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The Express, the Rocket, the Can, the Can’s sister, and me (and my parents).

Note: This is the first in what hopefully will be a recurring series of anecdotes from my life as a baseball fan and a person working within the game.

As I may or may not have mentioned in this space before, I grew up a Red Sox fan, and to a lesser extent a Braves fan (big league sports didn’t really exist in Florida then, except for the Dolphins and Bucs, so everybody just really picked teams to follow; one of my best friends was a Blue Jays fan). Team fandom pretty much goes out the door once you have a beat, so those alliances are long gone for me in 2012, but from childhood till about age 28 I lived and died with the fortunes of the Red Sox. Two years after I stopped following them, they won the World Series, but that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway. Though I grew up in Florida and lived there for the vast majority of my pre-adult years, we spent one year living in Norman, Okla. — my ninth-grade year, from summer of 1988 to summer of 1989. I had seen the Red Sox play in person once or twice before, but obviously from Florida there weren’t a lot of chances to do so, other than Spring Training.

From Oklahoma, though, it was another matter. Arlington was about a three-hour drive away, and so I began lobbying my parents to make the trip down when the Sox came to town. Bless them, they said yes, and we began making plans to drive down for a Sunday afternoon game at old Arlington Stadium.

And then I started paying attention to the pitching rotations. And counting five days and five days out. And it became clear that we were in for a treat. It was this game. Follow the link, check that pitching matchup, and come back for the rest.

That’s pretty cool. It was the first time the two Texas legends had pitched against each other, and in Texas, no less.

I don’t remember a whole lot of very specific details about the game itself, aside from Palmeiro’s homer, the outcome and the thrill of being there for a historic occasion. I do remember being very close to the Rangers’ bullpen, which was along the third-base line, and seeing (and hearing) Nolan Ryan warm up. That’s still one of my most vivid memories, ever, at a ballpark. Even at 42 (holy cow, FORTY TWO YEARS OLD, and he was still four years from being finished), Ryan could absolutely bring it, and being up close to see him fire laser-beam fastballs and evil breaking stuff was really cool.

But that’s not the reason I thought of this game today. Oil Can Boyd has been in today’s news, and not in a good way. Once again, news about the Can is sad, which is unfortunate for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which is that he was a really good and entertaining pitcher, and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see him pitch for longer.

After the game, my parents once again humored me by coming with me to wait outside the Red Sox clubhouse so I could try to get autographs as the players went to the bus. Clemens signed but barely stopped. Dwight Evans, my favorite player at the time (and one of my all-time favorite players still to this day), signed. For the most part it was tough going, though.

Then a woman approached us… enthusiastically. I was, being a 14-year-old fan, decked out in Red Sox gear. And she came up to us and acted like we were dear, long-lost old friends. She practically yelled how happy she was to see any other Red Sox fans at the park, that people gave her a hard time in the stands, and just generally chatted us up for a while.

She was very friendly, very animated, and had an accent that made it clear she wasn’t from Boston. I think she actually may have hugged me, but if she didn’t, rest assured she may as well have. She asked us where we were from, what we were doing there, all that. She saw my baseball cards that I was waiting to get signed.

Then the conversation started to wrap up, and she started heading toward the clubhouse. And she asked me for my Oil Can Boyd card. She was his sister, she told us. She took the card, took it in, and Can signed it and personalized it. She brought it back out with a smile and put it in my hands.

I’ve been an Oil Can fan ever since, and I’m still pulling for him in whatever he does next.


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