Monthly Archives: July 2007

The Accidental Major League Tryout

Below is another article in a series of blog entries I’m writing as a candidate for president of Red Sox Nation.

I was a Greg McMurtrymediocre pitcher for Brookline High, a 130 lb. reed with infinitely more heart than talent. Greg McMurtry was the stud of the the state champion Brockton High School squad, the future Michigan Wolverines legend, #1 draft choice of the Boston Red Sox, and third round choice of the New England Patriots. In the spring of 1986, for six pitches, the divergent paths of our baseball careers crossed. It’s funny how vividly I remember that encounter, like a movie I’ve seen a thousand times…

The day was May 16, 1986. I was playing left field and Brockton’s lead was something like 19-3. Major league scouts perched along first and third baseline fences, waiting for another glimpse of McMurtry’s majesty. I and the rest of the players there that day hungered for a chance to do something heroic in front of the scouts, to begin our dream-like march to the bigs and the Baseball Hall of Fame. But by the sixth and second-to-last inning, it didn’t look like I was going to get that chance.

Then, the first three or four Brockton hitters reached base to start of the bottom of the sixth inning, so I was summoned to the mound to quash yet another Brockton rally. I remember trotting in from left thinking, When is McMurtry coming up? As I threw my warm-up pitches, I overheard a scout ask my coach, “What’s this new guy’s name?” The last few warm-ups were the hardest fastballs I had ever thrown.

The first batter I faced waved his bat at three smoking fastballs, missed them all, and sat down. Holycrap, I thought, I just wasted that guy in front of twenty major league scouts. I’m gonna be a pro! As I watched the next Brockton player step into the batter’s box, I heard some scouts buzzing. One, in an Astros cap, help up his radar gun and pointed it at me. I was being noticed.

The next batter watched the first two fastballs tear by him for strikes, fouled off a curveball, then swung mightily under a high heater for strike three. I tried to baseball radar gunstay calm. OhmyGod. I’m blowing away the best hitters in the state and twenty major league scouts are watching. I looked over at my father. He was beaming and talking with a rotund man in a Dodgers cap who was holding a clipboard. I’m gonna be a Dodger!

The next batter stroked my first pitch to right field, a clean, line drive base hit. No problem, they’ll forget about that when I nail this next guy. But I walked him. And the next batter singled, loading the bases. And as another Brockton batter walked to the plate, I saw the marvelous figure of Greg McMurtry swagger to the on-deck circle.

He carried a black bat with a red donut on it and stared at me, calm but fierce, like a panther patiently eyeing a rabbit he wants to maul. Relaxed, he swung his bat one-handed over his left shoulder, then switched hands and over his right shoulder, showing beautiful, hard muscles like in a Michelangelo sculpture. I forced myself to avert my eyes and focused on my catcher, looking for the signal.

I knew I would fail to retire this batter. That McMurtry would come to the plate seemed inevitable. I could feel the two of us being tugged toward confrontation by the strings of fate. (I seriously doubt Greg felt the same thing.) Sure enough, the batter preceding McMurtry hit a ground ball that squeaked through the hole between the third baseman and shortstop. A couple of runners scored, and Greg McMurtry stood at home plate to give them high-fives.

The scouts adjusted in their lawn chairs and pointed their video cameras towards the batter’s box. McMurtry stepped to the plate with the confidence of a superhero. Sweating and trembling, I faced the awesome challenge standing sixty feet, six inches before me.

The catcher put down two fingers, signaling a curveball. Good idea, he won’t expect that. High, ball one. I was relieved I had survived the first pitch and I relaxed a little. Again, the catcher called for a curveball. Ingenious idea, he certainly won’t expect another curveball on a 1-0 count. High, ball two. The catcher tossed the ball back to me as the scouts moaned, worried that I would give McMurtry nothing good to hit and issue him a walk.

Hold on a second, this is Greg McMurtry. Don’t play around with him, I scolded myself. This is your chance for glory, the moment you dreamed of in every wiffle ball game growing up. Wake up and go after him. For Godsakes, don’t walk him! I realized I had made an error of, perhaps, historic proportions in the annals of the Crawford family.

Looking in for the catcher’s signal, I got the sign I wanted, a single finger, then I blazed a fastball over the outside corner. “Stee-rike!” yelled the ump. Suddenly, I had a shred of self-confidence. The count was two and one. I had to throw another fastball. I knew it, my catcher knew it, and Greg knew it. I threw the heater, this one with extra juice, right down the heart of the plate. McMurtry coiled then swung majestically and we all held our breath for an instant. Thwack! The ball met the catcher’s mitt and Greg McMurtry, for the first time all day, was mortal, stumbling momentarily to regain his balance after a frighteningly robust swing. “Stee-rike two!”

Holycrap, I’m one pitch away from striking out Greg McMurtry in front of twenty major league scouts. I looked over at my coach. He was pacing and smiling, arms crossed, savoring the possibilities of the next pitch. “Go get him, Robby!” he said. “One more, one more, kid!” I looked at my father. He smiled at me, winked, and pumped his right fist. With his left hand, he wiped the sweat from his forehead. I looked in for the sign. McMurtry leaned in a little more over the plate to protect the outside corner. The perspiration on his steel forearms glistened in the sun. The catcher put down a single finger and I threw the ball as hard as I could. McMurtry stepped into the pitch but held his swing. Outside and low. Ball three.

“Full count!” bellowed the umpire, who was obviously auditioning for the majors, as well. I got the ball back from the catcher and closed my eyes. Please God, don’t let me walk him, don’t let me walk him. I glanced over at my dad. He and the Dodgers scout were chuckling, the scout carelessly and my father nervously. Our eyes met and his seemed to say, “Oh boy, Rob, you’ve really gotten yourself into a situation here!” McMurtry started at me. I could tell he wanted a chance to show those scouts that his futile swing had been a fluke. He wanted to take me deep.

The catcher didn’t even bother with a sign. It was fastball all the way. Just hum it in there and see what happens. I looked at the mitt and tried to focus. I tried to block out my teammates, the scouts, my coach, my father, even Greg McMurtry. I tried to block out the full count and the fact that the next pitch would be remembered and talked about in my family for years to come, regardless of the result (and it has been!).

Then, pulled along in the current of time and fate, I wound up and delivered my pitch, a fastball that I tried to guide with my will as it approached home plate. The scouts watched, my father prayed, my coach grinned, and Greg McMurtry checked his swing as the ball crossed the outside black of the plate. “Ball four,” said the umpire non-chalantly, rising from his crouch. I shrugged as McMurtry glided toward first base. He proceeded to steal second before one of his teammates flew out to end the inning.

I walked Greg McMurtry.

That summer, the Red Sox drafted him in the first round, but he chose college instead and starred for Bo Schembechler’s Rose Bowl-winning Michigan Wolverines for four years. He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers (27th round) and New England Patriots (3rd round) in 1990, and played wide receiver for the Patriots and Bears for five seasons, during which he had 128 receptions for 1,631 yards and five touchdowns. He was out of major pro sports at the age of 27.

I never saw another athletic moment as important or dramatic (to me) as my 3-2 pitch to Greg McMurtry. That day, that situation, was the closest I ever came to my dream (and every kid in Red Sox Nation’s dream) of being drafted by the Boston Red Sox. Greg McMurtry wouldn’t recognize me if I walked right up to him and introduced myself. But the image of his chiseled body, his confident glare, and his one elegant, lusty whiff at a Rob Crawford fastball will be with me always.

A Meaningless JV Baseball Game, a Timeless Memory

Below is another article in a series of blog entries I’m writing as a candidate for president of Red Sox Nation.

Before every little leaField of Dreamsgue game I coach, I remind myself that what’s about to unfold on the field might be forgotten by me and other spectators within a day, but that for one or two of the kids playing that day, something might happen that will be carved in their memories forever. The memory might be marvelous (home run), and it might be torturous (bonehead error), but it will endure in the player’s mind the rest of his days. If you ever played organized baseball at any level growing up, you know what I’m talking about.

One of those baseball memories I’ll always carry around is of a game that took place my sophomore year in high school, in 1984, as a member of Brookline High’s JV baseball team. I was a skinny kid with a decent glove and strong throwing arm, but no bat. I was either the last or second-to-last player to make the team (and I still have the stubby stick I picked up off the ground and rubbed like a good luck charm as Coach Cohen read the names of players he was keeping on the last day of tryouts), and I knew I’d see very little playing time that year. That was OK with me. I was happy just to wear the uniform, to go to baseball practice after school every afternoon, and to sit on the bench with the guys, munching sunflower seeds and talking baseball.

Little did I know I wouldn’t see any game action until midway through the season, and that when I did finally play, the game’s outcome would depend on my individual performance. That moment came on a wet, overcast afternoon at Amory Field in Brookline, which is located just off of Beacon Street, about a half-mile from Fenway Park. It was the top of the last inning, we were ahead of Waltham High by one run, and they were batting with two outs and the tying run on second base. A beefy left-handed hitter approached the plate as I blissfully played catch with another sophomore behind the bench.

“Crawford!” rang Coach Cohen’s voice. I was jolted by the sound of my name and it took a full second for me to realize the coach needed me to do something. Pick up the helmets or straighten the bats, I assumed. But there was urgency in his voice. Brookline High School JV baseball team 1984“Crawford! Get in there for Jeff in right field. His arm’s sore. And if the ball comes to you, throw it home!” I grabbed my glove, pulled my hat on tight, and glanced over at my father, standing in his usual place behind the backstop. He smiled, winked, and pumped his fist, communicating wordlessly his faith and encouragement.

I sprinted towards right field, imagining myself to be rocket-armed Dwight Evans. “Two outs, Rob!” said Justin Walker, the second baseman, as I chugged by him. (Justin, front row, second from the left, later went on to an acting career and had a major role in the 1995 movie, Clueless. By some amazing coincidence, that BHS JV team’s first baseman, Joe Reitman, back row, far right, next to me, also went on to an acting career and also appeared in the movie Clueless.) It wasn’t until I reached my post in right and turned to face the diamond that I realized the dreadful mistake I had made before taking the field.

As I peered towards home plate from my unfamiliar post in right field, everything looked foggy. I blinked, but the fog remained. Suddenly, my heart stopped. My God. I forgot to put on my glasses. The reality of my plight spilled over me like icy water. My saliva tasted metallic and my legs wavered. I was too embarrassed to call time out. Oh God, please let that big lefty hit the ball to someone else. Please God, I begged silently. But God had already finalized his plans for that big left-handed hitter, the baseball, and me.

The big Waltham kid swung at the first pitch. Ping! The ball shot up into the sky and, to my horror, it entered the air space above me. All eyes turned to me as I jerked forward, believing the hit to be a shallow bloop. But three running steps forward and a new perspective on the white blur above me revealed a drastic error in my calculations: the ball had been socked, not blooped!

baseball catchTrying to change direction, I slipped on the muddy turf and fell to one hand and one knee. But I kept my eye on the hurtling white puff and bounced to my feet. Back, back, back I stumbled until I hit another wet spot and lost my balance. I fell backward, with my glove arm outstretched. Then, at the same moment I landed flat on my back in the cold, muddy outfield – plunk - the ball fell into my glove, Red Sox win!and I squeezed.

Rising to my feet, I held the ball proudly above my head, showing the umpires, my teammates, my coach, and my dad that I had caught it. We had won. Within seconds I was mobbed by my screaming, disbelieving teammates. What a moment! My father, who retells this story every time our family is together, recalls that, as Coach Cohen walked over to the Waltham coach to shake hands, he put his hat over his face as if to say, “Did we just see what we just saw?”

What does this story have to do with Red Sox Nation? Maybe something about how we all wonder how we would perform under the same pressure our Red Sox heroes face regularly. Or maybe it’s about the snapshots we all carry around about our own triumphs and failures. Or how the Red Sox bring out the dreamer in all of us. I don’t know. Maybe you do.

Slammin’ Scott Hatteberg ushers in “My Life, Part 2″

Below is another article in a series of blog entries I’m writing as a candidate for president of Red Sox Nation.

I’ve written before on this blog about my open heart surgery in 2001 to repair a ruptured sinus valsalva aneurysm. What I haven’t written about is the role that baseball, the Red Sox, and former Sox catcher Scott Hatteberg (below) played in the whole surgery-recovery experience.

Scott Hatteberg grand slamEarly in the morning on August 6, 2001, lying on my back in a hospital and nervous about having my chest sawed open, I was wheeled into an operating room feet first. I recall looking up at the room number and suddenly feeling totally comforted about the outcome of the surgery. Why? It was room 37. That was my uniform number during the ten years I pitched for Avi Nelson Club in the Yawkey Amateur Baseball League of Boston. I just knew that was a sign. A good sign. (Hey, even us amateur baseball players never lose our superstitions….)

Fast-forward about 15 hours to 9:30pm. The successful surgery had been completed by noon and I had been unconscious in the intensive care unit all afternoon and night. My wife, pregnant with child #2, had gone home to put our two year-old son to bed and my parents were sitting by my side, watching the Red Sox-Rangers game on the TV, waiting for me to wake up from my drug-induced haze. The doctors had told them I would probably open my eyes by midnight. Exhausted themselves from a long day at the hospital, my parents finally decided to go home too – but before they left, they asked the nurses, “Please don’t turn off the TV. If Rob wakes up with the Red Sox game on, he’ll be happy.”

Now, shift to my perspective. This is what I remember as I regained consciousness: I began to open my eyes, the room was dark except for the glowing TV, and the commentator was yelling something: “… long drive, way back, GRAND SLAM SCOTT HATTEBERG, and THE RED SOX TAKE BACK THE LEAD!”

At the precise moment I woke up from my surgery and realized I was still alive, Scott Hatteberg hit a go-ahead grand slam, sending Fenway fans into a delerious frenzy. I was all alone in the room at that moment – just me, Scott Hatteberg, and the screams of the Fenway Faithful. Needless to say, I was pretty emotional as I lay there in my bed — out of gratitude for a “second birth” and also moved by the in-your-face-baseball-joy playing out on my TV. I remember that my whole body was pretty sore, and I remember being simply amazed that that euphoric Red Sox moment was chosen for me to return to consciousness. It will always be one of my life’s most incredible memories.

Hatteberg’s slam came in the bottom of the sixth inning, following the Rangers’ demoralizing five-run fifth inning, and neither the Red Sox nor the Rangers scored any more runs the rest of the game, resulting in a 10-7 victory for the Sox. (See box score here.) Interestingly, in Hatteberg’s previous at-bat in that game, he hit into a triple play, and his subsequent grand slam made him the first and only player in major league history to hit into a triple play then hit a grand slam in consecutive at bats. His bat from that game is on display at Cooperstown.Scott Hatteberg curtain call

Upon hearing this story of my dramatic “awakening,” one of my teaching colleagues, Matt Parke, now a basketball coach at Guilford College in North Carolina, doctored and then emailed me this photo of Hatteberg’s Fenway curtain call (right).

Someday, when Hatteberg (now a member of the Cincinnati Reds) is retired, I hope to meet him and tell him about how one of the best moments of his life was also one of the best moments of mine.

“I’m a Member of Red Sox Nation” — birth of a song

I have written a few Red Sox songs this summer. (I guess you could say writing baseball songs is a hobby — but the truth is, these tunes just come to me when I’m driving or hacking on my guitar.) One is called, There is Nothing Bettah, Than Beating Mariano Rivera. My kids like thakids bandt one. Another is called, On the Corner of Brookline Ave and Yawkey Way. This is the song I invited my songwriting friends, Dan Page and Michele Page, to come listen to about a week ago to help me write some lyrics. Just before they got to my house, the tune and first line of, I’m A Member of Red Sox Nation came to me. When Dan and Michele arrived, I didn’t even bother playing the Brookline Ave and Yawkey Way tune for them — I knew that the Nation song was the one we needed to work on. And we did.

It was a good time. We filled pads of paper with Red Sox images, phrases, memories, and ideas, referred from time to time to our thesaurus and rhyming dictionary, wrote and rejected about 250 lines — and a few days later, the song was complete. I stayed up late a few nights recording/engineering it on my iBook (using Garage Band software and the Mac’s built-in mike) in my basement, which is also my kids’ playroom. Surrounded by Play-Doh, dolls, and Pokemon cards, I perched the laptop on the surface of our air hockey table, and if you listen to the song carefully, you can hear our loud basement fridge droning in the background.

A week after the basement sessions, my good friends Bob Little and Michelle Rufo, along with about ten other day camp counselors at Summer@Park, taught the song to about fifty campers and organized them for an informal recording session in the lobby of the school’s gym. The kids’ enthusiastic singing was added to the last verse, along with their favorite Red Sox cheer, “Let’s Go Red Sox!”

The song was played at Fenway Park between the top and bottom of the fifth inning last Wednesday, July 18. If it has been played since then, I haven’t heard about it. Whether or not I’m elected president of Red Sox Nation, Dan, Michele, and I hope this song is good enough and gets enough play to get stuck in people’s heads across New England for years to come, making them smile every time they hear it. To read the lyrics, or to download the song for free, go here.

“Regular Rob” runs for president of Red Sox Nation

President of Red Sox NationYes, I am the “Regular Rob” who is running for president of Red Sox Nation – against quite a formidable group of “Nation notables.” I thought about starting a new blog for my campaign, but using my existing blog is just so much more convenient. Plus, it gives potential voters a chance to learn more about me from the other blog entries I’ve written since I started this blog in November, 2006, when I was writing for an audience of about 47 — on a very good day.

You will notice that my last entry, prior to this one, was written near the end of March. Why did I stop writing? Same reason I started: baseball season. In November, when I wrote my first blog entry, the 2006 baseball season had recently ended and I had time on my hands in the evenings after the kids were in bed. On April 2, the major league baseball season started, and I suddenly didn’t have that time anymore. I was glued to the Sox games on NESN and ESPN’s Baseball Tonight again, as well as managing my Yahoo fantasy baseball team in hopes of ending my brother’s remarkable seven-year reign in the Crawdaddy League.

So, I’m back (I know, you never knew I was gone), and it’s not even November yet. If elected president of Red Sox Nation, I’ll be a frequent blogger on my family’s Red Sox Nation experience, on baseball and Red Sox memories of mine, and on any current Red Sox Nation topics I feel like addressing. I expect I’ll also reach out to Red Sox Nation through this blog to ask my compatriots for their thoughts, opinions, and ideas, so I can serve both the Red Sox organization and Red Sox Nation by being an effective liaison between the fans and the team.

So, if I’ll be blogging as president of RSN on these topics, why not blog on these topics now? I think I will…. should be fun….. though I’ll need to learn to write late at night while watching baseball on the tube….