Sunday, March 3, 2024

"The Curse of the Zezbino"

By Jerry Zezima

I will never get into the National Baseball Hall of Fame unless I buy a ticket. That’s because my batting average in Little League was lower than my weight and my winning percentage as the manager of my daughters’ softball team was just as bad.

But even though mighty Jerry struck out countless times, memories of my misadventures on a field of screams came racing back like a fastball I could never hit when I took a recent tour of Fenway Park in Boston.

Fenway is the home of my favorite team, the Red Sox. Opened in 1912, it’s the oldest ballpark in the major leagues and features the game’s most iconic structure, the 37-foot-tall left field wall called the Green Monster.

“It’s pronounced Monstah,” said Dave, our tour guide. “In Boston, there are only 25 letters in the alphabet. There’s no R.”

Naturally, he pronounced it “Ah.”

Dave regaled the group with stories, including “The Curse of the Bambino,” wherein the Sox, who won five World Series titles between 1903 and 1918, sold their star player, Babe Ruth, to the New York Yankees, beginning a championship drought of 86 years that was finally broken in 2004.

As Dave spoke, I thought back to my pathetic athletic career, which should be dubbed “The Curse of the Zezbino.”

It began in Little League, where I was the worst player on a bad team. One year I didn’t get a hit, although I was almost hit by a pitch when I squared around to bunt. Instead of putting my left foot on the outer edge of the batter’s box, as a right-handed hitter is supposed to do when bunting, I put my right foot on the other side of home plate. The ball whizzed past my ear.

“You could have been hit in the head!” the umpire shrieked.

“Then we would have needed a new ball,” the opposing catcher said.

I never liked that kid.

The manager mercifully took me out of the game.

The following season, I got one hit, a ground-rule double.

“You’re hitting this year,” said the second-base ump.

“That’s because I closed my eyes,” I replied.

The curse continued in the family Wiffle ball league. My mother, Rosina, who will turn 100 in November, was the star pitcher and used to strike me out routinely. Then in her 70s, she was the rookie of the year.

A few years ago, my two oldest granddaughters, who were 7 and 4, struck me out and hit home runs off me in a Wiffle ball game. I deserved to be sent down to the minors by a couple of minors.

One time I came down with a sinus infection and was put on steroids. I thought they would make me a better hitter, so I went to a batting cage. The pitching machine threw at 45 miles per hour, the equivalent of a warmup toss in softball. I fouled off one pitch and whiffed on the other 19. I should have been banned from baseball, not for steroids, but for sheer incompetence.

Speaking of softball, I managed the team my two daughters played on when they were kids. One year, we set the club record for victories: three in 12 games. The two previous seasons, we won one game combined. The sponsor, an insurance company, thought I was a poor risk, so I was dropped.

As Dave took the group through the press box at Fenway Park, I recalled my days as a sportswriter for my hometown paper, the Stamford Advocate in Connecticut. I occasionally covered New York’s two major league teams: the Mets and Boston’s biggest rival, the Yankees. It was a dream job that didn’t pay much but did allow me to gorge on free ballpark franks.

Eventually, I left sports so I could write a column with no redeeming social value.

Still, my Fenway tour was a home run. And now I can say that “The Curse of the Zezbino” has finally been broken.

Copyright 2024 by Jerry Zezima

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