By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
TO THE PLAYERS
Here’s to you, Tom Brunansky’
Bruce Hurst, and Mel Parnell,
To Rico Petrocelli,
Mike Timlin, Gary Bell,
Let’s not forget Bill Monbouquette,
Rich Gedman, or Sam Mele,
Or Ellis Burks, or Rudy York,
Mo Vaughn, or Aaron Sele,
To Pumpsie Green, and Sammy White,
Trot Nixon, and Butch Hobson,
To Jimmy Piersall, Oil Can Boyd,
Mike Greewell, and Joe Dobson,
Marty Barrett, Reggie Smith,
Ted Lepcio, Bill Lee,
And Jackie Jensen, Wilbur Wood,
Bob Stanley, Roy Partee,
To Tommy Harper, Billy Rohr,
Walt Dropo, Cecil Cooper,
To Brian Daubach, Pokey Reese,
Mike Andrews, Harry Hooper,
A bow to Dennis Eckersley,
To Wade Boggs, and Joe Foy,
To all of those who played the game
That’s given us such joy.
They hit, they pitched, they ran, they threw,
They gave our souls a lift.
They brought baseball into our lives
And that’s a great, great gift.
As I sat in front of the television the other night, watching Mookie Betts circle the bases
with his second home run of the game (he hit three in a game only a week earlier), I
thought not of how blessed he is to have such talent, but of how blessed I am to witness
that talent on display.
My sense is that what I was thinking is not what was on Mookie’s mind. Certainly he was
enjoying the moment – there is no one who gets more obvious joy from playing baseball
than Mookie Betts – but the reactions of fans are not uppermost on players’ minds in
those situations. There was a game going on, the issue had not yet been settled, the other
team (in this case the Toronto Blue Jays) was still competing. And it is the competition
that motivates elite athletes of all sports.
It is not until much later, when they have retired from playing their sport, that star players
develop a full appreciation of what an impact their accomplishments had on those who
are watching. It is when the players become spectators themselves, watching a new
generation of athletes doing what they used to do, that they can understand how much it
can mean to those in the stands or watching at home.
From conversations I have had with so many of them over the years, I believe that
baseball’s biggest fans are its old players. They know, at a level the rest of us cannot,
how difficult the game can be; what skill it takes to execute a sharp breaking curveball or
a disappearing split finger fastball, and then to execute the next pitch, and the next, and
the next for a hundred or more times in a single outing; or what it is like standing in the
batter’s box, gearing up to face a rising ninety-eight mile an hour fastball at the letters,
only to see a breaking ball on the outside corner, at or below the knees. We all understand
on one level or another how hard that can be, but to have actually experienced it is to
really have an appreciation for it.
The same is true, of course, in all sports. Only the players really know.
Domingo Ortega was one of Spain’s most famous bullfighters but he spoke for all
athletes who reach the highest levels of their professions when he wrote, “Bullfight critics
ranked in rows crowd the enormous plaza full; but he’s the only one who knows – and
he’s the one who fights the bull.”
We tend to forget how good a ballplayer has to be reach the major leagues. He has to
have succeeded in all levels to reach that point: Little League, high school, the minor
leagues, maybe college. They are all elite players, though even at that highest level of
achievement some are better than others. Only a small perceentage of them become all-
stars – and of the all-stars still an infinitely smaller percentage become hall-of- famers.
But by normal standards they are all terrific players.
It is to them we owe our thanks for making baseball the grand game it has been for so
many years. Not only do they give it their all, but also they push those who are even more
talented to become better, in some cases even great. If Mookie Betts didn’t have pitchers
trying as hard as they could to get him out beginning way back on the playgrounds of
Nashville, Tennessee up to and including the on glittering diamonds of the major leagues,
he wouldn’t have been rounding the bases for second time the other night in Toronto
while at least one old man looked at his television in wonder.
It’s the competition that makes some players so good and it’s the competition that makes
the game so great. It is to all those who compete that we say, “Thanks.”