As many fellow Red Sox fans hold their breath in these opening weeks, hoping that the current safeguards will not allow Covid-19 to disrupt the tentatively “normal” 2021 Major League Baseball season so far…I am putting my faith in superstition, and a new cap.

First, a bit of personal baseball history is in order. It is a tale of how a baseball-playing kid in Minnesota managed to turn his back on the Twins and become a semi-diehard Red Sox fan since 1971.

I still vividly remember the first major league baseball game I attended. It was in the late summer of 1961, and I was about to enter the 9th grade. In my mind’s eye, I can still see that beautifully perfect field of grass that carpeted the outfield as I walked through that tunnel at Metropolitan Stadium in suburban Bloomington, Minnesota on a warm Sunday afternoon and finally began to realize a childhood dream….that I was going to witness an actual major league ballgame in person. The Twins won that game, beating the Detroit Tigers 12-4.

I later played left and centerfield on my high school team. I was pretty good in the field, and was a very good hitter. My real strength was stealing bases, coming off a freshman year as a sprinter on the track team. I knew my speed would win me a varsity letter as a 9th grader. Then I went out for the baseball team as a sophomore and became a starter for three years. Baseball was a lot more fun than track.

I made the baseball team in college as a freshman, and managed to remain on the team all four years. I was rarely a starter, but was good enough in the field and in the batter’s box to start most of the second games of doubleheaders…and was frequently a pinch runner. I stole a lot of bases.

During those college years, I always had a summer job to help with tuition and living expenses during the school years. Two of those summers, I had jobs on construction crews in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. I went to a half dozen Twins night games with friends in each of those two years. I always managed to drive home the 100 miles northwest of the Twin Cities on weekends to play in the Sunday games for my home town’s team.

After graduation, I taught high school biology for two years, until my local Selective Service draft board noticed the low lottery number I pulled that year. On September 7th of 1970, I and a number of other disgruntled Minnesota young men, were flown to Fort Knox, Kentucky for U.S. Army Basic Training. That was the bad news.

The good news came 10 weeks later when I got my post-basic training orders to be a “biological sciences specialist” at the Army’s Natick Laboratories just west of Boston on Lake Cochituate. Most everyone else in my company were headed to less desirable destinations for advanced infantry training, and the like, as the next step towards Vietnam.

To compound my good fortune, that next spring of 1971, I learned that the Boston Red Sox would give those with an active duty military I.D. a seat in the bleachers for 50 cents! I went to a lot of games in Fenway that season and half of the next one. That was about what I paid for gas for a roundtrip from Natick to Fenway in my ’67 Volkswagen “beetle”. It was love at first sight in that quirky old ballpark. I even began to follow the fortunes of the mediocre Sox with increased enthusiasm. Concurrently, I began to lose my enthusiasm for the Minnesota Twins.

Is it “social distancing” in the Fenway Park bleachers?” Nope. It is the bleacher crowd mostly heading for Kenmore Square and the Green Line after our most recent (in 2019) Hill/Wicken Annual Trip to Fenway! Did you notice? the Sox won.

The next two years of graduate school in North Carolina posed a drought insofar as attending major league baseball games was concerned. However, a return to New England, and specifically Portland, Maine for a job waiting for me at Maine Medical Center renewed my attendance at Sox games once or twice a year with friends and/or family.

Then, things began to change in the 21st Century!.

The Sox were getting gradually more competitive the prior couple of years before 2004. I was atttending a 2-day meeting in Braintree or Quincy, Mass. south of Boston that September. I noticed that the Red Sox were playing a home night game in Fenway that night. A couple of train changes on “the T” delivered me into Kenmore Square on the Green Line shortly before game time. A relatively cheap single ticket from a scalper delivered me in the ballpark at some point in the first inning.

During that game (that the Red Sox won handily), I witnessed a coalescing team that demonstrated to me the characteristics of a winner, that included a pitching staff that was holding its own, even dominating, late in the season. This was markedly different than most prior years.

My three 21st century Red Sox caps. 

Of note, is the fact that I had never owned a cap, t-shirt, hoodie, or even a keychain that indicated I was a Red Sox fan. After the game, I wandered into the large shop next to the park with everything one would want or need that was “Official Red Sox”. I bought my first cap (see leftmost cap in the photo). I really had the feeling that 2004 may very well be the year they would end “the curse”, the championship drought that had been in effect since 1918. I am not making that up!

Well, sure enough, the Red Sox won the World Series the following month….and all of Red Sox Nation was jubilant for months. I still give some credit to my new cap.

I continued to wear that cap a lot (I am a devoted cap-wearer, especially those that demonstrate allegiance to a team or school that I am proud of) through two more World Championship years in 2007 and 2013 until 2016. By that time, my Red Sox cap had put in a dozen years of proud and faithful service. By 2016, that cap (refer again to the photo) had become pleasantly well-worn, in my opinion. My wife, however, started threatening to burn that tired old cap on our driveway if I continued to wear it in public. She was getting increasingly serious about that threat. And I realized that she may have a point.

It was in the spring of 2016 that a good friend, Steve Hill, from our 20 years living in Cape Elizabeth, and I decided to go to a Springtime game at Fenway. Steve was a fellow baseball (in general), and Red Sox (in particular), fan. The Sox continued to play very competitive baseball (they won their 4th World Series two years later in 2018). After that night game, we wandered into that same souvenir shop, and I painfully purchased a replacement cap.

We learned two things during and after that game. 1. We enjoyed each other’s company and conversation in those first-base-side box seats and decided to do it again the next year and…2. That the painfully late drive back to Maine in the dark would dictate our plan to find a midweek day game in the spring. Usually there are 2 or 3 to choose from.

We have continued to make the springtime trip annually (except for the Covid-disrupted 2020 season for a number of good reasons). Not wanting to forego a trip two years in a row, and with ample vaccine in both of our bloodstreams, and limited crowds with social-distancing and our voluntary mask-wearing in Fenway, we have tickets for a midweek day game in early May.

We WILL NOT do our usual drive from Scarborough, ME to Revere, MA and take the T from its endpoint of the Blue Line at the Wonderland stop and a train change with an intervening pleasant walk to Kenmore Square. We know the “sardine packing” method of the subway that follows each game. We are working on evaluating alternative modes of transportation to safely get to and from the ballpark.

One more thing: Note the right-most, and very blue, Red Sox cap in the photo. My lovely wife spotted those allegedly “official” caps on sale in Portland for $10 and bought me one. I have to admit, it is a pretty snappy-looking $10 cap, without the faded and discolored look of my current model (in the middle of said photo).

After losing their first three games of the season, the Sox have now, at this writing, won 6 in a row! After a couple of down seasons, are they back on track? Too soon to tell. However, I will inaugurate my nice new cap during the May trip to Boston. If the Red Sox win the World Series this October, I will give due credit to my new cap….and, of course, to my lovely first wife….who, by next October, will have lasted over 49 years married to me. Impressive!

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

Garrison Keillor

Respect Science, Respect Nature, Respect Each Other….and Respect the Truth.

Per usual, your thoughts and comments are more than welcome. Launch them in the direction of [email protected] Thank you, in advance.

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