Musings: Prayers, Answered And Otherwise

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

PRAYERS, ANSWERED AND OTHERWISE

For many years I used to have the same recurring dream. In it I am a player for the

Boston Red Sox (I told you I was dreaming) and, in my first major league at-bat, I am

called upon to pinch hit in a tense situation. The opposing team is never specifically

identified in my dream, nor is the pitcher I’d be facing, beyond that he is well-known for

his blinding fastball.

In my dream, just before I step into the batter’s box, I bless myself by making the sign of

the cross. This is done baseball-style as opposed to the demonstrative method employed,

for example, by a priest from the altar in which he majestically touches his brow,

stomach, and both shoulders. The baseball-style blessing is almost a phantom sign of the

cross in which a player just points for an instant to his forehead, torso, and shoulders. He

seldom if ever makes actual contact with any of those body parts, but the player’s

blessing means the same thing as the priest’s; he is calling upon the Lord for His

intercession and His divine help.

Having thus blessed myself I take my stance in the batter’s box, calmly confident that I

have God on my side in the up-coming at-bat. Then I look on in horror as the opposing

pitcher, the one with the great fastball, steps off the rear of the mound and – wait for it –

he makes the sign of the cross! There goes my secret weapon. Now the pitcher versus

batter battle becomes one that will be decided on merit, and that does not bode well for

me.

At this point my dream always ended, which is just as well. It was rapidly becoming a

nightmare. If I even fouled one off against the mysterious pitcher in my dreams, that

would qualify as a miracle.

It is commonplace to see a player demonstrate his faith, whatever it may be, in some

small way during the course of a ballgame, whether it be a look to the heavens or tracing

a symbol in the dirt with his bat. All players know that doing so is never a guarantee of

success because all players have experienced the failure that is intrinsic to the game. That

God does not take sides in baseball games, or in any sport, is a lesson that we all learn

early in life.

Still, prayer in sports can have a beneficial effect. It calms a player down during a high-

stress time, it reminds him that there is something bigger and more important than

himself involved in everything we do, not just an at-bat, a pitch, or a single game; it puts

him in a position where he can concentrate on the task at hand - just as long as he

understands that it’s not going to help to get his bat around on a ninety-eight mile an hour

fastball. If it did, the Pope would win the Triple Crown every year.

A lot a players pray as an integral part of their in-game rituals. Carl Yastrzemski is a

guarded person who doesn’t reveal much about his private life, but right after the 1967

Red Sox Impossible Dream season, when Yaz won the Triple Crown (we could have

called him Your Holiness that year), he wrote a memoir in which he let us in on a secret;

just before the start of every game he said a quiet Hail Mary, praying to: “Please let me

relax, and be with me, and let me play my natural game, to the best of my ability, and not

be injured.” That, coupled with a lifetime of dedication to the game, a Herculean work

ethic, and a large dose of God-given talent, was enough to propel him into the Hall of

Fame on the first ballot.

It brings to mind an old story about a farmer who, through hard work and dedication,

developed what had been a run-down piece of land into a very successful farm, yielding

bountiful crops every year. One day the local pastor paid him a call. The pastor looked

out across the fields and said, “This is a beautiful spread that you and the good Lord have

put together.” To which the farmer replied, “Yep, but you should have seen it when the

good Lord had it to Himself.”

I haven’t had that dream about coming up to bat at Fenway Park in some years; I think

it’s because I actually did once step up to home plate there in a high-pressure situation.

The occasion was a memorial tribute to Ted Williams shortly after the great slugger’s

death in 2002. There were about twenty-five thousand people in the ballpark, including

many dignitaries, plus me. I had been asked to recite “Teddy at the Bat,” a send up of

“Casey at the Bat,” that I had recited for Ted, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky during

a visit to Ted’s home some months earlier. The tribute was televised live, there would be

no retakes or do-overs, but that and the big crowd in the park is not what caused my

stress level to skyrocket. It was the old public address system, in which there was a five-

second delay between the time something was said and the time it went out over the

loudspeakers. It was still in use at the time of the tribute to Ted. It was difficult enough to

speak under those conditions, but to recite a five minute-long poem was a train-wreck

waiting to happen. I had to maintain its pacing, deliver a specified number of syllables in

each line, and remember the rhymes, all while hearing what I had just said five seconds

earlier reverberate throughout the ballpark. I knew that if all the distractions caused me to

stumble I was in danger of losing my concentration and my train of thought could

disappear into the ozone layer. Only my laundryman knew how nervous I was, so as I

was being introduced for my recitation I said a brief prayer. It was nothing profound,

something like, “Please God, help me get through this without making a complete ass of

myself,” but it eased my anxiety and allowed me to focus on the task at hand.

My little prayer hadn’t been much, but it was enough to get me through the recitation

without totally imploding, thank God; or perhaps I should say, “Thanks, God.”

Musings: What Ever Happened To Craig Kimbrel?

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO CRAIG KIMBREL?

Do you remember Craig Kimbrel?

You know, the guy with the red beard. He used to be a baseball player. Well, I guess he

still is a baseball player, but he’s not playing for anyone, is he? At least, not yet.

Kimbrel, who for the last three years was the Red Sox closer, became a free agent at the

end of 2018. He’s still a free agent more than a quarter of the way through the current

season. How can that be, you ask? After all he is the youngest pitcher in history to reach

300 saves, which he did last season at the tender age of 29 (he’s currently at 330); he has

been selected 7 times to the all-star team; and his strike outs per innings pitched are off

the charts. Yet he sits by the phone at home in Alabama while the games are being played

– and while many saves are being blown by a lot of teams.

What’s the story? Why has that happened? Well, do you remember the post season of

2018? That’s when Kimbrel really lived up to the nickname of “Cardiac Craig.” In 10 2/3

innings he had an earned run average of 5.91 and allowed 19 base runners – 19 of them!

That’s almost two base runners per inning. His last game as a Red Sox was game 4 of the

World Series. That’s the game that broke the Los Angeles Dodgers’ spirit. The Red Sox

trailed in the 7 th inning, 4 to 0. Then their offense exploded; by the time the Dodgers

came up in the last of the ninth, the Sox had turned the game completely around and built

a seemingly insurmountable lead of 9 to 4. Manager Alex Cora felt safe in using Kimbrel

to mop up the game, but before he got even one out Kimbrel gave up a two run homer,

and suddenly the game seemed within reach for the Dodgers. Cardiac Craig managed

somehow to get the three outs to end it. The Sox had survived, but Kimbrel’s reputation

had not. He’d been doing a high wire act throughout the playoffs and that’s not a good

time to flirt with disaster; the whole baseball world is watching those games – and taking

notes. The next night, with a 3 to 1 lead in games and a 5 to 1 lead in the 8 th inning, Cora,

with a chance to close out the World Series, chose to not put the ball into the hands of his

erstwhile closer but gave it instead to Joe Kelly in the 8 th and Chris Sale in the 9 th . They

both struck out the side while Kimbrel sat and the champagne started popping. And the

baseball world took note.

After the season Kimbrel filed for free agency. He expected the world to beat a path to

his door, but in baseball as in politics the first question people have is “What have you

done for us lately?” The answer, as everyone who’d watched the post-season knew, was

“Not much.” The Red Sox took a chance and made him a qualifying offer of $17.9

million for one year; their bet being that he’d turn it down, thus making the Sox eligible

for a draft pick from any team that did sign him. Sure enough Kimbrel did turn down

their offer. Then he sat back to let the bidding for his services begin. And it didn’t.

His representatives had set his price at $100 million for six years. The silence was

deafening. That’s more than any other reliever in history has ever received. The price

eventually came down to half of that in terms of both dollars and the number of years.

Still, the phone wasn’t ringing in Alabama.

Now the winter is long since over and the season is well underway. Still he sits, waiting.

The good news for Craig is that in a few weeks the baseball draft will be held and once

that happens, the Red Sox will no longer be eligible for a draft pick from whoever signs

him. So look for several teams to join in the bidding as soon as the draft is done. There

are more than a few that desperately need help in the bullpen. But by then Kimbrel will

already have lost more than two months of the baseball season and it will probably be

close to another month before he’s ready to pitch against major league hitting. His asking

price will probably come down again – significantly.

Timing is everything. If he had been eligible for free agency after the 2017 season he’d

have been a hot property. He was still at the top of his game back then. He had 35 saves,

a 1.43 earned run average, and a strike out rate of 16.43 per nine innings. But that was

then and this is now; and now it’s a different story. His velocity was down in the second

half of last year. His command was off. His ERA in the second half for 2018 was 4.57.

There is nothing staler than last year’s flavor of the month.

Do you suppose that, as he sits by the phone waiting for it to ring, Cardiac Craig ever

regrets not taking the Red Sox’s qualifying offer of $17.9 million way back last

November? That, in all probability, is much more that he’ll end up getting for this year

from any other team; it would have given him a chance to restore his reputation and, after

having a good year, file for free agency again next year. Of course, there is always the

chance that his season could have ended up in the dumpster they way last year’s post-

season did. Still, in that worst case scenario, he’d have been able to bank the $17.9

million.

My guess is that Craig Kimbrel, in his heart of hearts, regrets turning down that

qualifying offer – and that the Red Sox are breathing a sigh of relief that he did.

Musings: John Havlicek R.I.P.

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

JOHN HAVLICEK, R.I.P.

The late John Havlicek and I played together on the same basketball team. Honest. Back

in the mid-eighties he organized a celebrity team to play in a charity game at Weston

High School, the town where he lived. Team members included Doug Flutie, fresh off his

Heisman Trophy season at Boston College, and Jerry Remy, then the recently retired Red

Sox second baseman but not yet the TV icon he was to become. Bobby Orr was there too,

but as an honorary referee, since his oft-injured knees prevented him from running up

and down a basketball court.

John must have had to reach pretty far down the local celebrity food chain to fill out his

team’s roster because he called and asked if I would participate. In those days I was on

TV news which, for those of you who may remember my appearances, meant that I was

used to embarrassing myself in front of a lot of people, so I, of course, agreed. We both

served on the board of the Genesis Fund (now Foundation) and I was the master of

ceremonies every year at his annual fishing tournament, so we knew each other well.

Then came the night of the big game which, as I remember, was played against members

of the Weston High faculty. At one point during a moment of weakness someone decided

to put me into the fray. The teachers had possession of the ball, but I hadn’t bothered to

get back on defense - why bother with a minuscule detail like playing defense? – when

Havlicek picked up a loose ball under the basket, looked up and saw me hanging under

the opposite one and hurled the ball in my direction. I had visions in my head of my name

going down in the annals of Weston High School as having scored a key hoop against the

fearsome faculty squad; then I faced the reality of a basketball coming straight at my

head like it was shot out of a cannon. Now I had visions in my head of it being

dismembered from my body by a projectile which was becoming larger and larger by the

instant. Are you familiar with the phrase, “Discretion is the better part of valor?” That’s

exactly what I was thinking as I stepped gingerly aside and let the the ball soar out of

bounds. I looked back up court at Havlicek who, forgiving my egregious lack of intestinal

fortitude, merely smiled and shrugged.

He was one of the most famous and accomplished people I ever knew, and yet he was

remarkably unassuming. It’s not that he didn’t realize how famous and accomplished he

was, but it instead was that he was able to put it in context; he knew that the real

accomplshment was in how you lived your life, and in that he really was a superstar.

One more story of how unpretentious he was: Every year a week or so after his fishing

tournament, which raised over time millions of dollars for the Genesis Foundation, a

group of us held a postmortem dinner to assess how it had gone and discuss ways to

make the following year’s event even better. One year it was decided to hold the dinner at

the Cranberry Moose Restaurant on Cape Cod. Dr. Murray Feingold, the founder and

keeper of The Genesis Foundation flame, took it upon himself to make the dinner

reservation. As it happened, the owner and operator of the Cranberry Moose was an

affable guy named Jerry Finegold. He had just the right personality to run a restaurant,

outgoing and welcoming. He could talk on virtually any subject with humor and insight,

with one exception. He knew nothing at all about sports. Nothing.

On the night in question Jerry was looking over the list of reservations and saw that one

had been made in the name of a Dr. Feingold. He and Murray had never met and didn’t

even spell their names the same, but Jerry was excited that another Finegold (or Feingold,

as the case may be) was coming to his restaurant.

First in our party to arrive for the dinner were John and his wife Beth. When they walked

into the outer lobby, crowded with customers waiting for their tables (it was a Saturday

night), a buzz went through the room; husbands whispered to their wives, who hardly

needed to be told, “Look, that’s John Havlicek!” He ws instantly recognizable by

everyone – or almost everyone. After all, he’d won eight NBA championships; scored

more points and played in more games than anyone else in Boston Celtics history; and his

“Havlicek stole the ball” play was (and still is) perhaps basketball’s most famous play.

The moment was made even more memorable by the fact that the beautiful Beth Havlicek

was on his arm.

As those in outer lobby of the Cranberry Moose looked on in admiration, John walked up

to the reservations desk and said, “We’re with the Feingold party.” Whereupon Jerry

Finegold came racing around to the front of the desk, grabbed John by the hand and

began pumping it vigorously, as he asked enthusiastcally, “Are you Dr. Feingold?”

There was a stunned silence among the other customers as Beth tried, really tried, to stifle

her laughter, and John simply said, “No, we’re just with his party.”

There was much hilarity at our table as Beth recounted what had happened, it took her a

while because she couldn’t stop laughing. Jerry Finegold, when made aware of his

blunder, was full of apologies, while John tried to assure him that he had not been

offended. I think Jerry sent a couple of bottles of wine to the table so none of the rest of

us was offended, either. The reaction of Murray Feingold, all five feet nine inches of him,

was, “Gee, how come nobody ever mistook me for John Havlicek?”

In all the thousands of words that have been printed about John since his passing there

has not been even the hint of a negative one, not by a teammate or an opponent, not by an

acquaintance or a stranger who just happened to encounter him on the street. That’s

because there is nothing negative that anyone – anyone – can say about him. Talk about a

life well lived.

Requiescat in pace.