From the very beginning of my time as a baseball fanatic, (c.2003) a recurring theme in the game for me has been ghosts. In 2003 it was Derek Jeter promising a young teammate that no matter how tough things seemed against the Red Sox in an air-tight ALCS, "the ghosts come out in October." The ghost of Babe Ruth was frequently invoked. In 2004 it was about the ghosts of everyone from the former Red Sox greats to passed-away relatives as the Promised Land was finally reached. Graveyards filled across New England with fans raising toasts alongside family graves.
Tonight, however, is one of the few times I have encountered that period, of the Championship year, and felt I was once again in the presence of ghosts. They're replaying a game against the Orioles from September 21, 2004. Curt Schilling on the mound for the Sox. But not the Curt Schilling we're dealing with now. We're talking Curt Schilling Curt Schilling. I'm shocked at how young he looks.
The Sox come up to bat and it's Johnny Damon at the plate leading off. We are far enough away from this era now that this startles me at first. That thought in turn unleashes a flood of nostalgia. Guess I know what I'm watching tonight.
Bellhorn comes up. I am charmed to hear a chant start: "Let's go, Bell-hoahn. Let's go, Bell-hoahn." You can hear the Boston accent in a shouted chant. I am fondly reminded of the graffiti I found in a bathroom in Kenmore Square the next year.
Bellhorn grounds into a double play. I am reminded suddenly of many, many additional things about Mark Bellhorn. Boos are heard faintly from the crowd. The Bellhorn Era was a crazy, schizophrenic time.
Manny makes a mighty hit to right. Papi walks. Manny's batting third. And he has what looks like practically no hair at all, but I remember how we all thought his hair was like, sooo crazy. Little did we know.
A little while later. Miguel Tejada, new to Baltimore, still pretty pissed at Derek Lowe, at bat for the Orioles. And then, a voice comes out of the crowd.
"YOU KNOW IT'S COMIN', MIGUEL!" a male voice stands out above the rest of the crowd, probably just dumb luck its owner is seated near a NESN crowd mic. "YOU KNOOOWW IT'S COMIN'!"
Tejada, surprisingly, looks perturbed. I can't tell if he can hear the heckler and it's actually bothering him, or if he's upset about something else. But the heckler seems encouraged.
"IT'S GONNA BOUNCE IN THE DIRT! AND YOAH GONNA SWING AT IT!"
Schilling winds, kicks, delivers. Both the pitch and Tejada do precisely what the heckler has just predicted. Precisely as the pitch comes in, with the tone of an incantation, comes the cry, "THE SPLITTAHHH!!"
The crowd erupts. Above their roar, faint but rapturous, the voice can be heard, still triumphantly screaming. "HOW WUZZAT?! HUH!?! HOW! WUZZAT!!?"
At the time I first watched this game, I was probably annoyed with this guy and the fact that his annoying mosquito-voice was in my ear on the TV when I was trying watch my man work, goddamnit. But now, he gives me goosebumps.
I've been a sourpuss about this whole Barry Bonds thing, I'll admit. But I also have to admit that my issue of Sports Illustrated which just arrived is incredible, and I'll probably be saving it for posterity. Its "leading off" photos section features double-page scenic spreads of the ballpark where Barry Bonds was hitting his 755th home run, the ballpark where Alex Rodriguez was hitting his 500th, and the ballpark where Tommy Glavine was pitching in an attempt at his 300th win.
Let's talk about Tommy Glavine for a bit. I am conditioned to call him "Tommy Glavine" because I am from the Merrimack Valley, where he is also from. In fact, Tommy Glavine and I share a childhood dentist. Little-known fact.
Around here there are down-pat lines of dialogue so unchanging and ingrained--and yet so necessary, apparently, to repeat whenever Glavine is brought up that they have the feeling of a mantra: Tommy Glavine is from Bricka, ya know. "Bricka" being the Merrimack Valley pronunciation of Billerica (which my fiancee, who is from Southeastern Mass, once hilariously pronounced "Bill-AIR-ica".) That is, of course, unless it directly precedes a word that starts with a vowel, in which case it is pronounced "Bricker."
Also, Tommy Glavine's aunt and uncle still live one street over from my parents, and my dentist once assured me I probably saw his cousins and him in my neighborhood when I was a kid. If I did, I don't remember.
It is also necessary, you see, to repeat whatever personal connection to Tommy Glavine one has, the flimsiness of that connection notwithstanding.
My one personal memory of Tommy Glavine was the Chelmsford High School Thanksgiving Day football game against Billerica High one year, when he came to the game, and the announcer actually alerted everyone over the PA system that he was at the field. He was, as you can imagine, utterly mobbed. I don't remember him coming back after that.
Then, about Tommy Glavine, it is necessary to point out that he was probably a better hockey player than he was a baseball player back in high school, but he probably went for the money in baseball. (I am aware of the preposterousness of this assertion. The meaning of this comment is not to be intelligent about sports, but merely to cement one's I-knew-him-when credibility.)
And now, that talented kid with the icy blue eyes from my hometown's rival and neighbor to the south has probably just become baseball's last 300-game winner. How about that.
Ask some kids in my high school when I was growing up about Billerica, and the reflexive response would be, about any subject within that category, "It sucks." But Tommy Glavine's light years bigger than that. He's big enough that just having grown up within 20 square miles of him is enough to afford us an extra measure of pride.
WORKING CLASS HERO
Billerica native earned stardom the hard way: dedication
By David Pevear
BILLERICA-- He is not a Lefty, a Rocket, or a Big Train. No flashy nickname has needlessly attached itself to baseball's newest 300-game winner. Billerica's Tom Glavine is still what fits him best. "He has reached the pinnacle," Billerica High baseball coach Jon Sidorovich says. "But he's never placed himself above Billerica. His parents are still here. His roots are still here."
The Lowell Sun did a huge full-color spread about Glavine for his 300th win this week. You will note that in the first 75 words of this article, including headline and sub-headline, "Billerica" occurs 5 times.
And so it is necessary to return once again to the opening line of the chant, d'al signo to close out this particular bit of locally-fixated liturgy: Tommy Glavine is from Bricka, ya know.
As much of a religion as baseball is around here, this region produces relatively few actual professional baseball players, let alone players of note, and forget about players of legend. When we get to experience what local yokels in places like Texas and Southern California get to experience all the time--the hometown kid everyone remembers when he was knee-high to a grasshopper made good--we are going to cling to that experience for all it's worth.
So add this to my ever-expanding list of reasons to resent Barry Bonds: this lavish spread from the Sun is one of only a few I've seen from any reasonably sized news outlet. Glavine's record has, through the dumb, blind luck of timing, become something of a footnote to Barry Bonds. Or, at least, the second story on sportscasts, and not the lead.
Beyond the obvious reasons this sucks, it's also probably worth noting that while some people think Barry Bonds' record might be broken again within a decade, some people also think this is the last time anyone's going to break the record Glavine has just broken. And yet, check all the sites and all the talking heads shows. First order of business: Barry Bonds. Ptooey.
On the bench outside the Mangia Mangia Italian Kitchen on Boston Road, Howard Finestone, 43, soothed 12-year-old son Alex's disappointment about not making a soccer team he had hoped to make.
"Work harder and earn what you get," father told son as they waited for their pizza to be ready. "Things aren't handed to you. Tommy Glavine obviously had to work hard. And he's made it last."
So I'm watching this broadcast, from before the World Series, and you know? Let's just come right out and admit there's a different character to the lot of us now. Back then, when Curt was coming barking off the mound after his 14th strikeout, the voice, shall we say, of Fenway had a different accent. A broader, more definite local inflection. The voice of things before the deepest of the feeding frenzies on the national stage, before some things twisted, some things soured, and all of a sudden, the "Let's Go Red Sox" chants started getting louder and louder at away stadiums.
"Every time he's on TV, they say 'Tom Glavine from Billerica,' and the story (of what makes Glavine such a source of pride) falls into place," says Paul Barber, who was one of Glavine's youth hockey coaches. "I see Fred stop by the Dunkin' Donuts before getting ready to hit the road to watch Tommy pitch. Great people, his family."
Scott Crandall, who was a high school teammate of Glavine's and remains one of the pitcher's closest friends, still can see himself picking up Tommy for Billerica High practices and games in a 1983 Trans-Am.
It seems like yesterday.
"It's so weird," Crandall says. "But how could anyone have predicted what he's done? It's amazing. But like my father says: 'Tommy comes from good stock.'"
I'm not saying those new fans "from away", to quote another New England saying, aren't welcome. But it's times like this I'm reminded of where my own personal love for baseball comes from in the first place: my love of my home, my home state, my home town. The two things, my love for the Red Sox and my love for the place I come from, are inextricable from one another. Tommy Glavine's probably the only single player in which both things come together in equal measure. So I'm naturally inclined to be more focused on him than Bonds, and more naturally inclined to be annoyed when the national eye and the talk around water coolers is focused on San Francisco, especially given my manifold conviction that Bonds is at the opposite end of the "deserving" spectrum. It would be ridiculous to expect a total reversal of these fortunes, but I guess I had naively hoped for at least equal time in the national spotlight.
Let me just reiterate: some say no one will ever do what Tommy Glavine did again. Ever. And where I come from, we will almost certainly never see his like again: that chosen one who, over miles and years, has come to belong to all of us.