Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My Personal Saviour: Mr. October

His Hall of Fame plaque reads:

Exciting performer who played for 11 division winners and found special success in World Series spotlight with 10 home runs, 24 RBI's and .357 batting average in 27 games. In 1977 Series, hit record 5 homers, 4 of them consecutive, including 3 in one game on 3 first pitches off 3 different hurlers. Mammouth clout marked 1971 All Star Game. 563 homers* rank 6th on all-time list. A.L. MVP, 1973.

Reggie Jackson is my favorite player of all time.

As a 6 year old boy, I lived in Rhode Island and regularly went to Pawtucket Red Sox games with my father. He was the publisher of the local newspaper at the time and knew the owner of the Pawsox, Ben Mondor, fairly well. We'd sit in the owner's box, which wasn't luxury, but rather on the 3rd base line next to the home dugout. I used to peek my head around the corner into the dugout and the players would yell at me to get back inside. One lucky night in the late 1970's, I got to throw out the first pitch at a game. In 1980, I got to visit the lockerroom and got a hat from Wade Boggs.

As you might imagine, there are some pictures floating around of me as a boy, wearing Pawsox or Red Sox gear. It was natural. I didn't understand the rivalry until I was about 8 years old, and Bucky Dent hit that famous home run. A grade school kid who gets to go to the local ballpark and meet the players will naturally gravitate towards that team to a degree. Hell, I even went to nursery school with Carlton Fisk's daughter during the brief time we lived in New Hampshire. Talk about Red Sox Nation.

Now that my little confession is out of the way, I'll go back in time even further and tell you that I was born near Syracuse, NY in the frigid Finger Lakes region. My uncles were all die hard Yankee fans and my Uncle Dick especially. He was a Mickey Mantle fanatic and made sure that I always had a new Yankees t-shirt as I went from diapers to trainers. Up until my father moved us to Rhode Island in the mid-70's, all I knew was the Yankees.

In grade school all my friends pretended they were Carl Yazstremski, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, or Dwight Evans when we played after school. I was naturally a Fisk fan, what with my nursery school connection and all, but I was a much bigger Reggie Jackson fan and I was the only kid in school who chose to be a Yankee in the heart of Red Sox Nation. Yup. Reggie it was, and I proudly went to bat imagining myself wearing those tinted Poncherello glasses and swinging for the fences. I carried the 1979 Topps Reggie Jackson card with me for years, everywhere I went. I still have it to this day.

The fact is, although I enjoyed the perks of being a Red Sox insider to some degree, my heart was always with the Yankees. I knew that I was born in New York. I knew my parents were both lifelong New Yorkers. It was my heritage. My uncle's indoctrination to the Yankee Empire probably saved me from being one of those suffering Red Sox fans for the rest of my life. I loved Willie Randolph, and I loved Catfish Hunter. Gator and Gossage were my guys. Munson was one of my biggest heroes, despite being a bitter rival to Fisk. The first time I knew anything about death was when Munson's plane crashed. That lesson didn't come from a pet or a grandparent. It came from a Yankee.

My first real baseball memory came in the 1977 World Series. Reggie's 3 home run performance was the first game my father and I watched together on TV, and I got to stay up late. I don't have a clear picture of the game, but I see Reggie swinging and trotting and crossing home plate as if it were HiDef. I was totally hooked, and any hope the Sawx ever had to claim me as one of their own was lost forever. I guess you can say that Reggie Jackson is my personal Saviour. Yea, though I walk through the valley of Fenway, I shall fear no evil, for "The Straw" is my shepherd...

The exodus that was my childhood continued, as my family moved to Oakland in 1981. Billy Martin had taken over as the manager of the Athletics and the team's marketing slogan was "Billy Ball". Everytime an Athletics' player hit a home run, the stadium would rock to the tune of Kool and the Gang's "Celebration". To my great surprise, I learned during these years that Reggie Jackson had not been hatched in some wonderful laboratory a Yankee, but had slugged his way to fame as a member of the A's.

The strike shortened season was difficult for a 10 year old boy to understand, but any confusion about the unusual circumstances was relieved when my father got tickets to Game 3 of the ALCS in Oakland. I was beyond excited to see my Yankees come to town with Reggie batting cleanup. Alas, he did not play that afternoon and missed the first 3 games of the Series against the Dodgers as well. I still enjoyed the sight of the Yankees celebrating yet another trip to the Fall Classic.

Reggie was on his way to California the following year and my dreams of seeing him hit for the Yankees in the World Series again were forever dashed. Although my family moved back to New York in late 1983, all that was waiting for me in pinstripes was a 3rd place ballclub with an amazing rookie first baseman named Don. It wasn't the same.

Now, I have my own blog. I've feted Bernie Williams in recent days and inducted him into my fledgling Canyon of Heroes Hall of Fame. Reggie Jackson, and all his colorful past, now joins him and you can follow my tribute section by checking the bottom of the page.

A monument to the greatest Yankee slugger of all time, as far as my heart is concerned.


ternny said...

Have you ever seen Buch looking so comic?

t_sawa said...

I was one of those Japanese who got interested in MLB in 1978, the year Fuji TV started a regular MLB bloadcasting for the first time in Japan. Most games were of NY Yankees, LA Dodgers or Cincinati Reds, and Reggie Jackson's power swing was most impressing to the baseball kids like me, as well as Rich Gossage's power throw. The 6th picture of this entry was exactly the one many Japanese kids put on the wall of their room.

It seems to me the 70's was the MLB's golden age. They had many many great players, so many that some of the best players in MLB came over to Japan to find a place to play, such as Reggie Smith, Ron White and Davey Johnson, all for Tokyo Yomiruri Giants. Even in the last days of their career, they showed what the "real" Major Leaguers were like, especially the way to put their spirit into the each play. We saw just one single line-drive hit, or sometimes even smaller play like one single fanning, one catch or throw to put out could shake the opponents' (and spectators') heart.

t_sawa said...

I am sorry for making serious mistyping. It's Roy White, not Ron of course.