The Year The Impossible Was Not Just a Dream

On a balmy Sunday afternoon, September 18, 1966, my father and I strolled down an unassuming alley in the Back Bay section of Boston then called Jersey Street, entered Gate A, and sat in our appointed seats in Section 14 at Fenway Park.

Another summer of disappointment would officially end for the Boston Red Sox ten days later.  On the final day of the season, the team would finish with a demoralizing 72-90 record, good for ninth place, one-half game out of last place in the then ten-team American League.

At the time, the Red Sox were considered a genuine loser with a disquieting moniker – “The Country Club.”  Boston’s only professional baseball club was known to overpay and coddle its stars while playing in a then-feeble stadium where the average attendance was less than nine thousand a game. The last major league franchise to include an African-American on its big league roster, the organization was a backwater for deep-seated colonialism that had come to define the team itself.

Not surprisingly, the Sox hadn’t had a winning season in a decade, and despite the presence of a handful of talented prospects emerging from Boston’s AAA squad in Toronto, a sparse crowd of downcast loyalists sat passively as the Olde Towne Team lost their final home game of the season to the California Angels.

As my father and I watched from our red seats along the first baseline, we witnessed starting pitcher Jim Lonborg removed in the fifth inning after another unsatisfactory outing. He would then be replaced by journeymen hurlers Rollie Sheldon and Garry Roggenburk. Despite the looming presence of such emerging sluggers as Carl Yastrzemski, Tony Conigliaro, and George Scott, Angel hitters Jim Fregosi and Paul Schaal outmatched the Sox, 5-3, handing Boston its 86th defeat of the season.

At 3:29 pm, when the final out was made, even the most casual of fans recognized that one more futile Boston baseball season was already in the books. Observing my gloom, my father, who had come to accept disappointment as an unswerving baseball companion, put his arms around me and said fiercely, “Don’t worry, son.  You know what they said in Brooklyn in the old days?  ‘Wait until next year!’ ”

“I hope so,” I muttered as we walked past five thousand torn scorecards, confetti for another melancholy season.

As Dad and I sauntered out of Fenway that afternoon, little did we know that our ragtag baseball team was actually on the cusp of a truly remarkable Magical Mystery Tour – the most unlikely, surreal, and joyful of all Red Sox seasons. To the absolute astonishment of the entire baseball world, a franchise that had once been nicknamed “The Red Flops” by the head of its own fan club, would, over the course of the next twelve months, inexplicably defy nearly insurmountable, 100 to 1 odds to emerge as a truly immortal squad – The Impossible Dream Red Sox.

As a result of the 1967 miracle, Boston’s major league baseball entry would not only fill Fenway Park with regularity over the next five decades, but the team itself would experience an unprecedented renaissance, finishing above .500 forty-two times while maintaining the second best winning percentage in the majors from 1967 through 2013, when it won its third world championship in nine years. The entity that would lovingly become known as “Red Sox Nation” would find its origin in 1967 when “The Cardiac Kids” captured the soul of each and every New Englander. Even today, fifty years later, the colors from that improbable year still linger.

A few weeks before his death in 1986, my father murmured to me, “I’ve seen everyone from Babe Ruth to Bobby Orr, but ’67 has no comparison.  It stands on its own.”

My first recollection that things would be different on Jersey Street began at precisely 2:02 pm on the afternoon of September 28, 1966, when minor league manager Dick Williams was formally introduced as the new field general of the franchise.

My father and I watched a synopsis of the press conference later on that evening through the incisive lens of veteran Boston sportscaster Don Gillis. During his nightly report on WHDH TV, Channel 5, Gillis conducted a now legendary interview with the new Boston manager in which the volatile Williams spat out a series of declarative sentences in rapid fire: “I’ll tell you what, Don. We’ll have a hustling ball club.  And they won’t quit. They didn’t quit on me in the minors in Toronto, and they won’t quit on me here. In the end, I honestly think that we’ll win more games than they lose.”       

As Gillis concluded his report, Dad exclaimed, “You know what? I believe Williams and what he just said.  After all,” Dad winked to me, “Williams is a National League guy!”   

Like thousands of other old Boston Braves fans, my father had never transferred his allegiance to the Red Sox. As a young man, he had seen Babe Ruth hit a gigantic blast into the legendary “Jury Box” in right field at old Braves Field. From Rabbit Maranville to Bob Elliott, he had lived and died with “his boys.” When the Braves abruptly departed for Milwaukee in March 1953, Dad lived in a perpetual baseball gulag; the only time I had ever seen him root outright for any baseball team occurred when the National League representative played in the World Series each fall.        

“Maybe this Williams guy will follow through on his words,” my father exclaimed as he flipped off the TV.  “Wouldn’t that be something?”  

On Monday morning, February 27th, the 1967 Boston Red Sox assembled for the first time at Boston’s spring training facilities in Winter Haven, Florida. Many of the players were stunned when they were individually phoned by an apologetic desk clerk at the local Holiday Inn at 7:00 am. From veteran John Wyatt to rookie Reggie Smith, the same message was delivered: “Manager Williams expects you on the field at 9:00 am sharp – or you will be fined for being late.”

By the following week, local scribes were calling the Red Sox daily drills the most organized and detailed they had ever seen. Repetitious fielding drills involving cutoffs and situational hitting including hitting to the opposite field were interspersed with a series of sprints, crunches, and volleyball. “The game involves strong legs, pliable arms, superb hand-eye coordination, and teamwork,” Williams told veteran Boston Herald scribe, Harold Kaese. “If they don’t work hard, they will sit on the bench with lighter pockets.”

After six weeks of daily practices, scrimmages, and exhibition games, two leaders emerged during the late winter foray – left-fielder Carl Yastrzemski, whose unremitting workout sessions with local trainer Gene Berde the previous fall and winter was already paying enormous dividends, and pitcher Jim Lonborg, whose darting fastball began to be complemented by a tumbling curveball that seemed to drop six to eight inches as it approached home plate.

Despite the apparent transformation of the team, only 8,234 fans greeted the Red Sox as they played the first official game of the 1967 season. Twenty years later, Hall of Fame baseball scribe, Peter Gammons, would compare the annual Opening Day festivities in Boston to a “Druid Rite of Spring.” On this scrubbed-up, blustery day, however, the usual skepticism prevailed; there would be 25,000 empty seats at the Fens that day despite the absolutely spotless weather.

Still, the Bosox won a 5-4 contest behind the starting pitching of Jim Lonborg, the power hitting of Rico Petrocelli, and the superb fielding of Tony Conigliaro, who made a brilliant stab in right field on a ball smoked by Ron Hansen with one out in the ninth. When my father returned home that evening, he joked to me, “See, they’re winning more than they’re losing!”     

Two days later, a truly seminal event occurred that would make not only Boston fans, but baseball fans everywhere, stand up and take notice. On Friday afternoon, April 14 in the South Bronx, Yankee veteran Whitey Ford started for New York in the home opener at the Stadium against the Red Sox. The starting pitcher for Boston was a lanky lefthander from California named Billy Rohr, whose main attributes at the time were a sneaky fastball and a lollipop curve.

After sprinting home from school to take in the end of the game, I was stunned to hear from an animated Ken Coleman, who was broadcasting the game on WHDH radio, that the young Boston hurler had not given up a hit while walking five through eight innings.

According to Coleman, the only scare in the contest had occurred in the bottom of the sixth inning when Yankee outfielder Bill Robinson ripped a smash up the middle. The ball had struck Billy Rohr on the left shin, rebounded to Red Sox third baseman Joe Foy, who then gunned the ball to George Scott at first for the second out of the sixth. Since that time, the Boston rookie southpaw had breezed through the seventh and the eighth and was on the cusp of baseball immortality as I paced back and forth in my bedroom.

On the very first pitch of the bottom of the ninth inning, Yankee hitter Tom Tresh lashed a flat heater from Rohr and lined it well over Carl Yastrzemski’s head into the cavernous outfield at Yankee Stadium. As soon as the ball was struck, Yaz sprinted flat out – and – at the last second – lunged at the ball like a wide receiver, his body extended to its furthest reaches. Announcer Coleman, who had instantly measured the distance to where the ball was heading from where the Boston left fielder had started from, realized that the Boston outfielder was somehow closing in on Tresh’s rocket. At the last second, Yaz leaped and tumbled – and then got up to his feet, clutching the ball skyward for all to see. The Red Sox lead announcer then precipitately screamed into the mike, “And he dives and makes a TREMENDOUS CATCH!”

New York first baseman Joe Pepitone followed with a pedestrian fly to right, which outfielder Tony Conigliaro easily caught for the second out. With the Red Sox leading 3 to 0, Billy Rohr was only one out away from pitching a no-hitter in his first major league start. Seven pitches later, the Boston left-hander left a hanging curve over the outer portion of the plate, which Yankee catcher Elston Howard looped to right field for a base hit, a little flair that was out the grasp of both Tony C. and second baseman Reggie Smith. As Howard rounded first, thousands of Yankee fans jeered him – the first and only time that the revered Yankee catcher was ever booed after getting a base hit in the Stadium. One pitch later, New York’s Charley Smith popped to Tony C, in right, and the Red Sox mobbed a humble Rohr on the mound.

A few seconds later, the phone rang. “Did you hear that Shaunie?” bellowed my father.  “Absolutely fantastic!” Two nights later, Dad and I watched proudly as Billy Rohr was formally introduced to a national audience on Ed Sullivan’s celebrated Sunday night entertainment show on CBS.

From the time Rohr pitched his one-hitter against the Yankees on that memorable afternoon in April 1967, Dad began to follow his “new boys” on a pitch-by-pitch basis. Fourteen years after the Braves had departed New England for Milwaukee, James Lawrence Kelly finally became a Red Sox fan. Until the day he died nineteen seasons later, my father and I would follow the daily exploits of the team together.

Unlike previous years when the eventual pennant winner had sprinted to the lead by mid-spring, the American League quickly turned into a veritable quagmire. As the season progressed, no team emerged from a pack whose leader changed virtually every day. While the defending World Champion Orioles eventually fell out of contention thanks to an unyielding series of injuries, the dangerous Minnesota Twins emerged as the most balanced squad in the league.

As the season began to unfold, most baseball experts believed that the White Sox had the best pitching staff, while the Tigers possessed the league’s most prodigious offense. One last squad lingered near the top of the AL standings that spring like unhurried fog descending on a humid night – the youthful Red Sox.

Indeed, as the Boston nine kept itself above .500 and within a handful of games of the lead during the first ten weeks of the season, the team had begun to discard its longstanding country club reputation. The Sox were becoming known as a hustling, talented bunch that had developed a habit of coming from behind in the most unanticipated of ways.

One afternoon after a particularly satisfying win, I began to look closely at the 1967 schedule that adorned my bedroom wall, next to a picture of my latest Boston sports hero, a certain crew cut-haired teenager named Robert Gordon Orr. When I observed that the Sox had a home game against the best team in the league, the feared Minnesota Twins, on the last day of the season, I scurried down to my father’s study.

“Daddy!” I shouted, “Do you think that Mr. O’Connell can get us tickets to the game on October 1st? I have a feeling it might be an important one.” My father and Dick O’Connell, the team’s general manager at the time, were old friends who had served in the Navy Reserve together.   

“I’ll call Dick tomorrow,” Dad replied. “He will surely like your optimism, Shaunie!”    

Ten days later, I received an envelope in the mail with a Red Sox logo adorning the front. When I tore it open, four tickets tumbled out onto the floor. Inside the envelope was a short note. “Dear Shaun,” it read, “I wish all Red Sox fans had your faith. May these tickets bring you great joy.  Sincerely, Dick O’Connell.”

A month later, on the evening of June 15th, nearly 17,000 fans turned out at Fenway to see them battle the first-place White Sox. At the time, Boston was in third place, five games behind Chicago. Earlier that day, I had graduated from sixth grade and was now officially on vacation. Dad wanted to “break out the summer” by having the two of us take in some baseball at Fenway.

When we sat in our assigned seats in Section 27, we noticed that the crowd was more boisterous than previous games that we had been present at in the past. In centerfield, a homemade sign had been draped on the back wall with a large picture of the team’s insignia with the accompanying words – “The Little Engine That Could!”

For nine innings, we watched from our seats along the third base line as two improbable hurlers, Red Sox rookie pitcher Gary Waslewski and veteran journeyman Bruce Howard battled each other to a scoreless duel. Hard-throwing reliever Johnny Wyatt came out of the Boston bullpen in the tenth and shut the Chisox down. Hoyt Wilhelm and John Buzhardt did the same for Chicago. As the two squads walked off the field to conclude the tenth frame, Dad turned to me and beamed, “Now this is a National League kind of game!”

In the top of the eleventh inning, Walt “No Neck” Williams led off the inning with a scorching double into the leftfield corner.  After monitoring the flight of the ball, my father quickly surmised, “The White Sox’s manager, Eddie Stanky, will have Don Buford bunt. Remember, Eddie once played for the Braves!”

As George Scott and Joe Foy crept in to cover the anticipated bunt, the Chicago batter suddenly left his squared-off position in the batter’s box and lashed at a John Wyatt fastball toward right field. First baseman Scott desperately lunged for the ball, caught it on a wicked hop, and beat a stunned Williams to the bag. My father fiercely applauded as he shouted through the din, “Gil Hodges himself could not have gotten to that ball!”

After the second out, however, light-hitting Ken Berry dribbled a single to right with Williams hustling in from third. I slumped into my seat as Tony C. lobbed the ball back to Mike Andrews at second. Dad tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, son – the big boys are coming up for us.”

However, when Yaz popped to first baseman Tommy McCraw and George Scott broke his bat on a soft liner to third baseman Dick Kenworthy, all hope seemed lost. “We’re staying for the final out,” Dad said emphatically as I remained seated, watching Joe Foy tiptoe towards home plate. The Red Sox third baseman took a deep breath, fingered his bat, and promptly grounded a single between short and third.

As fan favorite Tony Conigliaro slowly walked up to the plate, everyone at the Fens began to stand. Having led the American League in home runs two seasons before, Tony C. was now mired in a prolonged slump. A recent two-week stint at Camp Drum as a member of the Massachusetts National Guard had left him in a hitting stupor. Aware of Conig’s hitting funk, pitcher John Buzhardt promptly threw a pair of unforgiving curves; the kid from East Boston grunted each time as he missed by a foot. Like an airless shroud, an unsettling stillness commenced settled over Fenway.

With the count 0-2, Conigliaro settled into his familiar stance, his bat cocked, his coffee eyes staring out assertively at the White Sox hurler. Another curveball was tossed by Buzhardt, but the sphere seemed to deflate by the time it approached home plate. In less than a second, the streaking ball disappeared into the left field net above the scoreboard as the Red Sox team swirled around Tony C. as he gleefully approached home.

“Never, ever count this team out!” Dad shouted as we joined in the hosannas that swelled around us. Minutes later, we headed home on Route 9, drained and elated; as we listened on WHDH, Red Sox announcer Ned Martin concluded the post-game show be exclaiming, “The Cardiac Kids have come through once again!”

“This is the most fun I’ve had in baseball since the ’48 Braves!” Dad cried out as we entered our darkened driveway in Wellesley.

Over the next three months, the fortunes of the Red Sox turned into a proverbial Paragon Park roller-coaster-ride. In late June, a massive brawl in the Bronx ensued after Jim Lonborg plunked Yankees pitcher Thad Tillotson square in the back in retaliation for Tillotson’s beaning of Joe Foy. Injuries to pitchers Dave Morehead and Bill Rohr were offset by the unanticipated emergence of hurlers Jose Santiago and Sparky Lyle. Veteran second baseman Jerry Adair, utility man Norm Siebern, and pitcher Gary Bell were added to the team in crucial mid-season trades. Later on, catcher Elston Howard would be picked up on waivers from the Yankees. Ellie’s leadership behind the plate would prove absolutely vital to the team for the remainder of the season.

On August 18th, however, tragedy struck when Tony Conigliaro was plucked on the left cheekbone by a tailing fastball thrown by Angels’ hurler Jack Hamilton. The young Bosox superstar would not play in another major league game until two seasons later.

Despite Tony C’s injury, the Red Sox found themselves in sole possession of first place for the first time since 1949 as they played the rubber game of a vital three-game series against Chicago on the afternoon of August 26th. The Red Hose subsequently defeated the hard-charging White Sox at Comiskey Park when noodle-armed Jose Tartabull threw out a bewildered Ken Berry who had tagged up from third base to complete an astonishing double play to end the game. When the umpire’s right hand went up after the dust had settled, shouts of ecstasy could be heard throughout our cottage on the Cape as my entire family watched the game on my grandfather’s decrepit Philco.

“While Tartabull’s throw was truly incredible,” gushed Dad five minutes after the contest ended, “it was Ellie Howard’s blocking of home plate with his left foot that saved the day!” Not long after the ’67 season, longtime announcer Ken Coleman pointed to this game as the most critical victory of the year.

A few days later, the Red Sox were featured in both Life and Sports Illustrated, with Yaz gracing the cover of SI. Nearly every kid within the confines of Route 128 and beyond painstakingly cut the cover page from the rest of the magazine and scotch-taped it to his or her bedroom wall, where it resolutely remained for years afterward, a venerable sports icon, yellowed and self-important.

By this time, the 1967 Red Sox began to creep into the mindset of the American psyche, a society that was not only in the midst of an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam but which was also in the throes of one of the most dynamic cultural phenomena in its two-century history that became known as “The Summer of Love.” Fueled by the anti-war and civil rights movements, the emerging hippie counterculture in San Francisco, and the unprecedented release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in mid-June, anything else that was “in” that summer was subsequently embraced by the greater culture as a “happening.” From the national debut albums of Van Morrison, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Laura Nyro, the Grateful Dead, and the Jefferson Airplane, within an astonishing ten-week period in late spring to the release of the summer’s irrepressible anthem, John Lennon’s “All You Need is Love,” the musical harvest that intrepid baseball summer was simply unparalleled.

The magic of the times even touched a previously xenophobic baseball franchise far away from San Francisco, for as the Boston Red Sox wove their way to the top of the standings, they suddenly became the next “in thing.”  During a late-summer series in Yankee Stadium, thousands of Yankee fans began to root for the Red Sox because, as one fan explained to New York writer Dick Young at the time, the Sox seemed “incredibly cool.

As the days turned breezy and the early fall evenings lengthened, Boston’s American League entry and the other three teams vying for the pennant moved in and out of first place like cars in a traffic jam. On September 23rd, with only a handful of games left in the regular season, just one game separated the four top teams. It was apparent that the AL pennant would probably be decided the following weekend when the Red Sox would host front-runner Minnesota, the Tigers would take on the Angels in Detroit, and Chicago would host the lowly Washington Senators. By Friday, September 29th, however, the light-hitting Chisox were eliminated from contention by Phil Ortega and the Senators who defeated White Sox ace Tommy John by a 1-0 score.      

On Saturday, September 30th, Detroit remained on the brink with an impressive 5-0 win over the Angels. A scheduled doubleheader at Tiger Stadium would be held the next afternoon. At Fenway Park, the Red Sox defeated the Twins in an absolute do-or-die situation behind the starting pitching of Jose Santiago and the seventh-inning heroics of Carl Yastrzemski, who launched his forty-fourth home run of the year into the Twins bullpen off of Minnesota reliever Jim Merritt. Yaz, who drove in three runs with the blast, would ultimately secure baseball’s Triple Crown the next afternoon with a clutch two-RBI, four-hit performance.

With one-hundred-and-sixty one games played, the Red Sox and the Twins were tied for first; the Tigers were only a half-game behind the co-leaders. The closest pennant race in American League history would ultimately be determined within the bookends of a single autumn afternoon.         

October 1, 1967.

My father, brother, and I arrived at our appointed seats in Section 15 more than ninety minutes before game time. NBC had smartly decided to televise the game nationally, A horde of scribes and sportscasters scurried around both teams as they took batting practice. Over the next hour, the old ballpark began to brim over with Sox fans; there were standees everywhere, including scores of young supporters who stood along the rickety edges of the billboard signs that stood at attention on Lansdowne Street beyond left field.

“Dad, Mr. O’Connell was really generous!” I exclaimed to my father.  “These are the best seats in the ballpark!” We glanced out onto the field from our perch near the Red Sox dugout. “It’s nice that there is an important baseball game to be played here in October,” Dad replied. “It’s been a long time.”

The team that had long been a laughing stock was now featured on the front page of The New York Times as the closest race in American League history came down to the wire. Overhead, a gaggle of news helicopters flew around the perimeter of Kenmore Square while two-hundred reporters jammed into Fenway’s overcrowded press box. The old park was bulging at the seams as game time approached – nearly 35,000 fans – a far cry from the smattering of fans who had come to witness Opening Day less than six months previously. In the centerfield bleachers, a homemade sign hung on the back wall of the park reminded us of the time, the place, and the incomparable moment: “The Sox Are Totally Groovy,” it read.

Twenty-five minutes before game time, Jim Lonborg slowly strolled out to the Red Sox bullpen to a thunderous ovation. While his 22-9 record was singularly impressive, he was 0-3 against the Twins coming into the game.  Meanwhile, Dean Chance, Minnesota’s starting pitcher with a record of 20-13, also began warming up in right field. One-fourth of his victories in 1967 had come against Boston.

Some sixty miles to the southwest of Boston’s Back Bay in Southbridge, Massachusetts, Seaver Miller Rice, my great uncle, and his infirmed wife, Gertrude, were listening intently to the pre-game show on WHDH radio as they had for the previous one-hundred-and-sixty-one contests. Rice, then seventy-four years old, had seen Cy Young pitch for the Boston Americans and had been one of the thousands of enthralled spectators at Fenway Park in 1912 when young Smokey Joe Wood had out-dueled the immortal Walter Johnson in one of the most famous baseball games ever played within the confines of the City of Boston.

A devoted husband, Seaver had served as the solitary caregiver of his elegant spouse, Gertrude, who had been bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis for more than a decade. Like thousands and thousands of other “shut-ins,” the daily Red Sox radio-casts had enabled the Rices to get through the summer months that year with aplomb. Gertrude Rice’s favorite player, first baseman George Scott, never ceased to put a smile on her still beautiful face. “I think George and the boys are going to come through for us all today!” she exhaled, staring at her clock radio that was positioned next to her bed. Her husband, like many devoted Boston fans at that moment, was too nervous to even reply.

Back at Fenway Park, the Red Sox started off badly, not surprising given their inexperience in pressurized games. With a runner on first and two outs, Harmon Killebrew singled to left-center as runner Cesar Tovar began sprinting around the bases. Yaz charged the ball, but it skirted behind him for an error, allowing the Twins to score their second run. Meanwhile, Twins starter Dean Chance continued to mow down the Boston nine, allowing only three hits in the first five innings.

As the bottom of the sixth began, Minnesota led 2-0, with pitcher Jim Lonborg leading off the frame. The Bosox pitcher noticed that Twins third baseman Cesar Tovar was playing back. As Chance hurled his first pitch of the inning, Lonborg suddenly swung his bat around, squared a perfect bunt down the third base line, and beat it out.  

Lonnie’s unforeseen bunt – comparable to Red Sox utilityman Dave Roberts’ dramatic steal nearly thirty-seven years later – opened up the floodgates. Ten pitches later, Chance was out of the ballgame, after Jerry Adair, Dalton Jones, and then Yaz lashed singles to tie the score. When shortstop Zoilo Versailles gambled on Ken Harrelson’s high chopper and threw home, Jones slid in safely to make the score 3-2 in favor of Boston. An error and a wild pitch enabled the fourth and fifth Boston runs of the inning to score.

“Three more innings!” my father barked above the deafening roar that engulfed the ballpark.

  In the top of the eighth, Yaz completed his signature season by throwing out Bob Allison at second after the Minnesota slugger had rammed a hanging curve hard against the leftfield wall. The Boston outfielder retrieved it off the Monster, whirled around, and threw a laser to second baseman Mike Andrews for the third out. While the Twins had scored on the play to make it 5-3, we breathed a collective sigh of relief as the Sox happily disappeared into their first base dugout.

 After Boston went quietly in the bottom of the eighth, my father and I, along with everyone else at Fenway, got out of our seats and stood as the Red Sox took the field in the top of the ninth. “Three more outs, my boy,” Dad patted me as I gripped my program nervously.

Centerfielder Ted Uhlaender led off and skipped a grounder to Rico at short. At the last second, however, the ball took a bad hop and struck the Boston shortstop square on the cheek. With a runner at first, Lonborg got two quick strikes on rookie Rod Carew. On the third pitch, the Twins phenom lashed a ball right to second baseman Andrews who tagged Uhlaender and then heaved the ball to George Scott who scooped it out of the dirt for a double play.

A groundswell of emotion began to bubble all around Fenway.  I placed my hands together, literally praying for one more out. For five years, I had followed a franchise that had long defined both mediocrity and failure; but now, after six miraculous months of unspoiled play, the Boston Red Sox were on the abyss of pure baseball ecstasy. As pinch hitter Rich Rollins approached the batter’s circle, I felt a gentle hand pat my back. I looked over to my left. Dad gave me a wink as Rollins dug in.

Seventy miles away in Southbridge, Massachusetts, Gertrude Rice fingered her rosary beads and said a silent prayer as she lay in her bed, listening to the reassuring voice of Ned Martin on WHDH radio. “They are going to pull this all off,” Seaver Rice smiled at his wife. “It’s an absolute miracle.”  

Gertrude Rice began to shed tears of joy.

Back at Fenway Park’s crowded press box, renowned New York uber-scribe, Jimmy Breslin began to compose an on-the-spot tribute to the Boston Nine just as Jim Lonborg began his windup:

   “Here’s to the Red Sox of Boston

   Home of the bean and the cod

   Where Cabots now cheer Yastrzemskis

   And ol’ Beantown is suddenly mod.”

One floor above where Breslin was sitting, WHDH engineer, Al Walker, sat up straight in the radio broadcasting booth to watch the proceedings as announcer Ned Martin sat huddled next to him. Both men had spent several excruciating years in the wilderness with the Red Sox – and both wanted to get this moment just right. Walker had just finished communicating with head Red Sox announcer, Ken Coleman, on his headset, who was in the Red Sox dressing room waiting to interview the Red Sox after the game. The local radio engineer leveled the crowd noise with his announcer’s distinct baritone as Ned Martin intently watched Rich Rollins dig in at home plate. The Red Sox number two announcer took a deep breath and began talking on the air, “Jim Lonborg is within one out….of his biggest victory ever…his twenty-second of the year….and his first over the Twins.”   

He then paused – letting the listener take in the scene.     

“The pitch……is looped toward shortstop….”

A living and breathing thesaurus, Martin could have used any of a host of words from his prodigious vocabulary, but he chose “looped.” My father later described Rollin’s popup as “a little squirt from the hose.” “Looped” was an inspired choice, impeccably capturing the bending flight of the ball.

As the ball began to topple, Ned’s voice hurriedly changed; his tenor commenced to soar as he exclaimed, “Petrocelli’s back…he’s got it!  The Red Sox win!”       

The Sox radio announcer then took in a breath of air, mostly to observe the players and fans who had instantly enveloped the jubilant Lonborg to the right of the pitcher’s mound. Absolute chaos ensued, but Ned Martin was well equipped to describe it. He immediately punched out, “And there’s pandemonium on the field!”

The last ingredient of Martin’s call contained just one word – and a cacophony of elation. Mindful that he was describing the action to a devoted radio audience, Ned paused, and then called out, “Listen!”

An opus of horns could be heard – the air-kind that were allowed at the time by management – instruments of exultation that always gave out a piercing glee as they resounded throughout the ancient ballpark. The fans’ collective primal-shouting verified Martin’s precise account. Martin and Al Walker both stood up as thousands of fans swirled onto the field.

Also standing in his usual upstairs box along the third base line was owner Tom Yawkey, who received hugs from his wife, Jean, and from the vice president of the team at the time, Haywood Sullivan. Tears streamed down his ancient face as the Red Sox principal owner for more than thirty years watched the proceedings.

Down below in the stands, my father grabbed me as I began to move toward the mob scene on the field, Dad yelled, “You’ll get killed out there.  Enjoy it from here!”

For the next twenty minutes, the Red Sox themselves attempted to make it safely back to the dugout from amidst the euphoric horde. Jim Lonborg was physically carried out to right field before being rescued by a flock of policemen. As we watched the ensuing bedlam on the field, my father gestured to the field and shouted above the clamor, “Life doesn’t get any better than this!”  

A year previously, Dad and I had walked out of Fenway Park dejected after another losing season. As we maneuvered through the hubbub of the euphoric throng encircling Kenmore Square, the Red Sox, ninth place finishers the season before, were now on the cusp of an improbable pennant.

We listened to the Tigers game on the radio on the triumphant ride back to Wellesley. Detroit had won the first game against California; Ned Martin announced that a one-game playoff would be played at Fenway the following afternoon if the Tigers prevailed in the second game.

An hour later, I paced back and forth in my bedroom, pulling with all of my might for the Angels to preserve their 8-5 lead. With one out and one on in the bottom of the ninth, Tigers infielder Dick McAuliffe walked up to the plate to face veteran California pitcher, George Brunet.

Through the haze of the fall afternoon in Tiger Stadium, legendary Detroit announcer Ernie Harwell barked out, “McAuliffe hits a ground ball to Bobby Knoop who shovels to Fregosi for one – there’s the throw to Don Mincher – and it’s a double play!  Boston has won the American League pennant!” I jumped up and down for what seemed like an hour. My mother then flew into my room and squeezed me extra hard.

“After all of those years of following this team – and now look what they’ve brought you!” she exclaimed with blinking eyes. Within minutes, more than twenty of the neighborhood kids formed a spontaneous parade up and down our street, Radcliffe Road, as their jubilant parents stood by their doorways, clapping and yelling with all of their hearts.

Later that night, before I went to sleep, I went to say goodnight to my father.  “I can’t believe that we’re American League champs!” I admitted to him with a tone of wonder in my voice.

“We did it, Shaunie!  We did this thing together,” Dad smiled as he gave me an extended hug.  

On the morning of October 2nd, I rushed downstairs and ran outside to fetch a copy of the day’s newspaper. I hastily opened up The Boston Herald and saw a colored team picture of the Red Sox with a bold headline that proclaimed, “Pennant Is Ours!”   

“Best news headline I have read since ‘Japs Surrender!’” grinned Mom as I showed her the top half of the front page.

Two days later, I brought my tiny transistor to Wellesley Junior High School in order to hear the World Series. In Mr. Briggs’ math class, we huddled around my radio and listened to the start of the Sox pregame show. It turned out to be an eighteen-minute recap of the regular season with music, poetry, and audio clips cohesively threaded together in an emotive tribute that announcer Ken Coleman called, “The Impossible Dream.”  

As we began to listen to the Series that afternoon, we knew that the odds of securing a world’s championship that year were somewhat remote, for facing the Red Sox in the World Series that fall was the plucky St. Louis Cardinals, the most balanced and talented team in either league at the time. Most baseball experts had already picked St. Louis to win the Series in five games.   

In Game 1, the Cards started fast out of the gate with a dramatic 2-1 victory at Fenway behind the seamless pitching of the fearless Bob Gibson. The Sox came back in Game 2 with abandon; Yaz lashed two prodigious home runs while ace Jim Lonborg lost a perfect game bid with two out in the eighth inning when Julian Javier stroked a double into the left field corner. Ultimately, Lonnie tossed the second one-hitter in World Series history, a peerless pitching performance in the most pressurized of circumstances.  

After Game 2, my joyful parents brought back a Red Sox American League Champions banner and a World Series program for me to have as mementos – they had been guests of old friends Dom and Emily DiMaggio – and were still soaring from Lonnie’s near-perfect game. Dad laughed when he told me that he saw New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy at the game – proudly wearing a Boston Red Sox baseball cap. “That will go well in the Bronx when he runs again,” my father quipped.     

In St. Louis, the Cards won games 3 and 4 behind the sterling pitching of Nellie Briles and Gibson, who seemed especially unhittable in the glare of the Midwestern afternoon sun. However, Red Sox ace Jim Lonborg valiantly came through for the Boston nine in Game 5 at Busch Stadium as Lonnie pitched another complete game victory, a three-hit masterpiece in which he gave up his only run of the game to St. Louis with two out in the ninth.   

Back at Fenway for Game 6, few fans believed that Boston could come back, especially when journeyman pitcher Gary Waslewski was announced as Dick Williams’ surprise starter. In the end, however, the improbable Red Sox struck again as they had all season. “Waz” pitched a heroic, five-and-a-third innings – giving up just two runs, while Rico Petrocelli, Carl Yastrzemski, and Reggie Smith hit back-to-back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning off St. Louis starter Dick Hughes. Key hits by Dalton Jones, Carl Yastrzemski, and Reggie Smith off old friend Jack Lamabe secured the game for the Boston nine in the seventh.     

 In Game 7, Manager Dick Williams went with his heart over his head and chose Jim Lonborg to pitch on only two days’ rest against the relentless Bob Gibson. Laboring for the third time on three days rest, the future Hall of Famer dominated the finale, permitting Boston just three scratch hits while striking out ten batters.

After forty-nine hard-fought innings over seven inexorable games, George Scott struck out to end the Series, a signature bullet from the golden arm of Gibson, who was immediately swallowed up by a throng of exultant Cardinals teammates. The whirl of John Kiley’s organ could be heard in the background as the silent throng at Fenway slowly began to head for the exits.

Later that night, my eyes began to well with tears as I lay on bed, staring at the ceiling. Suddenly, a shaft of light filtered through the darkness as a hulking figure approached my bed. The man who sat down at the corner of my cot had survived the Great Depression, had fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and had helped raise four children during a most tumultuous time period.

“I, too, am sad, Shaunie,” my father said, as he touched my face.

For the next half-hour, Dad and I talked. With a beckoning autumn wind blowing outside my window, we both admitted to each other that St. Louis had a vastly superior team. “The Red Sox gave it all they had,” my father said simply. In the next day’s edition of The Boston Globe, renowned sportswriter Ray Fitzgerald called it, “The Series nobody lost.”   

After a moment of silence, Dad patted me on the shoulder and sighed, “Lonnie had the heart of a lion out there today. Gary Waslewski, of all people, kept us in Game 6! No, son, there are no regrets here. They will be forever champions in my book.” He kissed me goodnight and whispered, “What a season!  What an incredible season!” Dad left quietly, and I closed my eyes, with a kaleidoscope of images that formed the template of a miracle swirling in my mind.

Thirty-seven years later, in the afterglow of the most remarkable post-season performance in Boston baseball history, I visited my father’s grave, only a short walk from my old bedroom in Wellesley. With me was his youngest grandchild, Max, a ten-year-old boy at the time who lived for every Red Sox victory.

As we walked to Dad’s gravesite, both Max and I were adorned in matching David “Big Papi” Ortiz tee shirts. As we stood over his grave, the sun began to glisten on the leaves that lay scattered like tiny islands on the carpeted lawn of Woodlawn Cemetery. A week before, the most prodigious parade in New England history had celebrated a team that had redefined the adjective “extraordinary.” The last two-and-a-half months of the 2004 season had completely eliminated the pathos that had become an unwieldy appendage to longtime Sox loyalists. The ensuing tarpaulin of elation that enveloped the region had reminded my mother of V-E Day.

And yet, for more than one-half of the 2004 season, the Red Sox had not played up to their potential; by the end of July, they found themselves hopelessly out of the divisional race. The team actually needed a sustained winning streak three-fourths of the way through the season in order to even qualify for the playoffs

I coaxed Max as he looked over his grandfather’s grave. “Go ahead, Maxie. He would want to hear it from you.”   

“Grampie!” Max bellowed, “We won it!  We’re World Series champions!”

Max and I then did a little dance at the lip of my father’s gravesite, an imitation of Manny Ramirez greeting “Big Papi” after a home run, our fingers pointing to the sky. We then placed a Red Sox World Series Championship cap on the top of Dad’s gravestone and quietly departed, driving past scores of gravestones where Red Sox hats and banners of various shapes and sizes hung proudly like bright flags on a fleet of ships.

As Max and I pulled out onto Brook Street, I began to think about the ’67 Red Sox, my father’s favorite team. While the Cardinals had celebrated a seventh game victory around the pitcher’s mound at Fenway Park that year, the entire season had been nothing less than one long joyride. Unlike 2004, there were never any pockets of despair in 1967. “Sustained delight,” my father had called it at the time.

“You know, Max,” I exclaimed as we drove past my old house on Radcliffe Road, “if I could relive my life for a two-month period, I would surely rewind the past eight weeks we just experienced. How could I not?  However, if I could relieve an entire season, Dick Williams would be the manager, Yaz would be in left, and Jim Lonborg would be on the mound.”

I paused and looked at my youngest son, “And my Dad would be there to take it all in once again.”

“I bet I’ll look at 2004 the same way when I’m old like you,” Max said brightly.

“Yep, I’ll bet you will,” I smiled, recognizing how astonishing it was that fathers and sons and baseball seasons could be so extraordinarily intertwined in a such an unshakable bond.

Later that evening, after I had returned to Connecticut and had tucked Max in for the night, I sat in the dark and played “The Impossible Dream” album for the first time in nearly twenty years.

Like a specter from the past, longtime Red Sox announcer Ken Coleman’s tremulous voice concluded the forty-minute audio tribute to the ’67 Sox with these words:

  “For Boston is a tradition town

  With a history to uphold

  And when Bostonians remember –

  This story will be told

  Proudly fathers will tell their sons

  Of this year and this team

  How by courage and grip

  And refusing to quit

  They forged –

  Our impossible dream.”

I turned off the recording and slowly walked upstairs.  As I settled into bed a few minutes later, I recalled what my father had said to me in my old bedroom in Wellesley following the seventh game loss to St. Louis nearly four decades before.

“Maybe, Shaunie, what we are really sad about this evening is that the magic – like all good things – has come to an end. That is something to mourn.”

He paused and patted my knee. “But you know what, Son? What the Red Sox gave us this past season borders on the unachievable. Ultimately, we will thank God that we bore witness to it.”

A half-century has now passed, and those of us who lived through that remarkable year still fiercely cling to its memory for what it launched ­– the birth of Red Sox Nation – and for what it brought us – that at least for one time in our lives, the impossible was not just a dream.

My father, as usual, said it best. When reflecting on the 1967 Red Sox just a few days before his own passing, he whispered, “The best pleasures in life are always unexpected.”


Words Do Matter – JFK at 100


That voice of his echoed phrases that were readymade for granite monuments. During his all too brief presidency, he asked us to seek justice because it lay at the heart of fairness. He implored us to make peace with our adversaries because, while our differences came to define us, our shared experiences were even more enduring. He challenged us to go the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard. He encouraged us to create an educational system that was second to none. He asked us to leave our earth better than we found it. He implored us not to let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes.

For John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, who would have reached the century mark on May 29, it was always about heightened possibilities and ascending aspirations. As he said in his most prodigious foreign policy speech in which he introduced the policy of detente with the Soviet Union: “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Unlike most leaders in our present age of self-absorption, Kennedy rarely used the pronoun “I” in his speeches. Instead, he would implore “us,” “we the people,” “my fellow citizens.” The commonality as Americans was a reminder that we were collectively involved in our ongoing experiment in representative democracy. In JFK’s world, every voice mattered. If you conduct a phrase search of Kennedy’s prose, “let us begin” and “let us continue” would be the two most common ones.

As a leader, Jack Kennedy believed that the limitations of one’s language represented the limitations of one’s world. Thus his prose soared, inspired, and dared others to dream. The author of three books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage, Kennedy once stated, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.”

Like other great orators, he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. Like Lincoln, JFK inevitably appealed to the better angels of our nature and beckoned us to employ the bookends of fairness and civility in order to alter perspective, and, when need be, instigate or alter public policy. In the final analysis, President John F. Kennedy’s words seem to appeal as much to future generations as it did to his own:

“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our most fundamental resource.”

“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

“We prefer world law, in the age of self-determination, to world war in the age of mass extermination.”

“Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”

“In every time period in every place, immigrants to our nation have continually enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.”

“Today, we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. … It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color.”

“The supreme reality of our time is the vulnerability of Earth, which is under our care and loaned to us from one generation to the next.”

“The world is very different now, for man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty – and all forms of human life.”

“So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear – but let us never fear to negotiate.”

“Let us call a truce to terror. Let us invoke the blessings of peace. And as we build an international capacity to keep the peace, let us join in dismantling the national capacity to wage war.”

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

“Every man can make a difference, and every man should try.”

” Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

For President Kennedy, the buck clearly stopped in the Oval Office, and it was his job to make “those hard decisions” that eluded others. “The margin is narrow,” he stated early on in his presidency, “but the responsibility is clear.”  When he triumphed, it was because we accomplished it together as one. When Kennedy suffered a defeat, he took full responsibility for it.

A day after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, an unmitigated disaster that nearly unraveled his administration before it had even had a chance to get started, JFK met with the press to announce the bungled events that had occurred in Cuba over the previous seventy-two hours. With millions of Americans watching on television, the President stated unequivocally, “There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers, and defeat is an orphan…I am the responsible officer of the government….and the fault here lies entirely with me.” Immediately afterward, his approval rating rose to 61 percent in the Gallup Poll because JFK had the audacity to take sole blame for the crisis.

Of course, when logic and reason did not work, Jack Kennedy often used his celebrated wit to disarm both the press and his political opponents. At a press conference two years into his administration, Kennedy was asked by a reporter: “Mr. President, the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution recently saying that you were pretty much a failure. What is your response, sir?”

“Well, I am sure it passed unanimously,” Kennedy quipped.

In 1963, when Congress continued to block important New Frontier legislation, a prominent journalist asked the President, “Sir, don’t you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with the Republican leaders in order to iron out your differences on the proposed federal budget?”

Kennedy replied, “I think those discussions would probably begin at a lower level.”

Later on, when Kennedy was asked how he became a war hero as a Purple Heart-decorated commander of a PT cruiser in World War II, he joked, “It was easy. They sunk my boat.” Like Winston Churchill, John Fitzgerald Kennedy realized the value in exploiting self-deprecating humor as a potent political windscreen. One of his favorite quotes came from Aubrey Menen, who once said famously: “There are three things which are real: God, human folly, and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension, so we must do what we can with the third.”

“Look forward,” John F. Kennedy once said, “for our land is bright and our time on this planet is all too brief.” As the nation’s thirty-fifth chief executive, he fervently believed in the germination theory of public policy; the seeds you plant today will be bear fruit in unexpected and totally unanticipated ways sometime down the road. In JFK’s celebrated inaugural address, he proclaimed, “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

Unlike most leaders in present-day America, the future was much more important than the present in JFK’s lens. It was also the theme of his favorite anecdote, which he retold for the last time in his beloved Massachusetts just three weeks before he was assassinated:  “When he was in his late seventies, the great French Marshall Lyautey asked his gardener to plant a tree in the backyard.

‘But, sir,’ replied the gardener, ‘it won’t reach maturity for a hundred years.’

‘In that case,’ replied the Marshall, ‘plant it this afternoon.’”

As we pause at this time and celebrate his life and what he meant to us, President John F. Kennedy’s words, even more than his deeds, still light up the sky fifty-four years after his death. In the end, JFK’s prose continues to motivate, guide, and inspire countless Americans to think beyond themselves to give the best they have in order to make the world a better place. As his youngest brother, Ted once reminded us – the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.





The Fifth Horseman of Notre Dame

On May 24, 2007, one of the greatest football players in the history of the University of Notre Dame passed away after a courageous, eight-year battle with ALS. In the fall of 2006, nine months before Peter succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s Disease; I wrote an extended piece on him for the Notre Dame Football Annual. To honor him and those who continue to fight such an unforgiving disease here is that original article in its entirely.

He sits in a solitary wheelchair in the kitchen in the center of action so he can wordlessly observe the comings and goings of his beloved family.  During the day, he receives regular nourishment using a peg lodged in his stomach. He breathes through an incision in his windpipe that has left a permanent opening in his throat. His tracheostomy and his feeding contraption keep him alive. If the weather is nice, he is moved outside where he often listens to music or a book on his iPod. On special occasions, he may be transported to the local theater to view a movie of interest. At dinnertime, he is moved back to his bed where he watches television until he habitually goes to sleep at 11:00 pm.

Peter Demmerle, consensus All-American wide receiver, an integral member of the 1973 Notre Dame national championship football team, co-chairman of the insurance department at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae in Manhattan, the father of four energetic daughters and an equally spirited wife, has moved nary a muscle in four years. As his devoted spouse, Kate, admits, “Peter is considered ‘total care’ in that he can do nothing for himself these days.”

ALS will do that even to the strongest of men.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a swiftly progressive, intrinsically fatal neurological malady that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. When a person contracts ALS, the upper and lower motor neurons completely degenerate, halting any messages to an individual’s muscles. Unable to function, the muscles gradually weaken, degenerate, and tremor Eventually, the ability of the brain to start and control voluntary movement is lost.  

Total paralysis – of all limbs and such major muscles as the diaphragm – occurs in every case, frequently with unrelenting haste. Incredibly, such an unbending disease does not typically impair a person’s mind, personality, intelligence, or memory, nor does it affect a person’s ability to see, hear, touch, or taste.

The cause of ALS is not known; scientists do not yet know exactly why ALS strikes some people and not others. While most ALS patients succumb fairly quickly, Peter Demmerle has hung on for an astounding seven years. The gifted wide receiver who persistently battled for each and every ball tossed his way at Notre Dame back in the glory years of the 1970’s is now fighting a far more imposing opponent.

The disease came on with little warning. During the summer of 1999, Demmerle began having difficulty pronouncing certain words. He also noticed that when he turned his head to back his car down the driveway, his neck would often go into excruciating spasms. As the summer turned to fall, he realized that he could not stick his tongue out straight – it began to veer to the side. Somewhat alarmed, he went to doctors, had the diagnostic tests, and was told that he was incurably ill.

His brother, Mark, recalls: “Peter asked me to join him for coffee at the Darien (CT) Starbucks which was very unusual given his work schedule. He told me that he had been diagnosed with ALS and that the illness was terminal. My brother then informed me that he had to resolve matters with his partners at his law firm in New York. Pete explained to me what causes the disease and briefly explained the new course his life would take.  I was speechless.”

The initial days of the illness were, in some way, the most trying. “We watched a lot of very scary movies those first months because that was the only thing that would take our minds off of what we were processing,” remembers his wife, Kate.  “Peter says that he eventually came to terms with the disease because he had no choice – ‘it was the card I drew,’ he said at the time.”

Before the diagnosis, Peter Demmerle had drawn a number of winning hands over the first forty-six years of his life until ALS stealthily crept into his system seven years ago. Because his father and uncle had both attended the University of Notre Dame, Pete Demmerle was weaned on the inimitable, cherished traditions of the Fighting Irish almost from the moment of birth. His brother, Mark, affectionately recalls a picture taken of Peter at the age of five clad in a Notre Dame sweatshirt while holding a football. A native of New Canaan, Connecticut, young Demmerle gradually evolved into the quintessential scholar-athlete by the time he hit early adolescence. In the end, Pete Demmerle seemed destined to play football at South Bend.

The future All-American wide receiver began to learn the fundamentals of the sport in middle school even as he developed a genuine love for the game when he played Pop Warner Football for the New Canaan team in the mid-1960’s. While he had a number of athletic mentors early on, his most influential instructor growing up turned out to be his high school coach, Bob Lynch. As Mark Demmerle fondly remembers, “Coach Lynch stressed the fundamentals of football; he refined the level of playing to a honed sophistication rarely seen at the high school level. New Canaan High School won consecutive state championships; some of Peter’s receiving records still stand in the state of Connecticut today, including his 102 receptions in the 1970 season.”   

As his graduation from New Canaan High School neared, it was anticipated within the Demmerle family circles that Pete would head off to Notre Dame. Scores of representatives from the customary “jock schools” also appeared on the front steps of his house in Connecticut. Ultimately, Pete Demmerle was inundated with scholarship offers from a multitude of colleges. However, because he was seeking a rigorous academic institution that equally emphasized creditable intercollegiate competition, Demmerle felt that Notre Dame, more than any other institution, suited his particular needs. In the late summer of 1971, he headed off to South Bend.

From the start, fabled Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian recognized that he had something truly unique in the wide-receiver from Southwestern Connecticut. As Mark Demmerle recalls, “Peter was blessed with extraordinary motor skills as a young man.”  

Coach Parseghian and his coaching staff quickly discerned that the unpretentious kid from New England was inherently talented, smart, and industrious. During his first months on campus, Demmerle could often be seen after practice, polishing his skills as a wide receiver. Looking back at that time through the lens of perspective, Mark Demmerle now believes that, “Peter simply capitalized on his strengths and focused on his weaknesses.”            

It was not just the Fighting Irish coaching staff that became aware of the unique qualities of the new wide receiver from Connecticut. Dave Casper, a burgeoning star on the team at the time, noticed straightaway that the freshman with the imposing talent and the impeccable work ethic had the potential to serve as one of the building blocks to a future championship team. “Pete could run, catch, block, and was smart.  He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time,” Casper remembers, thirty-four years after he first played with Demmerle. Casper, who would later blossom into a celebrated All-Pro tight end with the Oakland Raiders, calls Demmerle, “the ultimate teammate and friend.

“I lived with him in Sorin Hall the last three semesters I was at Notre Dame,” recalled Casper recently. “Pete was a great player, a great guy, and a terrific person. He spent the time and effort to be a great player and spent time in his room studying to be an excellent student, and yet, he still found time to be a friend to many on campus.”  

Beyond all of this, what truly drove Pete Demmerle to succeed was his conspicuous passion for the game of football. “Natural ability and expert coaching are simply not enough to excel at the level of consensus All-American,” states Mark Demmerle.

Like most freshman, Pete Demmerle paid his dues during his first year on the Notre Dame football squad, learning the intricacies of the game from Ara Parseghian and his staff. Demmerle began to play regularly by his sophomore season and soon became a favorite target of quarterback Tom Clements.

In the concluding contest of the season, the up-and-coming wide receiver scored the only touchdown on a five-yard pass by Clements in a devastating loss to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.    

Peter Demmerle and his Fighting Irish teammates were determined to do better the following season. After a series of encouraging spring practice sessions, Coach Parseghian knew that he had assembled a special squad for the 1973 season. In the end, his team would not lose another game for a year-and-a-half. The legendary Parseghian would win his last national championship in the process.

While Notre Dame would secure its collegiate title on New Year’s Eve, longtime Fighting Irish fans point to the game that was played in South Bend on Saturday afternoon, October 28, as the defining moment for the 1973 squad. On that day, the best two teams in college football, Notre Dame and USC, faced off in a nationally televised contest.  

The previous year, Coach John McKay’s USC squad had not only humiliated ND by a score of 45 to 23 but had won the national title as a result. On this afternoon, however, Irish running back Eric Pennick sprinted for 118 hard-earned yards in a 23-14 victory that snapped USC’s twenty-three-game winning streak, with the Irish limiting the impact of the Trojan’s explosive running back, Anthony Davis. Not surprisingly, Peter Demmerle hauled in a handful of clutch catches in the contest as well, cementing his reputation as a “go-to guy” on the Notre Dame side.

“The 1973 USC game has always been Peter’s favorite game that he played in at Notre Dame,” remembers his wife, Kate. “After all, playing for the Fighting Irish had been a boyhood dream of Peter’s. He used to tell me how amazing it was to run onto that field and hear the incredible roar of the crowd.”  

Two months after the USC game, the undefeated Irish met the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl for a shot at the national championship on the last day of 1973.  

The Tulane Stadium crowd saw the lead change a handful of times during the spirited contest, highlighted by Al Hunter’s 93-yard kickoff return, key second half grabs by both Pete Demmerle and David Casper, and a 19-yard field goal from kicker Bob Thomas that put the Fighting Irish ahead in the contest, 24-23. Late in the fourth quarter, an Alabama punt pinned Notre Dame inside the Irish one-yard line, but Coach Ara Parseghian’s intrepid call resulted in quarterback Clements’ lobbing an unanticipated 38-yard pass to backup tight end Robin Weber to ice the game.

Peter Demmerle, the kid who had dreamed of playing football in South Bend, could now claim to be an invaluable member of a Notre Dame national championship team.

The next year as a senior, Demmerle would achieve All-American and Academic All-American status.  

Sadly, he would blow out his right knee in the 1975 Orange Bowl, a contest in which Notre Dame defeated Alabama for the second year in a row, 13-11. As he was helped off the field that day, Peter Demmerle’s seamless playing career for the Fighting Irish had come to an end.

The young man who had held on as firmly to his academic textbooks as his ND football playbook felt thoroughly equipped for the challenges that faced him upon graduation. “Peter majored in English literature,” remembers his wife, Kate. “He felt that Notre Dame prepared him academically for anything that he would want to pursue. I think that he felt that he had great professors and loved the campus life there.”

While he was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 1975 NFL Draft, Demmerle was determined to follow a different path in the end. Within a year, he began attending Fordham Law School. As his brother reflects, “Peter had goals and a sense of direction in life. He lived in the present while keeping a responsible vigil towards the future.”

After passing the bar exam in 1979, Demmerle joined the famed international law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae in New York. While he began his career in utilities, the enterprising lawyer soon became actively involved in the insurance practice of the firm.  

Utilizing the same astuteness, resolve, and leadership skills he had exhibited on the football field at Notre Dame Stadium, Pete Demmerle eventually became a lead insurance partner and ultimately chaired the Insurance Practice Group. His work centered mostly on property and casualty insurance regulation and legislation.

In time, Demmerle played an indispensable role in the winning reorganization of the Lloyd’s of London insurance market. “His work at the law firm literally saved Lloyd’s of London from bankruptcy – an insurance company that had been in business since 1688,” recalls Mark Demmerle proudly.

Just ten years after his last game for Notre Dame, Peter Demmerle was considered a national leader in both the legal and business communities.

In the interim, he had met an engaging and elegant lawyer, Kate LaFleche, whom he married in 1981.  Within three years, they would have their first child, Cara. Over the next nine years, three more daughters, Alice, Tessa, and Nina, would form an integral fabric that would redefine the lives of both Peter and Kate Demmerle. During Pete’s work on the Lloyd’s account, his family would reside in London twice but would eventually settle in Greenwich, Connecticut, not far from Demmerle’s head office in Manhattan.

In the fall of 1999, he was considered a model lawyer, husband, and father when ALS so suddenly took him down. The world for the entire Demmerle family would change beyond comprehension almost overnight.

Pete’s once powerful body began to decline as the disease took hold. Soon, his ability to communicate also became a complicated issue. During the first year of his illness, he did have the use of his speaking voice, though he began to slur his words as it got harder for him to talk. Gradually, his personal computer became the most efficient way to reach out to his family, his friends, and to his fellow ALS patients. Early on, he and Kate became leaders in the Connecticut chapter of the ALS Society. As he had done throughout his entire life, Peter Demmerle took the ball and ran with it.

Today, according to his devoted wife,“ Peter can communicate needs and basic thoughts by moving his left arm very slightly to answer a yes or no question if he is in his wheelchair. Otherwise, he has to spell out anything else. We will hold up a plexiglass letter board, and he focuses on one of six letter groups. Then we ask him to shift his eyes to the left for yes when we read out the correct letter.” Some his friends claim that Peter has the soul of a poet. Despite the tragedy, Peter Demmerle will simply not be stilled. His eyes have now become the way he best expresses himself.

Not surprisingly, he has continued to take an incredibly active interest in the lives of each of his four children. In a real sense, they have not only grown up within the shadow of his paralysis but have also taken on his voice as well. Ultimately, Peter’s and Kate Demmerle’s greatest legacy are their four incredible daughters.

Cara, the oldest, graduated from Yale this past spring. Cerebral and unpretentious like her father, Cara plans to pursue a career in public health. She points to her father’s genuine modesty for being as grounded as she is. “Most of my dad’s close friends at work didn’t know he played football at all until they were interviewed for an article about him and ALS.”

The understated manner that he became so renowned for among his circle of friends was also not lost on his eldest child. “Dad once described his condition as ‘poor, but not awful’ – when he could not breathe, speak, eat, or move on his own – and I think many people find that unflinching commitment to stay alive to be very inspiring.”

Cara Demmerle also credits her father with something even more vital – that how one treats others matters more than anything else. “Dad has taught us all to be more patient, understanding, and committed. Whatever the precise lessons we have each learned, these lessons will impact those in all of our lives as his children. To me, this is what a “soul” – is – the impact, however small, that one person has on another, the change that one person can cause in another, and the ripples that change causes in more and more lives as a result.”

All four daughters stress their father’s self-effacing sense of humor and his ability to laugh at the absurdities of life. Peter’s second daughter, Alice, credits her father’s marvelous wit as one of his greatest attributes. “Dad’s humor played such an important role in our family; I feel that he has taught us all to take life a little less seriously as a result.”  

Alice, a freshman at Vanderbilt, has the athletic dexterity and academic acumen that Pete possessed at a similar age.  Still, she recognizes that her mother, Kate, has taken a palpable burden with love, grace, and humility – as has her three sisters. “My mother has always emphasized our need to carry on a ‘normal’ life, despite the literal and figurative handicaps of my father’s disease.  She works so hard to let us live the lives we want.

“Often, I feel like I overlook all that she has done for our family, working tirelessly just so that we feel less situationally affected by his disease. My sisters have all amazed me with their ability to carry on, despite the draining sadness they were all experiencing.”

Tessa, the third of four daughters, is a Renaissance figure worthy of her father’s standing at Notre Dame. A diligent student, proficient athlete, gifted stage performer, and conspicuous student leader at The Greenwich (CT) Country Day School, her recent performance in the leading role of Jesus in an ambitious local production of Godspell was dedicated to her dad. Like her sisters, she has been inspired by him over the years. “When I was first told of my father’s diagnosis, I could not have possibly imagined the strength and willpower I would learn from his experience,” she admits.

“Years ago, my father could have quit, but still, every day I see my father, living, breathing, and smiling. This strength he possesses, this will to live, overwhelms every possible aspect of the disease, “states Tessa emphatically. “Dad has shown to me that one’s will to live can be much stronger than any obstacle that may come your way. And for this, I am truly grateful.”

The Demmerles’ youngest daughter, Nina, was only six when her family was so suddenly struck down.  Despite the tragedy, she is her family’s ray of sunshine, a luminous beacon of light in her father’s daily existence these days.  “My dad continues to play a paramount role in my life. He has made me recognize what I have, and how much I need to treasure it,” she acknowledges.  

Nina continues to spend countless hours each week with Peter, caring for him, watching his favorite TV programs alongside, and sharing amusing anecdotes about her days as a seventh grader in school. Her mother has such confidence in her youngest daughter’s skill as a companion and caretaker that she can leave her husband in the loving hands of thirteen-year-old Nina for brief periods of time.     

Every morning he wakes up and tries to make the best out of the state he is in,” relates Nina.  “Dad never focuses on the negatives, but is always trying to look for the positives.”

While Pete Demmerle’s illness has brought out the very best in each of the members of his family, his extended Notre Dame family has also been an invaluable source of inspiration and strength for Peter, Kate, and their family.

Kate Demmerle declares, “Peter has been very touched by his Notre Dame professors, roommates from Sorin Hall, and his teammates. All have made enormous efforts to visit him and stay in touch.”  Fellow Notre Dame All-American Dave Casper has been there in particular for Peter throughout the past seven years. Casper came to the hospital when Demmerle had a risky procedure completed, he made certain that Peter was in formal attire and appropriately acknowledged at the Walter Camp Awards, and he made it possible for Pete to be present in Canton, Ohio when Casper was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Pete’s a great friend,” says Casper simply.

Another one of Demmerle’s classmates, Art Moher ‘75, reflects on Peter Demmerle, the man. “Although there are many of our classmates who knew Pete better than me, I doubt very much that any are prouder of him and the way he has handled this unspeakably bad break. Pete’s remarkably clutch play on the football field pales in comparison to his fight against ALS. In his daily ordeal, he has elevated the moniker ‘Fighting Irish’ in his private and painful struggle even more than his stellar football career at ND.”

The love, support, and encouragement that Peter Demmerle continually gave to his Fighting Irish teammates have been returned in spades.  In a now-famous email sent when he still had the capacity to type, the Notre Dame legend wrote:  “I have learned that friendships brighten my day and sustain my desire to participate in life. I have learned from countless acts of kindness from perfect strangers that, on the whole, the human condition is kind and good. For these lessons, I am deeply grateful.”

Like any great winner, Peter Demmerle has always accepted – even embraced – life’s challenges. In doing so, he has experienced the exhilaration of victory in his fifty-three plus years.  

Three decades ago, he was a flawless wide receiver for the Fighting Irish.  Today, he clings to life itself even as his condition has worsened to the point of total paralysis. As his astonished family and friends have witnessed over the past seven years, the bookends of bravery and faith have sustained him while inspiring scores of others.     

“As an athlete, my father will always be the untouchable football player, captured in photographs soaring through the air in order to make a perfect catch,” reflects Pete’s daughter, Alice. “His scrapbooks and newspaper clippings will always remain an important documentation of his healthy abilities and personal dedication to the game he loved.

“As a father, he will always be the kind, thoughtful, humorous, and determined man I have known my entire life. His approachability and understanding will undoubtedly guide me in my own decisions as a parent in the future.

“As a man, he will always be the honorable and admirable fighter who never gives up, despite the magnitude of the difficulties with which he is faced.”

Peter Demmerle’s second eldest daughter concludes, “My father’s legacy is layered with his so many characteristics. I cannot decide what I am more proud of – his ability, his kindness, his dedication, or his fight.

“I am amazed by it all.”



For You, Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither of us wanted to let go of the moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



My Mentor, Coach, and Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Sox’ Tomato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lamabe: Ballplayer, Student, and Husband

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Boston Journeyman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coach Lamabe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friend, Family Man, and Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Bigs

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He very well could have been talking about himself.


The Wonder of the Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


We Are Our Own Change

It has to start with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plant something in the ground that you will eventually eat.

Treat children with a sense of both respect and astonishment

Make forgiveness an active verb.

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

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

Say thank you and please as a matter of course.

Close the door on narrow-mindedness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be ever-curious.

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

Take long walks.

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

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

Find something to do in life that helps others.

Look up at the stars in wonder.

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

Make kindness your most visible attribute.

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

I promise.