A Curse Re-Moved

Josh was a curse to every sports team he had ever liked. Not that he was much of a sports fan. At first, he was the exact opposite. They never would have known he was a curse if he hadn’t been such a geek for math and science.

The first hint of his curse came when Josh was eleven, and his father signed him up for little league. He was assigned to the Tigers. They gave him a shirt and hat with the team logo on it. Mr. Bryant, their coach, called the team together before their first game.

“Boys,” he said, “we’re here to learn baseball and to have a good time. We want everyone to learn and have a good time, so everybody plays on this team.”

Josh had a strong arm, so Mr. Bryant let him play third base. In the first inning, a ball bounced off his glove towards the mound. Nick Wilson, who was pitching, stepped on it and twisted his ankle. He couldn’t play again for three weeks. The Tigers lost, 4-3.Fenway Park At-Bat

“Winning would have been more fun,” said Mr. Bryant’s son, Tommy.

“You can learn a lot from losing, too,” said Mr. Bryant.

The day before their second game, Mr. Bryant worked on batting with them.

“You’re all good batters,” he said. “Let’s see if we can have everyone get a hit tomorrow night.”

In that game, the Tigers were shut out. Josh got on base when he was hit by a pitch, but the batter behind him hit into a double play. They lost, 7-0.

“Even the best hitters get out most of the time,” said Mr. Bryant.

Before the third game, Mr. Bryant said, “Every one of you get out there and do your best.”

Vinnie Cepeda and Tommy Bryant were both doing their best when they ran into each other while chasing down a fly ball. Tommy broke his glasses, and the batter got an inside-the-park home run. The Tigers lost, 4-1.

On the day of their fourth game, the sky was dark with clouds.

“I hope it doesn’t rain,” said Mr. Bryant.

It didn’t rain. In the bottom of the first inning, the Tigers scored three runs, taking a two-run lead. All the boys were excited, and then it started to hail. The hailstones were big, and they dented the cars in the parking lot. Josh was batting at the time, and a hailstone cracked his batting helmet.  They called off the game.

“I hope they can get the dents out of my car,” said Mr. Bryant.

The rest of the season was just as bad. Every boy on the team had talent, and everyone played hard, but they just couldn’t seem to win. Sometimes the wind would change direction just when an outfielder was trying to track a fly ball, and he would miss it. Routine ground balls would take a funny hop and skip through a player’s legs. Star second baseman Ted Archer threw past the outstretched glove of the first baseman, twice, in a single inning. It was unreal.

The curse wasn’t limited to his own team, either. When Josh was there, opposing-team batters who didn’t have a hit all season would suddenly go 3-for-4 with two doubles, and their fielders would make spectacular diving catches all over the park. Once, with the bases loaded and no one out, the Padres’ shortstop turned a sure-thing base hit into an unassisted triple play. The Tigers lost that game, 5-4.

The next year, Josh proved that he didn’t need to be playing the game to curse a team he loved. Five lost games into the season, Josh sprained his ankle in a skateboarding accident, and had to stay home. The Tigers won their next three games. The streak ended when Josh came to watch from the stands. Ace pitcher Jimmy Cronin took a line drive in the shoulder in that game, and was done for the season. The Tigers lost, naturally. When the season ended, Josh quit playing baseball.  He decided to watch sports, instead.

The next fall, his big brother Jeremy moved up to the varsity football squad. Josh was excited to see his brother play for the Wildcats, who had won the state championship the year before. With Josh in the stands, though, they lost nine games that year. Their one victory was in November, when Josh had a bad case of strep throat and had to stay home. Jeremy caught two touchdowns in that game. He came home and told his little brother about it.

“Why can’t you play like that when I’m there to see it?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Jeremy replied. “Maybe you’re cursed.”

Jeremy had only meant it as a joke, but it set Josh to thinking. He decided to test it with an experiment.
Always more of a reader than an athlete, Josh surprised everyone in the family by becoming a sports fan. Lacrosse, field hockey, volleyball, even golf – Josh would watch them all. Wherever he went, the person or team he was cheering for would lose. Josh kept careful notes of every game in a notebook he carried with him.

Jeremy, who didn’t really believe that his brother was cursed, was helped by his brother’s busy schedule. Playing with just his parents in the stands, he became a star. Three years later, he earned a football scholarship and went to Springfield College to study sports medicine.

Josh, for his own part, had learned a lot from his experiments. For one thing, he learned that his curse didn’t work over television. If he watched the game from home, sometimes the team he cheered for would win, and sometimes not. If he was there in person, though, they lost every time.

He also learned that it really was the team he cheered for, not the team he came to see. One year, he started attending football games for their rival, Brockton High, just to cheer for the team they were playing against that week. Brockton went undefeated that season. Things didn’t change much at college, either. His favorite teams changed, but they kept on losing. And then, in 2008, it happened.

Jeremy, who was working that year as an assistant trainer for the New England Patriots, managed to buy two tickets to the Super Bowl, and gave them to his father. Josh didn’t think it was a good idea, but hey, it was the Super Bowl, and the Patriots were undefeated. They flew out to Phoenix, prepared to see history being made.

Well, you know what happened. Patriots’ cornerback Asante Samuel missed an interception that would have won the game. Giants’ wide receiver David Tyree made that spectacular catch off his helmet to keep going after fourth and long, and then Plaxico Burress caught the winning touchdown pass. They sure saw history, just not the history they had expected.

Later that year, Josh came over to his brother’s apartment to apologize. His sister, Jennifer, was there, too.

“I’m sorry I made the Patriot’s lose,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” asked Jeremy.

“I’m cursed, just like you said I was.”

“You told him he was cursed?” asked Jennifer.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Jeremy. “There’s no such thing as a curse, and if there was, it wouldn’t be Josh.”

“I can prove it,” said Josh, and he pulled out his little notebook. He had been to more than 200 different games, every one a loss for the team he supported. Nobody could argue with evidence like that.

“That’s bad,” said Jeremy.

“Maybe you should stop watching sports,” said Jennifer.

“Don’t you think I’ve tried?” asked Josh. “Once I convinced myself that there really was a curse, I wanted to stop, but life is just so boring if I can’t go to a game now and then.”

“Can’t you watch from home?” she asked.

“It’s just not the same.”

Jeremy had to agree with his brother about that, but he wanted to know how bad it really was.

“Josh, you remember what happened to the Red Sox last summer?”

“How can I forget it?” he replied. “We had more players on the disabled list than most teams had players.”

“Did you go to any of those games?”

“Only about twenty, why?”

Jeremy groaned. If he didn’t do something, they wouldn’t see another sports championship, ever.

“Little brother,” he said, “we need to move you to a different city.”

“Do you think I can find a job somewhere else?”

“With your math skills, no problem,” said Jennifer.

“The big question,” said Jeremy, “is which team is going to get cursed. Do you have a favorite sport these days?”

“I like them all, but baseball is really my favorite.”

“How about moving to New York?” said Jennifer. “Maybe you could become a Mets’ fan.”

“After what they did to us in the ’86 World Series, I guess they deserve it,” said Jeremy.

“It’s too risky,” said Josh.

“What do you mean?”

“I might be tempted to go to a Yankees’ game.”

“And what’s wrong with that?”

“The team I cheer for always loses.”

Jennifer opened her mouth to protest, then closed it again. Curse or no curse, there was no way she would ever ask her brother to become a Yankees’ fan.

“Then it’s agreed,” said Jeremy. “Josh can’t move to New York. But I think you had a good idea, Jenny. We need to send Josh some place that has a National League team, so he won’t be as tempted to cheer for the Sox.”

“We also need to find a home team that he’d be willing to cheer for,” Jennifer added. “Do you really like baseball best, even after all those tragic games in little league?”

“Definitely,” said Josh. “It’s the math. You know, batting averages, ERA, all that stuff. Still, if I’m going to move, I want to cheer for a quality team, one with history.”

Jeremy’s eyes went wide. “I have just the place for you,” he said.

Two weeks later, Jeremy and Jennifer moved their brother to Chicago. He got a job doing math for one of the big insurance companies, and he really likes it. To top it off, Chicago is heaven for anyone who loves sports.

Sometimes, Josh goes to see the Bulls, or the Bears, or even the Blackhawks. He loves them all, and baseball more than any of them. Every year, Jeremy and Jennifer get together to buy him a block of baseball tickets for his birthday – eight different home games in July and August. They even fly out to join him when they can.

Wrigley field is still the most beautiful field in baseball, and the fans there are some of the best in sports. Josh has such a great time, he doesn’t even seem to mind that the Cubs lose every game he goes to see.

Maybe that’s why none of the other fans have noticed, either.

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.008 is my .344

 

I grew up in the painful 70’s, a time when baseball greats Yastrzemski, Rice, Lynn, and Evans, Luis Tiant and “Spaceman” Bill Lee gave their all every season and broke my heart each September. I am no jock by any stretch of the imagination, but of all sports, I still love baseball.

Not the inconsistent way my wife loves baseball, when the ball is flying out of the park and the runs are coming in (chicks dig the long ball, they say). I can get excited about a pitcher’s duel or a close play at first base. Even the verdant glow of an empty park can have a magical feeling to it.
Fenway Park, 2006You might be surprised, then, to know that for my entire childhood, baseball did not love me back. (Then again, maybe not; I am a Red Sox fan, after all). Like most boys in my home town, I was involved in the West Bridgewater little league. Unlike most boys, I stank to high heaven for three solid years. Looking at the WBYAA web page, I can’t even find a mention of boys’ baseball beyond the T-ball age group, but back in the day, it was a big deal. I just couldn’t do it, though, and with my father heavily involved in the program, I couldn’t back out, either.

Looking back, I think part of my failing was visual — I didn’t get my first pair of glasses until I was much older, and I probably needed them. Being left handed didn’t help much, either — young pitchers habitually went inside on me, and in a typical season I might be hit by a pitch three or four different games. The true root cause, however, is probably a simple lack of talent:  I am a zero-tool player.

I’ve done the math, and based on the number of games in which I think I played, I probably have an on-base percentage of .032, the vast majority of which was due to my high HBP rating. In all my years of little league, I have one hit. One.

Gerry Remy once speculated that he can remember every major league home run he has ever hit because there are so few of them to remember. I feel the same way about my little league career. It was a high pitch, out of the strike zone, and I took a wild hack at it. Somehow, my bat connected, and the ball flew into right field. It may have been a double– my shock at having actually hit the ball has erased everything for me beyond that memory of the way that ball flew over the first baseman’s head. Based on that hit, I have calculated my lifetime batting average as .008, which has got to be some kind of YAA record.

In Ken Burn’s Documentary Baseball, Billy Crystal recalls telling the late great Ted Williams he had once seen him strike out. Williams, who has a .344 lifetime batting average, thought for a moment, then nodded. “Curveball,” he said. “Low and away.” Remy remembered his home runs. Williams remembered his strikeouts. I remember my hits.