I only made it to three Arizona Fall League games during my two weeks in the Southwest in October, but baseball never strayed far from my consciousness as I was chasing balloons and hawks. The only cap I packed was the dark blue one with the red "B" I picked up in March at City of Palms Park, Ft. Myers, Florida, spring training home of Your Boston Red Sox. The number of positive comments I received in New Mexico and Arizona while wearing the cap left no doubt that Red Sox Nation extends far beyond the borders of New England and Florida.
The first part of my tour coincided with the nightmarish portion of the Red Sox playoff run, but as the history books will forever show, they managed to come back from the brink to inflict the ultimate humiliation on the Yankees. I followed along from various hotel rooms in New Mexico and Arizona. Days later as my plane was making its final approach to Logan Airport, the lights of the World Series at Fenway Park could be seen off to the west. It was Game 2, the 2nd "Bloody Sock" game. After a Red Sox victory there and a two more in St. Louis, it was over, all over, and the Nation went crazy. I'm just relieved that all the idiotic (and often inaccurate) stories about alleged curses are over, forever. Or at least until the Cubs make a run. (One thing though: If the Red Sox were cursed and the Cubs still are cursed, what's the White Sox excuse?)
But let's flash back to Ft. Myers, March 7: The manager of the visiting Yankees, the extremely famous and successful Joe Torre, carries his lineup card to home plate before the game. A Red Sox coach performs the duty for his team. Torre's manner changes as he recognizes his counterpart in this routine task -- Johnny Pesky, 84 years old at the time, entering his 63rd year in baseball, 52nd with the Red Sox as player, broadcaster, coach and manager. The respect and kind words Torre bestows on Pesky are obvious even though I am much too far away to hear. (Even Red Sox fans are quick to acknowledge that Joe Torre is a great and admirable man. But Boss George, Giambi and those other mercenaries are jerks!)
Pesky is probably the only person with a foul pole named after him, the right field pole at Fenway Park, but the title of World Series champion eluded him throughout his career. His best chance as a player came 1946, but the great Ted Williams hit only .200 and the Cardinals beat the Red Sox in seven games. The current players made sure the old shortstop was right in the middle of the October 2004 locker room celebration. They sprayed him with champagne and gave him the big trophy to hold.
If the reaction of Red Sox players and fans to the victory reminded us of anything, it is that baseball is handed down through generations. I'll admit I didn't know anything about any of the players in this year's Arizona Fall League. I went to three games and took a few photos. But I did notice a couple of the names -- Tony Pena, Jr. and Tony Gwynn, Jr. The sons emulate the fathers, and Derek Lowe shares a trophy with Johnny Pesky. Even in a sport with no clock, time marches on.
Tony Pena, Jr. makes the play at shortstop for Grand Canyon. More photos.