Wednesday, July 13, 2016

This is your night, Willie Tasby.

I saw my first Red Sox game in July 1960. (Sox beat Cleveland 6-4, and Ted Williams hit a homer.) One of the things I remember most vividly from that game was someone sitting near us in the bleachers unfurling a banner (poster paint on a sheet) that read “This Is Your Night, Willie Tasby.” I don’t know if there was actually a “night” for Willie Tasby, or whether the fan was just hoping that this was the night that Willie Tasby’s career would take off.

When they had “nights” or “days” for athletes, back in the day, it was generally a low key affair that, at its most upscale, gifted the athlete being feted with a car from a prominent local dealer. I think these “nights” were mostly for a home town player who was retiring. So that evening in July 1960 was probably not a celebration of Willie Tasby, who was in the early stages of what was his one and only season with the Red Sox. (He joined the Red Sox in June of that year on a trade from the Orioles, so it was a partial season at that.) And when the athlete got a car, it was pretty big deal, as athletes back in the day didn’t make all that much money.

Fast forward – and those decades did forward fast  – and when athletes get free stuff showered on them, it’s generally when a super athlete is retiring. When they make their swan appearance in every city in their league – and this is especially true in baseball, which has really patented this sort of a deal – they’re recognized, and come away with some loot. The athletes could, of course, avoid having to hire a U-Haul to haul away the gifts raining down on them, by announcing their decision to call it quits after the season ends, rather than at the beginning. But their egos must want the recognition. And maybe they get a kick out of the gifts. Certainly, in the case of baseball, the league encourages it. It builds fan interest, and it plays to what baseball does best: sentimental journeys.

Anyway, the gifts generally come in two categories: a donation to the athlete’s foundation (and they all have foundations), and some super-kitschy type of souvenir that will end up in the athlete’s man cave until it gathers a bit of dust, after which it’s sold off for big memorabilia bucks. Within this latter category, sometimes there’s actually something that can actually be used.

Of course, it can be argued that super-stars are also super-rich, so why not just kitsch it up and give the guy one more thing to store in his man cave. After all, the super-star probably lives in a 10,000 square foot home, and his man cave is probably the size of my condo. And they don’t need a car, that’s for sure. They probably have plenty in there 10-car garages.

I generally don’t give to-an-athlete-retiring-not-so-young gifts much thought, but this year, David Ortiz, our very own Big Papi, is the most prominent baseball player who’s announced that he’s hanging up his spikes once the season ends.

I love Ortiz. I’ve been to a couple of games this year, and hope to get a couple more in before he goes. I will miss him, and will be forever thankful to him for bringing a World Series Championship to Boston in 2004. The follow-on championships – 2007, and 2013 – were gravy, although one of the high points of 2013 for me (a year that had plenty of low points, as my husband was at the end of his life) was watching a bit of the celebration parade. I was only there for a few minutes, but the float that Papi was on stopped directly opposite from where I was standing, and Papi led the crowd in a chorus of “Sweet Caroline.”

Papi has been clutch. And Papi has been fun.

Since Ortiz has announced his retirement, he’s on the loot-collecting circuit this season.

Someone writing in the Boston Globe is a bit miffed because he doesn’t think that the teams that have done their bit haven’t been all that generous. The gifts to date, he feels, have been “fairly modest.”

Sure, the Minnesota Twins donated $10K to charity – but it wasn’t Papi’s charity. The donation was made in Ortiz’s name to a scholarship fund named for late Twins star Kirby Puckett.

The Houston Astros gave him a Stetson cowboy hat; Ortiz got a handmade humidor and 50 Davidoff cigars from the White Sox; The Royals ponied up a framed portrait of Papi at the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City and an assortment of BBQ sauces; Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey presented Ortiz with a bell from a San Francisco cable car; and the Texas Rangers gave the slugger a pair of custom cowboy boots with “Big” on one boot and “Papi” on the other. (Source: Boston Globe)

And the Atlanta Braves – admittedly, they’re in the National League, and Papi is an American Leaguer – could only come up with a video tribute.

The teams that know Papi the best – those in the Eastern Division – haven’t yet seen the last of Papi, so the ante might be upped.

But while the gifts already given may be “fairly modest” by super-star standards – and the video tribute is downright chintzy – it seems pretty consistent with the junk that teams usually fork over on these final tours. And at least the cigars and BBQ sauces, not to mention the peanut butter, are useful.

This all said, I will be keeping my eye on what the Orioles, Rays, Jays, and especially the Yankees – “our” division rivals – throw David Ortiz’s way. At minimum, I’ll be expecting high-kitsch and plenty of sentimentality.

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