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With Carlton Fisk, Forever

(this story appears in Old Roads and Shadows, an eBook )

 With Carlton Fisk, Forever


One thing baseball does well is celebrate its heritage by revisiting the past. Last night, I saw footage of the memorable clash between Boston and Cincinnati in the 1975 World Series, and of Carlton Fisk's great home run that ended Game 6 in such dramatic fashion. Many consider this epic battle the finest World Series baseball game ever contested on national TV, with Fisk jumping up and down near the first base line and waving the ball fair with both hands as his drive headed toward the left field foul pole. A classic for all time, as was the night I watched it back in New England, more than 30 years ago.
I had been married less than a year and lived on a quiet dead end street in Coventry, Connecticut. Ours was the last house on the right and the cottage was nestled in a stand of large pines on the bank of the Willimantic River. My wife and I were new to the area. Our friend John lived in the rooms above us, and the only neighbors we had befriended were Richard and his girlfriend Rosie, who lived in a house on the other side of the street.
Coventry is a small rural town in eastern Connecticut made famous by being the home of patriot Nathan Hale, and the area is definitely Red Sox country. In 1975, I had few options as to what I could watch on TV in my rural community; I could only get the three major networks and none of them very well. But the game was on national TV so, with a cold six-pack in the fridge, plenty of snacks on hand, and my wife at work, I settled down for the evening to watch the game on our old TV. The game got off to a quick start in the first inning with Fred Lynn hitting a home run to give the Bosox a 3-0 lead. El Tiante kept the Big Red Machine in check through four innings, but in the fifth, Griffey hit a 2-run triple for the Reds.

Then the horror of horrors, the TV set went dark. I sprang up from the chair and gave it a loud smack on the top with the palm of my hand, nothing. I gave a glance to the plug in the wall socket, and all looked well. I gave the TV a loud smack on the side with the palm of my hand, nothing. I turned the set on and off, nothing. I peered through the cooling slits in the back, some small illumination was visible within, but no solution was immediately evident. Being at the end of my technical troubleshooting skills, I paced the room in frantic thought. My wife had the car and I was in the middle of nowhere. My friend John, who lived upstairs, was not at home and his TV was already on the fritz. I turned on the stereo to the radio tuner and pulled in a faint station carrying the game amid the crackle of static. It was now a tie game. This was not turning out to be the glorious evening of baseball I had envisioned.
"Richard," I thought to myself. I sprinted out the door and up the side of the house, across the dark street and bounded up the stairs into the screened-in porch to knock loudly on the door. No one was home. I looked in the front room window. A light was on in the kitchen and I could see the old couch and two easy chairs sitting empty in front of the TV. "What to do?" I wondered. I went over and tried the front door, but found it locked. I tried the front room window, locked. I went to the bedroom window; it was open about an inch and protected by a screen. Almost without realizing what I was doing, I had the screen down, the window up, and was standing in the bedroom. I closed the window, made my way to the living room, turned on a light, and dialed in the game on the TV.
Ten minutes later, I heard the sound of a car pulling up in front of the house, followed by the screen door of the porch opening. I got up and opened the front door, and Richard and Rosie walked into their home. Rosie looked around nervously.
"Hey, man. What happened, what's wrong?" asked Richard.
"Why are you in the house?" asked Rosie nervously, a hint of indignation in her voice.
"Oh man, I am so sorry," I said quickly. "My TV conked out and I didn't know what to do. My radio barely functions. The game has been incredible. My wife has the car. There was a window open so I took the liberty…," as my voice trailed off.
"It's okay, no problem. What a game," said Richard loudly. "We were watching the game at the restaurant and I came home as fast as I could."
Rosie stood with a look of incredulity on her face.
"What's happening now?" he asked.
"It's tied," I answered.
Almost on cue, Foster smacked a two run double, and we loudly bemoaned this reversal of fortune.
"Want a beer?" asked Richard, as he walked to the kitchen. Rosie looked from me to Richard with her mouth open and her face flushed with anger. Richard came back with a couple of cold ones and sat down with me in front of the game. I avoided Rosie's gaze.
"I'm sorry," I stammered again, "I was alone and didn't know if…, well, ..., aw hell, I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it," he said as he took a drink from his beer. "I really understand."
Rosie disappeared somewhere in the small cottage to see if the crown jewels were missing, or to busy herself at some other endeavor because she was too mad to even spit.
Now the score was 6-3 Reds in the bottom of the eighth, and what came next was pure magic and the stuff of legend. With two outs and two runners on, the Sox sent Bernie Carbo to the plate as a pinch hitter. Carbo, who seemed to have words with Red's catcher Johnny Bench as he stood in the batter's box, hit a dramatic blast over the fence to tie the game; Richard and I erupted off of the seats, high-fiving each other and spilling our beer. The next innings featured thrust and counter-thrust as great pitching and great defensive plays saw the tension mount as both teams battled for the win. Then came the incredible home run that won the game for Boston in the bottom of the 12th inning; the iconic moment was caught forever on film as Fisk willed the ball fair. Richard and I celebrated into the night, along with the rest of New England and Red Sox Nation.
So, this is how baseball helps me celebrate my past, I revisit and relive this story every time I see a replay of that classic battle. I read somewhere that the classic TV image of Fisk jumping up and down and waving the ball fair only existed because a giant rat spooked the camera operator at his station in Fenway's Green Monster, and he did not follow the ball. I do not know if the story is apocryphal or not, but I do know it was one incredible and magic night in Connecticut, and that game helped cement a friendship that has lasted through the decades. Rosie was gone from the scene not long after that night. Richard and I are still close friends and communicate regularly, he in Connecticut while I now live in California.
As for Richard and I, the warm memories of that night remain, and within them, we are forever young. These memories come to us fresh, over and over again, and year after year, as baseball celebrates its glorious past.



Los Angeles   April, 2007