Home folks frequently deserve the creditBy RICK CLEVELAND,
BOSTON – Today’s theme: You can take the sports writer out of Mississippi, but that doesn’t mean he won’t find something Mississippi-ish to write about.
This one comes from Boston, where some old buddies and I met at Fenway Park over the weekend to watch the Red Sox have their way with the Minnesota Twins. It was a busman’s holiday for me, a chance to see some good baseball in a fine old ballpark – best of all, without deadlines.
My travels in sports have taken me all across this country to some iconic venues to cover sporting events. Almost always – no matter the assignment – Mississippians have come through, providing remarkable stories to send home.
The Olympics in Atlanta in 1996? That was the year Ruthie Bolton, the 16th of 20 children in a McLain family, willed the U.S. women’s basketball team to a gold medal. That was also the year Angel Martino, who lived in Hattiesburg, won four medals – two gold and two bronze – and captained the dominant U.S. Olympic swimming team. Ron Polk was there, too, a coach on the U.S. Olympic baseball team that won a bronze medal.
Super Bowls? I’ll probably leave somebody out, but I’ve covered Mississippians when they took over games: Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Eli Manning, Ray Guy and others have been Super Bowl heroes. And I’ll not forget, either, Steve McNair coming up a yard short or Walter Payton not being given the ball at the goal line in the twilight of his career. Sometimes, in sports, disappointment is far more poignant than success.
Seldom have I traveled to events as a fan rather than a journalist. One such time was later in 1996 when the Yankees played the Braves in the World Series. Game five was in Atlanta. The series was tied two games apiece. At about noon that day, three tickets – good tickets – fell into my hands. And so, my brother, my son and I zoomed to Atlanta, somehow not getting a speeding ticket, and somehow walking into Atlanta Fulton County Stadium just as the national anthem was playing. It was a classic: John Smoltz on the mound for the Braves, Andy Pettitte for the Yankees. Smoltz and Pettitte were dealing that night. Long story made short: The Yankees won 1-0. And who scored the winning run?
Charlie Hayes, the Yankees third baseman, from Hattiesburg, of course. The kicker to that story: When Charlie was 12, I had covered him in the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa. He had beaten Dwight Gooden to reach Williamsport, but neither he, nor anyone else, could beat the Taiwanese.
So, let’s get back to Boston and the trip last weekend, now you know why I fully expected somebody from Mississippi to do something huge. There were all sorts of Mississippi possibilities. There were even reports that Brian Dozier, the Twins second baseman from Fulton and USM, might be traded to the Red Sox before Monday’s trade deadline. Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland of Amory and Mississippi State, and Twins pitcher Lance Lynn of Ole Miss also were possibilities to provide this bunch of Mississippians a Mississippi moment in Boston.
Alas, it never really happened. We weren’t here for Minnesota’s lone win on Thursday night when Dozier hit safely twice and scored the winning run for the Twins. The Red Sox pitchers pretty much had his number over the weekend. Lynn pitched really well Friday night, going six strong innings and giving up just two runs on six hits, but Mookie Betts – my heavens, what a talent! – won it for the Sox with a 10th inning home run. Moreland, an All-Star nursing a foot injury, played only Saturday night and provided one hit in five at bats. The Red Sox, with the best record in baseball, are trying to rest him as much as possible.
So, it wasn’t a banner weekend for Mississippi in Boston, except there was this:
My friends all took the tour of Fenway Park. They learned the history of the grand, old ballyard and how a series of renovations completed in 2012, brought Fenway into the 21st century. It is truly amazing how the neighborhood now just sort of melds into Fenway. The transition from neighborhood to ballpark is seamless. So, how surprised do you think all my Mississippi buddies were to learn that the chief architect in that Fenway renovation was Jackson’s own Janet Marie Smith, educated at Callaway High School and Mississippi State? Many give her credit for saving Fenway Park.
And isn’t that far, far better than coming in from the bullpen and saving a game – or even a season?
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.