In the old days, it would have been Sherm Feller, Fenway’s voice of God, making the majestic announcement from upstairs in the PA booth.
Now batting . . . Number 8, Carl Yastrzemski. Left field. Yastrzemski.
Tuesday night at Fenway Park, Henry Mahegan will do the honors when Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski (No. 5 in your program) steps into the same batter’s box where his grandfather, Carl, stood all those years ago.
“It will be the first time since 1983 that the name ‘Yastrzemski’ will be announced,’’ says Grandpa Yaz, now 80. “It’s definitely going to be emotional. To see him come into Fenway Park where I played for 23 years, to have his name announced, that will be a great thrill for me.’’
It might just be the highlight of this sorry Red Sox season.
The Red Sox are all about history. They play in a 107-year-old baseball museum that has essentially become part of the Freedom Trail. The Sox provide daily conversation and connect generations. We may be a Patriots town today, but nobody is ever going to wax poetic about holding their dad’s hand and stepping around pools of vomit the first time they walked up the stands at old Foxboro Stadium. With the old Boston Garden long gone, Fenway stands as our last local sports cathedral.
In a new century in which it is increasingly hard to find fans who saw Ted Williams play baseball, Carl Yastrzemski survives as the signature brand name for Baby Boomer Red Sox fans.
Yaz played his first Red Sox game 58 years ago, stroking a soft single to left in his first at-bat at Fenway Park on April 11, 1961 (attendance: 10,277). His career ended on a nondescript Sunday against the Cleveland Indians in 1983.
In between those moments, Yaz amassed 3,419 hits and 452 homers, played in two World Series, and won the MVP and Triple Crown in the 1967 season that saved baseball in Boston and cemented his Hall of Fame résumé.
He played in 3,308 major league games, second-most of all-time (Pete Rose is first). The Yastrzemski name was the soundtrack of our summer for 23 years and now it will play on the speaker system at Fenway again as the son of Yaz’s only son makes his big league debut at Fenway Park Tuesday night.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him,’’ Grandpa Yaz says. “I just hope he will be able to overcome it and stay relaxed and play. Not try to do too much.’’
Yaz’s son Mike — the dad of the Giants rookie — was a switch-hitting outfielder who played five seasons of minor league ball before a torn Achilles’ tendon forced him to retire. He never made it to the big leagues and died following hip replacement surgery when he was only 43.
“I wish he was here to see his son this week,’’ says Grandpa Yaz. “He loved him dearly and he was very proud of him. That will be a little bit of a down moment in all of this.’’
Mike Jr. played high school baseball at St. John’s Prep in Danvers before playing four years for the big-time college program at Vanderbilt. He was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013 and lingered for six seasons in their farm system before he was traded to the Giants this spring.
Young Yastrzemski, 29, has been something of a rookie sensation, hitting .265 with 19 homers and 51 RBIs in 96 games. He hit three homers in one game against the Diamondbacks in August.
Does Grandpa Yaz (.266 with 11 homers and 80 RBIs as a rookie in 1961) wonder what took so long? Why would the moribund Orioles not give this kid a shot?
“I don’t know,’’ says Yaz. “I never talked to anybody about it. The only time that I talked to anybody was at spring training when I talked to the Orioles hitting coach and I said he should be more aggressive, and the next day he hit a home run. And they traded him the following day.’’
Typical Yaz. Stoic. Understated. Yaz is no helicopter grandparent. He’d never play the Hall of Fame card to make things easier for his progeny. Stoicism is the Yastrzemski Way. Grandpa Yaz got it from his own father, who had virtually no comment after watching rookie Yastrzemski go 1 for 5 against the Athletics in his 1961 debut.
“My dad was there that day,’’ recalls Grandpa Yaz. “He didn’t say too much. The only time he would say anything would be if I’d swung at a bad pitch. He started that when I was in high school. I could have four hits and he wouldn’t say anything about the four hits. Just that I swung at a couple of bad balls. It was about learning the strike zone. He kept pounding at that.’’
In similar fashion, the Red Sox’ all-time great leaves his grandson alone for the most part.
“We speak maybe once every two weeks,’’ says Yaz. “I don’t like to talk to him about hitting or anything else, because you see a game on TV and you can’t tell too much. On TV, you don’t look for little things, you just want to enjoy the game, but it’s hard to enjoy it because you’re so keyed up watching him. You want him to do well.
“When you first come up to the big leagues, you always have that question in your mind. Do you belong here? That stayed with me for a few months until I adjusted. It wasn’t easy because I was following Ted Williams. I’m sure it isn’t easy for Mike, either. But we’re all happy he’s doing so well.
Grandpa Yaz is uneasy about putting extra pressure on Mike this week.
“I hate talking about him even now,’’ says Yaz. “I debated about whether to call you back. I’m very superstitious. I just don’t want to be around and put any extra pressure on him.
“I felt the same way about my son. I can remember going to his minor league games one weekend. They played in Orlando when he was at Triple A. I went. Friday night he went 0 for 4. Saturday he went 0 for 4. I made up an excuse that I had to go home, and Sunday, when I’m not there, he went 4 for 6 with a triple.’’
Yaz says, “I’ve been losing a lot of sleep,’’ watching Mike play West Coast games on TV, but the Hall of Famer has yet to see the kid play in the majors in person.
In this spirit, Grandpa Yaz says he will not be at Fenway for the big moment Tuesday night. He’s planning on doing a television interview with Mike early in the day, then going home to watch on TV. The Yastrzemski clan will take over a luxury box for Wednesday’s game, but on Tuesday, Yaz plans to leave the kid alone.
“I’m just going to do the interview and then I’m going home,’’ says Yaz. “We’ve got everything planned for Wednesday. We thought about going in on Tuesday, but decided against it. He’s going to have enough people bothering him and it might be a little easier on him if I’m not there watching him.’’
This is the stoic Yaz we have come to know and love. He has been rare and reluctant at Fenway since 1983. He has been famous for throwing out an occasional ceremonial World Series first pitch (”I’m undefeated,’’ he brags. “The Red Sox always win when I do that”), then peeling out of the parking lot before the bottom of the first.
Does Yaz think he might go the full nine when he comes in to see Mike play Wednesday night?
“It all depends on how everything’s going,’’ says Yaz.
Even from Jersey and Van Ness Streets, outside the ballpark, where Yaz will be parked, you can hear the Sox public address announcer.
“Now batting, number 5, Mike Yastrzemski.’’
If you are a Sox fan of a certain age, it’ll make the hair stand up on your forearms.