Painful Memories; Aug. 18, 1967

Steven J. WardContributor IMarch 24, 2009

BOSTON - OCTOBER 16:  Jason Bay #44 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the outfield against the Tampa Bay Rays in game five of the American League Championship Series during the 2008 MLB playoffs at Fenway Park on October 16, 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

We as human beings are blessed to possess a seemingly infinite space deep amid our brain to gather, store, and make accessible millions of bits of physical data to draw upon at any time we chose. Unfortunately, not everything held there is indeed a blessed event.

The physiological structure or it's metaphysical nature isn't a forum presently to discuss however we are forced nonetheless to deal with the positive as well as the negative merely because they both are represented equally as memory.

I write often of my childhood, growing up just south of Boston MA. how we lived and breathed baseball, replicating our favorite players and dreaming of becoming the next "star" of our beloved home team.

During the early '60s, our Red Sox were as bad as a team could be, as I recall, but we loved them just the same; you see that is the fascinating thing about kids, their loyalty is as pure as humanly known.

An unconditional pledge, a kinship a vow of love to often and far too easily outgrown. Children aren't complicated until us adults wrap them up in our problems and force them from their comfort zones.

I have been fortunate enough to work a great deal with children of all ages and they are such wonderfully giving, unencumbered gifts, every last one of them. They need so very little and ask even less except for maybe some time to be just a kid.

Ah yes, memory; we all carry sufficiently the pros and cons of our childhood and adjust accordingly but there is one particular entry that I would feel honored to share as it might well even serve some relief.

The year was 1967 and our Red Sox were flying uncustomary high in the standings, the team was skilled and talented like never before. Carl Yastremski, George "Big Tatter"  Scott, Jim Lonborg and our up and coming superstar Tony Conigliaro!

Tony C we all called him was a tall thin left-handed power hitter, brash but the first one out to talk to kids no matter where he was.

He crowded the plate mostly out of total disdain for the pitchers, and it cost him with several broken bones (arm, wrist, hand), but he gave back not a single inch, that was his plate and the pitcher, bar none, wasn't allowed in.

God, I loved his swing, a wide-open stance, bat high behind his head and a sneer to melt the Vaseline off any of the renown "Spit-ballers" of the day.

The season was spinning on and we as fans held on dearly; finally our stars were shinning brighter than all others.

We couldn't wait to go into Fenway and see our hero's, our team but as it goes tickets suddenly weren't so easily to come by so we had to be satisfied to listen on the radio to Curt Gowdy and company or when we were really fortunate we saw them TV.

As August ambled in everything was a blur except that we played ball every possible moment stopping only to listen or watch our team play. Aug. 7 was my younger brother's birthday and it was at his party that a gift was presented as four tickets to the Aug. 18 game against the California Angels.

Aug. 18?

Oh man, I said, that's like a month away...

Well as time usually does, it delivered the day of the game right on  schedule and the next thing we realized we were on our way into Fenway Park. A night game? Our first night game!

Our seats were behind home-plate about 20 rows back and behind that green screen that saved many a fan over the years from foul balls being jettisoned at will like missiles.

My Uncle Joe took us in, my two brothers and I as we settled in our heaven for the night. What a thrill to see those massive lights illuminate the field amplifying everything a hundred fold, the grass, the uniforms, the "Green Monster" shinning on our hero's like lightning-bolts from Zeus himself.

From the deep precipice and recesses where the most painful of memories are stored I draw the following; Tony C came to the plate and butterflies began their overwhelming flutter in my stomach.

I was more nervous than he most likely, but he stood facing a fireballer named Jack Hamilton, just acquired from the Mets for the stretch run.

Tony had lined a single into left-center his first time up and had the upper hand. Hamilton, whose nickname was "Hair-breath Harry" (reportedly because of his many close decision losses), also had the knack for "brush back pitches, as well as an occasional spitball.

He reared back, firing toward home plate, and before another breath could pass there was a deep sickening crack louder, more distinct than any sound I ever heard before or since, and Tony sunk to the ground as his helmet spun helplessly away.

I can tell you with complete honesty that two things happened at that moment (one), not a sound was made for what seemed an eternity, the entire park went silent, and two, I felt as if I was going to get sick to my stomach then and still today when I think back to that horrendous night in August of 1967.

Tony Conigliaro was a home-grown hero and suffered what became the beginning of his end. He attempted a comeback twice but was never the same and died in February of 1990 at 45 years. 

As a strange twist to this story, some three years ago, I went to visit my daughter who was working in Branson, MO with her best friend. Her best friend is the granddaughter of Jack Hamilton, the very one spoken of herein.

He is a restaurant owner there, and though I never got an interview, I did talk with him about that fateful night and dreadful occurrence. Jack Hamilton seems rather at odds with himself, but cordially he refuses still to go into much detail but says rather ruefully, "I wish we had the batting helmets then as they do now."