The Boston Red Sox are in town this week. After my Royals and my beloved Cubs, There are several teams that I am a pseudo fan of. Growing up I use to love to watch Detroit, Baltimore, Minnesota, California and of course the Yankees whenever they would come to town. Each of these teams had power players that would make you dream that if only you could be that good.
The Red Sox were a special team that I liked to watch. And it was mainly based on the play of one player. He wasn't a big man, standing only five foot eleven, but he was one of the greatest left fielders that I personally ever saw play the game. Perhaps it was the name. "Yastrzemski". It just sounded like an old baseball name from long years ago. He had a nickname that rolled off the tongue so easily in a time when nick names were pretty well a remnant of the past. They would never announce him by his nickname in Kansas City always saying "Playing left field, number eight, Carl Yastrzemski." when those words were spoken I got a chill up my spine. YAZ was on the field.
He played from 1961 to 1983 with the Sox. It was back in the day when a player stayed with one team most of the time. Kansas City had Brett, Detroit had Kaline, The orioles had the Robinsons and the Ripkens, Minnesota had Carew, and Boston had YAZ.
I watched Yaz many times on television on saturdays. No one could play the green monster in Boston the way Yaz did. He was fast and to watch him chase down a ball was a thing of beauty. Seldom did I see a ball get by him and he was rewarded by winning several gold gloves for left field.
He could hit too. I am too young to have seen Ted Williams play for the Red Sox, so I am not sure how good a comparison Yaz makes to the great one, but I can tell you I have never seen a left fielder hit the ball as hard as Yaz could. He was the last major league player to win the triple crown in the last century. The triple crown in baseball is leading the league in Home Runs, Batting average, and runs batted in. It is not an easy feat to achieve, but YAZ did it.
He would walk up to the plate and I could just tell something was going to happen. He was not afraid to speak his mind to the umpires and would throw little tantrum shows every now and then. Baseball players use to get by with that kind of stuff. Billy Martin kicking dirt on the umpire's shoes or Earl Weaver turning his baseball cap around and bumping up to the unpire as close as he could yelling the whole time, or YAZ figuring the umpire wasn't paying attention to the plate as a strike zone measure after calling him out, getting down on his hands and knees and spreading dirt over the plate til it had completely disappeared. No, baseball has lost it's sense of humor that it once had..
Of course baseball back in those times was not filled with multi million dollar prima donna's either. These were hard core baseball players who not only played the game for money or because they were good, but because they loved the game. Yaz certainly put on exhibit his love for the game.
He was fast on the base paths too. .... okay ... hold on a minute....
You know, I am sitting here writing this and I realize that it is sounding boring. I am just rattling off facts about this player and there was so much more to seeing that number eight out on the field or in the batters box. You could tell he was special. He not only loved baseball, he loved Boston and he loved the Red Sox. He loved playing for the Red Sox. He was proud of the fact that he wore that uniform. You could tell by the way he walked.
He played with a passion that a lot of players use to have back in the sixties and seventies. Pete Rose and Yaz were almost two of a kind. Pushing their abilities to the limit. The passion for the game and his team and his own abilities that allowed Yaz to get down on the ground and cover home plate with dirt.
He would stand out in left field and kind of walk front and back, pounding his fist into his glove, waiting for the next pitch to be delivered and being ready for it to be hit to left field. He was intense but relaxed. He would wave to the people in the stadium that came to see him play. He stood his ground against other players and the umpires.
There is just so much to Yaz that is hard to put into words. It was watching him. Seeing his attitude. Seeing his concentration whether chasing down a fly ball or swinging that powerful bat. But seeing all those things that Yaz exhibited gave me a feeling inside about what it was to truly love the game of baseball.
Oh, I would see other players that loved the game just as much, but none in the same way. Yaz was number eight for the Red Sox. That was all you really needed to know. Keep your eye on the left fielder when the Sox were in the field and on number eight when he came to bat.
That is about the best I can do to describe the feeling I had everytime we saw the Red Sox play. I still like the Red Sox and I watch them a lot and the reason I do is because sometimes, when a ball is hit into left field at Fenway, I get this flash of a picture in my mind of Yaz, of number eight, chasing it down and making a fantastic catch.
Andre Dawson was one of my son's favorite players. He wore number eight through all the years he was playing with the Cubs. Towards the end of his career, he left Chicago to come play for the Red Sox and so I took Brett out to see Andre play. Brett noticed right off that Dawson was not wearing number eight but rather was wearing a ten on his uniform. This kind of irritated my son and he asked me why Andre wasn't wearing number eight.
"Son," I said matter of factly, "There will never be another number eight play for the Red Sox. Fact of life."
And there won't be and that is the way it should be. In Fenway Park they have the numbers of all the great players who played for that great franchise. Right next to the "nine" of Ted Williams is the number eight. Yaz's eight. It belongs there. And when they do tear Fenway down and build a new park, the number eight will be displayed in that park as well and for the remainder of the history of Boston baseball.
I loved to watch Yaz play. I loved to watch him hit. I loved his passion. I just loved Yaz and everytime I see the Red Sox are in town or see them on television, thoughts of Yaz slide through my mind, and they always will.