Baseball. Dreams. Memories. Magic.
Sometimes they connect.
This is a story about a weekend at Fenway Park with the Angels in town. Something appropriate about that.
The California Angels were at Fenway 40 years ago this weekend. A rookie named Mike Andrews was playing second base for the Red Sox and Ernie Boch was on television screaming, “Come on down!”
Red Sox slugger Tony Conigliaro was felled by a Jack Hamilton fastball during the series. It happened 40 years ago last night. We were deep into the Impossible Dream summer of 1967, and Aug. 18 would go down as the bad memory. Those Red Sox - the most important team in franchise history - won the pennant and advanced to the seventh game of the World Series, but our local hero Tony was never the same.
A lot of the ‘67 guys are back in town this weekend and they were standing behind home plate, in uniform, Friday night when 7-year-old Jimmy Fund patient Jordan Leandre sang the anthem, then circled the bases before the second game of the day-night doubleheader.
You can have your Carlton Fisk homer in ‘75, or David Ortiz’s walkoff against the Angels in the ALDS in ‘04, or even Ted’s clout off Jack Fisher in his final major league at-bat in 1960. Jordan’s tour de bases was more meaningful and emotional. A lot of us hadn’t seen the brave little guy since the home opener in 2006 when he sang the anthem from a wheelchair.
The chair was gone Friday, another victory for the Jimmy Fund. And in the final hours of a two-day WEEI/NESN Radio-Telethon in which citizens of Red Sox Nation pledged more than $3.6 million, Jordan gave us a moment for the ages. He was wearing a T-shirt that read, “Making Dreams Possible,” and he was running on legs that weren’t strong enough to allow him to stand last year.
This was his 10th anthem at Fenway, but his first without a brace, a cast, or a chair. He ran for every kid who ever battled cancer and every Boston baseball fan who ever put a quarter in a Jimmy Fund box. And when he crossed home plate, staggering to the finish, he was swept up and held aloft by Jose Santiago, who won the final game of the August ‘67 series with the Angels, a game in which the Sox trailed, 8-0, in the fourth inning.
Andrews, now 64 and chairman of the Jimmy Fund, was standing next to Santiago when Jordan crossed home plate. No longer a rookie, Andrews has been working for the Jimmy Fund for 29 years and he remembers when not many of the kids were saved.
“It was amazing,” said Andrews. “Jordan just took his first steps in February. We had talked about him running the bases and I know he talked about it with Glenn Ordway on the radio. He’d said he was worried that they might kick him off the field if he started running. When he finished the anthem, I turned to him and said, `Run, Jordan, run!’ and he just took off running.”
“I thought he’d stop once he got to first,” said Jordan’s dad, Ken, who was painting a house on the Cape yesterday. “He’s not really supposed to be running yet. That was a push for him. I had to carry him all the way to the car after.”
As Jordan reached each base, the crowd became more engaged. Players in both dugouts were on the top step, smiling and applauding. When Jordan crossed home plate, Mike Andrews thought to himself, “Isn’t this the greatest thing ever?”
Pretty close, although some people in Walpole may have another favorite. Jordan’s run around the diamond came just a few hours after what might have been the best Little League World Series game ever played. Walpole’s 3-2 win against Hamilton, Ohio, was clinched when a 5-foot-2-inch kid named Mike Rando backed up to the deepest part of center field, jumped, stretched his left arm beyond the fence, and snagged a would-be walkoff homer. There cannot have been a more dramatic finish in the history of Williamsport. Ever. And the whole world was watching. A new baseball snapshot for all-time. Walpole plays again today.
Boston sports talk radio was back to normal yesterday. When I tuned in early yesterday, there were lots of calls about Eric Gagne’s latest blown save and what the Sox are going to do about the catching situation now that Doug Mirabelli is hurt. There was finger-wagging about the failed deal of Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena. Fans applauded rookie righty Clay Buchholz and wondered how Curt Schilling would pitch last night.
Not me. I put on ESPN and saw Mike Rando leaping and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Then I switched to NESN and saw the replay of Jordan Leandre running the bases. During a commercial break, I heard Ernie Boch Jr. yelling, “Come on down!” And I thought about 40 years ago when Mike Andrews was a rookie and we put coins in the Jimmy Fund box and fantasized about making a game-winning catch in the World Series.
I thought about an August weekend when the Angels were in town.