside myself, I don't seem that way. But today, my boss, over IM (I was working remotely)--but I could still hear her charming British accent--told me with mock sternness that if I didn't perform a certain task better from now on she was going to "nail [me] to [my] desk and [I] would never see the Red Sox again."
It doesn't take long for things to become entrenched, I guess. Maybe my stubborn insistence on keeping up an 11x14 stamp-autographed color foldout poster of Keith Foulke from a 2004 Red Sox program next to my desk has something to do with it.
Speaking of things, like Papi, that warm my insides like a shot of smooth whiskey--try on these excerpts from spring training 1968 by Angell for size. I get the feeling there will be many more lengthy transcripts from his books in this space during this off-season. If you mind, I have no problem labeling you a total Philistine.
Mornings are the best time at a winter ballpark. After calisthenics, the players scatter--pickups and peper, outfield wind-sprints, batting for the scrubeenies, infield practice for the regulars. The batting-practice pitcher throws and, with the same motion, drops his head below the low screen just in front of him, the man in the cage swings away, the ball flies over second, and, an instant later, coaches on the first and third baselines tap grounders that cross each other on the way to opposite sides of the infield. A couple of sportswriters, wearing T-shirts, shades, and team caps, emerge from the dugout carrying cardboard containers of coffee. The smell of coffee fills the air, mixing with the smell of freshly mown grass. From right field comes a curious, repeated pattern of sounds--a pitching machine. There is a slow hum and squeak as the machine's metal arm gravely rotates, selecting a ball from the trough on its upward path, a quick, springy "Thwongg!" as the ball is released, then the crack of the bat and a whir as the ball skids along the rope netting that encloses machine and batter. Sometimes there is a muttered curse instead of the whir: pop-up.
There was an overflow, standing-room crowd at Al Lang field in St. Petersburg for the Sunday game between the Red Sox and Cardinals on St. Patrick's Day. I got to the park a bit late, in the bottom of the first, just in time to see Bob Gibson throw a fast ball with his familiar flailing, staggering delivery and Yastrzemski slice it to left field, to score a run from third. The deep, sustained wave of noise that followed was startling and sweet; we were back in October, just where we had left off, and that unforgettable World Series had somehow been extended. Now here on the mound for Boston was Jose Santiago, who had started the first Series game against Gibson, and here, too, was that instant, reflexive Cardinal response--a double to left by Curt Flood and a single by Maris, to tie the game. There was nothing to choose between the two teams after that, and the tension and pride and almost visible mutual dislike on the field produced marvelous baseball. Santiago, displaying utter cool, pitched quickly into trouble and quickly out again. Gibson poured in his fast ball, shoulder high, defying the hitters; he struck out George Scott and Reggie Smith in succession, both swinging. In the third, Curt Flood went back to the fence and jumped high for Joe Foy's drive in front of the 398-foot sign, saving a homer. Later, Scott, the enormous Boston first baseman, went far to his right to scoop up Tim McCarver's low shot, bobbled the ball, and then threw in time to Santiago while falling away from the bag. The sport was riveting and autumnal, but between innings there were subtropical distractions. My seat in the auxiliary press box offered a vista of a considerable section of nearby Tampa Bay, all ruffled and glittery and, on this day, cluttered with a heavy traffic of power yachts, water-skiers, and runabouts. A good distance out, the white sails of a gigantic Lightning-class regatta clustered thickly, and then, after the distant bump of the starting gun, the boats strung themselves out on their first reach like a line of drying wash. A series of racing hydroplanes appeared just inside a nearby seawall, threw themselves around a pylon in a snarl of noise and spray, and went bucking off to the west. I began to think I was watching the afternoon show at the Florida Pavilion in some World's Fair.
The man is the Shakespeare of baseball. I can't get over it. I've been reading this book for three days now, and though I am not normally so slow a reader, I have only gotten half a paragraph into page 27. Reading his work too fast is like trying to take great bites of rich, bitter dark chocolate--it needs to be nibbled, savored, washed down with plenty of drink.
Even though the championship of 2005 has yet to be decided, and though I dread some of the news sure to come out of the Red Sox offseason, part of me already cannot wait another moment for the Spring of 2006.