The pounding of my heart like stabs from a mobster. That old issue of Street and Smith magazine from the early 90’s. On the cover, an article on the “Impossible Dream” team of 1967. I asked the man in the newsstand for just a couple of minutes to read it. I was so excited, my fingers trembled. I almost dropped the magazine. There it was, the facts and the heroics of those cardiac kids. One of the paragraphs recreated a game from June 15th, 1967. Gary Waslewski started for the Red Sox, Bruce Howard for the White Sox. Waslewski allowed 6 hits in the first 9 innings. Howard 7 hits in 7 innings. Hoyt Wilhelm relieved Howard and kept the Red Sox shutout through the ninth. Extra-innings.
I couldn’t believe I had in my hands a testimony of the a picture I imagined as a little kid in 1967. I remember feeling the passion of my brothers when they talked about the Red Sox team that was upsetting everybody in the American League and everyday, every week, every month the experts were expecting them to drop back to their customary depths. We began to root secretly for them. We even started talking to the radio, asking the announcers to start believing in the Red Sox, because they were for real.
I hardly knew about baseball, I spent most of my time off flying paper planes, climbing mango, guava, soursop trees or running behind the trucks that drove to the sugar factory, trying to grab sugar cane sticks. But I had a hard time with math in third grade, so Mom said no more paper planes, trees and trucks. From two o’clock in the afternoon through six in the evening, she kept me studying math and everything else. I felt like a prisoner in a high security jail. After dinner, I had to show Mom the drills she had ordered at the end of the afternoon. The only hope of escape I could see from the desk and notebooks was the far away talk between Felipe and Jesus Mario. Despite not knowing anything about baseball, I could feel their emotions over that night’s game. In few seconds, I understood that would be my vehicle to freedom. I could listen to the radio Felipe kept in a corner of the bedroom.
In the tenth inning, Ron Hansen singles to left field, and Al Weis hit another one in the same spot. Ed Stroud came into the game as a pinch runner for Hansen. I read slowly to better digest the moment. John Wyatt relieved Waslewski. Stroud was thrown out at third by catcher Russ Gibson. Pete Ward pinch hit for Jerry McNertney and Wyatt struck him out. Dick Kenworthy pinch hit for Wilhelm and Wyatt struck him out, too.
I also felt a pounding in my chest when I read what happened in the top of the eleventh inning. The man in the newsstand asked me to return the magazine to the box from where I found it. He was complaining about my lack of respect. This was his business, if I wanted to read the magazine, I should buy it. I was so deep inside the reading, inside the game that all I heard was Walter Williams doubling to left.
I felt like it was 1967 again. My brothers decreased the volume of the radio each time there was trouble for the Red Sox. Don Buford grounded out to first. Williams went to third base. I breathed deeply, looked at the stern expression at the man’s face and kept reading. Wyatt struck Tommie Agee out. My brothers jumped and asked Wyatt for the third out. Ken Berry cracked an RBI line drive to right field and afterwards was out trying to steal second base, from Russ Gibson to Rico Petrocelli. The newsstand guy yelled at me because of the way I was grabbing the magazine.
I spent a couple of minutes trying to flatten the magazines wrinkles. My shame matched by excitement at reliving the game.
That night, I had finally solved the math drills Mom wrote down. When I came into the bedroom I heard Dad asking Felipe questions about high school chemistry. At the bottom of the room Jesus Mario finished his math. Dad told them that he would be coming back to make sure they were studying. Felipe asked me to watch the door for Dad while they tuned in the ballgame. That night it was very hard to dial the game. There was a lot of static interference. Felipe finally got the radio at the tuning place, Jesus Mario raised his voice: “That’s it…that’s the place.”
I’d gotten distracted remembering my sprints behind the cane sugar trucks and Dad appeared like a monster. “What place are you talking about…” That meant extra study time for my brothers. Felipe looked at me with arrows in his eyes. Jesus Mario pressed his lips and gave me his back when I tried to get closer. That was the first time I remained awake so late. I just wanted to apologize but they were upset with me. The only word I remember from both of them once they ended the school work was “extrainning.” As soon as they turned on the radio they got surprised the Red Sox were still playing. The excitement they experienced when the announcer kept hollering “…it’s a long, tremendous, enormous shot to the green monster…the ball keeps going…going…” They started to jump on the mattress and pulled me to celebrate with them. All their anger at me was forgotten. I kept listening to the radio, trying to understand the announcer’s excitement, trying to decipher Felipe’s shouting, trying to connect with Jesus Mario’s joy.
At the bottom of the eleventh inning, John Buzhardt retired Carl Yastrzemski on a pop up to Williams in right field. He also the second out when George Scott hit a line drive to Tom McCraw at first base.
I almost closed the magazine and left the newsstand. Then I remembered “Wait…this 1967…this is the Impossible Dream team.” Joe Foy’s base hit to left field kept me there. I suspected something unexpected was coming on.
The image of that Bostonian night impressed me with all its colors. Fenway Park’s lights burned the corners of the pages. The ones who have experienced an extra-innings at Fenway know about the atmosphere. A sea of raised arms and shouts bubbled over thousands of shirts and hats. All this floated against the green background from the outfield and the infield.
No matter how much the newsstand guy coughed and kicked his shoes against the floor while standing at the counter, my eyes kept immersed into the soul of that extrainning. I felt that a mixture essence of camphor and cherries whirled around the third base dugout.
I had to grab and pull the magazine three times. He was mad. He hit the counter four times. So I took out my wallet and gave him a bill. He almost pushed me out from the place. “This is not a library. Go to read elsewhere!”
Meanwhile I looked through a telescope, pieces of words from the magazine: Conigliaro…long shot…mammoth…enormous…green monster…screen…unbelievable…walk off homer…the Red Sox did it again…his teammates took him on their shoulders… this is an unforgettable night here at Fenway… it will pass a hundred years and people always will talk about Tony C hitting that dinger to beat the White Sox 2-1.
The rest of that day I kept smiling. I didn’t care that people looked at me strangely. That magazine had made me remember what my brothers said that night. “This Red Sox team is for real…they are going to win the American League pennant and the World Series…” Even I looked at them in a very rare way. That was insane. It wasn’t even half season. There was still a long, long way to go.
At the end of September, I had to recognize they were right in their prediction. When the World Series ended I thought for many days that with Tony Conigliaro in the lineup the Red Sox would have won it all. My brothers told me that Bob Gibson was really unhittable. But I kept saying that with Tony C it would have been a different World Series. And I still think so.