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I was at the gym in the morning, trying to catch my breath, when the first reports began to trickle in. A lady waiting for a step aerobic class said she had no luck on the opening day of family scalloping. Out with her husband to check a few of their favorite places, she had found mostly seed, and small ones that had to be thrown back.
I overheard a guy saying the same thing as I was waiting in line for coffee, at Daily Breads later in the morning. Later in the afternoon someone told me that the snorkelers were having better luck, the good scallops just out of reach of where you could reach them with a push rake.
Along with the news of scallops comes random comments about water temperature and the odds of catching a striped bass. I stop being concerned with water temperature when it gets too cold for me to swim in. But even I have been known to toss into conversation the water temperature and striped bass theory, right next to my thoughts on the Sox pitching rotation. The wind direction theory seems a little esoteric to me.
Someone once said that every American thinks they can run a baseball team and a newspaper. On this island you can add scallops and striped bass. It is a comfortable feeling, especially in the face of the unending march of talking heads we see on television yammering about our free-falling economy. Baseball, scalloping, and fishing for stripers have certain easy-to-understand parameters. They actually have answers that we can all agree are the correct ones.
News of scallops reminded me of a day just after the start of baseball spring training. I was standing in line for coffee that day as well, listening to two guys in front of me going over the Red Sox roster. They argued about the pitching rotation. It was still cold outside, in some places the gray dredges of snow reminded me that no matter how much we talk about baseball, early March is still winter.
Sometimes the talk of things, the random moments when you chat about scalloping, or the Red Sox, is enough for me. On this island, the people doing the talking are not strangers exactly, most of us seem to vaguely know each other.
But I have had the same sort of conversations in cities. An old guy in a run -down bar in Time Square once swore to me he was Rocky Colavito’s cousin. I was visiting some friends and we had ducked into the place to catch the Red Sox on the television, who were playing the Yankees over in the Bronx. Talk had turned to Dwight Evans, and I finished my beer and made a general announcement that Evans could throw runners out at the plate like nobody else.
The old guy took exception. We argued. We talked about baseball. It was one of the best afternoons I have ever spent in New York. A face to face chat with a real person trumps anything on the Internet, including this blog.
The first day of family scalloping season was also the first day of the major league baseball playoffs. Vladimir Guerrero’s boneheaded base-running and a great heads-up throw by Kevin Youkilis gave the Red Sox a good start in the postseason. Guerrero, a right fielder who once had an arm that rivaled Evans and Colavito, has a great Cold War name that sounds half Russian and half Dominican.
Roger Angell once wrote about 1975 World Series, the one the Red Sox lost in seven games to the Reds. The story was called “Agincourt And After” and had two images I can still remember: People running out onto triple-decker porches in Dorchester or stopping their cars on empty New Hampshire roads to howl happily at the stars after Carlton Fisk’s famous home run won game six. And snow pouring though the television screens and radios from Maine to Cape Cod when the Reds took game seven.
Is it crazy to say I miss those days before the Sox finally won a World Series? Nobody would reference the Battle for Agnincourt in writing about the Red Sox these days. Now it is the marketing tool of Red Sox Nation. Now it seems like CEOs have taken my favorite seat along the third base line, and the only way to afford going to a game is to drive to Baltimore and catch the Sox and the O’s at Camden Yards.
Don’t get me wrong. I love fall baseball and being able to watch the Sox hold winter off for a few weeks longer. I was madly happy when they won their first World Series. I watched every pitch of that postseason with my wife and kids. The whole thing was great.
Last year I wandered down to the Atlantic Café to watch the Sox win the Series. There was hardly anyone there. I watched the first few innings with Patrick Fitzgerald, who spent 25 years as a cop in Limerick, Ireland. He tells a good story. I can’t remember what we talked about, but I am guessing it wasn’t baseball. We walked down to Cap’n Tobey’s to see if we could watch the last few innings with a crowd. A guy at the bar reminded me that I had coached his basketball team at the Boys Club, when he was a kid. He was no longer a kid. I walked back up Main Street to my truck, feeling very old.
An old friend of mine who grew up in Chicago called last week, and after the usual questions about wives, kids, and work, the talk turned to the Cubs. I warned him things will change if they are finally World Series champs. I told him that those changes won’t necessarily be good. He would have none of it. He is obsessed with seeing his team win the Series. I know the feeling.
The phone call put me in mind of the only time I have ever been to Wrigley Field. The previous season the Cubs had won the National League East, before losing in the playoffs. I stopped for a beer after the game at a place near the ballpark. It was mostly empty. Just the bartender, one old-timer nursing a shot, and me.
Just to have something to say I mentioned how well the Cubs had done the season before. “Kid,” he said to me, “I been rooting for the Cubs since before I left for World War II. Just because they finally won something does mean I’m going to have a heart attack over it.”
– John Stanton