If you're reading this blog today, you can thank Jim Rice. No, not for teaching you to read, dummy. But because I don't know if I'd ever have become such a Red Sox junkie without Jim Ed there to show me the way.
The Red Sox had always been a part of the fabric in my family, but unlike, say, Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose father had her filling out scorecards when she was eight, it was not a central focal point. But I remember my father with the game on in the background as he worked in the yard (radio was the only way you could consistently hear the Sox back in the day, and is still my favorite way to catch a game), my grandfather turning off the TV or radio in frustration at a bad play only to turn it back on again seconds later, and my bandwagoning grandmother who only liked the Yankees because they always won (she died in 1979, many years before the Red Sox resurgence). So it wasn't until 1978-I turned 15 that summer, the year of the great collapse-that I became a true diehard. And in no small part, that was because of Jim Rice.
I loved Rice before I loved baseball. To a mid-seventies teenaged girl he was a celebrity, a heartthrob, in the way a Tony DeFranco or Shaun Cassidy or young John Travolta was. But unlike those pop stars-around whom there was a whiff of the feminine, with their smooth faces, feathered hair and falsettos-Jim Rice was all man, a dreamy, brooding hulk who inspired a thrill just by walking to the plate. Those beautiful eyes, that magnificent body, and oh, that swing-craaacccckkk!!!! Another one into the right field stands, or into the screens in left (it seems a lifetime ago since those screens were up there, doesn't it?) In 1978, the year I fell in love, Rice did that 46 times en route to an MVP...and even though I loved him as a celebrity, I had to watch the games to get my fix, and it was during those summer evenings of '78 that I learned what the infield fly rule was, why the big guys batted after the little guys, what made a curve ball different than a fastball. By the end of the season, I loved the game as much as the man, and thirty years later, I still do. The Red Sox have become a source of joy for me, a way of life in part, and I have Jim Rice to thank for that.
So, needless to say, Rice's inevitable-we can now say it was inevitable, can't we?-selection as a member of baseball's Hall of Fame is very personal for me. It's the celebration of a family member's achievement-Jim Ed and I grew up together, and now we're growing old together-thirty years later we're still a part of each other's lives, for me when I watch NESN and reflect on my youth, for him because when he speaks to the camera lens and remembers the roar of the crowd, I'm there. We're both a little grayer now, a little heavier, but still styling and doing the things we love to do.
And come July, I'll be able to visit him whenever I want by driving the few hours down the pike to Cooperstown. That's a beautiful thing, and long, long overdue.
Congratulations, Jim Ed! The ghost of a starstruck 15-year-old turned grateful 45-year-old salutes you.
(Pics from bostonredsox.com)