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Dan Shaughnessy

Playing memory games

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / October 7, 2009

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ANAHEIM, Calif. - What were the Red Sox doing yesterday afternoon before their first workout at Angel Stadium?

Watching October baseball on TV, of course. Like any red-blooded seamhead.

This is the best time of year for hardball homies. Nothing is close. After a meaningless spring training and a 162-game grind, we finally get down to life and death on every pitch. Postseason baseball.

Which is why a dozen Sox players were sprawled on black leather couches, watching the Tigers and Twins, when the clubhouse door swung open. Technically, the epic Detroit-Minnesota joust was not a postseason game, but a one-game bakeoff has as much tension as any World Series Game 7.

Big league clubhouses are populated by highly skilled athletes. Every guy who puts on a major league uniform represents tens of thousands of kids who played T-ball and dreamed of making The Show. Some of them know a lot about baseball history. Most know less than the average fan. Just because you are good enough to make it to the big leagues does not mean you spent your childhood memorizing the batting averages of the 1977 Seattle Mariners.

I remember running home from school (10 miles, uphill, I believe) to watch the Giants and Yankees in the 1962 World Series on a black-and-white Philco.

Watching the Sox watch the Tigers and Twins, I wondered what kind of memories they had.

What about you, Clay Buchholz? Any great childhood memories, watching October baseball?

“I wasn’t so into it that I had to watch every game,’’ said the 25-year-old Texan. “When I got to be 13-14, October seemed to be the time that a lot of stuff was happening. The Astros were my team. And the Rangers. I was a big Nolan Ryan fan.

“But the series I really remember the most was when I was in college and the Red Sox were down, 3-0, to the Yankees. That’s the one that comes up in my head.’’

Hmmmm. I’m thinking Buchholz probably wasn’t watching Sox-Yanks on a black-and-white Philco. I wasn’t expecting a Sox kid to start talking about Smoky Joe Wood in 1912, but . . . 2004? Wasn’t that last weekend? Can you get any greener than Clay Buchholz?

I moved to Jacoby Ellsbury’s locker. He’s 26 and grew up in Oregon. Ellsbury was a senior in high school when the 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games, only to be wiped out in five games by the Yankees in the ALCS.

“I wasn’t live-or-die with every pitch,’’ he said matter-of-factly. “I’m sure I was probably a little disappointed. But I didn’t watch much TV. I was out and about, playing basketball, doing stuff like that.’’

Time to go to the greybeard. Mike Lowell looks like he could co-star with Morgan Freeman. Certainly he must remember October glory from the old days.

“I liked the Phillies a lot growing up,’’ said Lowell, who went to high school in Florida. “I was 6 when they won the World Series. We were living in Miami, but I had gone to Philadelphia and went to Burger King and they gave you the little set of three cards. I got Mike Schmidt, Manny Trillo, and someone else. I asked my dad if Mike Schmidt was good and he told me he was really good.’’

Bingo. Finally a Sox player with some sense of history. Nice that a future World Series MVP third baseman would pay homage to Schmidt.

“I remember Reggie Jackson dropping a fly ball in ’81,’’ Lowell continued. “I was crushed in ’83 when the Orioles beat the Phils. Back then I didn’t have cable or anything, so you watched the Game of the Week, you watched the All-Star Game, and you watched the postseason. That’s the only time you saw baseball.’’

Nice work, Mike Lowell. That’s the stuff I was looking for. On a roll, I went over to talk with Tim Wakefield, who was born in 1966.

“Nothing,’’ said Wakefield. “The only World Series I remember was in ’86 when I was in college [Florida Tech] and my roommate was from Connecticut and he went absolutely ballistic when they lost. I didn’t care.’’

Wonder where Wake’s roomie was 17 years later when Aaron Boone drove a high knuckleball over the wall at Yankee Stadium?

Kevin Youkilis grew up in Cincinnati and was an impressionable 11-year-old when the Reds swept the invincible A’s in the 1990 World Series.

“Growing up, we always had heard about the Big Red Machine, but we weren’t even born then,’’ said Youk. “So 1990 was special. I knew all the players on that team. If you didn’t know what was going on, your parents probably weren’t into sports.’’

J.D. Drew grew up in Georgia and was in high school when the Braves lost the 1992 World Series to the Blue Jays. You’d probably guess that J.D. was not in any rotisserie leagues. You’d be right.

“With me it was football,’’ said the flat-line outfielder. “I didn’t have cable. I didn’t follow baseball ’cause I really couldn’t get baseball. The Braves were so bad for so long, but when they finally started playing well, everybody in Georgia noticed. That was early ’90s.

“I remember watching [Barry] Bonds when I could catch a game, and the postseason was good ’cause I could see some baseball. I followed Sid Bream rumbling home and all that kind of stuff.’’

Billy Wagner grew up in Virginia and also rooted for the Braves.

“It seemed like they always played the Pirates,’’ he said. “When I was in college [Ferrum College in Virginia], my roommate was a big Toronto Blue Jays fan and I really didn’t know they were alive. I used to dress up in war paint when the Braves played the Jays. Good times. Also, one of my coaches was Burt Hooton, who threw one of those home runs to Reggie Jackson [in 1977].’’

Which brings us to Paul Byrd, born and raised in Louisville in 1970.

“I remember Reggie Jackson hitting the home runs,’’ said Byrd. “I was a Cincinnati fan. A Johnny Bench fan. In 1977, I went up to Riverfront and got the big George Foster black bat. I think I remember Carlton Fisk’s homer against the Reds. Those kinds of things are pretty etched in my memory. October was all we had.’’

October. The best month for baseball.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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