The Joy of Fanship
(Cross-posted at The Triumphant Red Sox Fan Forum.)
When I arrived at work this morning, I had an email from my friend and co-worker, Karen, who typically arrives at least 90 minutes before I do. The message said only to come over because she had something to show me.
Karen is a big Red Sox fan. We have gone to a few games together (wins, thanks to Karen’s magic fairy dust, but that’s a story for another time) and have enjoyed the February ritual in Boston known as Truck Day a few times as well. Since we’re planning another Truck Day celebration this year (Saturday, February 11—mark your calendars), I presumed that’s what she wanted to see me about.
Instead, she had a picture to show me from a function she attended last evening with Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis. Karen is a bit of a political junkie, a big fan of Evangelidis, and most recently a reserve deputy sheriff (which I tell her will be humanity’s last line of defense at the zombie apocalypse). Last night, Karen watched politics meet baseball.
I don’t mind telling you that I love Luis Tiant. I loved him during his time with the Sox, eight years in the prime of his 19-year career. His appearance and demeanor were like a sort of Cuban Santa Claus. I loved his wind-up, the way he would twist around until he was almost facing the second baseman—quite a feat for a rightie—before finally letting loose. (Karen also reminded me about what she calls the “Tiant wiggle,” where he’d hold the baseball in both hands in front of his face, then lower it to belt-level, sort of rocking the ball as it went down.) I loved how more than 38% of his career starts were complete games, something that today’s coddled superstars can’t even imagine. To this day, Tiant is either first or second in most pitches thrown in a postseason game for game 4 of the 1975 World Series, a 5-4 victory over the Reds. (This page from the Cincinnati Enquirer gives his count as 163, but NBC Sports says 155. The unofficial pitch count shown at Baseball-Reference.com also goes with 155. Either way, it’s a lot of pitches, especially considering that he was going on three days rest.) I was heartbroken when he went to play for the MFY but couldn’t bring myself to hate him. I was thrilled to see him, years after his retirement from the major leagues, at the 1996 Olympics where he was the pitching coach for the Nicaraguan baseball team. I was annoyed when I learned that he bought his cigars at the same liquor store where DMF often buys wine but DMF never once got his autograph for me. (And that, after I met Bobby Brown at a charity even and got him to autographed a Yankees hat for DMF. Bah.) I continue to be incensed that he still isn’t in the Hall of Fame but should be.
All that love and Karen didn’t even call me when she found out Tiant was at the event. I have no particular affinity for the sheriff, but I’d have gone over there in a heartbeat. Yes, she has been scolded for her omission, as she has been for the unspeakable sin of asking him (Tiant, not the sheriff) to autograph a piece of flowered paper.
Me, I’d have gotten him to autograph an article of clothing instead. It would have been more dignified.
I have met many a player, past and present, and I was more excited about some than others. As fans, we tend to build these guys up in our minds, often to be disappointed that they aren’t as friendly as we might like. Tiant is the rare player who was and is universally liked by fans, widely respected in the game, and a seemingly all-around nice person. All envy aside, I’m glad Karen had a chance to meet him.