FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Good morning from the Fort, where the first cup of coffee was accompanied by a reading of Art Martone’s wonderful reminiscence of Yaz and 1967 in the premiere issue of Lindy’s Sports “In the Dugout: Red Sox 2013,” which should be on your local newsstands and is filled with tons of stuff, including detailed scouting reports of the big-league club and minor-league prospects.
But for me, Martone’s piece resonates, hooking me with the first line, “He’s the ghost of Fenway ...’’
“Let’s face it,’’ Martone writes, “The Man They Call Yaz -- that rings a musical bell for those of you of a certain age, eh? -- is fading from our collective consciousness. You have to be about 40 to vaguely remembering seeing him play, or at least 50 to recall him at the top of his game. Walk through the stands sometime. There are an awful lot of folks younger than 40 in those seats. Not to mention 50.
“But every so often, something happens to drag him back into the spotlight. To put him back where he doesn’t want to be.’’
Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown last fall refocused attention on Yaz, the last man to do so, in 1967. This week, Yaz popped up for his annual appearance in the Fort. He even came over to the big-league workout in JetBlue Park, in uniform, chatting with old teammates (Luis Tiant, Jim Rice) and visiting with the new manager (John Farrell). He is 73 now, and unlike the perpetually eternal Dwight Evans, the Dick Clark of ballplayers, he is showing his age, the product of serious health issues in recent years.
He was there, and then he was gone, content to work on the back fields with 20-year-old minor-leaguers who cannot possibly know the former splendor of the gray-haired man imparting a few words of advice.
But all it takes, at least for those of us of a certain age, is seeing that familiar No. 8, and memory stirs.
Martone resurrects that telling observation by the great Ned Martin after yet another huge Yaz moment:
“If you just turned your radio on ... it’s happened again.’’
Writes Martone: “It never stopped happening, all through that magical time.’’
And for those of us of a certain age, it never will. Without Yaz, I suspect I wouldn’t be sitting in a press box, all these years later.
* The Sox play the Twins at JetBlue Park tonight, with Ryan Dempster scheduled to make the start. The Sox play another night game Saturday against the Orioles, in which Baltimore’s top two pitching prospects -- Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman -- will throw. Those two rank among the best young arms in the game. Worth coming to see, if you’re in the neighborhood.
* My colleague Brian McPherson of the Providence Journal, whose baseball memories start post-Yaz but who has an abiding appreciation for the game’s history, mentioned that in many ways, there are echoes of Tony C.’s beaning in the tragic end, at age 22, to the promising career of Ryan Westmoreland, who announced his retirement this week after two brain surgeries. Given the progression envisioned for him after his sensational debut in short-season Lowell in 2009, Westmoreland was on track to debut in the big leagues this season, and the native Rhode Islander might have been the most exciting hitter to come out of New England since Conigliaro. It never came to pass, that dream replaced by the far more important wish that Westmoreland enjoy a happy and fulfilling adulthood.
I apologize for not finding the original tweet, but someone made the suggestion that it would be a beautiful thing for the Sox to invite Westmoreland to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day, and I couldn’t agree more. Maybe it would be too painful for the young man, but he would be an inspired choice.
* I’ll be going home for a few days, but ESPNBoston.com's coverage of the Sox will remain uninterrupted. With or without Carl Crawford’s approval.
My reading for the plane ride home: Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game by John Sexton.