For You, Blue

My first love in life turned out to be a honey-haired, ocean-eyed twelve-year-old girl whom I met on Cape Cod during the summer of 1967. While I haven’t seen her since, Cindy remains like a fixed star in my mind, a dimpled spot of rapture in the midst of the clumsiness of preadolescence.

We met by happenstance on an elongated stretch of Nauset Beach in Orleans where we were both looking for wampum, the distinctive shells found along the Eastern seashore beaches, which Native Americans used to use as a currency. I noticed her straight away, a young colt with long blonde hair that parted her back and light-azure eyes that framed her angular face. That she had newly mounted braces on her teeth that accentuated her crater-like dimples only added to the luster.

Before long, we exchanged names, hers was Cindy, and we continued on our mutual excursion together along the outer beach of Cape Cod. “What grade are you going into this fall?” I asked her as I found another piece of wampum, which I coyly gave to her.

“Seventh at my local junior high in New Jersey!” Cindy replied sprightly. She beamed when I informed her that I too was about to embark on an identical academic sojourn in Wellesley, Massachusetts. We both giggled shyly, paused for an instant, and then blurted out to one other, “What is your birthday?”

“January 28th!” we clamored to one another in unison.

Our smiles turned to wonder as we immediately began to appraise one another. I had never met another person who was actually born on the same day, and neither had she. Cindy looked at me a long time, sighed, “Oh, Shaun,” and then she spontaneously took my hand into hers.

At that moment, I entered a new continent of experience. The only thing missing was the sky opening up and a celestial choir singing in the background. My heart began to pound, and I felt a bit lightheaded. By the end of our walk searching for wampum, I was utterly in love with her.

By the end of our first wampum quest, Cindy had informed me that she would be staying on the Cape for the next two weeks. I also learned that her parents, who typically summered on the Jersey shore, had decided to venture to Cape Cod that summer on a lark. “Let’s meet tomorrow afternoon on this stretch of the beach, Cindy!” I beckoned, hoping that she would acquiesce.

She smiled affirmatively and said, “I will wait for you, Shaun. I promise!”

Over the next two weeks, we developed an unbending game plan that ended up working flawlessly. Because Cindy’s family daily encamped in a rented Boston Whaler at Nauset Inlet, she would cross over the dunes to the ocean side where I awaited her. After all, it had been her initial quest for wampum there that had brought us mystically together.

On an impulse, I began to bring my transistor radio with me. While Cindy and I sat looking at the waves repeatedly pound onto the bleached sands of Nauset, the music of that extraordinary summer played in congruence with the consoling sounds coming from the ocean. We chatted continually as we sat in the dunes together, watching the waves crash relentlessly away. When the Beatles’ “Getting Better,” from their incomparable Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band masterwork, blared out from my little transistor, Cindy asked me to dance with her in the dunes. “Why not!” I grinned at her and began to churn and kick with her into the sand as Paul McCartney crooned in the background.

For the only time in our childhoods, we were able to converse about our fears, our desires, and our dreams with someone from the opposite sex. In an otherwise inhibited time in our lives, we felt profoundly free and unfettered. By the third day, I began calling her “Cin” as John Lennon, my hero at the time, had done for his first wife. Cindy replied, “Well, Shaun is as close to John as you can get, so I will just call you Shaun!” The funny thing is, though, she eventually began calling me “Blue,” after what she called my blueberry-colored eyes. (Two-and-a-half years later, when George Harrison came out with a Beatles’ single entitled, “For You Blue,” I felt as if the Fab Four had somehow been in on our little joke in some cosmic way).

During our jaunts, we conversed about our mutual passion for reading, music, baseball, and the seashore. We also discovered that humor had long fueled our mutual engines. One morning, not long before she left for New Jersey, we walked to the end of the opening of Nauset Inlet. “You know, Blue,” she said to me, “we are somehow intertwined together because of our shared birthdays and our shared interests.”

“I know, Cin,” I replied. “You are the first person that I’ve never had to explain how I felt or what interests me. You seem to just know.”

“Yes, most would say that’s because we’ve seen life exactly from the same time frame,” she exclaimed, her deep dimples becoming even more pronounced on her precious face, “but I feel as if we needed to meet here and now.”

I seized her hand, and we continued into the swells of the ocean, where we lifted each other up in the roiling Nauset surf when it knocked us down.

Before we knew it, our days had dwindled down to mere hours. The Ancient Greeks are right, each and every pleasure is fleeting. We knew it, ignored it, and then had to look it straight in the eye. “Our worlds are going to change, Blue, next week when we both start junior high,” Cindy whispered. “I am truly grateful that we’ve been here for one another.”

I gulped in some air and nodded to her. And then, I did something that remains the proudest of my childhood. I precipitately opened up my arms, and Cindy tumbled into them. A preadolescent, ambiguous hug eventually morphed into an emphatic, sustained embrace.

Neither of us wanted to let go of the moment.

When we did, Cindy put her hand on my cheek, looked into my eyes, and whispered to me, “I want to kiss you, Shaun.”

It ended up being the first romantic caress for both of us. I was transfixed, tremulous, and tongue-tied. Cindy looked into the depths of my soul and said through blinking tears, fiercely, “I will never, ever forget you, Blue – or this moment.” I looked at her ocean-colored eyes and believed it. We then parted, and the summer that had framed our lives to that moment had suddenly ended.

For years afterward, I skimmed that same stretch of beach in late August, hoping that she would, like some enchanted siren, emerge from the depths of the ocean once more. Eventually, I came to realize that by the time Cindy and I had said our farewells to one another that scrubbed up August afternoon so long ago, we were different people.

As the years unfolded like shuffling cards, I never forgot her.

During a recent late winter snowstorm, I ended up listening to Sirius 60 when an old Johnny Rivers standard came on through my computer’s speakers. Recorded at the very end of the magical summer of 1967, the song, “Summer Rain,” became a hit on the radio later on that fall and winter. Through the venue of Rivers’ distinctive baryon-noble voice, I was immediately catapulted back to the precipice of Nauset Inlet a half-century ago:

“She stepped out of a rainbow
Golden hair shining like moon glow;
Warm lips, soft as her soul –
Sitting here by me, now
She’s here by me.

All summer long we were dancing in the sand
And the jukebox kept on playing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!

We sailed into the sunset –
Drifting home, caught by a gulf stream;
Never gave a thought for tomorrow –
Let tomorrow be, yeah
Let tomorrow be.”

While I probably could find out whatever happened to Cindy, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I prefer to remember her at twelve with our entire lives in front of us. Over the years, sentimentality has won out over pragmatism. Still, there is a jar of wampum that resolutely sits on my teacher’s desk. And then there are the memories of that long-ago August at the forearm of Cape Cod. The shifting colors of the sky; the immaculate sand dunes; her velvety hands; that one surreal kiss – and our love, which, at least for me, has never reverted to the past tense.



My Mentor, Coach, and Friend

It came over the AP wire as a small blurb just before midnight a week before Christmas, 2007.

Jack Lamabe, a former major league pitcher who played on seven different teams in a seven-year career, died earlier today in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The first full-time baseball coach for LSU in history, Lamabe also coached for Jacksonville University and served as a longtime pitching instructor for both the San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies. A native of Farmingdale, Long Island, New York, Lamabe, was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1956 and made his major league debut in 1962 for the Pittsburgh Pirates. A year later, he was traded to Boston. While playing for St. Louis, he pitched in three World Series games for the 1967 World Champion Cardinals. Jack Lamabe was 71 years old.

The following morning, messages of condolence filled my inbox at the at Sons of Sam Horn, the popular Red Sox website where “jacklamabe65” is my username, and where and I have written periodically about my personal connection to the former Boston pitcher.

Jack Lamabe first entered my life in 1963. I was eight years old when he pitched in the first game I ever attended at Fenway Park. I got to know Lamabe personally a decade later—he was still a young man, only five years removed from his big league career—when I pitched and worked for him during his five years as head coach of the Jacksonville University Dolphins. We kept in touch during the following three decades.

During one batting practice session in the fall of 1973, I impulsively grabbed a bat and a helmet and asked Coach Lamabe to pitch to me as if I was Tony Conigliaro.

“Low and away then,” Coach laughed as I entered the batter’s box. He buzzed me with a 90 mph heater near my belt buckle. I barely saw the white blur spank the catcher’s mitt after it painted the inner half of the strike zone.

“I just set you up with hard heat, just so I can nibble,” Coach bellowed. I began to tremble as he threw a sharp slider across the outside portion of the plate. I lunged wildly, missing the ball by a foot. “I just broadened the strike zone,” he exclaimed. “Now I have you really guessing, my friend. Remember, it’s always about timing.”

I dug in a third time. Lamabe then threw a curveball that buckled my knees as I helplessly watched it plunk into the catcher’s mitt. I called out, “Okay Coach, I just learned that I can’t hit big league pitching.”

“Neither could I,” Lamabe replied. “That’s why the American League has taken the bats out of the hands of pathetic hitters like you and me!”

That was Jack Lamabe in a nutshell—playful; good-natured; sensitive; informative; self-effacing; humble, and most of all, genuine. “I owe you a dinner, Shaun,” Coach exclaimed. “You just made your old coach look very good in front of the rest of my players!”

The Red Sox’ Tomato

True to his word, Coach took me for a pizza and beer dinner at his favorite local dive, where I asked him how he ended up with the Red Sox.

“I was traded with Dick Stuart to Boston,” he chuckled to himself. “Stu used to call me ‘the throw in.’ I continually reminded him that the Red Sox needed pitching more than hitting at the time.”

In 1963, Lamabe—who had played with future Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, and Willie Stargell as a rookie with the Pirates—found himself on a star-crossed team in Boston. Johnny Pesky was the manager. The squad featured emerging star left fielder, Carl Yastrzemski, and a legendary closer, Dick “The Monster” Radatz. In the midst of a 15 year period of mind-numbing mediocrity, the Bosox were anything but beloved in those days. “I left a model organization in Pittsburgh and stepped into a mess,” Lamabe admitted. The Red Sox lost 86 games, but Lamabe would experience his finest season that year, posting a 7-4 record with a 3.15 ERA. Working mainly as a spot starter and setup man for Radatz, Lamabe was named the team’s “Unsung Hero” by The Boston Globe.

Near the end of that season, Jack Lamabe would also secure a nickname that would follow him for the rest of his life. Former Red Sox manager, Johnny Pesky, recollects: “Dick Radatz first gave him that nickname … he’d call Jack ‘Pizza Face’ or ‘Tomato.’” When legendary Red Sox announcer Ned Martin began calling Lamabe, “The Old Tomato” on the air, the nickname stuck with fans. Given Lamabe’s beet-red, broad face—and the fact that he was a renowned pizza aficionado—the moniker fit perfectly.

Rookie pitcher Dave Morehead came to love Lamabe like a brother: “I always called him ‘Tomatoes’ or ‘Mater’… he had the round face and was always laughing… he would turn all red whenever he laughed! Jack also loved to chew tobacco. I don’t know how he did it, but he used to have a big piece of chew going, a pizza, and a beer, and he would do a thing where he’d be chewing, take a bite of pizza and drink his beer at the same time!”

Boston’s premier starting pitcher in 1963, Bill Monbouquette, recalled Lamabe’s presence on the team that year:Jack was often the set-up guy behind Dick [Radatz], particularly in ’63. Not like set-up guys today either. He’d come in early and go three, four, or five innings, hand the ball to The Monster (Dick Raditz), and it’d be over… we just weren’t a very good club. Less than 5,000 people at most games unless the Yankees were in. So very few people got to see how good Jack really was… Jack never cared. He adored Radatz and just loved to get out there and compete.”

Reflecting back on his career, Lamabe himself stated, “I always relished the competitive aspect of a pitcher out-dueling a great hitter. I loved battling against a Mantle, a Killebrew, or a Kaline.”

Monbouquette remembers: “Jack was a real fireballer. He’d bring it up there 95-97. He might have been the fastest on the club except for Radatz. Jack was fearless too. He’d take the ball in any situation in any game—ahead or behind—and pitch like it was the most important game ever. We loved that about him.” A few months after Lamabe died, 45 years after they first played together, Monbouquette reflected on his teammate’s jovial presence: “Old Pizza Face—we just loved him! He was a great teammate, funny as hell, very witty. No one was better to be around. A great guy to have on the ballclub, especially those ball clubs.

Lamabe: Ballplayer, Student, and Husband

During his three years in Boston, Jack Lamabe made a daily trek, 90 miles west on the Massachusetts Turnpike, to take courses at Springfield College. “I knew that I had to plan for the rest of my life early on. I was determined that my life would not end when I walked off a major league mound for the last time,” Lamabe confided.

His wife, Janet, reflects: “Looking back, Springfield College was the perfect place for him. When you realize the kind of person he was, his education there allowed him to get better at what he loved to do—teach and coach. At Springfield, Jack earned a B.S. in Science and an M.A. in Administration.”

A New Jersey resident who had gone to Ebbets Field numerous times with her Dodgers-loving grandfather, Janet Lamabe first met her future husband on campus: “I was a student at Springfield College and graduated the same year that Jack did in 1965. One day, Jack was leaving for an away game and stopped to ask if he needed a shave… out of nowhere I turned and said, ‘You know that is not the best way to find out!’ The rest, obviously, is history.” The Lamabes married in 1966 and spent the next forty-one years together. “Jack was my best friend and partner in life,” Janet states matter-of-factly.

In his second season with Boston, the Springfield College student started a career-high 25 games, yet ended the season with a disappointing 9-13 record and 5.89 ERA. “I developed shoulder problems in ’64 that affected me the next year as well. I never really pitched well for the Sox again,” Lamabe confessed. “Of course, we also finished 18 games under .500, so there was disappointment all around.”

Before he hurt his arm, however, Lamabe pitched the best game of his Red Sox career—a complete-game victory on Opening Day against the Chicago White Sox, lashing out two hits of his own to boot. “What a thrill that was—Opening Day in Boston in front of 35,000 fans—with President Kennedy’s entire family in attendance as a fundraiser for the JFK Library. It was also great to see Tony Conigliaro hit his first home run as a big leaguer that afternoon on the first pitch he saw at his home ballpark.”

Post-Boston Journeyman

Over the next three seasons, Lamabe would pitch for four major league clubs and two minor league teams in an attempt to recover from a bum arm. For much of 1965, he struggled in the minors after starting the season 0–5 for Boston. Lamabe was rejuvenated with the White Sox in 1966. On May 30, the Old Tomato fired a one-hitter against the Red Sox at Comiskey Park. Former teammate Joe Foy broke up the no-hit bid with a one-out single to left in the ninth inning. “That game was my personal best as a big leaguer, that’s for sure.”

In 1967, the roller-coaster ride continued for Lamabe. After starting the season pitching in relief for Chicago, the Old Tomato was traded to the Mets, where he floundered. Janet remembered being at home in New Jersey one summer afternoon when destiny intervened. “Jack was playing for the Mets. He had already left for Shea. I was on my way to the game, but I stopped off to see Mom and Dad along the way. When I walked into their house, I could hear the TV. The announcer was saying, ‘No, your eyes are not deceiving you that is Jack Lamabe in a Cardinals uniform!’ Jack went to the ballpark as a Met and left as a Cardinal. That is how I found out. He didn’t even have a chance to call me!”

For the rest of that summer, Lamabe was used by St. Louis in every way possible—emergency starter, set-up man, and closer. For his stellar lunch pail work for the Cards, Jack Lamabe was named the National League Player of the Month in August. After St. Louis won the National League pennant, the Old Tomato and his teammates watched four teams battle for the American League pennant in what proved to be the tightest league race in history.

“Imagine my surprise and delight when the Sox ultimately prevailed on the last day of the season,” he gushed a decade later. “I was able to go back to Fenway and got to play in the World Series with some dear friends on the other side of the field.”

In Game 5 of the 1967 World Series, Elston Howard hit a chopper over the first base bag to drive in a ninth-inning insurance run off Lamabe. In Game 6, the Old Tomato came into a 4–4 contest in the seventh inning and ended up the losing pitcher after outfielder Lou Brock misplayed a ball hit by pinch-hitter Dalton Jones. “Bob Gibson actually thanked me for losing that game! We were on the bus going back to the hotel afterward, and he said that his wife needed a car. He said he was going to get it for her by winning Game 7, which, of course, he did when he was named Series MVP.” Jack Lamabe walked off the Fenway Park turf that sun-drenched October afternoon as a champion.

In 1968, Jack Lamabe pitched the entire season for the Chicago Cubs, managed by the mercurial Leo Durocher. “It was a cast of characters, that’s for sure,” Lamabe laughed looking back on his year at Wrigley Field. Working strictly as a set-up man for closer Phil Regan, the Old Tomato compiled a 3-2 record with an ERA of 4.26. It turned out tobe his last season in the major leagues.

Coach Lamabe

Over the next few years, Jack Lamabe toiled for the newly-formed Montreal Expos as a minor league pitching coach and was later employed by Janet’s dad who ran a textile business in New Jersey.

Although he enjoyed working for his father-in-law, the tug of baseball surfaced in 1973. Through contact with his old skipper from the White Sox, Eddie Stanky, Lamabe learned of a coaching job at Jacksonville University that had just opened up.Two weeks later, he interviewed for the JU Dolphins position.

“When I was finally offered the JU job,” Lamabe told me years later, “I just knew that I would never close the door on baseball again. I loved the game too much. When the people at Jacksonville told me I would also be teaching a few classes on coaching and officiating, the old Springfield College student in me got very, very excited.”

Although Jacksonville played a 70-game schedule against powerhouses like Miami and Florida State, the Dolphins varsity field had rickety wooden benches instead of dugouts and the players dressed in their dormitory rooms because there was no athletic facility to house them. Lamabe later admitted, “When I took the job, we were a fourth-rate organization playing an absolutely first rate schedule.”

On September 3, 1973, Lamabe began his first day as head coach of the Dolphins. Fifteen minutes after he sat down in his cramped office, I introduced myself. I smiled as I saw him—he looked identical to the Sox pitcher I had seen in person nine years before.

“Hi, Coach,” I said as I stuck out my hand, “I saw you pitch a masterpiece on Opening Day 1964!”

His emerald eyes glowed; he then took a handful of Redman and fingered it into his right cheek. “Well, what do you know?” he laughed, “I haven’t met anyone in a long time who was at that game! You know, that’s one of my greatest baseball memories, Shaun!”

Over the next several minutes, we reminisced about the likes of Gary Geiger, Bill Tillman, Julian Javier, and Curt Flood. Perhaps because of our initial contact, or perhaps because the new JU coach needed as much help as he could muster, I left his office not only as a left-handed pitcher trying out for his team but as his team’s student manager as well. Thereafter, Jack Lamabe served as both a personal mentor and second father to me.

Friend, Family Man, and Teacher

Throughout the fall of 1973, Coach asked me out to dinner virtually every night, to keep him company before Janet and the children were able to move to Jacksonville. We went to the same Italian restaurant, ate pizza after pizza, and guzzled pitchers of Budweiser while the Old Tomato reminisced.

“When I pitched for the Pirates and a batter hit a shot to right, I never even looked that way. I didn’t have to because I knew that Roberto Clemente would get to it. He had that fierceness about him—that pride—that made him so unique. You know, Tony Conigliaro was made of the same stuff. He would throw himself through a wall to stop a ball from going out.”

Coach Lamabe was well-respected by other baseball men, and a slew of former big leaguers began to visit our various practices over the years. Ted Williams, Robin Roberts, Roger Maris, Ted Simmons, and Earl Wilson made personal appearances, spending hours instructing JU players. When Maris visited the team in 1974 he told me, “What I always have liked about Jack is that he is who he is. You boys are lucky to have him as your coach. He is a man’s man. He will bring the best out of all of you because he is able to bring out the best in himself.”

When Lamabe’s family finally moved to Florida, Janet and his two small children would visit him. They would tag along with their father, whose unyielding love for them was touchingly apparent. “The most important job I have in this world is to be a good husband and father. Loyalty is essential to the success of any family or any friendship. Everything else usually takes care of itself.”

Lamabe’s heady combination of fortitude, humor, generosity, and compassion served as a template to how his players approached baseball and life in general. He would carry his personal bible, Walter Alston’s hardball textbook, The Complete Baseball Handbook: Strategies and Techniques for Winning, from station to station, lecturing, cajoling, and encouraging each of his players along the way. “Sound baseball starts in your mind and spreads to your body, boys. You sit back, and then you have to react in a millisecond. Always, always be prepared, gentlemen.”

A natural teacher, Lamabe was at his best when he veered from the smallest of details to the grandest of pictures: “Don’t rush your pitches—stay up and stay back. Remember, you want to outsmart the hitter; think the opposite, give it your all, learn from your mistakes, and move on. In life, there is always the next batter to face or another problem to deal with.”

Jack Lamabe’s patience, wisdom, and continual encouragement became a template for his players to follow.  As I informed him years later, his sway as a teacher was never lost on me. I became an educator primarily because of his unswerving influence. “Pitching in the big leagues was important,” he once told me, “but the life of a teacher – if done right – is so much more significant.”

JU’s varsity squad experienced rebuilding years in 1974 and 1975, but 1976 was the University’s finest season in 50 years. The Dolphins reeled off 18 victories at the start, ultimately finishing 30 games over .500. In the second round of the NCAA playoffs, Jacksonville upset top-ranked Florida State and moved on to the regional finals where it lost to Auburn. “Baseball really started to become a sport to watch at JU after Jack took over the reigns there,” claims Janet Lamabe. In 2011, Jacksonville University would induct Jack Lamabe into their Athletic Hall of Fame.

After enjoying such palpable success at JU, it was not at all surprising that Coach Lamabe was contacted by Louisiana State University at the end of Jacksonville’s 1978 season. When he decided to accept the Tigers’ offer to become the new head baseball coach, Lamabe said, I will miss this place a lot, but I am doing this for my family.” He was leaving a JU baseball team that was now considered first-class, with a new field, immaculate dugouts and stands, two new batting cages, and three state-of-the-art pitching machines. Janet Lamabe admits now, “It was really tough for us to leave Jacksonville. However, Jack had always had a love for the SEC Conference and LSU. Needless to say he was thrilled to be offered the job. It was a great place—a family place.”

Coach Lamabe spent five years at LSU, working to turn around a program that had experienced a decade of mediocrity before his arrival. “Jack made baseball better at LSU and managed to survive several Athletic Director changes—never an easy thing to do,” Janet Lamabe says.

Back to the Bigs

The pressures of winning in the most competitive baseball conference in the nation eventually cost Coach Lamabe his job, but major league organizations had seen the work Lamabe had done with college pitchers and contacted him immediately.

Over the next decade, Jack Lamabe worked as a pitching instructor for the Padres. While with San Diego he renewed his longstanding friendship with Dick Williams, his old Red Sox teammate, who served as a special consultant with the Padres. The Old Tomato also became acquainted with another Padres employee, hitting legend Tony Gwynn, a kindred spirit, who, like Lamabe, believed that the hard way was always the right way. Lamabe then worked for the Colorado Rockies for a spell before returning to the Padres to tutor minor league pitchers.


On the phone, the evening after the Red Sox had secured their first World Series championship in 86 years, Lamabe attempted to put the improbable championship into perspective: “You know, Shaun, it was tough rooting against St. Louis in a World Series, but I did. I am so happy for you and all the good people in New England. You waited a hell of a long time—you all have. I’ve got to admit I got a little emotional seeing Curt Schilling give the championship trophy to my old skipper, Johnny Pesky. No one deserved to hold it more than Johnny. It warmed your old coach’s heart.”

Despite his breezy nature, the shackles of arthritis weighed Lamabe down, but whenever I would phone him, he would invariably sound chipper. His wife marveled, “My Jack just never ever complained!” More than anything, Janet, his kids, and the grandchildren motivated him to savor life to the very end. Jack Lamabe’s last great role in life was as a doting grandfather. His adoring grandson, Alex, even began wearing his old Red Sox number 36 on his game jerseys in cub football and little league baseball.

During the 2007 World Series, Janet called me from Coach’s hospital room. Jack was struggling to hang on. Predictably, he pushed the pain aside—especially when friends or loved ones called—and remained steadfast to his innate sense of optimism. Many who knew him believed that he would somehow persevere through his latest physical challenges. For the Old Tomato, however, his life was approaching the bottom of the ninth. On December 21, 2007, Jack Lamabe died peacefully with his beloved wife and children by his side. He was 71 years old.

Janet later remarked, “My husband is my hero for the courage and faith he had to handle the cards he was dealt. The doctors that attended him would always say they never had seen a case of rheumatoid arthritis like his. They called it a world class case. Jack had surgeries, too numerous to count. In the end, the disease just ravaged his body and his major organs. It was finally congestive heart failure that gave him the peace that he so richly deserved.”

When Janet called me a few days after his passing, she whispered, “You know, the many young men like you who played for him gave him such joy. He loved you like a son, Shaun.”

After I hung up the phone, I stared out onto my snow-covered lawn and recalled a steamy summer’s day in the right field bleachers at Fenway Park back in 1974. The Sox were playing Earl Weaver’s Baltimore Orioles that afternoon. Near the O’s bullpen, I noticed reliever Bob Reynolds leaning against the railing of the outfield wall, gazing in towards home plate. Knowing that Coach Lamabe had tutored him at one time in the minor leagues, I screeched out, “Hey, Bob! Jack Lamabe would want me to say hello!”

The Baltimore pitcher reeled around with a bright grin on his face. “You must be one of Jack’s players down in Jacksonville! He taught me my slider, you know.” For the next 20 minutes, Reynolds and I swapped “Old Tomato” stories. At the end of our conversation, Reynolds fingered his Orioles cap and gestured to me, “Tell Jack that I wouldn’t be wearing a major league uniform if it wasn’t for him. I was a boy when he had me, and yet he treated me like a man. Tell him that I will never forget him and what he did for me. Tell Jack that I will be forever grateful.”

I realized later that Jack Lamabe had touched many others the way he had reached out to me.  His devotion to his students was genuine.  Our admiration and love for him was just as evident.

Lamabe’s devoted daughter, Jennifer, centered on her father’s salient qualities in an elegant tribute written after his passing: “Jack Lamabe was the kind of dad who took you to the park early to let you run the bases, sit in the dugout, discover pine tar, and investigate pouches (when he wasn’t looking) filled with hot ‘flavored leaves.’ Jack Lamabe was the kind of father who received an evening call in the clubhouse, during spring training and was home by morning for an ACL surgery that was thought to be ‘the end of the world’ and then later taught and realized that different kinds of adversity make you stronger. Jack Lamabe was the kind of daddy who held you on his lap holding you forehead to forehead and cheek to cheek to help take away your fever. He was simply the best in every way.”

The last time I talked to Coach—a few months before he died—his normally strong baritone sounded frail over the phone, but the old glint returned when he started kidding me about the Red Sox turning into the Yankees: “With that big payroll of yours, your farm system, and the team’s support staff, the Sox should win a lot over the next several years. No more, ‘Why not us?’ from you anymore, Shaun—do you hear?” he laughed.

Before our phone conversation concluded, Coach began to reminisce about two of his old Red Sox pitching buddies, Earl Wilson and Dick Radatz. After I remarked on their recent passings, Lamabe paused for a long time and then murmured into the phone, “I don’t believe they’re gone. They truly loved the game of baseball, respected it, and gave the best of themselves to it. They were phenomenal teammates in every way. You know, Shaun, they just don’t make men like them anymore.”

He very well could have been talking about himself.


The Wonder of the Moment

   For those of you who relish reading unfettered history, I think you will like this original piece. When it was published eight years ago today in the local paper, I was reacting through the prism of history the day before the first African-American was about to take the oath of office as the President of the United States. Ultimately, this documented perspective on the lives of two disparate American figures, Emanuel Hurie and Emmett Till,  holds up very well because the perpetuity of history is always able to transcend time itself.  Michael Crichton once wrote, “If you don’t know the past, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” As a freedom-loving people, we need to know each root, branch, stem, and leaf that make up our brilliant national mosaic.

       At first glance, Emanuel Hurie, a Virginian slave who resided in the eighteenth century and Emmett Till, a young man who lived and died in the mid-twentieth century, have little if anything in common. Given the historical nature of the impending inauguration of the nation’s forty-fourth president, Barack Obama, however, there is an indelible link that connects them through the lens of history.

       Emanuel Hurie lived an archetypal life for a slave in late eighteenth century America.  Owned by his master, Mr. John Hurie, Emanuel resided in Fairfax County, Virginia and worked as a mason and carpenter. Like most chattel at the time, he also was also assigned to the grounds of Hurie’s plantation when extra hands were needed to harvest the local tobacco planter’s crop.        

       Emmett Till was a resident of the Southside of Chicago throughout his short life. As a child, Emmett contracted polio which left him with a slight limp. His mother, Mamie, always claimed that Emmett’s stuttering began after he became ill, a direct consequence of his bout with polio.

       Emanuel Hurie worked six days a week, from sunrise to sundown, and, like the vast majority of slaves in eighteenth-century America was forbidden to travel freely. Emanuel was also prohibited from learning how to read and write, outlawed from gathering in groups of three or more, and even banned from venturing to go outside of his own little slave quarters after dark.

       Emmett Till grew up in an integrated area of the Windy City and lived a rather emblematic life for an African-American teenager at the time. He loved the Chicago White Sox; rock ‘n roll; Milky Way bars, and Warner Brothers cartoons which he watched on his mother’s old Philco. Outgoing and popular as an eighth grader, Emmett began to date girls – including a local white coed – during his final year of junior high.

       As a slave in late eighteenth century America, Emanuel Hurie was legally considered “three-fifths of a human being” by no less an authority at the time than the United States Constitution. Accordingly, he could be bought and sold at the whim of his master. When John Hurie “rented” his slave, Emanuel, for work outside his own plantation, Master Hurie would receive payment in the form of legal US currency.

       In the mid-1790’s, Emanuel’s owner farmed out the slave for a period of three months in order to help build the underpinnings for a local house. An unknown governmental official for the United States Treasury Department wrote the following perfunctory entry for January 12, 1795:”Please pay to John Hurie the balance due for the hire of Negro Emanuel for the year 1794.” It was never recorded whether Emanuel Hurie found it ironic that he had laid the foundation for what would first be called the Executive Mansion – until Theodore Roosevelt later changed its official name to the White House.

       In late August 1955, Emmett Till traveled to Mississippi to visit his great uncle, Moses Wright, in the tiny hamlet of Money. One afternoon after buying a soda and a Tootsie Roll bar at a local grocery store, Emmett looked into the eyes of the checkout person, an attractive white married woman named Carolyn Bryant, and murmured, “Bye, Baby,” to her as he left. He had wanted to impress his Southern cousins who were dumbfounded by their impressionable Northern relative. In a region where Jim Crowism was still rampant, Emmett had gleefully bragged to them about having a white girlfriend up in Chicago.

        Four nights later, Emmett Till was kidnapped by Carolyn Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his stepbrother, J. W. Milam. Over the course of the next six hours, young Till was tortured, beaten, and ultimately shot in the face. His body was tied to a seventy-five-pound cotton gin fan and discarded at the bottom of the Tallahatchie River.  

        Three days later, Emmett Till’s disfigured remains were discovered by local authorities.  Mamie Bradley, Emmett’s mother, returned his swollen body to Chicago where she decided to have an open-casket funeral in order, she said, “To show the world what those men did to my boy.”

       Despite overwhelming evidence that proved that Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam had both kidnapped and murdered Emmett Till, they were found innocent by an all-white jury who took only sixty-seven minutes to convene.  Milam and Bryant later confessed to Emmett’s murder to journalist William Bradford Huie, with Bryant admitting, “Hell, that nigger Till talked trash to my wife.  Where I come from, that’s called justifiable homicide.”

       Outraged by such overt racism, the nation, and the entire world, reacted with palpable outrage. Eight weeks after the Emmett Till trial, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Birmingham, Alabama bus. In the end, however, it was the senseless murder of Emmett Till that arguably was the launching point of the modern Civil Rights Movement.

       When Barack Obama and his family move into the residence that Emanuel Hurie helped to build – the White House – he will enter a residence in which twelve of his predecessors owned slaves, including eight who brought their human “possessions” with them when they moved into the Executive Mansion. Of course, sixteen presidents could have owned legally our new First Family.  The impressive manor that was built by the hands of slaves more than two-hundred years ago will now house its first African American occupants.  Thus, this is no ordinary inauguration, which is something that the vast majority of Americans realize – even if a few continue to ask, “What’s the big deal?”

       And so, when Illinois Senator Barack Obama takes the oath of office at 12:00 pm EST on January 20 as the Forty-fourth President of the United States, the ghosts of Emanuel Hurie and Emmett Till might well serve as potent historical bookends to the absolute wonder of the moment.


We Are Our Own Change

It has to start with you.

Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, or Independent, you are undoubtedly distressed because you have seen your country devolve into dogmatism, repudiation, and impertinence, teetering on the precipice of madness. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan now feel emboldened enough to brazenly act out in public knowing that there will be little disavowal from a citizenry that is already exhausted and disheartened. Lifelong friends and family members are no longer on speaking terms. Rudeness and name-calling have become the bookends to a nation that has seemingly broken apart at the seams.

So what can you personally do about it? How can you be the solution – and not the problem?

Hold the door to a stranger. A simple random act of kindness goes an incredibly long way.

Call or write a “former friend” who you have lost over this election and ask them if they need a helping hand in friendship or support for anything. If they “snark” on you, move on and wish them a good day.

Make people laugh. Humor is the most human and emotive instinct we have. It is one of the most salient qualities that separates us from animals. There is truth to the notion that if we all couldn’t laugh, we would go insane.

If you see someone struggle in every way, say the magic words: “May I help you?” They will be stunned and then grateful that you reached out to them.

Show compassion and respect to everyone you come across in life. Try to adhere to the old Cherokee adage, “To give dignity to another is above all things.”

Be very skeptical of what you read on the Internet and what you see on television. It’s almost always one side of the story. 

If you are retired, volunteer to teach a young person how to read. If you are a young adult, volunteer your time to Big Brothers or Big Sisters. Give of yourself whatever you do and whatever situation you are presently in.

Smile to a passing stranger. That might be the only kind gesture they receive all day.

When a senior citizen enters the room, get to your feet. They deserve your respect.  

Refrain from posting political perspectives on Facebook and other forms of social media. You won’t change anyone’s mind, but you will assuredly raise the blood pressure of those who feel differently than you. Instead, post a copy of your favorite picture or painting. Share your musical passions. If you come across a good book, pass the information along. People may ignore your political perspectives but not your taste in literature.

Plant something in the ground that you will eventually eat.

Treat children with a sense of both respect and astonishment

Make forgiveness an active verb.

Read novels that will restore your faith in humanity: The Life of Pi by Yann Martel; Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand; Wonder by R. J. Palacio; A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers; The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving; We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, and Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.

Don’t frown so much. Smile. As Charlie Chaplin once wrote in a great song he composed, “You will find that life is worthwhile – if you just smile.” 

Say thank you and please as a matter of course.

Close the door on narrow-mindedness.

Imagine what life must be like for a refugee or a homeless person. As Atticus Finch said to Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Always be gentle to the youngest and the oldest of human beings.

Recycling should be a daily habit. Where sweaters; keep your heat down; conserve energy by not walking more and driving less.

For every coin you have, keep it in a large container. At the end of the year, give the collected money to a local charity, preferably a food bank.

Rather than lecture and pontificate, be humble out of defensiveness, say you “don’t know.” Much of the time in life, we don’t necessarily the answers.

Manners seem to be a lost artform these days. Revive it!

Be ever-curious.

Do something you once did regularly when you were young such as ice- skating, shooting a basketball, playing checkers, or painting a landscape.  

Take long walks.

Invite a friend you haven’t connected with for a long time for coffee or tea. Make sure you serve some cake with it!

Listen to music that soothes. “The Theme to Our Town” by Aaron Copland has always done it for me time and time again. So too has virtually anything recorded by Billie Holiday, Nat Cole, Charlie Parker, Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Eva Cassidy.  Reconnect with those artists who are intensely human – Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe, Winslow Homer, Dorothea Lange.

Find something to do in life that helps others.

Look up at the stars in wonder.

Say such seldom-used expressions as, “I’m sorry,” or “I could well be wrong” if it ever applies to you even remotely. You will be astonished how gracious the response will be.

Make kindness your most visible attribute.

And, most importantly, remind yourself that you are never alone. No person is an island. We are always here for each other.

I promise.


What Might Have Been – The Proposed Kennedy-Goldwater Debates of 1964

As the first debate between Republican Donald J. Trump and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton looms on the horizon, journalists have begun harkening back to first presidential debate fifty-six years ago between then-candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon.  

While those series of riveting encounters have inevitably served as a benchmark for presidential deliberation, the proposed series of POTUS debates that would have occurred in 1964 between President Kennedy and Arizona Senator Barry M. Goldwater have long preoccupied political historians over the years. Most Americans, however, are unaware of the startling facts that Barry Goldwater outlined in an astonishing series of interviews he gave after he retired from the United States Senate in 1987.

In the end, the groundbreaking debate format that Goldwater and Kennedy had discussed in the fall of 1963 could be called the great “what if” of modern political history. Senator Goldwater commented years later: “If Jack Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated, our debates the following year would have shaken up the way we select our presidents thereafter.”

I first became aware of the story twenty-eight years ago this month. In 1988, I was in the midst of working on a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. In the autumn of that presidential election year, I ended up taking a course at the Kennedy School of Government entitled, “Parties, Elections, and the Mass Media.” As the fall seminar progressed, Dr. Douglas Price asked us to come up with “provocative research” about past presidential elections that would form the basis of the grade of the course.

When I returned home to my apartment in West Newton that evening, I began channel-surfing and stopped when I observed that Robert MacNeil of PBS was conversing with Barry Goldwater. Despite my Democratic ties, I had long admired the Arizona senator’s honesty, sagacity, and candor.  

As I watched the program, I sat in disbelief as the 1964 Republican nominee told MacNeil: “Jack Kennedy and I had been friends for a long time. I actually had a few telephone conversations with him throughout the summer and early autumn of 1963. We eventually developed a debate format that would have completely altered how Americans choose their president. Unfortunately, the President died later on that fall. Afterward, his successor – Lyndon Johnson – wanted no part of it.”

As the program ended, I knew what my thesis topic would be.  

The following day, I ventured down to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in the Columbia Point section of Boston. I checked in the research section of the library for President Kennedy’s phone records covering the last six months of his life; I soon discovered that Goldwater and Kennedy had been in touch with each other a number of times in the fall of 1963. I then contacted former Senator Goldwater’s office in Arizona, hoping to speak to one of his senior aides.  His secretary informed me that the Senator would be glad to speak briefly with me  later that week. 

As I prepared for my telephone interview with Barry Goldwater, I discovered in researching the topic that JFK regularly contacted his former Senate colleagues for political and companionable reasons. A leader who was innately attracted to personal loyalty, inherent intelligence, and roguish charm; John Kennedy had long considered Barry Goldwater an unfailing friend. Despite their obvious differences in both philosophy and style. the two politicians shared a great love for their nation’s history and its democratic traditions. 

When the appointed time came for me to speak to Senator Goldwater, I was filled with apprehension. Goldwater’s uncommon grace immediately put me at ease. “Jack and I came to the Senate in 1952,” he commenced.  “We served on the Labor and Public Welfare Committee and became good friends. In the end, we were colleagues for eight years in the Senate before he became our president. I enjoyed President Kennedy’s humor, his intelligence, and his obvious love for our country.”

Senator Goldwater explained to me that “when it became clear that both of us would become the nominees of our respective parties in the fall of 1963, the two of us began informally discussing a proposed series of debates. We had the idea of traveling around the country with the idea of actively participating in some good old-fashioned debating.”

“What exactly do you mean, Senator?” I asked.

“Simple,” Goldwater replied.  “After discussing the debate question with the President throughout that autumn, we informally came to agree on a series of debates in the style of Lincoln and Douglas. He and I began to tentatively figure out our schedules for a series of ‘conversations.’ We’d even discussed flying together on Air Force One and appearing together in designated American cities for a few debates. The President and I didn’t want any moderators getting in our way. Why be interrupted by newsmen when we could formulate the questions ourselves? We wanted to concentrate on the problems facing the country – and both of us were confident enough in ourselves that we could do it for hours at a time. It certainly would have been real issues’ race as a result. You must remember, Jack and I had debated foreign and domestic policy for years in the Senate. For both of us, it would have been nothing new. More importantly, it would have been good for the country!”

As I pondered the ninety-second-time limit, sound-bite-style format enacted for all presidential debates from 1976 on, I comprehended why the Senator believed that the Kennedy-Goldwater debates would have changed the course of American politics. “A fascinating part of our proposal included the fact that there would have been no time restrictions,” Goldwater continued.  “We knew enough, as experienced politicians, when it was time to stop and move on to a new topic. The American people would have heard our philosophies without any filters. We would have our say and be done with it.”

Compared to modern presidential candidates, Goldwater and Kennedy were confident and savvy enough to discuss the issues without the use of cue cards, prepared notes, or spinmeisters. The legendary Arizona senator told me, “We had the idea that each debate might center around one major topic – foreign policy, let’s say. When the President was finished, I would respond.  We might each go on for several minutes. The debates might have lasted for hours without any moderator telling us to stop,” he quipped.

Goldwater continued, “I think that the American people would have been startled to see two men with very different views respectively go at each other in order to discuss the issues confronting the nation – without interruption or interference on the part of the media.”

The Arizona statesman concluded his interview by stating, “I also think that our citizens would have been surprised to see the amount of respect and friendship we had for one another despite our obvious differences.  We had just begun to earnestly discuss a detailed outline of the plan when President Kennedy was killed.”

“If he had lived,” Senator Goldwater remarked, “Jack would probably have beaten me by a good margin. I can say that now and even smile about it a bit. As I look back on it twenty-five years later, it was an enormous tragedy for our nation that the President did not fill out his term or serve the presidency for longer than he did.”

Fifty-two years later, one can only hypothesize that if the proposed Kennedy-Goldwater debates had taken place during the fall of 1964, such a radical format would have surely altered the course of presidential politics. By eliminating third-party interrogators, the candidates would have allowed the issues, not the format, to take control of the debates.

In addition, by centering on the problems of the 1960s, both nominees would have been forced to comment on the specifics of the issues, eliminating, for example, the significance of the sound bite. Of course, each candidate would never have spoken in twitter-fed half sentences. In contrast, their detailed prose form that would have undoubtedly detailed their different visions for the people of the United States and the world. Compared to Donald Trump’s neo-rap on issues, Barry Goldwater would have articulated his vision in long-form prose.

Also, by requiring the candidates to expound, for extended periods of time, on the crises confronting the United States and abroad, such a innovate debate format would have required astute, intelligent individuals speaking without pre-packaged, canned responses but as genuine experts on both foreign and domestic policy. By setting the precedence of running an issues-oriented campaign in 1964, it is almost impossible to speculate as to what influence this would have had on the present and disturbing reliance on negative campaign advertising.  

Finally, by centering more attention on the differences in philosophy and ideology between the two candidates in the debates, both major parties would have been compelled to produce decidedly concise and defined party platforms that would have been thoughtfully articulated and expanded upon by the nominees throughout the presidential campaign.

As seen through the lens of both history and perspective, it is logical that President John F. Kennedy and Senator Barry S. Goldwater would have set an astounding precedent for future candidates to observe. Consequently, the candidates chosen by the two major parties after 1964 might have been very different from the individuals who were ultimately nominated, including this year’s candidates.

Michelangelo once said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

When I watch the first presidential debate later this month, it is especially regrettable for all of us that the luminosity of a Kennedy-Goldwater kind of debate will be largely absent.


Dennis the Menace

Since 1913, Eldridge Park has been the home field for the Orleans Firebirds of the Cape Cod Baseball League. Once called, “the most beautiful park in America” by the venerable baseball scribe, Peter Gammons, Eldridge Park’s diamond back then faced Nauset Regional High School, whose matronly, red-framed structure provided the backdrop beyond right-center field.  

From 1948-2008, the Orleans franchise in the CCBL was known as the Cardinals. Fifty-two summers ago, the 1964 Orleans squad was managed by Dave Gavitt, a former Cardinals infielder from Dartmouth who had begun coaching basketball at his alma mater a few after graduation. Five years after I first met him, Coach Gavitt would become a Hall of Fame coach for the Providence College Friars. He would eventually serve as a revered Big East Commissioner and, later on, as the CEO for the Boston Celtics.

At the time, Dave Gavitt was a sprite, twenty-seven-year-old college assistant with a young family who clearly loved to bring out the best of his young charges. Throughout that magical summer, I was one of the bat boys for the Orleans nine. It turned out to be one of the defining moments of my childhood.

On my first day as a bat boy, Coach Gavitt called me over and said, “Listen, Son, when you’re not just retrieving our bats after each out or hit, you’re also going to be chasing any foul balls for us. We have a tight budget, and the more balls you can fetch, the better that will be for both the Cardinals and the Cape Cod Baseball League!”

When I reassured the Orleans skipper that I would do my very best, Dave Gavitt exclaimed, “That’s good, Shaun. And remember, I want you to hustle after each foul ball as if you’re life depended on it.”

“Yes, sir!” I replied.

Of course, there is no one on the planet more literal than a nine-year-old boy, so when a baseball was subsequently hit down the left field line foul, I immediately sprinted as fast as a Chatham gale at the height of a prodigious noreaster. There was pronounced laughter coming from our dugout as I raced toward the white sphere, which had neatly settled against an ancient oak near the foul line.

“I think that young boy there is showing us how to hustle,” one of the players whispered to Manager Gavitt.

For the rest of the game, I ended up galavanting down both foul lines, behind home plate, and even across Route 28, where I pored over a clump of beach plum bushes in order to locate an offending baseball. As I continued to sprint after each foul ball, my sun-bleached platinum blonde hair began sticking up like a corn stalk. By the fifth inning, Mr. Al Shorter, a loquacious septuagenarian, who described himself as “an old bird dog for the Red Sox”, began shouting out, “There goes Dennis the Menace!” each and every time I sprinted to retrieve a ball.

When a popup fell behind the seat and plopped onto the bench where Mr. Shorter had been sitting, he picked up the ball, refused to give it to the other bat boy, and then gestured to me, “Only Dennis gets this ball.

Of course, my new identity was based on the legendary cartoon character, Dennis Mitchell. In 1959, CBS TV introduced the character into a hit television series starring Jay North as Dennis; an energetic, trouble-prone, mischievous, but well-meaning boy, who often tangled first with his peace-and-quiet-loving neighbor, George Wilson, a retired salesman, and later with George’s brother John, a writer. Virtually everyone in Eldridge Park knew that “Dennis the Menace” had blonde hair, blue eyes, and a pronounced cowlick. Just like me.     

By the second game that summer, every time a ball was struck in foul territory at Eldridge Park, a gaggle of versed fans sitting around Mr. Shorter would hoot, “There goes Dennis!” as I flew to reclaim the ball.  

“Heck of a job, Dennis!” Al Shorter would clamor when I returned to the dugout.

For the rest of the summer of 1964, I was no longer Shaun; I was Dennis.

I knew I had been officially re-baptized when I approached veteran umpire John Tambollo with two retrieved balls. “Hey, thanks, Dennis!” the CCBL official spat out without any irony whatsoever. When one of our star players cracked one of his baseball bats, I retrieved the bat and informed him that his bat was not playable. “Keep it, tape it up and use it in pickup games, Dennis,” he responded.

As I became more adept at the job, I was eventually asked to parade around with a large Orleans Cardinals baseball helmet in the top of the sixth inning in order to collect dimes, quarters, and Kennedy half-dollars from the attendants at the game. Because Cape League games were free of charge – these were amateurs, after all, the organization had to collection donations in order to pay for the equipment, the umpires, and the continued maintenance of the field. Back then, approximately 500 loyal fans attended most Cardinal home games. It would take me two innings to get around to everyone, but I made sure that everyone pitched in to help support the team and the league.

When I approached Mr. Al Shorter and his comrades, there would invariably be a distinct applause behind home plate. “Here’s our hustling Dennis!” Al would trumpet.

Instantaneously, a cacophony of hosanna’s was invariably heaped down on me at all sides by the elderly patrons who sat around Al.

“Heck of a job today, Dennis!”

“That a way to hustle, Dennis!”

“We’re proud of you, Dennis!”

“We’re gonna add another dollar just for your hustle, Dennis!”

When I returned to the dugout, Coach Gavitt would smugly say to me, “Wouldn’t you know that our bat boy might have more fans than any of the players!”

After each game, Dave Gavitt would look at the pile of coins and dollar bills that I had collected and picked out four quarters for my day’s work. When the Cardinals lost to Cotuit for the league title over Labor Day Weekend, Coach Gavitt approached me, shook my hand warmly, and asserted that I had “certainly earned my keep.” He then took out a five dollar bill and declared, “Thanks, Dennis, for a great summer!”

I ended up serving as the Orleans Cardinals batboy for another three seasons. In 1966, nineteen-year-old Carlton Fisk served as our catcher. A summer later, Thurmon Munson was behind the plate for our bitter rivals, the Chatham Red Sox. By that season, my blonde hair had begun to turn brown as preadolescence began to creep in. Even after I no longer worked for the Orleans town team, I would saunter down behind home plate in search of my old buddy, Mr. Al Shorter. Like a dependable radar detector, Al would shout out to anyone who would listen to him, “Well, folks, look who is approaching us! Yes, it’s none other than the best bat boy in the history of the Cape League – Dennis the Menace!”

However, when I showed up one summer and saw an empty spot where Al usually sat, I began to ask the fans around home plate for his whereabouts. “He died a few months ago,” one of his friends blinked.

We both had tears in our eyes.

Nevertheless, partially thanks to my indescribable experience in the Cape Cod Baseball League, I ended up playing competitive baseball throughout high school and made the twenty-five man varsity squad at Jacksonville University as a collegiate freshman. On January 29, 1974, a day after my nineteenth birthday, I attended a Providence College-Jacksonville University basketball game at the Jacksonville Coliseum. The Friars of Providence, who then featured future NBA stars Marvin Barnes and Kevin Stacom, were the number 8 team in the nation when they played the Dolphins that evening.

Their head coach was none other than Dave Gavitt.

As the clock wound down to zero – PC ended up victorious, 106-90 – I sprinted out onto the Coliseum floor and made a beeline to the former Cardinals manager.

“Coach!” I yelled, “It’s a long way from Eldridge Park!”

Gavitt’s piercing blue eyes bore right into me. He suddenly broke into an expansive grin and began to chuckle. “Well, what do you know! How much change do you have for me after this game?”

We both giggled, and Coach Gavitt patted my back as we walked off the court together. For the next five minutes, we chatted amicably outside the Providence locker room. As he turned to head into a postgame press conference, Coach Gavitt exclaimed, “You know, Shaun – you’ll always be Dennis the Menace to me!”

Twenty-nine summers later, I was invited by the Orleans Cardinals to throw out the first pitch in an August 2005 contest against their longstanding rivals, Chatham. When I drew near the emerald field that had framed Tonset Road and Route 28 for more than ten decades, my bronzed face suddenly turned bone-white. Instead of a scattering of a few hundred passionate Cape Cod Baseball League supporters as we had back in the 1960s, a sea of humanity encompassed the old park. In the next day’s Cape Cod Standard Times, the estimated attendance was listed as 5,800.

My youngest son, Max, realized immediately that I was about to throw the most significant pitch in my then fifty years on the planet. “Don’t choke, Dad!” he quipped.

“Thanks for the reassurance, Max,” I retorted as I ambled out to the pitcher’s mound.

On the same baseball diamond that had seen such former Orleans luminaries as Todd Helton, Nomar Garciaparra, Frank Thomas, and Mark Texeira play for the Cardinals over the years, I was now standing on the mound with more than eleven-thousand eyes watching me intently. Since 1964, the Town of Orleans had reconfigured and refurbished the old ballpark. The diamond was now entrenched where right field had been.I smiled as I remembered the countless fly balls I had once caught out there during batting practice four decades previously.

As I glanced around, I quickly noticed that sitting behind the backstop was an elderly Orleans supporter wearing a distinct O cap. For a moment, I imagined that the ghost of Al Shorter had magically appeared so that he could root on his boy.

After the PA announcer had introduced me, a groundswell of applause swarmed over the field as I stood all alone on the rubber. My hands literally began to quake. Truthfully, I hadn’t been this nervous on the mound since I pitched in college. Then and there, I decided to use my regular pitching windup and fire a slider, figuring that the more I concentrated on the break of the ball, the better. When the sphere broke seamlessly for a hard strike sixty feet away, I exhaled gratefully and greeted the impossibly young Cardinals catcher, who gave me the ball and stammered, “Hey, nice throw, sir. Congratulations!”

When I plodded off the mound, Max greeted me with a mixture of relief and delight. A few minutes later, the Al Shorter clone who had watched me from behind home plate tentatively approached me, shook my hand, and drawled, “Hi, Shaun, my name’s Jim Mayo, and I am a native of Orleans. I’ve attended games here at Eldridge Park since the 1950s when I was your son’s age.”

Mr. Mayo and I ended up reminiscing about the old days for a spell. As we conversed, he glanced at my decidedly brown hair and queried, “Did you ever have blond hair as a boy? I remember a Cardinals batboy who used to sprint after every foul ball like there was no tomorrow?”

“I did,” I answered, and we both chuckled. “Actually, you might remember me by the nickname that Al Shorter bestowed upon me.”

“Oh my goodness,” Jim Mayo responded, you’re Dennis the Menace!”

“I am,” I replied.


It’s All in the Mix

I trudged out into a brimming parking lot on a spotless July evening in Framingham, Massachusetts expecting to cool off a bit from the feverish dancing that made my then gangly body glisten like a lake trout. While I had always been a reluctant dancer – I was left-handed “with two left feet,” a former girlfriend had once quipped – I was now bathed in sweat because of the set I had just furiously danced to that had been orchestrated by a local deejay legend by the name of Bud Ballou.

As an iconic rock ‘n roll figure on AM 1510 WMEX Boston, Ballou’s famed “ten-thousand ‘45’s’” stack” was serving as the centerpiece to five hours of nonstop delight at the then popular “Timothy’s Too.” During a twenty-minute intermission, I had just ventured outside of the jammed nightclub to “cool off.” Having attended over fifty Ballou “Oldies” shows in the past, I had brought a pad of paper and pen with me so that I could jot down his particular song list that evening.

As I perused through the list, I realized that the last eight tunes of the previous set had encapsulated Ballou’s heady mix of the familiar with the obscure:  The Dave Clark Five’s matchless “Can’t You See That She’s Mine”; Elvis Presley’s unappreciated gem, “Stuck on You”; Martha and the Vandellas infectious 1964 single, “Nowhere to Run,” Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys’ palpitating ode to fifties’ music, “Good Old Rock ‘n Roll”; Archie Bell and the Drells hypnotic, “Tighten Up”: Jan and Dean’s irresistible “Surf City”; Sly and the Family Stone’s mesmerising “Dance to the Music”; and Orpheus’ “Can’t Find the Time to Tell You” – an incandescent 1969 ballad performed by a beloved Boston band.

As I gulped the southwestern breeze that provided immediate relief from the sweltering tavern air, I noticed that another patron was also cooling his heels outside, quietly puffing away on a filtered cigarette. I gave him a second glance and realized that it was none other than Bud Ballou himself.

I took a measured risk, tiptoed up to him and exclaimed, “Bud, your shows are so much fun that I lose track and what time it is when you’re doing your thing! Thank you.

He grasped my right hand firmly. “Hey, my good man, that’s exactly what my show is all about!”

Over the next few minutes, I chatted with what turned out to be an incredibly affable, ingenuous, and animated individual who took discernable pleasure in his craft. Effervescent and engaging both on the air and on stage, Bud Ballou was just as ebullient in a darkened nightclub parking lot as he was on stage. When I informed him that I had over 3,000 records myself and that I yearned to put on similar oldies show at my college’s new Rathskeller, Ballou said, “Hey! That’s great! Tell ‘the powers-that-be’ there that you would like to put on a show for free. Persuade your friends to show up – and see if you actually draw in some good business. If that happens, you will have your foot in the door. If you’re good, they will pay you well, and then you might be able to call your own shots down the road.”

When I pumped Ballou to share with me what he had learned as someone who had hosted thousands of rock ‘n roll dances over a twelve-year period, Bud continued to punctuate his sentences in his customary rat-a-tat style. “You know, you can have 10,000 45’s as I do and still put on a lousy show! As a hockey fan, the one thing I notice that the great ones have the thing you can’t measure – intuition. In my line of work, you have to be cognizant of the moment; you have to feel the mood – and then choose that perfect song that will make them dance instantaneously.”

When the deejay glanced at his watch and realized that his next set was commencing in five minutes, he requested that I walk with him back to the club while he set up. On our way to the brightly-lit stage, Bud Ballou remarked, “Remember, old music is all about conjuring up good memories. You want the audience to be active, participatory; you want them to think as if they are part of the process. I try to do that in my song choices, in my introductions to each single, and in the way the evening unfolds. In reality, I am just following the audience’s lead. As you’ve probably noticed already, each show is different. You can’t repeat the magic. It just happens. Ultimately, it’s all in the mix.

As we shook hands, Bud Ballou pointed to me and exclaimed, “Hey, great to meet you, Shaun – and good luck!”

Over the next two months, I attended at least twenty more Bud Ballou shows at Timothy Too’s on Route 9 in Framingham. I ended up jotting down the deejay’s mystical elixir on a yellow legal pad. It was evident that he knew his music intimately. It was also evident that Ballou had developed a system of organization that enabled him to unearth music at lightning speed. Like a pinball wizard, he moved with relentless abandon from genre to genre, decade to decade, group to group. Similar to our New England weather, the opted tunes each evening were spontaneous. It was like observing a deft musicologist with ADD – working in fifth gear.

While he worked from a purposeful set list, Ballou’s shows often reverted to pure improvisation.Through the mantle of instinct, he would gaze intently at the audience as they were dancing, begin to ponder visibly, and would then twist purposely around to his systematic stacks of songs to locate that 45, which would then be cued up as the next entry.

Rather than play the obvious by an artist – “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, for instance; Bud tended to put on such less heralded Checker numbers as “It’s Pony Time” or “Let’s Twist Again.” Ballou relished putting on those “lost 45’s” that summoned a wellspring of memories for most dancers. He also loved setting up each song with particular details that would make the hit more relevant and captivating. His song introductions turned out to be veritable mini-music lessons: “From crooning on the corner of East 183rd Street and Belmont Avenue in the Bronx to eventually releasing this Top 5 single in June 1962, here’s the incomparable Dion DiMucci with “Lovers Who Wander!”  

Finally, Ballou savored paying tribute to a cavalcade of deceased rock and rollers throughout each show, immortalizing them at the beginning of each tune he then dedicated in their memory. “Here’s a fabulous one from the late, great Sam Cooke!” he would bellow before playing a soul cruncher by the incomparable singer/songwriter who “died much too early in 1964.” In the end, Bud Ballou seemed to understand that each song, and indeed, each life, had an expiration mark and that fame was most assuredly fleeting.  

When I arrived back in college in September 1975 as a junior, I followed Bud Ballou’s advice and asked the manager of Jacksonville University’s Rathskeller if I could put on an oldies’ show for free. By that time, I had recorded all 3,000 singles from my voluminous collection of 45’s and LP’s onto nearly a hundred, 90-minute cassette tapes. I had also categorized them by genre, group, and year – and began to put together a tentative show. in addition, I purchased a small cassette player and headset to fast forward or rewind any tape to locate a particular song, hired two friends to serve as my soundmen, and put on my first show just before Columbus Day Weekend.

Given the emerging popularity of my oldies shows that year, I ended up securing a weekly Saturday night paid gig by early November. Fraternities and sororities commenced hiring me out as well. As the winter turned to early spring, my “Rockin’ to the Oldies Shows” had become celebrated communal happenings on campus. When I returned to the Boston area later on that May, I informed Bud Ballou at Timothy Too’s one night that his advice had borne fruit. He flicked a smile and then laughed, “You better not get ‘too good’, Shaun. I need a job here!”

When I returned to Jacksonville University for my senior year, over 1000 students attended an oldies party in the college’s dining hall, which kicked off orientation that fall. I ended up hosting almost forty shows over the next eight months. Throughout the entire experience, I had learned that the surest way to make any dream comes true was to live it.

However, when I received an unanticipated phone call from an old Wellesley friend on April 16, 1977, I was reminded once again of the volatility of life. I quickly learned that Bud Ballou had just dropped dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. According to The Boston Globe, Bud Ballou was just 34 and married with four young children when he suddenly died “much too young.”

Later on, when I turned on the local Jacksonville oldies station, the Flamingos wistful hit, “Lovers Never Say Goodbye,” reverberated out of my cassette/radio boombox. I closed my eyes and remembered Bud playing the 1958 doo-wop classic to conclude a momentous set the previous summer.  “Please wait for me/ For I shall return./My love for you will forever burn/Though we must part/There’s no reason to cry/Just say so long/Because lovers never say goodbye…” As someone who had already taken my share of philosophy courses, I knew even then there was nothing predictable in this life – and very little that was fair.

A week later, I produced my last oldies show at the Rathskeller as a college undergraduate. thankfully, TEP, a popular fraternity at JU at the time, sponsored my show two days before graduation. To publicize the event, they had hung an outsized banner that was stretched tautly between two stately palm trees in the center of campus. “For the Last Time This Friday Night at The Rat – Rockin’ to the Oldies – Starring Shaun Kelly!” it read.

My parents, who just driven 1,200 miles south in order to see there to attend my graduation, stopped in their tracks in front of the banner as we came across it on an extended campus tour. “I’ll be damned, Shaunie – you’d think you were Artie Shaw or Bing Crosby. You can’t sing; dance; play an instrument, or perform – but here you are!” my Dad teased.

“You’re right, Dad, but I can play the songs of artists who could!” I retorted. All three of us laughed as we walked past the banner to a formal reception honoring the graduating seniors.

At 8:45 pm the following evening, the Rathskeller was teeming with five-hundred undergraduates as my crew, and I began to set up for the final engagement. By this time, they had already turned away scores of people and placed speakers outside the bar so that “would-be’s” could actually dance outside. At precisely 9:00 pm, I began the five-hour danceathon with Wanda Jackson’s hyperkinetic rockabilly hit, “Let’s Have a Party.”

Around midnight, just as I was getting into my last sustained set, an enterprising sophomore sauntered up to me and asked me for some guidance. “Shaun, I would like to continue your show in some form next year. What advice can you give me?”

I tapped my hands on the ninety cassettes laid out before me and proceeded to lay out the magic that had been passed onto me that I had learned firsthand as a result of hosting more than seventy-five oldies shows in college. When we finished conversing, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “You, know, the best deejay whoever did this kind of thing once explained to me that ‘it’s all in the mix.’”

At 1:57 am, I concluded the proceedings with Chicago’s haunting ballad, “Colour My World.”  As streams of couples commenced to cling to one another in the dark, slow-dancing to the melancholic piano prologue, Terry Kath’s familiar baritone tessitura vocals began to reverberate throughout the building: “As time goes on/I realize – just what you mean to me/And now that you’re near/Promise your love – that I’ve waited to share/And dreams of our moments together…”

Three minutes later, as the tune ended and the lights in the Rathskeller were switched on, I dedicated the show to the late, great Bud Ballou.