by R. Zachary Sanzone
My baseball story began in the spring of 1989. My brother was a freshman at Boston College and my family and I went out to visit him for the weekend. On Saturday my mother and sisters decided to do some shopping so my father took my brothers and me to a Red Sox game.
I don’t remember too much from that day. I was only eight years old. I do remember standing in line with my dad while he bought tickets for right behind the Red Sox dugout. I remember how cold it was with the wind whipping throughout the park. I remember my dad bought me a Red Sox sweatshirt because of how cold I was. He also got me a hotdog that I quickly wolfed down. My brothers and father passed me around so I could sit on their laps and keep them warm while I continued to get cold. The Red Sox played the Royals that day. My brother Bill pointed out Bo Jackson and George Brett to me but I barely remember. I do remember Mike Greenwell at bat though. We left early because it had gotten too cold to stay. It seemed like it took forever to walk back from Fenway Park to our hotel in the Boston Commons. But that was my first baseball game and I didn’t know it at the time, but it marked the beginning of a life long love affair.
Five years later my love for baseball blossomed. Ken Burns’ Baseball had just premiered on PBS and it instantly hooked me. I fell in love with the history of the game. I learned who Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb were before I was a teenager. I started begging my mom to take me to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which was only an hour and a half drive from where we lived in Upstate New York. I cherished every visit to Cooperstown, even as a twelve-year-old boy. I remember placing my hand on Mickey Mantle’s plaque and paying my respects as if he was buried there.
Baseball is one of the few ways that I can connect to other people. But the strike of 1994 had just ended, which left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans. That made it very hard for me to talk to people about baseball, and I often felt alone, not only as a baseball fan, but in general. I was, and still am, an introvert who keeps to himself for the most part. Introverts are empathic and sensitive people who are good at sensing and understanding other people’s feelings. It took me many years to finally understand how this connected to baseball, but it finally hit me one day when I remembered something that the Baltimore Orioles’ Earl Weaver said after losing the 1969 World Series to the Mets.
Baseball writers asked Weaver if he thought he could have won if he’d done something different in Game Five of the Series to win and take it back to Baltimore, “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock,” Weaver responded. “You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.” The words “give the other man his chance” really resonated with me, and still do. As a Human Rights advocate, I firmly believe that everyone should be treated equally and with respect regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or other social or cultural differences. This idea includes being given a chance to voice their own ideas and opinions. More importantly, be given a chance to prove themselves. Being an introvert means that I know what it’s like to feel like an outcast. As a result, a lot of people don’t even try to engage with you. That does not mean, however, they don’t deserve a chance to prove themselves.
As someone who was bullied a lot as a kid, as I became a bigger baseball fan I grew to empathize with people like Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood. Not because I experienced anything on the level that they experienced, but because I had an idea of what it was like to be an outcast. My love for the game has always steered my sense of right and wrong, whether it’s in my friendships, love interests, or with my students as their teacher. I often try to be a model of fairness, and when I fail at it, as we all do from time to time, I look to Robinson and Flood for inspiration. More importantly, I look to them as a model that I think everyone should emulate in their daily lives.
As a life-long Red Sox fan I know what heartbreak is. That heartbreak has served me well though as I continue to shake my head at today’s crumbling political and social climate. But it’s the Red Sox that I turn to when I was to take a break from life. When I’ve had a rough day at work, or I read something in the news that disappoints me, or I’m getting out of a bad relationship, the Red Sox and Fenway Park are always there to lift me up. That’s why I shell out of the money it costs to have season tickets to the Red Sox. Between April and October, I always have a chance to put life on hold and go to Fenway to escape reality for a few hours and eat hot dogs.
The game of baseball reminds me that we all get a second chance. No matter how bad life can get, there will always be another at-bat. Sometimes we’ll hit a home run, sometimes we’ll strike out. But it’s ours for the taking.
I close with the wise words of Satchel Paige who once said, “You win a few, you lose a few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them.” That philosophy serves me well not only when I’m at Fenway Park, but in life as well.
Zach Sanzone is a history and literature teacher along with also being a baseball writer residing in Boston, MA. Zach writes for yawkeywayreport.com, redsoxunfiltered.com, and Spitball Magazine. A lifelong Red Sox fan, Zach splits his time between teaching and attending ball games at Fenway Park. He lives with his cat of ten years, Franklin Delano Kittycat.