The Red Sox were my everything in 1967. I was 14 and cared about little else beyond perfecting Yaz’s quirky batting stance and Jim Lonborg’s silken delivery in our schoolyard games.
These were the days before exit velocity, WAR, and launch angle, long before Red Sox Nation. My days and nights were full of watching or listening to every game, rushing to read the next day’s box scores in the Globe, the Herald Traveler, and the Record American, using pen and ruler to create my own scorecards from the cardboard sheets the dry cleaner slipped into the backs of my old man’s dress shirts.
The cruel advent of the wash ’n’ wear industry remains a blight on fashion as well as the homemade scorecard industry. The ruler, by the way, doubled as the bumper that kept my Admiral transistor radio (9V battery) from slipping off the kitchen table. I recited Ken Coleman’s intros for the radio spots, along with the punch lines for all the lovable ’Gansett beer commercials. (“No thanks, I gave at the office.”)
As all-consuming as that season was, there was more to our sporting life here than the Sox. Ten days prior to the Sox’ season opener, Bobby Orr wrapped up his rookie season with the Bruins. The Celtics, 60-21 under player-coach Bill Russell, bowed out of Round 2 of the playoffs the night before Lonborg won the season opener vs. Chicago. Fenway’s other tenants, the Patriots, were resting in the afterglow of their 8-4-2 season of endless promises in ’66.
We’ve seen how it’s endured. Wednesday night, 18 of the characters from the ’67 Sox, Yaz and Lonnie included, again danced, albeit a bit gingerly, across Fenway’s emerald lawn. We reveled again in the Impossible Dream. Aging Boomers, some of them now great-grandparents, flew again on the memory of John Kiley playing cuts from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Will the games of 2017 strike similar chords here in 2067? Doubtful. Our interests are so much more diverse now, our games and teams more plentiful, our kids’ naiveté forfeited the moment we send them off to second grade with smartphones tucked in their Lone Ranger lunch boxes. What’s that, Tonto, we got discontinued? Bummer.
Two of the hottest fan attractions today, UFC and eSports, were decades from invention when Tony C and Stinger Stange were romancing us around the Back Bay in ’67. Even now, sports staffs of print, digital, radio, and TV entities struggle over what to make of these new, unorthodox industries.
Are they fads or are they the future, the games that will capture our imaginations and create the kind of memories that still have us remembering Jose Tartabull’s throw from right field that cut down Ken Berry (“a fast man at third”) at the plate?
I’ve written about both, first UFC, and more recently eSports, and to be honest, I am puzzled.
UFC, though gorier and more brutal than anything I’ve ever watched, follows more of a traditional spectator sports path. Two fighters stand in a ring and have at it, with punches and kicks and flying elbows. Eventually, someone goes down for the count, sometimes by means of something called a rear naked choke hold. Just the terminology is worth the price of admission.
For friends who’ve been through the wonders of the legal system, they tell me UFC is divorce court, just in a cage, with less blood.
ESports, which will take center stage at TD Garden for the first time over Labor Day weekend, isn’t sports as most of the world interprets sports. But it’s huge, and it’s expanding faster than Pablo Sandoval’s orange-and-black stretch pants.
Team play in eSports is usually five on five, sometimes six on six, and the “athletes” sit on center stage, inside booths, and compete in an imaginary world of video games full of kings and wizards, sorcerers and trolls, and a few lions, tigers, and bears on the side. Oh, my.
Again, it’s all imaginary, kind of like the shell sport, Jailhouse Rock, that Bernie Madoff once played so deftly. Only here the dollars are real and rich. Winners of big eSports tournaments walk off with millions of dollars. Fast-fingered kids play online and make six-figure salaries, the money streaming in from people, often teen consumers, who just want to watch them practice playing video games.
And because of humongous worldwide participation, spanning ages of roughly 14-28, real investors, including Jeff Bezos, are investing big bucks. They see it all as Texas tea, with potential for Exxon-like profits.
Not my world, for sure, and I am hardly the only one over age 30 who finds it hard to figure and even harder to believe.
“It is wild, simply wild,” noted Rich Krezwick, the former president of TD Garden, who in recent years has been based on London, overseeing a number of interests for Anschutz Entertainment Group. “The opportunity is boundary-less, undefined and worldwide. The biggest question is longevity. In 10 years, will a new generation think it is uncool? Where will technology take things? It’s like thinking about ‘infinity’ . . . just hurts my brain!”
A half-century later, Sox fans still think their graying Dreamers of ’67 are wicked cool. When Tom Brady is the NFL’s top throwin’ octogenarian QB, no doubt he’ll look back in wonderment over his 50-plus NFL seasons and 23 Super Bowl rings in utter awe. Bruins fans will always have Bobby, Espo, and the Cheese, Celtics fans their Cooz, Russell, and Larry.
By 2019, the Krafts plan to have their third pro franchise, an eSports team, playing 20 home games a year in a Boston arena. They’re pouring in $20 million to get it going, placing a bet on a new league, Overwatch, that will have teams dotted around the world, with athletes fast-twitching their way through on-screen battles and games.
Some of it is so, so far beyond my imagination. But then, I think back to the spring of ’67, when rookie Sox manager Dick Williams promised his boys would win more than they lose.
Ridiculous, we all said then, and soon found ourselves fighting for space on the magic carpet ride.
No one knows how long, or how well, the UFC or eSports will run. Who knows, 50 years from now, the best of their best may be graying icons, taking deep bows in arenas in front of adoring fans.
For those of us still with a loaf of Big Yaz Bread tucked in the freezer, we salute you.