An American Masterwork: Sam Cooke’s “Bring It Home To Me”

Sam Cooke - Singer, Songwriter - Biography

The idea came to Sam Cooke on the evening of April 12, 1962, when he appeared at Atlanta’s Rhythm Rink while on an extended Henry Wynn Supersonic Tour of the South. The King of Soul was headlining a lineup that included blues legend Solomon Burke, the Drifters, Dee Clark, B. B. King, and Dion DiMucci (of Dion and the Belmonts’ fame).

At that time, racial tensions percolated just as the civil rights movement gained momentum. Thus, a “mixed-race tour” in the Old Confederacy generated a wellspring of controversy. Cooke’s biographer, Peter Guralnick, remembered: “Sam was the soothing influence who kept that tour together. ‘He was a kind of champion for… cooling everybody out,’ said Dion DiMucci, and, as on the earlier tour, some of Dion’s most treasured memories were of singing with Sam backstage—” he was always so full of music.'”

According to Sam Cooke’s friends, the notion of the song had been stirring around in the singer/songwriter’s mind for weeks. The idea’s inspiration had actually sprung from soul singer Charles Brown’s 1959 R&B single, “I Want to Go Home,” a standard 12-bar blues number ladened with traditional call-response that had also been sautéed in a barrel full of soul.

Cooke, who had been a gospel music prodigy before he was 18, had spent much of the preceding ten years on the road, though he now made Los Angeles his base. For someone who was a Chicagoan for more than half of his life, home had become not a physical place for Sam – but it was “about the people you left behind.” This was especially evident to him because he had lived his musical career out of a suitcase.

As Sam Cooke rode in a rented limousine to the concert that evening in Georgia’s capital city, it all came together for him. He yearned to write a gospel-tinged blues song featuring call-response in the form of a “backside” duet – a lead singer in concert with a strong vocal response. Of course, this wasn’t some new form of music for him. Instead, Cooke instinctively yearned to compose the same style of music when he joined gospel’s legendary Soul Stirrers beginning in 1949 before he had finally crossed over to the dominion of rock-pop with 1957’s “You Send Me.”

While the white public hardly knew of Sam Cooke during his halcyon years as a gospel icon, he had already achieved mythical status to millions of African-Americans around the country while he was the leader of the Soul Stirrers. In 2016, Aretha Franklin recalled Cooke’s magnetism as a gospel star:

“Sam and I met at a Sunday evening program that we had at our church back in the early ’50s. I was sitting there waiting for the program to start after church, and I just happened to look back over my shoulder, and I saw this group of people coming down the aisle. And, oh, my God, the man that was leading them — Sam – and his younger brother, L.C. These guys were really super sharp. They had on beautiful navy blue and brown trench coats. And I had never seen anyone quite as attractive, not a male as attractive as Sam was. And so, prior to the program, my soul was kind of being stirred in another way. And then, Sam sang, and he left everything, everything out on the stage. He was the most beautiful man I ever saw.”

Sam Cooke’s live performances as a gospel lead singer became so renowned that he was compared in real-time to Frank Sinatra in terms of influence, magnetism, and sheer luminosity. Thus, when he eventually entered the world of pop and soul, his loyal gospel fans viewed him as a Judas. However, once he began churning out such original standards as “Wonderful World,” “Chain Gang,” “(She Was) Only Sixteen,” Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha,” “Sad Mood Tonight,” “Cupid,” Twistin’ The Night Away,” and “Feel It,” all was eventually forgiven.

Thus, when he alighted from the limousine that night in Atlanta and rushed for the stage, Sam couldn’t shake this “back home idea,” as he called it. Cooke knew that he had to compose and record it quickly. After the concert that evening, he composed much of it in his downtown Atlanta hotel room. Like the vast majority of the numbers he wrote, the refrain section of the song came to him first: “Bring it to me, bring your sweet lovin’, bring it on home to me.”

Once he completed the number, Sam felt it had a bluesy, almost hypnotic feel, which excited him that he sang it to performer Dee Clark, whose single, “Raindrops,” had been a significant hit the previous summer. Clark wasn’t impressed at first, but Cooke felt he had something, so he then called his producer back in California, Luigi Creatore, who immediately loved the concept. Sam kept emphasizing that he wanted to sing and record it in the vein of his old Soul Stirrers gospel hits, and Creatore readily agreed.

Given that the singer/songwriter had already composed a ready-made single, “(We’re) Having a Party,” Cooke and his producer thought that the now-titled “Bring It Home To Me” would fit nicely as its B-Side.

By the time Sam made it back to Los Angeles from his Southern tour ten days later, the number was ready for recording. On April 26, 1962, Cooke entered RCA’s Recording Studio Number 1 in Hollywood, anxious to record both “Having a Party” and “Bring It Home To Me.” Awaiting him were the customary Wrecking Crew musicians, including Tommy Tedesco on lead guitar, Adolphus Alsbrook on the bass, Ernie Freeman on the keyboards, and a bevy of acclaimed string players who had long backed up Sinatra on such hit albums as In The Wee Small Hours of The Morning and Only The Lonely.

The assemblage of musicians began the session with Sam’s “(We’re) Having a Party,” the designated “A-Side,” which was the musical stepchild of his smash hit, “Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha.” Cooke’s longtime arranger, René Hall, had not only transposed both numbers to be accompanied by six violins, two violas, two cellos, and a saxophone, but he had also added a seven-piece rhythm section to the mix. “We wanted musical power to match Sam’s vocal potency,” Hall remembered.

That night, Cooke was joined by the Sims Twins, a novice vocal group he had signed with his newly-formed SAR Records the previous year. At the last minute, Sam also asked one of his childhood friends from Chicago, Lou Rawls – whose plush bass-baritone voice had constantly demanded recording sessions around LA since he moved to the West Coast in 1959 – to sit in on the session as well. “We might need you, Lou,” he winked to his longtime friend as he entered the studio.

After pushing through the infectious “Having a Party,” which took 13 takes to make right, Cooke huddled up with René Hall to continue the good vibes and momentum after they recorded “Party” with “Bring It Home To Me.” Later on, he told his former producer, Lou Adler, “We were after the Soul Stirrers-type thing, trying to create that flavor in a classic rhythm and blues recording.”

“Let’s get to it! “Sam exclaimed to the musical entourage assembled at the studio. In just two takes, that’s exactly what they did. Cooke reflected later that it was probably because he yearned for a “live feel” to the ballad. “I wanted it to feel just like a Soul Stirrers’ performance on stage.”

Sam and his production team encouraged renowned pianist and bandleader Ernie Freeman to provide the number’s “intro” with a blues riff that would instantly capture the attention of any listener. After fiddling around on his keyboard for a spell, Freeman crafted a hypnotic, primal introduction that ultimately became a chilling calling card to Sam’s distinctive tenor. Freeman’s bluesy keyboard riff was then supported by the counter-punching percussion chops of Frank Capp, a veteran Wrecking Crew drummer. This pulsating ostinato proved to be an electrifying prologue to one of Sam Cooke’s two or three most revered vocal performances of his storied career.

“If you ever-er change your mi-ind

About leavin’, leavin’ me behi-ind

Oh-oh, bring it to me

Bring your sweet lovin’

Bring it on home to me-ee…”

Just four bars into it, you knew it was Sam Cooke. While he earned the moniker “The King of Soul” after his untimely death in 1964, in the spring of ’62, you could have predicted that such a dominating vocal performer paved the way for a thousand branches. Like the chiseled knife that can cut your soul in two, the singer’s vocals are wrapped in a cornucopia of both fidelity and pain throughout the ballad.

To put the finishing touches on the gospel-like feel, Lou Rawls not only sings harmony with Sam, but he then bestows a series of muscular call-response “yeahs” throughout the recording as well. In the end, Rawls’ heady vocal conviction and entusiasmo are such that he nearly hijacked the tune from Cooke in the process.

Once the last note was played in LA’s RCA Recording Studio Number One, everyone involved knew even then that they had cut something special. It had taken them only two takes to get it right. This was not Sam Cooke, a pop star to a largely white audience. This was Sam Cooke, master of both gospel and soul. As Peter Guralnick remarked in his exceptional biography on Sam Cooke: “What comes through in ‘Bring It Back Home To Me’ is a rare moment of undisguised emotion, an unambiguous embrace not just of cultural heritage but of an adult experience far removed from white teenage fantasy. There was nothing to add or subtract.” 

Arranger René Hall recalled years later. “There was minimal post-production that went into that song. We took it out of the oven, and it was ready for wax.” It had taken less than 30 minutes of studio time to craft a definitive soul ballad sung by two of the greatest R&B performers of all time, even as it was superbly backed up by LA’s celebrated Wrecking Crew. Of course, enduring artistry is never an accident.

Released along with “Having A Party” on May 21, 1962, by RCA Victor, “Bring It Back Home To Me” was “discovered” by a legion of deejays who methodically played Cooke’s “B-Sides” in case there was something there

There was.

By the early summer of ’62, “Bring It Back Home To Me” began to enter national top-ten lists, reaching as high as #2 on the R&B list and #13 on the pop charts. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was an avowed Sam Cooke fan, cried, “My goodness, what a sound!” to his friend, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, when the two civil rights leaders drove to a conference outside of Atlanta one afternoon that summer and heard it on the radio.

Over the years, “Bring It Back Home To Me” was famously covered by both John Lennon and Paul McCartney during their post-Beatles solo careers. It also found favor in both the recording studio and/or onstage with the likes of James Brown, The Animals, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, Bonnie Raitt, UB40, Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny & The Ashbury Jukes, Al Jarreau, Goerge Benson, and U-2. While Sam Cooke was tragically murdered less than three years after this seminal recording, “Bring It Home To Me” is still so revered by musicians that Tom Petty called it “sacred” when he chatted about its timelessness on his Sirius Radio show back in 2016.

In retrospect, gospel drove Sam Cooke through his most celebrated songs the same way it did for Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding. Like the legendary Nat Cole, Cooke had an incomparable voice that is as distinctive as a fingerprint. In retrospect, Sam could sing anything and make it work. As the late Lester Bangs once famously wrote in Crawdaddy, “It was his power to deliver — it was about his phrasing, the totality of his singing, which made him immortal.”

Of course, Sam Cooke could have sung out the names of the street signs in his hometown of Chicago, and it would have sounded great.

Lou Rawls and Sam Cooke

In The Shelter In The Middle Of The Roundabout

Penny Lane shelter in the middle of a roundabout and beatles bus Acrylic  Print by Ken Biggs
The Shelter in the middle of the roundabout – Penny Lane, Liverpool, England

On a mid-afternoon in Liverpool, England, in 1982, I checked the tour guide book one last time and broke into a smile. I reverently approached the street as an unwieldy southwestern wind blew from the River Mersey, less than two miles away.

And there it was—the shelter in the middle of a roundabout. 

I promptly skirted across Penny Lane and quickly sat down at the front entrance of the bus shelter, expecting to see a pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray. 

Seven weeks previously, I had begun working as a teacher at an American school in Surrey, 215 miles to the southeast. Now, I was fulfilling a longstanding dream – to visit The Beatles’ home city, Liverpool, England. 

I sat there for twenty minutes as the traffic flowed unsteadily by, and a gaggle of bikers whizzed around the rotary as I took in the scene. Even in the most cinematic of songs that framed both an era and a moment, time had moved on like an unyielding gale from the Mersey. The barber and the fireman with an hourglass were all gone. Still, I felt as if I was “in a play anyway.”

More than a half-century after they recorded their last songs together in Abbey Road Studio B in August 1969, the luminosity of The Beatles’ music beckons as brightly as the North Star. This past year, millions celebrated The Fab Four anew with the release of three astonishing works of art: McCartney 3, 2, 1 – a six-part retrospective on the music of both The Beatles and Wings with both Paul and veteran producer Rick Rubin; The Lyrics – 1956 To The Present – a reflective celebration of the creative life and the musical genius of Sir Paul through 154 of his most meaningful songs; and, of course, Get Back, the mesmerizing six-part documentary by filmmaker Peter Jackson of the recording of the 1969 album previously known as Let It Be.

So why is the world refocusing on The Beatles once again? It’s simple, really. In 2021, we all need their music and message more than ever. After all, the bookends of ignorance and intolerance have framed our times like a bad painting in a rundown motel. Sadly, one of the best-selling bumper stickers in the United States these days proclaims: “Guns Are THE Answer!”

In contrast to such insanity, the most talented and influential group of musicians in the past seventy years declared emphatically that love, not hate, is the answer. Ultimately, The Beatles did not take sides in their art; they referred to people as “we” or “us” – and they continually implied that we are all in this thing called life…together.  

In 2021, the shelter in the middle of the roundabout is no longer a bus terminal but a bistro. Happily, though, the spirit of The Beatles remains with the hundreds of visitors who make the pilgrimage to Liverpool daily. As I did back in 1982, they gaze out onto Penny Lane in wonder, praying that in the end, the love they take will be equal to the love they make.

My fourth and fifth graders and I, 1983

The Best Damn 3-21 Team On The Planet!

Visalia Little League storage shed broken into, twice

Beware of phone calls in the night that wake you up with a start.

My air-conditioning was on the blink, it was eighty degrees in my sweltering furnished hovel of an apartment, and I was determined to ride out the misery by sleeping. The rotary phone sitting like a queen on my bedside table differed. The jingle-jangle clanging produced a predictable cold-water effect; I emerged from my lake-like bed with a start.

“Shaun, sorry to bother you, this is Joe Dawson from the Jacksonville Little League Association, and I am calling you to see if you are still interested in coaching one of our teams this spring. You reached out to us earlier this winter, but we had nothing available then. So now – we do need you – and it’s a special circumstance for us as a league.”

I caught my breath and then intently listened when Joe summarized the problem. A handful of boys had just been cut from the local Arlington section of Jacksonville’s Little League. Nevertheless, they still wanted to play even though, according to Joe, they…“weren’t very good. As a matter of fact, some of them are terrible.”

I listened intently and acknowledged his honesty. 

“I know that this isn’t an optimum situation, Shaun, but these boys need you. Would you coach them? Your squad will play in the Arlington Little League, and we’ll call them ‘The Reds.’ The local Lions Club will sponsor them. How about it? “

I informed Joe that I would be thrilled to be their coach. I also smiled at the number who would constitute my team – thirteen.

When I hung up, I already knew that I loved the grit that these boys possessed. They might have been cut from Little League, but they still yearned to play. Resilience comes from within, and even if they might not be very good, they had the fortitude that surmounted rejection. Because I had only been a player and had never coached anyone on any level, I hoped that I could measure up to their pluck. It was already apparent that I would have some tough little nuggets under my tutelage. 

The following Saturday, I drove into the Fort Caroline Little League Field parking lot, situated in the one section of Jacksonville with discernable hills. Named after the historic French fort first constructed in 1564 and taken over by the Spanish the following year, the field was expansive and lushly green, with droplets of water framing its surface after an early morning shower.  

When I alighted from my well-worn 1969 Dodge Dart with an equipment bag ladened with news balls, used bats, helmets, and some battered catcher’s equipment provided by the Lions Club, an energetic pack of boys circled around me.

A beaming wheat-colored boy with deep blue eyes promptly introduced himself to me. Bobby Rice was a veritable string bean with a broad smile and a confidence that I found beguiling. He flashed a broad grin and asked if he could help carry the equipment to an awaiting baseball diamond.  

“Sure can,” I smiled. “Let’s take the other end of this bag and carry it over to the bench.” Like a covey of quail, twelve other boys followed Bobby and me onto the field. If my mother had been there, she would have exclaimed, “There goes Shaunie and his little ducklings.”

After we all introduced ourselves – most of the players didn’t know one another as they were from different neighborhoods in Arlington – I got down to business. “Boys,” I exclaimed, “I know why I am here, and you are here to prove to a bunch of adults that they were wrong. So let’s go out and work on that!”

As I glanced into their intent faces, I observed that my little troupe of merrymakers represented the demographics of Jacksonville itself. Five of them were white, five were African-American, two were Hispanic, and one was an Asian American.

After I asked them to sprint out to their favorite position – if they had one – I conducted an infield/outfield drill to teach them the fundamentals of the game. Almost instantly, I recognized why they had all been cut. Many of them had never played the game on any level. Joe Dawson had been right; some of them had sufficient ability, but the majority of them were downright awful. 

After pondering my narrow options as their coach, I gathered the squad together on the pitcher’s mound. “Guys!” I barked. “I am going to provide an instant neighborhood pick-up here. We’re going to do nothing but play the game as you would if you lived on the same street and there was a park at the end of the road. I will stop and teach you when you need some guidance. Otherwise, let’s go out and have some fun. After all, that’s what this game is all about!”

For the rest of our time together that spring, Reggie North, my waggish and effusive first baseman, would greet me, “Let’s check out our neighborhood, Coach Shaun!”

Why did I focus almost entirely on them actually playing the game every practice without much drill work? Because those of my generation had learned to play sports through the process of leisurely pick-up games. We garnered a mountain of experience just playing. We had learned on the go; those who grew up that way knew that failure, an essential part of playing sports, was the condiment that gave success its flavor. Given their novice abilities, they would take some time to give other teams a competitive game once they got the feel of playing baseball.

Over the next month, I held more than two dozen 90-minute practices betwixt 12 games, all of which we lost. I set modest goals for the boys at the beginning. If they made less than five errors a game, that would be considered a victory. If the dreaded mercy rule – if one team were ten runs or more ahead by the fourth inning – the game would end then – that too would be considered a win. If we kept a team under ten runs or made five runs ourselves, we would consider it a team triumph. 

Little by little, the 1978 Arlington Reds Little League Baseball Team commenced playing some decent baseball. My guys began to position themselves correctly, employed cut-offs and back-ups with precision, threw the back more accurately, and even commenced to hit a bit. Eventually, a few parents approached me and said, “You know, Coach Shaun, they just might win a few games this spring! This has been terrific watching their evolution!”

I continually emphasized the team sport element at the end of each practice or game. I also frequently reminded them that baseball was based on overcoming many failures more than any other sport. “You are doing that every practice, every game, and it is beginning to show, Gentlemen!” I told them that any player who razzed another for making an error would not only be taken out of that game immediately but would then sit for the first four innings of the next contest.

I also enforced what I called “The Kelly Rule.” Every player would not only play at least one inning in every game but also have at least one time at bat – no matter the circumstances. Finally, at the end of every practice and game, I had Team Captain Reggie North bark in a huddle-up: “WE WIN AS A TEAM; WE LOSE AS A TEAM; WE ARE A TEAM!”

However, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t have comical moments of ineptitude that made us all smile or laugh aloud. 

My slowest runner, Terry Daniels, swore up and down that he would steal second easily if he ever got to first base; not surprisingly, he was an uncertain hitter at best. When the big moment came in our seventh game – he had gone 0-20 previously, Terry took off on the first pitch. He then did a signature Pete Rose headfirst slide into second. To my horror, however, Terry began his dive halfway between the two bags, slid, and then stopped ten feet in front of the bag. Still prone on his stomach with his arms outstretched as if he were flying, Terry was effortlessly tagged out by the second baseman, who was hysterically laughing when he walked over to him and tagged Terry on the back.

When he came back to the bench, he exclaimed, “The slide was perfect, Coach Shaun!” When I looked at him in wonder, Terry commented, “If it had been an ice surface out there, I would have been easily safe!” 

In another contest against the Braves, our loquacious first baseman, Reggie North, struck a scorcher down to third that was mishandled by the defense and ruled a hit. He immediately skirted to first, took the lead, and began chattering with the first baseman without even so much as glancing at the pitcher, who promptly picked him off. In the end, Reggie was called out about five feet off the bag while he was still stammering away about his hit to his opponent, who promptly tagged him smack on the stomach. “But I was in the middle of my sentence!” Reggie clamored to me when he came back to the bench. “How dare they!” he cried.

And then, there was the bird saga of Tommy Quirk. Our intrepid right fielder (“Coach, just put me somewhere where I can hide from the ball”) suddenly began screaming and racing in one game after a called third strike on an offending batter. Why? Because a passing seagull had deposited his lunch all over Tommy’s baseball red cap, which was now partially white. I had an extra hat in our equipment bag and gave it to him. Tommy then raced again out to the outfield to the applause of the people in the stands. As one of my friends said, even Mother Nature herself shat on your team!

Even though my charges weren’t very good, they always showed up on time, raring to go. Because I had graduated from college the previous spring and barely made enough money to cover my expenses, the boys knew when my Dodge Dart approached the parking lot for a practice or game that Coach Shaun was in the house. I had a hole in my muffler at the time, and I didn’t have the money to repair it. (I smile now when I recall one time that May that I was down to $10 on a Tuesday – and payday was on Friday that I ate nothing but canned soup for the next four days). The grinding sound of my wheels was the clarion call to everyone at Fort Caroline Little League Field that Coach Shaun was approaching. Reggie North, in particular, LOVED my car and called it “badass.” I eventually realized that the Dart was a metaphor for my team – it was a wreck, but it worked and could even “get it done” if it had to. “Boys, the car and the team will survive whatever comes down the pike!” I informed them one afternoon after we had still another contest.

With three weeks left in the season, I swelled with hope when we played the Twins, another rickety squad who had won only two games themselves. Ultimately, we beat them legitimately by a 12-7 score – the kids mobbed me at the bench at the game’s conclusion! For our first 14 games, all losing efforts, I had divulged to the gang, “Every dog has his day, and they had theirs.” As we huddled up after shaking hands with the Twins, Reggie North began to bark like a hound dog!

 In retrospect, the accumulation of experiences as fledgling players had finally paid off; the boys beamed as they left for their awaiting cars that afternoon. When we secured two more victories over the next two-plus weeks, we now stood in second-to-last-place, one game ahead of the Twins! This was largely due to the pitching of lefty Kenny Edwards and the stealth hitting of the Rice twins, Bobby and Johnny. Our most accomplished player, Bobby Rice, admitted to me as we left the field after our third win, “If we DON’T finish in last place, that will be like winning the pennant!” Thanks to his experience on the Reds that spring, Bobby had not only developed into a decent ballplayer, but he was now an existentialist.

As the last days of our eight-week adventure wound down to a precious few, I took a final glance at our schedule and began shaking my head in exasperation. We were scheduled to play our last contest against the dreaded Dodgers, an undefeated squad, and had already begun practicing for the Florida States, the first in their quest to be the National Little League champions. “Quite a way to end the season!” I bellowed to the boys before our second-to-last contest.

“Wow, Coach Shaun,” Johnny Rice, Bobby’s twin brother, muttered when I informed them. “I hope they don’t steamroll us.” 

We conducted our final practice on a dank Friday night at Fort Caroline after losing a reasonably close game to the Yankees, 7-4, which made our record 3-20. The boys were visibly tight before the first pitch that evening. They knew that their concluding game would be played in front of an immense crowd; the Dodgers’ team was now the talk of the town, and each of their contests was attended by a veritable sea of family members, friends, and local fans. 

On an impulse, I asked Reggie North, our oldest and most gregarious player, to speak to the Reds squad. “They are looking at us as ‘a scrimmage game’! They aren’t even playing their best players! I was cut from the Dodgers two months ago. I’ve got friends on that team. They told me that they view playing as a reward to their scrubs for sitting on the bench. We need to kick their butts!”

I let Reggie say the last words and whispered to Kenny Edwards, our fiery lefthanded pitcher, that he would start the game on the mound against them. “Get some rest, my friend, and we’ll show them what we’re made of!”

“They won’t know what hit ‘em!” Kenny quipped.

Reggie North’s confidential information proved to be true. The Dodgers pitched their right fielder that day, a youngster who had never thrown on the mound. Their backups played the primary positions – the infield, catcher, and center fielder – while keeping two starting outfielders intact. Meanwhile, my little merry band of Reds were playing the game of their young lives. Not only had we not committed an error, but Kenny was pitching the game of his life and had only given up three runs in the first five innings. We rallied in the bottom of the fifth and scored two runs to make it a one-run game.

I had put “The Kelly Rule” into effect by this time. Even though we were down by a run with just two innings to play against the best team in the city, I inserted our “most challenged player,” Mikey Sutton, into the contest. Mikey wasn’t too bad in the field, but he was 0-25, with 24 strikeouts. A tiny wisp of a fellow, he seemed half the size of his peers and was inherently overmatched whenever he stepped onto the playing field. Indeed, Reggie had once told me that he could have probably eaten Mikey for lunch.

When we held the Dodgers to no runs in the sixth and seventh innings and were down by just one in the bottom of the seventh, I gathered the boys together and whispered, “Boys, a few breaks here and there, and we could BEAT these guys. Let THEM get nervous; they haven’t played a close game all season.” After six innings, I had taken an exhausted Kenny Edwards out of the game, but Bobby Price had held them in check in the seventh. I knew that I had Kenny in reserve to hit if need be.

In the bottom of the seventh, Johnny Price led off with a single for us, and after Greg Davis sacrificed him to second, Brian Hopkins skied a flyball to leftfield that the Dodger outfielder nearly let fumble out of his glove. Irving Furguson then hit a little tapper that no one could get to, and we suddenly had runners on first and third with two outs!

I glanced at Kenny Edwards, who motioned to his bat that he was ready to hit. Mikey Sutton, swinging a few bats in the middle of the on-deck circle, seemed like the loneliest person on the planet. A mix of trepidation and chagrin framed his expansive face. I waved Kenny back to the bench. “You haven’t hit yet today, Mikie,” I reminded him. “Now go up there and win us this game!” He nodded affirmatively and then tiptoed toward home plate.

“You understand why I am doing this, Kenny – right? We win together, lose together, and everyone gets to play and have at least one turn at bat.”

“I get it, Coach Shaun,” Kenny replied. “Mikie’s gonna come through for us. You watch!”

The first pitch to Mikey was right over the plate, a called strike one. I inwardly groaned, thinking that Mikey would simply watch three strikes whiz by when suddenly, THWWWACCCK, he proceeded to hit a scorcher over the third baseman’s glove. The umpire immediately turned around, and we watched as the blurred sphere hit two inches from the foul line. The umpire immediately belched: “Foul ball!”

Our two baserunners had scored, and Mikey had already pulled into second. The expression, “Close only counts in horseshoes,” was never more apropos than at this precise moment. After two close pitches called balls, the Dodger hurler crossed Mikey up and threw a curveball that buckled his knees. When the umpire screeched, “Strike three!” Mikey dejectedly walked back to our bench, where Reggie West was waiting for him. He then playfully tossed Mikey’s hair and roared: “MY MAN – you damn near won this game for us! That was a rocket you launched down the third-base line!” 

Mikey’s grin was still evident as he began to line up to congratulate the Dodgers and wish them well in the playoffs. Many of them keenly congratulated our players, who still had stars in their eyes that they had nearly won a contest against the immortal Dodgers. My players had finally learned that respect is usually not given in life – but earned.

After congratulating the Dodgers and their coach, Joe Dawson, the Commissioner of The Little League Association, approached me. The man whose phone call had awakened me ten weeks earlier then pressed his left hand on my shoulder and declared: “Shaun, on behalf of the coaches, players, and parents, I want to thank you for all you did for these boys. They did deserve to both be part of this team and this experience. Here, on this field, playing the best team in the city, you proved that honor is always more important than winning.”

After profusely thanking him for the genuine honor of coaching such an outstanding group of boys, I gathered the team together for one final chat. The team’s parents and friends formed a chaotic semicircle as I spoke to the Arlington Reds for the last time. “We might be 3-21, but – thanks to the Twins’ loss earlier today, we ended up in second-to-last place!” The boys and parents whooped together in a choir of authentic exultation. I then took a deep breath and exclaimed, “You boys are all winners both on the field and in life. You never gave up, and you proved that you could compete with anyone – even the best.”

After I thanked my team and our family members, Reggie North interrupted, “Coach Shaun!” he barked. “We have a little something for you. On behalf of the Arlington Reds Team, I would like to present you with a ball with our names written on it. We can’t thank you enough! We will never forget you – or this season.”

I blinked away a few tears and hugged each player and their folks before leaving Fort Caroline Field forever. The entire team escorted me to the parking lot, and when I opened the front door of my Dodge Dart, Reggie bellowed, “Don’t sell those wheels ever, Coach Shaun! After all, it’s the Official Motor Vehicle of the Arlington Reds!” I chuckled heartily as I got into my sweltering junkheap.

I then started up the Dart, put it into reverse, and the car began to rumble down the exit lane. The boys all commenced to sprint alongside me, shouting, “THANK YOU, COACH SHAUN!” their tinny voices echoing off the glazed gravel. Ten days later, I left Jacksonville and returned to Boston for good.

I never saw them again.

More than 40 years have come and gone, and “my guys” would now be in their early fifties. Some of the boys might even be grandparents by now. To me, though, they will always be twelve and searching for a team to call their own. While I have coached more than 60 squads from elementary school through high school in five different sports, the only artifact from all of those squads I’ve kept is a faded Arlington Reds autographed baseball. These days, it sits proudly in my classroom at school, an enduring reminder that occasionally in life, you might just have to fight a battle more than once in order to win it. Diamond Dll-1 Little League Leather Baseballs 12 Ball Pack:  Sports & Outdoors


America’s Summer Dream – Brian Wilson And The Beach Boys Before Dealey Plaza

The Beach Boys - Early Years | And, another one... | David Marks | Flickr

When John F. Kennedy flew to Texas to begin his reelection campaign for the presidency on Thursday morning, November 21, 1963, the number-one band in the US consisted of five teens from Southern California called, appropriately enough, The Beach Boys. A heady mixture of cousins, siblings, and neighbors ranging in age from 17 to 23, the fledgling band had already released four long-playing records between 1962 and ’63, with their latest album release, Little Deuce Coupe, establishing itself as one of rock’s first “concept albums.” Within 18 months of their arrival onto the pop music scene, The Beach Boys had already manifested themselves as quintessentially American in style, concept, and sound.

Why, then, did such an improbable collection of kids from a working-class suburb of Los Angeles grab hold of the imaginations of millions in such a short time? It’s fairly simple: The Beach Boys’ were blessed to be led by the group’s lead vocalist, bass player, and primary composer, Brian Wilson. A musical wunderkind whose tastes ranged from Beethoven to The Kingston Trio, Wilson had been influenced by such disparate composers as George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Chuck Berry, and the R&B songwriting duo of Mike Leiber and Jerry Stoller.

At first glance, Brian Wilson’s initial songs from that time period were decidedly sophomoric – his content centered principally on surfboards, cars, and girls. Still, there was a profound wistfulness to such lingering ballads as “The Lonely Sea,” “In My Room,” and “A Young Man is Gone.” The underlying pathos that consumed The Beach Boys’ leader to the point of mental paralysis resulted from the relentless verbal and physical barrage he received from his eternally envious father, Murry. In retrospect, the eldest Wilson son was so bullied and badgered by his father to produce more, better, and marketable songs that he did for the most part. 

While the canon that Brian Wilson generated between 1962 and 1963 seamlessly captured the still firmly entrenched innocence of 1950s America, the guileless tunes he crafted back are now conspicuous cultural fossils to a different time when we fervently believed in our leaders, our institutions and our futures.

Consequently, when John Kennedy flew to Dallas on Friday morning, November 22, 1963, the 1960s, as we now think of it, commenced. The dividing line was the assassination of a beloved president whose youth, vitality, humor, and promise were so pronounced that Martin Scorsese once compared his murder to a national car crash. After John F. Kennedy was buried on November 25, 1963, on a sloping hilltop in Arlington, Virginia, Americans entered an entirely different continent where everything was up for grabs and capriciousness had replaced certainty. The shadow of darkness that descended upon the nation then is still with us all these years later.

As a result of this shattering historical reality, Brian Wilson, who had already come to embody what it means to be an American, would then compose decidedly different fare, including such classics as “Don’t Worry Baby,” “California Girls,” Good Vibrations,” “Till I Die,” “Heroes and Villains, “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” “Caroline, No,” and “Surf’s Up.” Each of these masterworks, written, produced, and released between 1964-1967, turned out to be some of the most sublime ballads generated by one of the most talented composers of his generation.

While I have long been in awe of the brilliance of The Beach Boys during their mid-to-late sixties renaissance, their meteoric rise to prominence was what made me first love them. When you listen to their early musical catalog 60 years later, there’s an authentic luminosity to their music that is almost magical. Many of their earlier numbers consisted of major-key primal guitar patterns and bendable, doo-wop harmonies wrapped around a kaleidoscope of melodic, gorgeous hooks. As Brian Wilson became more accomplished as both a songwriter and producer, he began to mess around with the formula, making unexpected chord changes and writing complex vocal harmonies that go beyond the strains of a mini male glee club and enter into the sound he’d ultimately write on Pet Sounds with its Sondheimesque chord changes. While most music fans recognize and even adore the numbers from the band’s initial period, they have never taken them very seriously.

One of the characteristics that made The Beach Boys so recognizable was that they were vocalists first and musicians second. (Remember, the vast majority of their classic recordings were backed by LA’s legendary studio group, The Wrecking Crew). Brian Wilson, who began writing songs in 1960, was a fledgling musical sponge/genius who seemed to have a knack for uncovering the invisible link between disparate things. As a teen, he had spent years deconstructing the four-part harmonies of the popular Midwestern vocal pop group, The Four Freshmen, whose Eisenhower-era hits, “Day By Day” and “It’s A Blue World” were top-ten hits before the rock era had commenced. One only has to listen to their biggest hit, 1955’s “Graduation Day,” to recognize their influence on young Brian Wilson:

Consequently, when the oldest Wilson brother began composing original songs, those luscious harmonies, based on the Four Freshmen’s barbershop quartet format, formed his musical template. The Beach Boys’ vocal influence ultimately impacted an emerging pop group from Liverpool, England. “We began to hear their four-part harmonies in 1963 and were instantly impressed,” The Beatles’ Paul McCartney commented in 2018: “Their singing was unique and so layered, and we attempted to incorporate that into songs such as “This Boy,” ‘Tell Me Why and ‘If I Fell.'” 

(As an aside, my favorite Beatles-Beach Boys’ story takes place in the remotest of locations, Rishikesh, India, where Mike Love and The Beatles were studying Transcendental Meditation at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Indian Ashram during the winter of 1967-68. One day, Paul McCartney approached Love and told him that he was composing a Chuck Berry-like rocker called “Back in the USSR.” After Sir Paul played him the first verse of the tune, Love suggested to Paul that he then write a bridge that would talk about the girls all around Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia. The stuff of legend often comes from happenstance.) 

Gifted in crafting complex melodies, Brian Wilson began to chart out based on everyone from Bach to Ledbelly; once he started to add the rhythmic sound of Chuck Berry, he ultimately created a distinctive, multi-layered sound that was both hypnotic and sustaining. Consider that one of the Boys’ most significant early hits, “Surfin’ USA,” was actually the melody of Berry’s iconic “Sweet Little Sixteen” with updated, surf-related lyrics and doo-wop-ladened vocals. (As veteran singer/songwriter Terry Cashman wrote in a 1976 ballad called, “The King of Rock and Roll”: “And out in Hawthorne – just a little bit south of LA/’Sweet Little Sixteen’ became ‘Surfin’ USA!”)

As he evolved as an enterprising composer who wrote about topics that a typical adolescent kid from Southern California was consumed with in the early sixties – girls, cars, surfboards, and high school life – Brian Wilson’s songs nimbly captured both time and place with aplomb.

The Beach Boys’ first album, Surfin Safari, which was released on October 1, 1962, by Capitol Records, included nine original Brian Wilson compositions, including “Surfin’,” “Surfin’ Safari,” “409.” and “Ten Little Indians.” The group, which centered around the three Wilson brothers, Brian, Dennis, and Carl, their first cousin, Mike Love, and their high school buddy, David Marks, was based in their hometown of Hawthorne, California, a suburban enclave approximately 15 miles southwest of Los Angeles, and five miles east of Manhattan Beach. (After a fight with Murry Wilson, David Marks would leave the band in the fall of 1963 and be replaced by another Hawthorne native, Al Jardine, who would become a staple in the band thereafter).

While “Surfin’,” the band’s first hit, and “Surfin’ Safari,” their second, famously catapulted the surfing sound genre of rock and roll beyond the West Coast to the rest of the world, it was the band’s third single from the album, “409,” that remains unique. 

A canticle to Chevrolet’s 1962 vehicle, dubbed “The Bel Air,” Brian’s original number, “409,” paid homage to the car’s massive 409 cubic-inch engine. As my “car-crazy-cutie” pal, Philly Alberice, recalled recently: “It was a beast of a car, which had a single Carter four-barrel carburetor that supplied enough fuel-air mixture to provide hot-rodders with more than 400 horsepower in a nation where street-racing was still quite popular.” 

In hindsight, when Brian Wilson moved from sea to land with this song, he transported the Beach Boys’ sound to it. Composed with producer Gary Usher, a car junkie at the time, there was even humor in it, with the hysterical refrain: “Giddyup, giddyup, 409!” forming the bridge to each verse. 

Happily, “409” contained infectious melodies, crisp harmonies, and a rhythm track worthy of Eddie Cochran. While the band would be forever associated with surfing, “409” triggered over two-dozen “car songs” in their catalog, a number larger than their surf-related tunes. As Brian Wilson admitted years later: “‘409’ proved that we were not going to be just one-trick-ponies focusing on surfing. We could write or sing about most anything.” Even more significantly, the ballad was emphatically optimistic – an ode to American exceptionalism in rock form. After the release of “409,” Capitol Records subsequently signed the band to a formal contract.

A little more than five months later, on March 25, 1963, The Beach Boys released their second long-playing disk, Surfin USA. It proved to be the biggest-selling rock and roll album of 1963, selling more than two million copies and bringing the group newfound national success. While their first LP had been patchworked together, this was the first album with which Brian Wilson became a force to be reckoned throughout the LP’s production. 

As he recalled in 2013, on the fiftieth anniversary of the record’s release: “By the time I got to the album, Surfin’ USA, I was more experienced at producing. The Surfin Safari album was practice for me… This album showcased our voices. We were just kids, but we were serious about our craft. The point is that when you are given a chance, you do your best… I think that I was a good coach for the boys. I didn’t like second-rate vocals. It was either the best or nothing, in my opinion. The boys picked up. We had a good understanding between us, and I was their leader. We got it done relatively fast in the studio. … On this album, we had gotten into a fast pace: almost athletic in nature. It was because the single “Surfin’ USA” was such a smash hit on the radio. It meant the big time for us.” 

Like the first record, Surfin USA contained nine original Wilson songs and three covers. The title track, “Surfin’ USA,” went to #3 nationally in May of ’63, while another car-centric tune, “Shut Down,” would stall at #23 that summer. Because it far outsold their first record nationally, the California mythology that would frame the band and then the decade of the 1960s began here. Ladened with a patchwork of surf-related tunes, its foundational centerpiece was the seemingly endless beach that seemed to incorporate all of California for folks outside the region who first imagined it through numbers such as “Noble Surfer,” “Stoked,” “Surfin’ USA,” and the underrated “Lana.” 

However, Brian Wilson’s pensive “Lonely Sea” turned out to be the most enduring song on the album. Critic Dave Marsh once claimed that it was the first draft of “Surf’s Up” – a haunting, chills up-and-down-the-spine kind of number. When you hear it all these years later, it is a stunner; it aches; it is what heartbreak sounds like on wax. For many longtime Beach Boys fans, it remains their favorite group song. Ultimately, “Lonely Sea” would be a harbinger of the ballads that would make Brian Wilson a rock legend by 1966 and the release of Pet Sounds. 

Just five months later, on Labor Day, 1963, Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys released their third album in less than a year, another record named after a single entitled Surfer Girl. While it was not as wildly popular as Surfin USA, it was an even better album, producing such early gems as the jaunty “Hawaii,” the effervescent “Catch A Wave,” the broody “Your Summer Dream,” and the venerable title track, “Surfer Girl,” which soon became an anthem for an entire generation.

The most significant thematic notion in “Surfer Girl” is that the most precious things in life are cursory. Frankly, the ballad is nothing less than a snapshot at the moment that captures the essence of youth, which will eventually fade away. It was the first Beach Boys song where Brian Wilson was credited as the solitary songwriter and producer, which is astonishing when you recollect that he was just 21 and had worked as a recording artist for a little over a year. In a radio interview a decade and a half after the song was first recorded, Brian admitted that he was 19 when the melody to “Surfer Girl” popped into his head as he drove to a local hot dog stand in Hawthorne. He rushed home, sprinted to the piano, and completed the number in less than an hour. 

While The Beach Boys recorded a pedestrian version of the ballad back in 1962, their much more polished 1963 version gained worldwide fame during the fall of the Kennedy assassination. In terms of musicianship, The group’s ethereal harmonies support it like a pillar. Not surprisingly, Brian Wilson famously takes the lead and ultimately delivers the kind of mournful, love-begotten elegy that he would churn out like butter a few years later. “Surfer Girl symbolized a mystical place that I have never been to but sung about,” Wilson said 40 years after he recorded it. “Maybe I was there; I don’t know. I could have been – and not known it.”

“Surfer Girl” isn’t just a song about time – it is also a paean to hope -and the notion that any dream is attainable as long as you don’t know it’s impossible.

If “Surfer Girl” symbolizes love in one fleeting and iridescent moment, then Brian’s other significant anthem on the album, “In My Room,” is a lament emerging from a wellspring of loneliness that began to define American teenagers in the post World War II world. Clothed in the most succulent four-part harmony that The Beach Boys ever recorded, the tune’s lyrics border on the traumatic. In the end, this immortal ballad reminds us all that music is what happens between the notes.

In 1974, Guy Peelaert, a Belgian artist who began selling his work in Paris in the late 1960s, produced an illustrated history of the genre in paintings in a volume he called Rock Dreams. Each depiction captured a rock artist or group at work or play. The images were visually striking and captured the essence and the mythology of rock and roll in its first two decades. When I leafed through the book when it was published, Peelaert’s painting of Brian Wilson was incredibly evocative – looking chubby, aloof, and melancholy as he sat at his piano in his bedroom in a private space where his adolescent fantasies had become his own generation’s summer dreams by 1964. The painting captured the essence of Brian’s “In My Room” so poignantly that I called it “heartbreakingly accurate” in a review of the newly published book in my collegiate newspaper. 

Rock Dreams: Brian Wilson | "Vacations, Carl worked at the g… | Flickr

If you actually sit back and listen to “In My Room,” there is a hushed, trance-like near-religious quality to it that reminds us that there are times when music can transcend human emotion beyond laughter or tears. In a song that is barely two minutes long, Brian Wilson brings melancholy and joy together as the flip side of a coin where loneliness is omnipresent. Yet, the comfort and security of one’s room are also ubiquitous. One of my friends, the son of an unforgiving alcoholic, once told me, “Dad would beat the shit out of us, but we had Brian and this song, and it worked like a balm, which repeatedly saved me.”

Understandably, this masterwork had a revival once COVID-19 set in, as one music fan posted on YouTube recently: “With the pandemic raging on, forcing us all to stay inside our rooms, this tune has a particular meaning these days. It is the perfect musical single for our time.”

The fourth and concluding Beach Boys album that appeared during the Camelot years was released just three weeks after the Surfer Girl LP on Monday, October 7, 1963. If Surfer Girl was all about the beach, then Little Deuce Coupe covered the parking lot adjacent to the ocean. To the delight of many of the group’s fans, the record was a compilation of five of the band’s “car songs” that they had released previously, with seven new numbers added to form a seamless concept album, a genuine rarity prior to Sergeant Pepper. Besides the title track, “Shut Down,” “409,” “Our Car Club,” and “Be True To Your School” were featured, with additional numbers “Ballad of Old Betsy,” “Car Crazy Cutie,” “Cherry Cherry Coupe,” “Spirit of America,” “No-Go Showboat,” “A Young Man is Gone,” and “Custom Machine” rounding out the disk. 

For a multitude of Beach Boys fans, myself included, Little Deuce Coupe LP remains a personal favorite. Although four singles provided the core, a handful of classics were within the record’s margins. One of them, “Spirit of America,” a reverent ballad that formed the centerpiece of Side 2, paid tribute to Craig Breedlove. The famed American race car driver turned out to be the first person in history to reach 600 miles per hour by using a series of turbojet-powered vehicles at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, all named Spirit of America. On August 5, 1963, Breedlove became the first human being to travel over 400 miles per hour on a measured mile on land. Brian Wilson and Roger Christian, his then-new writing partner, composed “Spirit of America” to honor Breedlove’s achievement. 

As a musical number, “Spirit of America” is a seamless representation of “the early Brian Wilson” at his best. The lead singer of the ballad, Brian’s four-octave range, drives the engine here (no pun intended) and features some of his recording career’s best solos amidst the backdrop of 1950s doo-wop and armed with lots of axle grease. Brian’s distinctive falsetto is prominent throughout, a vocal tour de force that The Bee Gees’ Robin Gibbs later called “…as good as Frankie Valli ever did – and maybe even better.” Ultimately, this is a car song so good that you’d expect it to be sung in a cathedral; Roger Christian’s lyrics match the musicianship: “Once as a jet – it played in the skies; “But now on the ground – it’s the king of all cars.” Brian’s cry/refrain that harmonizes with the group, who sings the refrain, “Spirit of America….” is as good as any call-response harmony he ever produced.

To conclude Little Deuce Coupe, Brian and the band added a new number that put an exclamation mark on the LP and the first phase of their career. Almost laughably short – just 1:36 minutes in length (there were plenty of great tunes in the early rock era that were under two minutes, including “Not Fade Away,” “From Me To You,” and “The Letter,”) “Custom Machine contained all of the elements that made the early Beach Boys so enticing. A melodious hook, a hypnotic rhythm section, winsome lyrics, and soaring vocals. 

The lyrics, of course, almost bordered on parody, especially as The Boys reverently sang: “Well with naugahyde bucket seats in front and back; Check my custom machine; Everything is chrome, man, even my jack; Check my custom machine).” When the band then concluded each verse by chirping, “When I step on the gas she goes wa aa aa….I’ll let you look but don’t touch my custom machine!” It was something akin to an entire nation checking itself under the hood and liking what it sees. 

From the moment “Custom Machine” was first released in the early fall of 1963 to when Jack Kennedy’s 1961 Lincoln Continental entered Dealey Plaza in Dallas, America’s age of innocence had just 46 days to play itself out.  

On the evening of November 21, 1963, as President Kennedy spoke to a throng of supporters in Houston before flying on Air Force One to Fort Worth, Mike Love and Brian Wilson were huddled together in Brian’s recently purchased bungalow in Hawthorne, working on a melancholic number akin to “Lonely Sea” and “Surfer Girl.” 

In an essay in The Huffington Post in 2013, Mike Love recollected: “Brian began playing a haunting melody on an electric keyboard; I began to add some lyrics to accompany that melody. I was drawn to the melancholy sounds emanating from that keyboard. And Brian continued to play — and as we worked out the intro, the verse, and the chorus — an incredible feeling of sadness washed over us. Lyrically, I was inspired by this idea of lost love — where your feelings are suddenly not reciprocated. Maybe it was your first love, and she broke your heart. Maybe it was a deep love that faded before you were ready to let go. Maybe it was the love you never felt but always longed for. Regardless, it’s the kind of love that lingers… long after she’s gone. Brian and I ended up finishing ‘The Warmth of the Sun’ in the wee hours of November 22, 1963.”

The last song of the Kennedy Era for The Beach Boys would turn out to be the opening salvo to the 1960s as we came to know it. As Mike Love poignantly recalled: “A few hours later, on the morning of November 22nd, Brian and I were awakened to the news that President Kennedy had been taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. For a bunch of carefree guys in our early twenties, who, until this point, had been mostly living a life of fun, fun, fun — our innocence was lost. Our nation was in mourning. The whole world was in shock. How could this have happened? What a profound tragedy and deep loss — the repercussions of which are still being felt to this day. In the weeks that followed, that song written in the wee hours of November 22nd was recorded in a studio charged with emotion.” 

As if to turn the page on an era before advancing forward, the Wilson-Love ballad was largely recorded on January 1, 1964, at Western Studios in Hollywood. In 2015, Brian Wilson recalled: “’The Warmth of the Sun’ was the end of an era – and the beginning of something new...for all of us.” 

Frederich Nietzsche once wrote: “We have art in order not to die of the truth.” And while the sun’s warmth will never die, people that we love and admire invariably do. Just 33 months after “The Warmth of the Sun” was recorded, Brian Wilson had already composed and recorded “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Good Vibrations,” “God Only Knows,” “Caroline, No,” and “I Wasn’t Made for These Times.”

The world as we knew it had changed beyond comprehension. 

Not surprisingly, when I sit back and play those early Beach Boys’ albums on Spotify these days, I can’t help but smile. They harken back to impossibly sunny days in which anything seemed plausible, and in a corner of time in which our collective prospects seemed both limitless and unshakeable. Of course, the surfer girl of our dreams is now more than 75 years old and is most probably on both Social Security and Medicare. How wonderful, though, to listen to the songs of a budding genius in a once-in-a-time world where cars, waves, and girls were all within reach. In the end, the sea still beckons, and most of us who grew up to the music of The Beach Boys still yearn to take the plunge into the baptismal waters of the ocean like children – for as long as we can.


The Corn Is As High As An Elephant’s Eye

Rodgers and Hammerstein

On March 15, 1943, my parents, newlywed for less than a year, attended a new musical production preview at Boston’s Colonel Theatre entitled Away We Go! It was wartime then, and Dad knew that he would soon be off to fight in the South Pacific. Accordingly, Mom got them the best tickets available.

As my parents settled into their front-and-center seats, they soon noticed the production’s venerable songwriting team, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, sitting in the row in front of them. Dad, who was wearing his Lieutenant Commander’s Navy uniform, greeted them both excitedly, exclaiming, “We’re very much looking forward to your show!”

The musical duo warmly shook my father’s hand and greeted my mother profusely. They chatted amicably for the next several minutes while the Colonel Theatre’s filled up behind them.

Mom and Dad on April 11, 1942 – their wedding day.

As the Overture to the Away, We Go! began, both composer and lyricist commenced taking copious notes throughout the two-act program. When a melodic yet sedated love ballad entitled “People Will Say We’re In Love” concluded the show, the audience, including my parents, sat in stunned silence and commenced clapping vigorously for over two minutes. My mother, who was an intensely curious person, then overheard Richard Rodgers bellow out to Hammerstein: “Oscar, we definitely need an upbeat song to conclude the show. ‘People’ just doesn’t work as an ending here!”

Later that evening, after further encouragement from choreographer Agnes De Mille, Rodgers and Hammerstein gave in and began to compose a decidedly more upbeat number. Toiling away in Rodgers’ suite at the Statler Hotel overlooking Boston Common, Hammerstein later said that he hoped that they could bring all of the show’s themes together “with more muscle,” as De Mille recalled later on.

By the following morning, they had retitled Away, We Go! with the name of their brand-new closing tune, “Oklahoma!”

When Dad returned from the South Pacific in October 1945, my parents attended Oklahoma on Broadway on their way to a planned vacation in Virginia.

“I am curious to see if the show we saw in Boston is any better now that they added a closing song!” Dad quipped when she purchased the tickets to what had become part of Americana, an incomparable theatrical production that had broken all records for musicals for that time. 

“This is even better than Away, We Go!” Dad joked as they left St. James Theatre on 44th Street. As Mum guffawed, my father quipped, “This version just might do some decent business.”

Four years later, on April 24, 1949, my parents strolled into the stately Shubert Theatre at 263 Tremont Street in Boston to see Rodgers and Hammerstein’s latest musical. Dad, in particular, couldn’t wait to see the show. After all, he had served in the South Pacific as a Naval officer and had seen action at Iwo Jima and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He wore his Captain’s uniform that evening and smiled at the number of Naval officers and enlisted men who had also crowded into the Schubert to see the show.

Three hours later, after Mary Martin, Enzio Pinza, and the cast of South Pacific had taken their fifth and final curtain call, Dad turned to Mom and stated, “I don’t think Rodgers and Hammerstein will have to tinker with this one at all!” 

Decades later, when I played Columbia Records’ Original Cast Recording of South Pacific on their old stereo on Cape Cod, my mother told me this story. “Every time I hear “The Overture” to South Pacific,” she smiled wistfully in 2004, “it’s almost as if I am listening to the soundtrack of my generation.” By then, Dad had been dead for 18 years, and my mother would pass on a year later.

When I think of my parents these days – and it is nearly every day – I inevitably hear the strains of South Pacific or Oklahoma! playing in my head. As I have come to comprehend over time. music replays past memories and awakens our forgotten worlds to such an extent that those who have died are suddenly alive once more.


A Fine And Natural Sight

The unconventional is frequently a window into another dimension. This is especially true if you end up doing something out of the ordinary in a locality that has already been narrowly defined. Thus, when I ended up skating one frigid February afternoon on the frozen surface of a cranberry bog back in February 1973, I felt that I had somehow tinkered with time itself.

My mother and I had come to Cape Cod for public school for February break. As the vacation commenced, I impulsively tossed my hockey skates into the trunk of her car just as we left our driveway in Wellesley for our grandfather’s cottage in Eastham, 103 miles to the southeast.

When we arrived two hours later, I took note that an inch or two of snow had covered the scrub-pine needles that framed the driveway and our backyard. A banditry of chickadees greeted me as I began to shuffle down the partially-frozen sandy path that led to my grandfather’s cranberry bog that had a working one for nearly 70 years. In 1973, it hadn’t been harvested by workers for five autumns. Nevertheless, the bog, which had been left to grow wild, still produced a few bushels of premium cranberries each fall. For the past few Thanksgivings, our holiday table had featured cranberry sauce grown from Cape marsh. 

As I approached the marsh after a two-minute trek, I saw something I had never seen – a sheet of rectangular ice nearly a fourth-of-a-mile in circumference was sitting there like a glistening jewel. It was the most beautiful natural skating surface I had seen in years.

I raced back and gathered my skates, a Boston Bruins’ stocking cap, and my hockey gloves. When I informed Mom in the kitchen that I was off to skate, she smiled and exclaimed, “Get your skating in today, Shaunie. Don Kent just said on Channel 4 that a warm front will hit the Cape tomorrow with temperatures in the 40’s!” 

I nodded and headed back to the cranberry bog with an afternoon sun peeking through the arctic-like conditions. A flock of seagulls flew overhead, and, off in the distance, a bleached Cape Cod Bay reminded me how close I was to saltwater. After sitting on a fallen pine trunk adjacent to the frozen marsh, I fretfully laced my hockey skates, adjusted my gold-colored hat on my head, and put my skates on the edge of the bog’s surface. 

As I planted my left skate on the surface, I noticed red orbs of cranberries frozen in the ice, six inches below the exterior. The first few thrusts on the ice were bumpy, but as I maneuvered away from the bog’s edge, it became glass-like. The winter chill bit at my cheeks as I continued to swirl around in one gigantic circle that took more than four minutes to complete. 

I was part of some new world that I had only viewed from afar. As I skated in the middle of the bog, the dirt road that surrounded the bog seemed to serve as a picture frame. Off in the distance, the Cape Cod Central Railroad’s discarded tracks completed more than a hundred years previously now stood like a silent witness to history. From 1865 to 1966, the Old Colony Railroad had extended from Boston to Provincetown until it was discontinued. In 1977, those tracks would be ripped up and replaced with a first-rate bike trail that would bring thousands of bikers and walkers to its path and become formerly known as the Cape Cod Rail Trail.  

When I completed my circle and commenced going around once again, I felt both exultant and rejuvenated. As the sun began to descend over Cape Cod Bay, a waxing Gibbous moon slowly appeared above the pine-scrub-forest on the other side of the bog like a nightlight. The lyrics to a Top 10 song that week played in my mind as I skated. “We get it almost every night; when that moon get so big and bright; it’s a supernatural delight; everybody’ was dancing in the moonlight…”

A few minutes later, I headed for the fallen pine tree where my boots lay. I returned to our Cape cottage to another rarity – a crackling fire in our hearth that heated me from the winter chill of the bog. 

Mom was right. A southwest wind brought warmer temperatures, and by the end of the week, the bog had largely reverted to its usual watery existence. Still, we did one more extraordinary thing that February vacation – we attended a professional hockey game on the Cape as the Cape Cod Cubs, a Boston Bruins farm club from 1972-77, coached by former Bruin Bronco Horvath, played a regular season Eastern Hockey League contest. We ended up watching them defeat the Johnstown (PA) Jets, 3-2, at the old Cape Cod Coliseum in South Yarmouth.

Image result for cape cod cubs

While simple pleasures were all of the pleasures I knew as a boy growing up, I now know that life is like driving on a long rather highway. Every once in a while, you see or experience something that remains extraordinary – and that is what makes life worth living.



El Perfecto


At the corner of Pond Road and Lake Farm Road in Orleans, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the backyard of a residential home, you can find remnants of a former baseball field where hundreds of boys played competitively from 1930 to 1984. A traditional Cape Cod dwelling sits in the former outfield, with weathered shingle siding, a centralized chimney, and double-hung windows and shutters. 

When I began to scrape on the plastic rubber on the mound to start the bottom of the first inning, I immediately noticed that the ground below me was hard-topped and flat. It reminded me of pitching on my driveway back in my hometown of Wellesley, Massachusetts. “Home advantage,” I thought. When I quickly dispersed the first three batters by called third strikes, I grinned as I sprinted off the mound. 

Because we were considered “junior players” – meaning under twelve years old at the time, our contests were six-inning affairs. When I dispatched three of Lake Farm’s clearly intimidated batters with three more strikes out in the fourth inning, Coach Sandy patted me on the shoulder and bellowed, “12 up, 12 down – all K’s!” 

By that time, I knew that something special was happening on the little ball field at Lake Farm. I not only had perfect control of my fastball, but my “wrinkle,” a cut slider I had literally learned how to throw in a book on baseball techniques, was relentless. For most Lake Farm batters who had never seen any movement in their young lives, it must have been terrifying, especially given the fact that I was throwing from 46-feet -the standard Little League distance at the time. 

For much of my four-decade plus pitching career, I normally pitched defensively and used control and changing speeds to counteract any hitting prowess. (When my son, Max, asked me how I pitched in high school, college, and beyond, I replied, “Nibble, nibble, nibble.”

On this day, however, I was not only blowing people away but getting batters out with a slider that invariably broke over the plate at the last instant. More than a few batters ran away from my slider as it approached Teddy Freeman’s chocolate-brown catcher’s mitt. In the vernacular of modern baseball lingo, the Lake Farm batters were “overmatched.”

Like a cloudless, warm summer’s day without humidity, the days that you can call “perfect” are few. It almost seems as if by accident or Godly intervention, everything appears flawless. Every couple of times each baseball season, there would be times when I seemed nearly immortal – just like those unblemished days that come around as if by happenstance.

In the bottom of the fifth, safely in front by seven runs and having not given up a hit or walk at the time, I became careless after an easy first strike. When I then hung a slider that perished at the plate and was subsequently whacked by a grateful batter down the left-field line, I disgustedly ran off the mound and bore in on my left fielder. When the rocket landed a foot foul, I breathed a sigh of relief. A moment later, I struck out the offending hitter on a fastball, tying him up on the inside part of the plate.

As I began my trek to the mound to begin the last inning, Coach Sandy, whose enthusiasm was such that he discarded the ancient superstitions of baseball and reminded me OUT LOUD that I had struck out every batter thus far, I winced reflexively. He then motioned to the boys on the bench to root like crazy for me. I huddled with catcher Teddy Freeman and told him, “Nothing but my fast ball now. They are looking for the slider.” Less than five minutes later, I had not only struck out the side, but I had done so on nine pitches, all strikes.

At the end of the game, my teammates swirled around me like lemmings and hoisted me into the air. Coach Sandy, who would eventually lose his innocence along the Ho Chi Minh Trail two years later, hugged me hard as we headed for the camp van. “You will never have another day like this one, Shaun,” he exclaimed. 

He was right. 

Out of the crooked timber of life, I had briefly stumbled upon that one straight line. On an obscure baseball field in Orleans, Massachusetts when I was 11, I experienced unadulterated perfection by striking out all 18 batters I faced.

These days, when I now find myself caught between the harrowing bookends of a worldwide pandemic and the deterioration of our most coveted societal possession, democracy, I sometimes find myself tossing and turning at night. I then close my eyes and imagine that I am a boy once more, fearless, unvanquished, and divine as I pitch against Lake Farm Camp one more time. Usually, I fall right off to sleep. 

Given all of the faulty, second-rate days I have experienced since 1966, I have come to recognize that perfection is a stick with which to beat the possible. If you experience such magnificence just once in your life, then the Gods have temporarily welcomed you to the seedbed of immortality. 

For a brief and shining moment, it was a wondrous place to be.

The former site of Camp Namequoit in 2020

“Win It For”: The Story Behind The Amazing 2004 Red Sox Thread

Arroyo's trademark cornrows can be seen in the middle of the pile after the Red Sox clinched the 2004 World Series in Game 4.

It all started because of a word that has often been used in countless threads on the popular Boston Red Sox message board, “The Sons of Sam Horn,” over the years.


Mojo, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a noun with an intriguing denotation: “A magical power or supernatural spell.”

After the last out of Game 3 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, nearly every member of SoSH – some 1900 strong at the time – had called upon whatever mojo they could muster to help their Sox stave off the shackles of elimination against their arch-rivals, the New York Yankees who, at the time, had a seemingly insurmountable three games to nothing lead and had just humiliated the Red Sox at Boston’s Fenway Park, 19-8.

From the inclusion of the complete text of Act IV, Scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Henry V (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers….”) to the publication of a series of montages depicting heroic players from Boston’s sports past, nearly every poster had beseeched the sporting gods on behalf of their beloved baseball team.

As a Red Sox fan who had followed the team on a pitch-by-pitch basis since 1963, I had experienced enough pathos to turn me into the ultimate oxymoron – a raging existentialist. In my forty years of following the team, I had seen them come perilously close to winning the final prize, only to see them stumble, often in inexplicable, even comical circumstances. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox had not won a World Series since the year President Woodrow Wilson had proposed the Fourteen Point Plan. Thus, there were more than three generations who never knew what it was like for the organization to be the sport’s best. Still, as the 2004 playoffs unfolded, I, like countless other Sox fans, didn’t allow myself to wallow in abject misery this time.

The next morning, I appeared on a local New York radio station and proclaimed: “Listen, folks, there has never been a curse that began with the trading of Babe Ruth from the Sox to the Yankees. The only reason we haven’t won it previously is that we’ve always lacked the pitching needed to win. This year, we have the pitching. If we can somehow win Game 4 of this series, the Yankees will be in trouble. We CAN win these next four games. You watch.”

William Jennings Bryan once wrote, “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.” I wore a Red Sox baseball cap to work each day that week.

I believed.

Miraculously, the Red Sox won the next three games, two of them in extra innings, to tie up the series.

Accordingly, at 11:25 am on the morning of October 20, 2004, I sat down at my teacher’s desk in Room 7 of the Upper School at The Greenwich (CT) Country Day School and began pounding away on my then Dell laptop keyboard, crafting my own particular mojo that – I hoped – would ultimately defeat the despised Yankees.

I called the thread, “Win it For.”

“Win it for Johnny Pesky, who deserves to wear a Red Sox uniform in the dugout during the 2004 World Series, I began. “Win it for the old Red Sox captain Bobby Doerr, who, through the sadness of losing his beloved wife, Monica, would love nothing more than to see his Sox finally defeat New York in Yankee Stadium. Win it for Dom DiMaggio, the most loyal and devoted of men. If he hadn’t gotten hurt in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, Enos Slaughter never would have scored – and the Red Sox would have been the champions.”

I then urged my SoSH compatriots to win it for other Red Sox icons and personal favorites – Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Tony Conigliaro, Jack Lamabe, Luis Tiant, Dewey Evans. For Red Sox announcers who had helped hone our love for the team before they had passed on – Ned Martin, Ken Coleman, Jim Woods, Sherm Feller.

I encouraged them to win it for our cherished Red Sox friends, and for other SoSH members who had devotedly followed the fortunes of the franchise, each of them marking their own time with each passing season.

And finally, most of all, I urged them to win it for my father, James Lawrence Kelly, 1913-1986, who “always told me that loyalty and perseverance go hand in hand. Thanks, Dad, for sharing the best part of you with me.”

As I looked over my copy on the SoSH website, I realized that there may be a few others who’d want to dedicate a possible championship to those individuals in their own lives who had loved the Red Sox through thick and thin.

I was right.

In the end, the original thread would contain hundreds of tributes from the populace of Red Sox Nation. Ultimately, 51,000 entries were submitted by posters and lurkers from 47 different states, 39 foreign countries, and six continents. By the time the “Win it For” thread was purposely shut down eight days after it began, each poster had added something unique to what became an utterly compelling Red Sox mosaic. Later that winter, it would be converted into a bestselling book with the proceeds going to both the Jimmy Fund and Curt Schilling’s “Pitch for ALS.”

In an ESPN column paying tribute to the thread, Bill Simmons, deftly crystallized the uniqueness of it that week: “Plow through the ‘Win it For’ posts and it’s like plowing through the history of the franchise – just about every memorable player is mentioned at some point – as well as the basic themes that encompass the human experience. Life and death. Love and family. Friendship and loss.”

What made the thread were the assorted posts that poured out of the hearts of Red Sox fans across the globe and reminded us all that the bonds we had created around the team had never died.

“Win it for my grandfather (1917-2004), who never got to see the Red Sox win it all – but always believed. And for my Dad who watches each and every game wishing his dad were there to watch it with him.”

“Win it for my mother who died of ALS in 1999. The only personal item I have left of hers is her Red Sox visor.”

“Win it for my ten-year-old son, Charlie, who fell asleep listening to Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS assuming the Sox would win. When he woke up the next morning, he asked me eagerly, ‘Did we win, Dad?’ When I told him, gently no, we did not win, his anguished moan startled me. I knew I had raised him as a Red Sox fan, and I began to question whether that was a good thing.”

“Win it for my grandfather, who succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease in 2002. In one of my last conversations with him, he asked me how Ted Williams was doing. During Game 7 on October 20 against the Yankees, his birthday, he was smiling down on the Red Sox.”

“Win it for the elderly Sox fan that I hugged at Yankee Stadium last Wednesday night after Game 7 of the ALCS. Seeing the look of relief and jubilation on his face was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever been through. Yes, baseball has the power to unite generations of strangers.”

“Win it for my Little League coach, Ralph Retera, a tough man who landed on Omaha Beach, and yet a tender man as well who always gave on extra pat on the back of those of us who frankly weren’t very good. ‘Baseball is a game of failure, boys,’ he’d say, ‘look at the Red Sox. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give it our best!’ Coach Ralph used to wear a grungy Red Sox cap that he bought in the 1950’s and would take us to games at Fenway when we played for him. When he died in 1988, Coach Ralph’s tattered Bosox hat adorned the top of his flag-draped casket.”

“Win it for my boss, a dear friend, who lost his dad unexpectedly in March of this year. More than once this season, I’ve seen him glance at the phone after a game, half expecting his father to commiserate, rejoice, or just shoot the breeze about the game that just ended. I’ve seen the sadness in his eyes as he realizes that the call isn’t coming. Win it for his dad, a lifelong fan who never had the opportunity to witness his beloved team taking it all.”

“Win it for my buddy, Brian Kelly, who worshiped at the feet of Tony Conigliaro growing up. He even used to copy Tony C’s swing and was devastated when Jack Hamilton almost killed him. Brian’s favorite time as a Red Sox fan was that magical summer and early fall of 1967, two years before he went off to Vietnam. If the Sox win this whole thing, I plan to go on down to the Vietnam Memorial Wall where you can find Brian’s name. God, he would have loved this team.”

“Win it for my aunt, God rest her soul, who, at her funeral, the priest said, ‘She was a woman of great faith. She believed that she’d see a Red Sox championship in her lifetime.”

Within 48 hours of the inception of “Win it For,” political columnist, Andrew Sullivan linked it on his highly popular political blog. Newspaper reporters from Kansas City to Tampa, San Francisco to Baltimore began to write comprehensive pieces on the thread. Before Game 1 of the World Series, the gang on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight began to refer to the magic of “Win it For” as “the Red Sox’ secret weapon.” Radio commentaries on the thread surfaced in Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, Albany, Seattle, and Atlanta. The thread itself garnered more than fifteen-million Internet hits.

On the evening of October 28, 2004, the day after the Red Sox had swept the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-0, to win their first World Series in 86 years, Peter Jennings ended his nationally televised ABC News Tonight broadcast with a piece that paid tribute “to the power of an emotive Internet thread and its eloquent posters, followers of a championship team that came to define the word – hope.”

Six weeks after the season ended, author Leigh Montville dedicated 33 pages to “Win it For” in his narrative on the 2004 Red Sox, Why Not Us? He entitled Chapter 7 of his book, “The Story of the Amazing Thread.” In an interview after the publication of his remembrance of a remarkable season, Montville maintained that…“at the very least, one-hundred years from now, ‘Win it For’ will be THE historical record of what happened here. The other works – mine included – will have faded away, but the ‘Win it For’ thread on the Sons of Sam Horn website will remain as the voice of all voices concerning the 2004 Boston Red Sox.”

What made the thread so unique were the individual anecdotes that connected generations of fans together. In page after page, the singular stories of Red Sox fans formed bookends to the notions of both loyalty and passion:

TrapperAB: “Just like last year, there will be an empty spot on the couch as I watch Game 7 of the ALCS tonight. Dad cheered for the Sox from the age of eight in 1930. He went to games at Fenway with his father and told me about it when he took me to the most glorious stadium on God’s green earth. My father passed away in 2001, which means, of course, that he never saw the Sox win one in his lifetime. One of his final moments of clarity was seeing Rivera blowing a save and the D-Back’s winning the World Series that year. That was also his last smile. I believe that my father has been busy lately, along with a lot of other fathers and grandfathers and brothers and sons – helping umpires see the truth and helping David Ortiz lead the way. That hand that Curt Schilling talked about last evening after Game 6? It was the legion of dearly departed Red Sox fans – of which my father was one. Once again this year, there will be that empty spot on the couch…reserved for my Dad. I can only hope that he’s sitting there with me.”

Monbo Jumbo: “Shaun – add my old man to your list (1909 – 2000). He saw Ruth pitch, and he saw Pedro pitch. And now, he’s upstairs playing gin rummy with Joe Cronin between games.”

Sooner Steve: “Win it for my old man, who taught me how to love the game and this team; who taught me what it means to be a man; who, even in his darkest hours facing the end, still wanted to talk about his team; who never saw them win it in his lifetime, but who loved every minute of the Impossible Dream to Morgan’s Magic; who worshiped ‘The Splendid Splinter’ and extolled the virtues of Yaz. Win it for me so I can pay a visit to Dad’s grave and toast that title we always dreamed about. Here’s to you, Pops – in loving memory…DW Gibbs (1936-1993).”

Norm Siebern: “Win it for my Granpa Harvey (1974) who would rise up from his seat along the right-field line in the grandstand and defend Scotty from the boo birds, even if Boomer was only hitting .170 in 1968. Win it for that seven-year-old kid who fell in love with a game and a team that long ago magical summer of 1967. And for that eighteen-year-old young man who sat in the left-field grandstands and watched a little popup hit by Bucky “Bleeping” Dent nestle into the screen on October 2, 1978.”

Ramon’sBrother: “Win it for a certain nineteen-year-old who cried himself to sleep in the early morning hours of October 17, 2003.”

An unknown lurker: “Some morning next week, in the hours just before dawn, the cemeteries all over New England will be filled with middle-aged men, standing by ancestral graves marked – whatever the headstone – with the same bronze veterans’ plaques at the foot – First Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, PFC, served some range of years beginning with high school graduation and ending with the year, 1945. We will be reading aloud from tear-stained newspapers, sharing our first too-early libation of the day. (A Gansett? A Ballantine Ale?) We will be drinking to Cabrera’s defense; Foulke’s grit; Damon’s grace; Ortiz’s incredible sense of timing. MAYBE we will even have a reason to toast Manny. We will be waving the bloody sock – thanking God and Theo Epstein for sending us Curt Schilling, on whom all our hopes rested, and did not die in vain. Remembering all those who came so close but did not get there, like Yaz and Boomer and Rico and Hawk and El Tiante and Dewey and Jim Ed, even Nomar. Remembering all those who did not live to see us get there, like Ted and Tony C and my Granpa Dan. The clock will be unwinding; the pages will be flying off the calendar; the earth will tilt slightly on its axis. I will be there. My brothers will be there. Get there early. It’s going to be crowded.”

Tedsondeck: “Win it for my brother, Johnny, who left Boston in 1944 for the South Pacific, a Red Sox hat planted firmly on his head. He was a nineteen-year-old kid who loved three things – the Red Sox, Fenway Park, and Ted Williams. He lost his life in a hellhole called Okinawa. There hasn’t been a single day that hasn’t gone by when I don’t think of him. This one’s for you, JB.”

SFGiantsFan: “Win it for the people of Red Sox Nation. You people are the legacy of what this great game is all about – or should be about…the love and support of your team through good times and bad. People like you, and teams like this one, have brought me back to baseball after the shame of 1994. Thank you all. You truly deserve this.”

PUDGEcanCATCH: “Win it for my brother, who worked on the 94th floor of the North Tower, and who died on September 11, 2001. He used to look out the window and stick his tongue out in the direction of the Bronx. Above his desk, he had a framed picture of Fenway with two baseball cards scotch-taped to the bottom, Reggie Smith and Pudge Fisk, his two favorite Red Sox players growing up. Many times when he worked, he would proudly wear his Sox hat. After the plane hit his building, I have a strong hunch that he then put his Sox hat on for the last time.”

BasesDrunk: “My mother-in-law was as diehard a Red Sox fan as they come. She died of cancer in February 2003. My wife was born on October 7, 1967, literally in the middle of Game 3 of the World Series against the Cardinals. Her mother kept asking the nurses for updates while in labor. No doubt she now wants revenge for St. Louis ruining an otherwise perfect day.”

Lurker OregonSoxFan: “Win it for my dad who passed away on 10/20/93. When I was a seven-year-old boy, he introduced me to – and shared – the Impossible Dream, which was where my love for this awesome team began. Last night, I watched the greatest Sox victory (so far this year) with his eight-year-old grandson, Jeremiah, who, in turn, is catching the fever. We talked about Dad and all that he taught me about the game. Mom called after the game, and we shared tears of joy, and a tear of grief.”

BoSox Lifer: “Win it for that little boy who was sitting with his dad and his uncle at Game 7 at Yankee Stadium last October. With him crying as the game ended, I leaned over, and holding back my own tears, I told him with as much conviction as I could muster to cheer up because next year we were going to win it all. Somewhere I know – that little boy is smiling today…”

Curtis Pride: “I want the Red Sox to win it for my mother. She became a fan in 1967 and has followed them faithfully via radio to this very day.”

“I was born deaf, so growing up was difficult for me. But then I discovered the Red Sox in 1977, and my parents took me to Fenway that summer, which made me a Sox fan for life. And since then, I would sit with my mother by the radio while she listens to the Sox and relayed the events to me as they unfolded.”

“We still discuss the Red Sox today, but I want them to win so that she can experience that sweet taste of victory that has been denied her for so long. I know how it feels to finally overcome an enormous obstacle, and I want her to feel that as well.”

Cheekydave: “Win it for my father, who had a love for numbers and baseball and passed it on to me; it was the only way we could communicate. But it was always a safe haven, and at least there was ONE way to communicate between us. He died last year on his birthday, October 20th, one year to the day that the Red Sox beat the Yankees! Also, win it for my mother, who died when I was nine on October 2, 1967, the day after the Red Sox won the pennant, and the day I became both a Red Sox fan and also a single parented child.”

A lurker from Australia: “Win it for all of you New Englanders who deserve at least one warm winter.”

“I became a Red Sox fan when I first read Roger Angell’s account of the Impossible Dream team; I became an official citizen of Red Sox Nation when I walked into Fenway on a dreary night in 1985.”

“I ended up living in Boston until 1993 when I returned to Australia. October is the spring down here, but not a baseball season has passed by without me thinking of you hardy New Englanders preparing for a winter that most of my countrymen couldn’t even comprehend; dreaming of Spring Training, and thinking that maybe next year will be ‘the year’ for the Red Stockings.”

“Well, next year is here! This week, all of your dreams will come true. And when it’s time to rake the leaves and put up the storm windows, you’ll be thinking, “Next year – back to back…”

Lurker Nomarfan31: “Win it for my mom, Mary, who died of lung cancer on July 9, 2003, and who loved to declare, “They’re gonna lose,” while inside wildly rooting for them to win. I cried when Nomar was traded, not because it wasn’t time for him to go (sadly, it was) but because it was the loss of another link to Mom, who always call me whenever he did something spectacular in a game.”

Red Sox Owner John Henry: “There was a point during this season that was very, very tough. But I came here, Shaun, and read your Bandwagon thread, and was uplifted by the depth and breadth of your faith. It was at the time the best thing we were reading anywhere. These guys – I’m so proud of them – they refused to lose for the faithful this week. I’m proud of everyone who refused to get off the bandwagon.”

Sargeiswaiting: “The Mekong Delta is a long way from Boston. During the summer of 1969, I found myself as a private in the army, fighting in a war that was becoming increasingly unpopular at home. When I was homesick for Boston, a fellow private named Kevin, born and raised in the Boston area, kept my spirits up. We used to listen to the radio after the hell of a patrol. There was one song by Neil Diamond that we used to love listening to on the outskirts of the jungle. We would scream it out at the top of our lungs. The girl in the song was the girl in our dreams! Kevin was a big Sox fan. He especially loved the Boomer, George Scott. Kev got Agent Orange and began to fade away in the early eighties. The war eventually killed him years after he returned home. Earlier this August, I attended a Sox game against the White Sox. It was cold as hell for a summer afternoon, and the Sox lost in disappointing fashion. Still, at the bottom of the eighth inning, I began to hear the strains of that song that Kev and I sung so well back in Vietnam –‘Sweet Caroline.’ Jesus, Kevin’s favorite, playing at Fenway. The tears are flowing now as I write this. Win it for Kevin. Win it for Sweet Caroline!”

In early November 2004, ten days after the last out of the 2004 World Series, I received a note from a most perceptive lurker to the website. He wrote: “You know, Shaun, I really believe that the ghosts that we all beckoned, our dearly departed fathers and grandfathers, sisters, brothers, neighbors, coaches, and friends, had a hand in the astonishing two weeks that we’ve just experienced. In a way, it was their last loving act to us. And we, in turn, responded as only we could…in the posts that we ultimately submitted.”

I concluded the “Win it For” thread on the morning of October 28, 2004, with the following entry, written seven hours after Keith Foulke had stabbed Edgar Renteria’s one-hopper for the third and final out of the ‘04 Series:

“In the end, people talk about the ghosts Red Sox fans live with, but they have it all wrong. It isn’t the ghost of Babe Ruth or Bill Buckner or all the names associated with a curse that never really existed. Instead, it is the ghosts we can still see when we walk into Fenway Park. It is our fathers and mothers and grandparents. It’s our next-door neighbors and our baseball coaches and our aunts and uncles. Those are the ghosts that matter to us. Those are the specters we see, huddled together, watching their team and the game so intently.”

“For those of us who have followed the fortunes over an extended period, a Red Sox World Series championship marks a beginning – and an end. While we have made peace with all of our relatives and friends who have passed on over the years, there was always a little unfinished business between us – and them. Now with this incomparable victory, that too is complete.”

“And so, after all of these years, we can finally have a clean goodbye to our dearly departed. Perhaps that is why so many tears were shed in living rooms all over New England and beyond in the early morning hours of October 28, 2004.”

The “Win it For” thread, a small idea in the beginning, was formally inducted as a literary entity into the writer’s section of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in the summer of 2007.

“Win it For’ seamlessly connected six generations of Red Sox fans together as no other document ever has,” wrote a publicist for the Baseball Hall of Fame upon the thread’s induction. Even today, 16 years after it first was published, the original “Win it For” thread still has the capacity to bring tears and smiles together as close as they can ever be.

The author during the last week of October 2004.


The Wearin’ of the Green – An Ode to the Irish

South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade canceled over coronavirus concerns

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was seldom at a loss for words. Three days previously, he had nominated the most prominent Irish-American at the time, Joseph P. Kennedy of Massachusetts, to be the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James. The President was amused that he had appointed “someone so Irish” to the second most prestigious position in the State Department as the new Ambassador to England.

Much to his chagrin, however, FDR soon began receiving a plethora of outraged phone calls disputing his controversial appointment, mostly from indignant Irish-Americans. Roosevelt looked baffled as he took still another call from an irritated Irish-American official.  

He glanced over at his very Boston-Irish secretary, Missy LeHand, and muttered, “What is the matter with you people? The minute one of you accomplishes anything – there’s always another fellow behind him with a rock, more than eager to bring him down.”

Missy LeHand merely smiled.

As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today, those of us who are Irish would surely nod their heads in an endorsement of Roosevelt’s allegation if his testimonial could be magically circulated throughout the Irish world. A case in point: some years ago, I ran into my elderly, Irish-American father as he was coming out of our local high school to vote in an important general election in Massachusetts. His eyes twinkled as he glanced at me.

“Shaunie!” my father hollered, “are you here to cancel my vote?”

“I am, Dad,” I replied.

Without even so much as a hint of irony, he barked, “Good for you!”

Dad then gave me a thumbs-up as I strutted into the polling place to negate all of his political preferences that year.

“The Irish,” H. L. Mencken once observed, “have a logic all their own.” There is a famous story often told among Irish circles concerning the famed dual clock towers situated in Ballyhough. The two clocks disagreed at the correct time – one was six minutes faster than the other. When a visiting American asked one of the community’s locals why the town would have two such splendid clock towers that told conflicting times, the man replied, “And what would we be wanting with two clocks if they told the same time?”

Legendary British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once stated, “You never know what is going to spew forth from an Irishman’s lips. They are a completely unpredictable lot.”

Disraeli’s thesis could certainly be applied to an incident that occurred in June 1963 during President Kennedy’s visit to Europe, which included stops in Germany, England, and Ireland. Pope John XXIII had died suddenly during JFK’s first stop on the trip – West Berlin. By the time Kennedy neared the end of his stay in Europe, Pope Paul VI had already been installed as the latest Bishop of Rome. John Kennedy decided to pay the new pontiff a  visit.

The nation’s thirty-fifth president contacted his old friend, Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston, and instructed the Catholic leader to meet him as Air Force One rolled onto the runway at Rome’s international airport. Ultimately, Cushing drove to the airport with two aides; all of the other cardinals in the American delegation had already returned to the United States. As President Kennedy stepped into view from his plane, he noticed Cushing standing alone at the bottom of Air Force One’s ramp.

“Jack! Jack!” cried out the Cardinal to his most famous parishioner. “The American cardinals have left! They’re all a bunch of goddamn Republicans!”

President Kennedy, according to eyewitnesses, collapsed in spasms of laughter.

“The Irish don’t get back – they get even,” stated Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, the legendary Boston congressman, in his spellbinding autobiography, Man of the House. The notion of the famous “Irish grudge” could best be summed up with the words of a traditional Irish curse which goes something like this: “May none of their race survive/May God destroy them all/Each curse of the psalms in the holy books/Of the prophets on them fall. Amen.”

The capriciousness of the Irish was also evident when I stood in line to have acclaimed Irish-American author, Frank McCourt, sign a copy of his Pulitzer-Prize-winning tome, Angela’s Ashes. Throughout the memoir, humor and pathos had been the constants of a childhood of poverty that left the reader laughing despite the tragedies. After his “shiftless, loquacious, alcoholic father” who deserted the family during their time of most need, McCourt’s Pa was found two decades later working as a cook at a monastery.

“Then food must have been their penance,” McCourt wrote.

So here I was in line at a prominent bookstore in Stamford, Connecticut waiting for the great man to sign a copy of his book. when I finally reached his table, he smiled brightly at me and exclaimed, “And whom do I make this out to…my lad?” McCourt.

“To me, Sir. My name is Shaun Kelly,”

“Acchhhh,” he sighed, “May God forgive you.”

From the get-go, the Irish have always loved a good fight. When the Irish fought the English hundreds of years ago, the legend has it that the Anglo-Saxons could not believe how the Celtic Warriors absolutely delighted in the all-consuming passion of hand-to-hand combat. “Their savagery was beyond normality; waves of ecstasy shone from their eyes,” wrote a mystified English chronicler.

In modern times, James Michael Curley, the legendary Boston Irish politician who was immortalized in Edwin O’Connor’s classic novel, The Last Hurrah, embraced the Irish ferocity mindset throughout his colorful fifty-year political career. Curley, who was elected twice from jail, was the quintessential Robin Hood. He stole from the rich and gave to the poor – but he also took ten percent off as a surcharge. Loquacious, opinionated, and flamboyant, the Mayor could charm any bird from a tree.

Despite his obvious rascality, however, Jim Curley was, according to legendary Speaker of the House, Congressman Tip O’Neill, “a man who did a tremendous amount of good for the people of Boston. As mayor, he provided thousands of jobs while improving the schools and the playgrounds, paving streets, expanding the subway, establishing public beaches, putting up affordable hospitals, tearing down slums, and doing favors for an untold number of people who truly needed help.”

According to O’Neill, however, James Michael Curley detested the ruling Yankee aristocracy, pronouncing them as “our Brahmin overlords.” Obviously, the mayor loved to get back at them whenever he could. Once, when an important project that would benefit the poor in Boston was blocked because the local business establishment, virtually all of them controlled by “Yankees” at the time, the mayor personally visited one of them, the defiant owner of Filene’s. “I want you to know,” Jim Curley informed the Filene’s CEO, “that the city’s water ‘main’ goes right under your fancy building here. If you don’t know where it is, your building manager can surely tell you. If I don’t have that money by this very afternoon,” the mayor exclaimed, “then I’ll open the valves and flood Filene’s Basement in an instant.” 

The City of Boston received its loan that afternoon.

Self-effacing humor is another quality that is held dear by most Irishmen. In the quaint vernacular of the Irish, a wheelbarrow is called an Irish ambulance, a diaper is known as an Irish flag, and a rock is sometimes referred to as an Irish diamond. Two of the most popular modern presidents used self-effacing humor to disarm their political opponents. It is no coincidence that John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were both proud Irish-Americans. When an infuriated reporter tried to nail President-elect Kennedy as to the meager qualifications of his then thirty-four-year-old brother, Bobby, after JFK had appointed Bobby as the nation’s new Attorney General, Kennedy replied, “I don’t see what’s wrong with Robert gaining a little government experience before he goes on to establish a practice in law.”

In 1962, when a reporter commented to JFK that the Republican National Committee had formally concluded that he was pretty much a failure, the President flashed his legendary smile and replied, “Well, I am sure that such a proposal passed unanimously!”

President Ronald Reagan possessed the same talent for self-mockery. After he was shot in an assassination attempt in March 1981, he told a friend, “I’ve been shot at many times in my life, but in Hollywood they always used blanks.”

When Reagan entered the operating room to remove bullet fragments from his chest, he proclaimed to the chief physician, “Let’s just hope you are a Republican!”

Both Kennedy and Reagan could laugh at themselves because they both possessed such obvious self-confidence and panache. Politicians in both parties have tried unsuccessfully to emulate them since their presidencies but have been unable to capture the magic of their particular brand of drollery and wit.

“The Irish,” observed T. H. White, “are rank sentimentalists.  Their prose and verse drip with a mawkishness that would be unsettling to most other cultures.  And yet, I continue to find myself deeply moved by their poems, novels,  and lyrics. “Danny Boy,” for instance, still brings tears to even the most stoic of individuals.  

The following prayer was recited at the christening of John F. Kennedy, Jr., in 1961:

                   We wish to the new child

                   A heart that can be beguiled

                    By a flower

                         That the wind lifts

                    As it passes.

                   So fleetingly, so fragile.

                   If the storms break for him

                   May the trees shake for him –

                             their blossoms down

                   And in the night that he is troubled

                   May a friend wake for him

                             so that his time be doubled,

                   And at the end of all the loving

                             and all the love,

                   May the Man above

                             Give him a crown.

38 years later, the same poem was recited at his funeral by his grieving uncle.

May the wayward winds be with you on this Saint Patrick’s Day!


Bob Dylan: 50 Proverbs for Our Time

Bob Dylan News

When I explained what a proverb was to one of my honor’s English classes a few years ago, I reminded them that such adages were verbal warning shots, sighs, clarion calls, or expressions of wisdom, which generally have a prolonged shelf-life, often lasting for more than a millennium.

Within each passage, I explained, one could find examples of values, moral behavior, the meaning of human life, and righteous conduct. After we studied both the Book of Proverbs and Poor Richard’s Almanac plus a medley of William Shakespeare maxims, the kids asked me if there was an artist in contemporary times who had generated a wellspring of modern proverbs.

“Oh, yes,” I replied, “Bob Dylan.”

Over the next week, my ninth-grade class perused Dylan’s works and located 50 such classic axioms. Given where we are as a society these days, the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature’s takes on life during a pandemic is “like a corkscrew through the heart.” Like all great parables, Bob Dylan’s are both timely and timeless. Here then, are those Golden 50 as selected by my class. 

  • There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.
  • Money doesn’t talk – it swears.
  • You can’t be wise and in love at the same time.
  • With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves, let me forget about today until tomorrow.
  • But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’.
  • Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown.
  • Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?
  • Well, the moral of the story; the moral of this song: Is simply that one should never be – where one does not belong. So when you see your neighbor carrying something – help him with his load. And don’t go mistaking paradise – for that home across the road. 
  • I’m sick of love, but I’m in the thick of it.
  • All the money you make will never buy back your soul.
  • In the dime stores and bus stations, people talk of situations, read books, repeat quotations, draw conclusions on the wall.
  • You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
  • Meanwhile, life outside goes on all around you.
  • So many things that we never will undo. I know you’re sorry; I’m sorry too.
  • Look out, kid, it’s somethin’ you did. God knows when, but you’re doin’ it again!
  • Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.
  • But I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.
  • Yesterday’s just a memory; tomorrow is never what it’s supposed to be. 
  • Steal a little, and they’ll put you in jail. Steal a lot, and they’ll make you king.
  • How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?
  • Time is a jet plane — it moves too fast. Oh, but what a shame that all we’ve shared can’t last.
  • Sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.
  • I hate myself for loving you.
  • I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.
  • It frightens me the awful truth of how sweet life can be.
  • All the people we used to know, they’re an illusion to me now.
  • Beauty walks a razor’s edge; someday, I’ll make it mine.
  • I paid the price of solitude, but at least I’m out of debt.
  • The guilty undertaker sighs. The lonesome organ grinder cries. The silver saxophones say I should refuse you. The cracked bells and washed-out horns blow into my face with scorn. But it’s not that way, I wasn’t born to lose you.
  • I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.
  • We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it.
  • Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay; You can always come back – but you can’t come back all the way.
  • But if the arrow is straight and the point is slick, it can pierce through dust no matter how thick.
  • Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet.
  • In ceremonies of the horsemen, even the pawn must hold a grudge.
  • I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul.
  • To live outside the law, you must be honest.
  • I see my light come shining, from the west down to the east. Any day now, any day now, I shall be released.
  • Oh, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free!
  • When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing left to lose.
  • When your rooster crows at the break of dawn. Look out your window, ‘cause I’ll be gone. You’re the reason I’m travelin’ on.  
  • We always did feel the same; we just saw it from a different point of view.
  • In the fury of the moment, I can see the master’s hand in every leaf that trembles – in every grain of sand.
  • Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide – the chance won’t come again.
  • You put your eyes in your pockets and your nose on the ground.
  • She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist – she don’t look back.
  • He who’s not busy being born is busy dying. 
  • The future for me is already a thing of the past.
  • So many things that we never will undo. I know you’re sorry; I’m sorry too.
  • When you cease to exist, then who will you blame? 
  • Life is sad, life is a bust, all you can do is do what you must.
  • I’ll always thank the Lord when my working day is through; I get my sweet reward to be alone with you.
  • Father of night, Father of day
    Father, who taketh the darkness away
    Father, who teacheth the bird to fly
    Builder of rainbows up in the sky
    Father of loneliness and pain
    Father of love and Father of rain
  • Father of day, Father of night
    Father of black, Father of white
    Father, who build the mountain so high,
    Who shapeth the cloud up in the sky
    Father of time, Father of dreams
    Father, who turneth the rivers and streams
  • Father of grain, Father of wheat
    Father of cold and Father of heat
    Father of air and Father of trees
    Who dwells in our hearts and our memories
    Father of minutes, Father of days
    Father of whom we most solemnly praise!