Tag Archives: Ted Williams



Last week the 106th opening game was held at Fenway Park.

In my old Darlington neighborhood of the 1950’s that meant a group of 9 and 10 year old boys would magically decide to head towards our makeshift ball field. We simply called it the “lot”.

Leaving home I would yell, “Mom, I’m going to the lot.”, as I scurried out the door.

The lot was a small oval plot of scruffy grass, encircled by Warwick and Windsor Avenues, plunked in the middle of our working class neighborhood. Woefully undersized for a ballpark, just 60 feet wide and 150 feet long, our gang made it work. Flat rocks were bases and telephone poles marked fair from foul. The only base paths were formed by our youthful romping. We had no fence.

One benefit of the size was the need for fewer players. We could manage with just 3 to a side; pitcher, shortstop and outfielder. The space was so tiny the pitcher could cover first base. A volunteer from the batting team would catch. The catcher was important because if the ball got past him it could easily land on the street and roll towards the sewer opening in the nearby curb. More than once we pried open the sewer cover and held onto the ankles of a playmate while we dangled him into the well to return our baseball, probably held together by black electrical tape, from the dark, dank mess.

The decision of which team batted first was decided by a vividly remembered ritual. One team captain would toss the bat vertically to the other captain who would catch it with one hand. The captains then topped each other fist over fist towards the knob of the bat. Whichever captain’s fist was the last able to fit on the bat’s barrel won the right for his team to hit first. However, before the bat toss, it was critical to establish if the “fingers” or “bottle cap” rules were in play for these arcane exceptions would change the outcome.

For the most part the neighbors who lived in the houses encircling our field were tolerant of the noise and potential damage to their properties. The one exception was a couple who lived in a home in foul territory past first base. They would keep any errant ball and worst of all they had the only picture window on the block! Fortunately, despite our unanimous hero worshipping of Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, all our gang were righties and we played slow pitch to keep most hits heading towards left field.
Until Charlie moved into the very house next to the picture window home. Charlie was different. He was a year older. He was rugged. He was an unrepentant lefty. After a few close calls with the dreaded window youthful innovation came to the rescue. When Charlie came to bat we simply flipped the field moving home plate to center field and Charlie’s pulled line drive shots would simply crash into a row of tall bushes.

The peculiarities of our oval island field come rushing back. The first player spotting an approaching vehicle would call out, “Cahh, cahh!” in our strong Rhode Island accent and play would momentarily halt. Our seventh inning breaks would consist of sitting on the steps of Artinian’s the mom and pop market located, in a Norman Rockwellian twist, directly behind home base. I’d drink Nehi grape while eating a Zagnut bar.

Curiously we never knew, nor much cared, who owned this little oval of green paradise. We never saw it being maintained. I guess our nonstop baseball, football and track games kept it from being overgrown.

I drove by the other day. A mature tree now rises from our old home plate. I see no sign of a worn basepath.

Times change, but early Spring will always bring these memories back to me.

Play ball!




Summer – Mid 1950’s.

Three stitches were working their way loose. The red strands disengaging from the dirty, stained horsehide. I menacingly tapped the bat in the middle of the crudely shaped home plate. My brother, already stretching to six feet three inches at a mere fourteen years old loomed toweringly close from our makeshift mound. The crunch of tires on the gravel filled driveway preceded the nose of the ancient Hudson as it announced our parents’ return from the local A&P market.

“That’s not a hard ball you’re using, is it?” our mother called from the car’s open window.

“It’s okay, Mom,” my brother replied.

“Not if you break a window!”

“He’s just seven. He can’t hit it that far.” he answered.

Mother lugged the brown grocery bags around to the side mudroom entrance, her path approximating the warning track in left field. Her brief concern about the hard ball was about as severe as her discipline would venture. She wore a patterned dress, circles and squares and not being a church day, sensible shoes.
The air around her always smelled of caution.

Without straining imagination, the back yard of our modest Pawtucket bungalow was a miniature Fenway Park. A short wire fence in right field even had a strange rectangular depression running in front of its length like the bullpen in Boston. Right field was where young Jackie Jensen patrolled for the Red Sox. Fresh out of college, where he had played football as well, Jensen brought some much needed speed to the slow footed roster.

At our backyard ballpark if the ball cleared the right field fence it landed in the Olsen’s yard. Most times you just leaped the fence to retrieve the ball, but occasionally, Charlie Olsen would be out back wandering around. Charlie was a bachelor of indeterminate age who lived with his elderly mother and spinster aunt. Our parents encouraged us to be nice to Charlie because he had the “shakes” from the Korean Conflict. A more thorough explanation of “shakes” would have reduced the youthful, unnecessary fear I had of Charlie. His hair was a burnt orange, fringed with premature grey. Was the grey caused by something horrible he witnessed in a battle? When he spoke, which was not often, his voice had a quiet hesitation. You needed to lean closer, not a viable option for me, to catch the end of his sentences. His blue eyes would look past your right shoulder as he surrendered the ball back over the fence.

Father had noisily popped the Hudson’s hood and was peering incomprehensibly into the maze of mechanical parts that powered the beast. Steam hissed menacingly as it escaped from around the radiator cap. Soon, I knew, Father would be pouring a Clorox bottle full of water into the radiator reservoir, forestalling, for a bit, another roadside catastrophe. Father’s confidence in his mechanical abilities never came close to matching reality.

The Hudson was parked in the center field triangle. At Fenway, this region was owned by Jimmy Piersall, who was battling his own delusions. Piersall, along with Jensen, the only speed the Sox had, played an extremely shallow center and loved to race back to the four hundred foot mark to snag long drives in full stride. I wondered if his mental problems were anything like Charlie’s “shakes” ?

My brother teasingly twirled into his windup, all spindly arms and legs gyrating, hiding the release point of the ball. Yet I trusted that he wouldn’t throw the real heater towards his little brother. The exaggeration motion was all show. Comic relief.

The final most critical detail of our home Fenway was the left field wall. The Green Monster in Boston was replicated in the back of our simple home. It loomed over our little yard and our imaginations. Father had painted the house green and I never dared ask why, fearing he might change his mind and desecrate it with a cream or brown do-over. The only spoilage to the image was a six paned window that brought light onto our kitchen table. The sextuplet squares glistened in the sun as I squinted, trying to decode my brother’s delivery. Of course, at Fenway, left field was reserved for Teddy Ballgame, Theodore Samuel Williams, the greatest hitter of his era. I would sometimes vainly try hitting left handed to emulate #9’s perfect assault on the ball. But from that side I had a hitch in my swing you could tie six horses to. Ted Williams, a boy’s hero in so many ways, had just returned from the Korean Conflict, his second stint of dangerous duty as a fighter pilot. I could never envision Ted with the “shakes”.

My brother’s arm finally reappeared from the whirligig of his windup. He released the ball with a sidearm delivery, the seams spinning crazily as it headed in my direction. I fought my youthful habit of flinching and squeezed the bat tightly, my weight on my back foot. The pitch looked to be about belt high, an orb hurtling toward destiny. I cocked my wrist for extra power and shifted my weight forward as I brought the bat level.


The sound was noticeably different, more violent than anything I had generated before. The ball recoiled off the meat of the bat at an alarming rate. Not my usual squibbler to third or slow roller to the mound. It was my first line drive and it was headed for the Green Monster. More precisely it was headed, unerringly, towards the shimmering glass rectangle in the center of the wall. I watched, mesmerized, as the blast neared the house.


The left pane middle row of the window imploded into our kitchen. A round hole with spidered hair magically appeared. Charlie, browsing in his garden, ducked instinctively at the sound of the explosion. My brother placed his gloved left hand on top of his crewcut.

“What the heck?” my father asked, as he backed into shallow center field, looking to his left.

I stood at home plate frozen by a mixture of fear, pride and amazement.

“I’m sorry, Dad. I never thought he could hit it that far,” my brother said, gallantly falling on his sword for me.

“Quite a poke,” my father mused. “Guess I’d better head to Bunting’s Hardware to get some glass.”

The door to the mudroom creaked open, then clacked shut. My mother turned the corner, coming into view with the offending object held like a bomb in her right hand.

“Can’t hit it that far?” she mimicked my brother.

This time he feigned invisibility. The Hudson roared to life, stealing our mother’s attention.

“Where is your father going?” she worriedly asked.

“Bunting’s, for some glass,” I offered.

“Great! We’ll end up with six broken panes!” she sighed, tossing the ball back towards the mound.

I exhaled for the first time in what seemed like minutes and decided that this disaster would not, in fact, be the thing that would give me the “shakes!”

– END –
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Final Out F-9. Published in the Providence Journal

The bright orange roof of the Howard Johnson’s was a benchmark. This particular Ho-Jo filled the triangle formed by the merging of Routes 1 and 1A in North Attleboro. Even at 11, I knew if we were driving this far north of our Pawtucket life, we were heading for Fenway Park! The Green Monster, the CITGO sign, sausage grinders from the street vendors, but, best of all, Ted Williams at the plate.
We’d drive past Ratty’s Car Hop where, if Dad was feeling flush and the Sox won, we might stop on the way home for the world’s best burgers on buttered and grilled rolls. Your order was taken, and your food even brought to your car, by achingly pretty teenage girls gliding on roller skates!
Dad’s hulking green Hudson maneuvered its way through the curves of the VFW Parkway like an armadillo on a mission. Duct tape, secured by faith, held the tailpipe in place. We’d be fine until we hit the rotaries in Brookline, where Dad always managed to exit either one spoke too soon or one spoke too late. Never mind batting practice, we rarely managed to see the first inning.
On this day, July 20, 1958 — 55 years ago today — the Detroit Tigers, my favorite team after the Sox, were in town.
We finally arrived, parked the beast somewhere illegal and scurried down Lansdowne Street. A loud roar poured out of the old brick ball yard as we turned toward the entrance.
“I bet Williams hit one out!” I pouted angrily.
But the crowd noise was unusual. It didn’t quickly spike then fade. Rather, it lingered punctuated with new passion then ebbing away only to reverberate again. This one mystified me. My father, brother and I pushed through the turnstiles and jogged up the tilted, zigzag ramp toward our first base side grandstand seats. The noise was over by the time we shot through the tunnel and finally looked onto the diamond. Umpires were concluding a huddled conference as we found our seats.
“What happened? What happened?” I pestered the man in the seat in front of mine.
“Billy Martin spiked Runnels sliding into second base. All hell broke loose,” he replied.
We had missed a real baseball rhubarb! A bench-clearing, infield-dust-swirling wrestling match. I consoled myself by rationalizing that the donnybrook had delayed the game some, so we’d missed less of the actual action.
The ball-filled afternoon then spun itself out on a tradition-laden web of hot shots to third, 6-4-3 double plays and the rhythmic “We want a hit” chanting and clapping.
Too many decades and too many ballgames have passed for me to recall all the details of the game. However, the final out in the bottom of the ninth is etched as clearly as Catechism lessons in my mind.
Jim Bunning, long and lean, was on the hill for the Tigers. He was one of the best hurlers of his time and I secretly admired him even though he played for Detroit. Heck, in those days, the Red Sox never had any pitchers to root for. Bunning was on top of his game that day, literally unhittable, carrying a no-hitter into the final inning.
If this game had been proposed as a Hollywood script, and the writer cajoled the action into having Ted Williams stride to the plate with two outs, some editor would have red lined it as too clichéd.
But, that’s how it happened, Ted taking languorously smooth half swings for practice as he headed for the left-handed batter’s box. (He would hit .328 that year, with 26 home runs and 85 runs batted in, in 129 games.) I froze, paralyzed by torn emotions, my devoted loyalty to Number 9 punctured by my wanting to see Bunning succeed.
The two baseball icons dueled for a couple of pitches, I think, but can’t swear. Bunning whirled and tried to sneak a fastball over the inside corner past Ted. Williams uncoiled, powerful hips turning into the swing.
“Crack!” The ball resonated off Ted’s Louisville Slugger. From our first base side seats we had the perfect spot to watch the flight of the ball.
I didn’t, couldn’t, cheer. The crowd didn’t cheer. It was eerily hushed as the ball started on its parabolic flight toward right field. Al Kaline, the Tiger’s brilliant right fielder, started drifting back. The ball reached its highest trajectory and began the slow descent as Kaline backpedaled onto the narrow warning track. Did it have enough distance to reach the Tiger bullpen?
Kaline casually lifted his Spalding glove and the ball settled in the pocket. I swear I could hear the “plop” as horsehide met leather. Ted had hit it too far down on the handle. Bunning had “fisted” him just enough. After a moment’s hesitation, the Beantown fans, still standing, started a long ovation for Bunning.
The Howard Johnson’s is gone, Ratty’s has been boarded up for decades, and my father passed away 16 years ago, but I can still instantly recall the triangle of Hall of Famers — Kaline, Bunning and Williams — and that final notation in my scorebook: F-9, which in baseball scoring means fly out to right field.

Jim Raftus, of Cumberland, is a retired marketing executive.