JIM RICE THREW ME A BALL
by T Max
One of the best stories I tell during my live performance goes back to August 23, 1987, at Fenway Park. On that day, my brother John from Colorado was with me—it was his birthday—and he loves going to the world’s most beloved baseball park. We sat in the centerfield bleachers and I brought my baseball glove, as I always do. At the end of batting practice, Red Sox center fielder Jim Rice turned around, nodded his head to me as I stood the edge of the wall, and made a gesture that he was about to throw me the ball. I tensed up but managed to catch it. For those that don’t follow baseball, Jim Rice led the American league in home runs in 1977, 1978, and 1983. He was the Red Sox MVP in ‘78 and was named to eight All-Star teams. Since it was my brother John’s birthday, the ball became his Fenway present. A month later, I received a package in the mail from him. He placed the ball in a wooden display that included a holder for the ball, a Jim Rice baseball card, and an engraved plaque that read, 8-23-87 T, Thanks for a great Birthday! Red Sox-6 Twins-4. John. Since then, I have picked up other Jim Rice baseball cards (including an oversized 3-D one), a Jim Rice pin, a Jim Rice bobblehead and created a little shine that has been on display in my room for 25 years. For the current issue of The Noise, I had planned to write a story with a plea for anyone to help me get the ball signed by Mr. Jim Rice. Since 1987, he has been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (2009) and has had his number (14) retired—it is one of those eight numbers listed up on the right field roof inside Fenway Park and on the outside brick wall on Van Ness Street.
So, what happens in 2013? My buddy, Mach Bell (Thundertrain/ Joe Perry Project), invites me to join him at Fenway Park for a Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays game on April 12. The date gets rained out and rescheduled to an early afternoon game on June 18. The weather calls for a couple of short thunderstorms. I drive my car into Somerville, park it, and ride my bicycle the rest of the way. I meet Mach in front of those eight numbers listed on the wall outside the park. In our first base side seats, Mach and I dine on Fenway Franks as the Sox build up a 4-1 lead. Then it starts to sprinkle—and soon it becomes a downpour. The infield gets covered up. Likewise, I wrap myself in a large clear plastic garbage bag as the crowd seeks shelter from the rain. Mach and I wander around the cavernous space under the bleachers, and, as we’re enjoying our tasty over-priced New England clam chowder, we notice that Mr. Jim Rice is on the TV monitors. He is being broadcast from the park. Where exactly, I don’t know, but he must be up in the media section far above home plate. I asked a young Fenway Park attendant how he would go about finding Jim Rice. He instructs us to take the elevator up to the fifth floor. Off we go on a mission. Stepping out of the elevator Mach and I arrive at the guarded door to the media world. The security guard wants to see my media pass and I tell him I publish a magazine. He lets me through. I take out my 1987 baseball (yes, I remembered to bring it with me) and ask an official-looking flesh-domed man in a red shirt if he can help me get Jim Rice to autograph it. He points me back one step to the security guard. So now Mach and I are on the outside of the media doors again. I chat with the friendly security guard about what I’m trying to accomplish, and he gives me a tip to talk to the guys with NESN on their shirts. We wait. I’m tempted to talk to everyone who walks out the media doors, but I restrain myself. Finally, a familiar face, Peter Gammons walks out and is chatting with some friends. I hold back until the right moment and remind Peter that he once asked to be in The Noise—and then ask if he could tell what year my baseball is from. He guesses ’78. I know the year but want to engage with him. I ask if he can mention to Jim that I am hoping to get the ball autographed. More time passes (the rain delay is beyond two and a half hours at this point). Finally, I see Jim Rice coming out the door—but he has his hands up in front of his face, kind of shooing me away. “I’m coming back,” he reluctantly mumbles and takes off for the elevator. While waiting for him to return, Mach asks for my camera, and I realize that I should take off the wet plastic garbage bag. Mr. Rice returns and I go right up to him, stating: “You threw me this ball in 1986 (I was off a year). I’m a performer and tell the story of you throwing me this ball and it always gets applause.” He takes the ball (and a Sharpie—I came prepared), autographs the ball, and shakes my hand. Mach quickly and silently takes a couple of photos and my chest is pounding.
Now my Jim Rice story has a new ending, and all of you heard it first. So remember—anything is possible—Don’t Give Up the Ship.