BOSTON — Before the Braves left Milwaukee, which was as eager to embrace them when they arrived from Boston as Atlanta would be 13 years later, Southerners with a bent for baseball had to adopt a big league team.
In the ’50s, many chose the Yankees, the perennial World Series champions. Cincinnati was the closest team to the Deep South. The Reds drew some interest, but I don’t recall a groundswell of affection except in Tennessee and Kentucky. There was great attachment to the St. Louis Cardinals, especially for those who lived in the Mississippi Valley and could pick up KMOX’s Clear Channel signal out of St. Louis.
Radio linked fans in those years to the Big Leagues. It fired our imagination and made us loyal to our adopted team. I chose the Red Sox because Boston was the first team I read about in our county library.
Beantown was another world to a country boy like me, who developed a passion for the Red Sox as soon as I learned to read. Saturday afternoons when my parents — who functioned austerely on a cotton patch, corn and an expansive garden — went to town to grocery shop for the week, I lit out for the library to read for several hours until somebody came and fetched me for the return trip to the farm, always with a bundle of books to read the next week.
It was at the library that I learned owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. I considered Frazee a mean man, likening him to a troll whose image kept me awake at night after my grandmother told scary tales to us when we gathered around her fireplace in winter time.
My love of the Red Sox never subsided. I suffered through the Curse of the Bambino. I read every book I could find about the Red Sox. Even when I began to travel, it would be some time before I would set foot in Fenway Park. Now I try to find my way here at least once a season.
Here a few days ago, I found myself sitting in the Red Sox dugout during batting practice next to Will Middlebrooks, who has relatives in the north Georgia counties of Jackson and Hall. He wanted to talk football. I wanted to talk baseball. It occurred to me that I was sitting where Babe Ruth once sat. Ted Williams gazed out to the big Citgo sign beyond the left fence from where I was reminiscing. I was overcome emotionally and tried to imagine what they were like when they were the boys of summer.
Fenway Park is baseball’s antiquity. It is the oldest park in the Big Leagues, two years older than the Cubs’ Wrigley Field. The third oldest park now is Dodger Stadium. The classic parks of yesteryear have all given way to the wrecking ball, which is what is likely about to come about for Atlanta’s Turner Field, a mere 19 years old. Fenway, over 100 years old, was built in 1912. Then Boston’s baseball team was known as the Pilgrims. Fenway Park is an antique, a treasure, and one of Boston’s countless charms. I come here, I am overjoyed. I feel fulfilled and my spirits are renewed.
Fenway’s irregular architecture makes it unique. It was crammed into a small acreage at Lansdowne and Jersey streets. Its fabled Green Monster in left field is 37 feet high and only 310 feet from home plate. It would come to be known as the Green Monster where a wind-blown pop fly might become a dramatic homerun — a routine out in most other ball parks.
Now that I am here again, enjoying encore after encore with the passing years, I recall the days down on the farm when I loathed Frazee’s decision to sell the Babe.
Today, I find one of the most fulfilling things in life to be a Broadway musical and can’t help but play the “what if” game. What if Frazee had made a bundle before “No, No Nanette” and had kept the Babe in Boston?