Monday, June 22, 2009

A "Good News" Story

As most of you know, I've played baseball at Red Sox Fantasy Camp in Ft. Myers, FL for over ten years. What started as a 'once in a lifetime' opportunity to meet and play baseball with some of the Red Sox stars of my youth has become an annual event, and I'm proud to say I'm now a member of a wonderful, if somewhat crazy, 'family' that gets together once a year to play baseball. I know most of you are too young to remember Bill Monbouquette, who pitched for the Sox from 1958-1965, but he's been a camp 'regular' for many years. A year and a half ago, Bill was diagnosed with leukemia, and following an arduous battle with chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, is now recovered and competing once again in charity golf tournaments; we're looking forward to seeing him again in February at Sox Camp. Bill and his wife Josephine are wonderful people, and I'm so happy that this story has had a good ending. Last summer, after participating in a bone marrow donor screening done by Dana Farber on his behalf, I wrote the following:

A Baseball Story, 2008

I know enumerable stories have been written about encounters with former Major League baseball players. This may come off as just another one of those; but as I look at the picture sitting on the desk in my office, I can’t help but think that this story is different….made more important, maybe, because time is running out, and I have unfinished business that won’t wait much longer.

This story dates back to a time when girls did not play baseball; pre-title IX. Two generations of girls have been born since then; playing sports with all the advantages that I never had. This story is not about that…not really. It’s about a memory, and a story that I have tried to tell several times to the man involved, but each time words fail me.

Baseball has been in my blood as long as I can remember. My grandmother Sadie, passionate Red Sox fan, passed the love of the game on to me. From the early sixties, I have only brief snapshots of memories; Gramma, pitching the ball to me in the back yard. Five years old, skinny and shirtless, I swing with all my might, and yelling “Strike!” when I make contact. I guess I confused baseball with bowling back then, and a different grandmother might have let it go. But to her, it was important that I understand the game, and she explained that a strike was good in bowling, but in baseball, it meant something very different.

Another snapshot: watching the Red Sox on a black and white TV, circa 1960, and the man with the funny name is pitching. Mom-boo-cat. Although the picture on the television is grainy, I have a clear memory of my grandmother saying that Mom-boo-cat was a great pitcher. Now, I’m sure my grandmother spoke of Ted Williams; she may have mentioned Earl Wilson and Frank Malzone. But to my five year old ears, those were ordinary names. Bill Monbouquette is the name I would remember.

Gramma died in 1988, at the age of 99. A stroke, and eventually a broken hip, would be the cause of her demise. But she left a legacy of passion for the game of baseball, passed down to her daughter, her granddaughter, and her great-granddaughter....which brings me to the reason for this story.

In 1996, I celebrated my fortieth birthday with ultimate fantasy for a Red Sox fan. One of only three women to attend Sports Adventures Red Sox Fantasy camp in Fort Myers, Florida, I was able to play baseball for a week with those who loved the game as I did. Gramma’s girl finally fulfilled her dream of playing for the Boston Red Sox! The bonus, of course, was getting to meet ex-Red Sox players…famous ones…like Carl Yastrzemski, George Scott, and Rico Petrocelli. But the man I wanted to meet most was the man with the funny name….Bill Monbouquette. I wanted to explain to him what meeting him meant to me, and what great memories his name evoked, but I feared that saying “You were my grandmother’s favorite player” would sound trivial. I didn’t want to insult the man by making him feel old, and secondly, I truly didn’t know if he indeed was her favorite player. But his is the name I remember her saying, and I can hear her saying today as clearly as I heard it when I was five years old. But the real reason for my reluctance is that I feared telling him would cause my throat to close up, and then tears would come. This, of course, was even before Tom Hanks said “There’s no crying in baseball.” Even so, I never told him, but always thought: “If only Gramma could see me now!”

Over the years, I’ve returned again and again to fantasy camp, and have gotten to know Bill and his wonderful wife Josephine. And, I have had other opportunities to tell him about how important that is, yet words have failed me each time. This year, things are different. Bill Monbouquette has cancer. We weren’t sure he would be able to come to camp, but he did. One night after dinner, he walked to the podium to a standing ovation, and told us about his diagnosis, the treatments, and the kindness of the Boston Red Sox and the people at Dana Farber. His throat closed up, and the tears came, and I knew then that sometimes crying in baseball is justified, especially when life has handed out a huge dose of bad luck.

But, back to the picture on my desk, the one I cherish above all others. It is not of Bill and me, but of Bill and my twenty-eight year old daughter Jen, taken this year at fantasy camp. He, despite chemotherapy, still is looking strong in his gray away Red Sox uniform, she in her home Red Sox uniform and wearing her catcher’s gear. She is looking up at him with great intent while he talks to her. I would like to think they were talking about baseball, but in all likelihood, he is talking to Jen, a veteran herself, about his pride in his own two sons, both serving our country. But the subject doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Gramma is looking down, seeing her granddaughter and great-granddaughter playing baseball with the Boston Red Sox, and they have become friends with the man with the funny name, Bill Mom-boo-cat. I know she’s proud. Its time to tell him how important that is.