A Season of Redemption & Renewal

Evan Brunell@evanbrunellFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2009

The tragedies of young Angel's pitcher, Nick Adenhart, and young Giant's pitcher Joe Martinez created flashbacks of Tony Conigliaro and my childhood hero Harry Agganis. The rythms of life and baseball run parallel, are intertwined, and seem to exist simultaneously in memory.

During this Judeo-Christian season of life and death and life, of renewal, redemption, healing, divine forgiveness and salvation, I feel the need to comment on the symmetry of opening day, 2009, as it epitomizes the depth and breadth of baseball, including a first pitch delayed for reasons beyond our control, and poignantly intertwined with our national psyche.

Honey Fitzgerald was more than just a Mayor. He represented a true shift of power in the United States of America. For three centuries, the City of Boston and much of New England was ruled, with a firm hand, by a group of true believers called "WASP", the "white anglo-saxon protestant" descended from the Puritans and the Church of England, the Methodists and Calvinists of protestant Europe.

The immigrants of Ireland, Italy, Portugal, France, Armenia, Greece, China and the world came to America and Boston as the working class, the apprentices, gardeners, painters and laborers who, in many parts of the country replaced slave labor, and lived poor. Gradually the immigrants in Boston (& NYC, Chicago, etc.), particularly the Irish and Italian who came in such large numbers, simply out-bred the ruling class and gained power through the vote, education, neighborhood businesses, and filling the ranks of police, nurses, teachers, fishermen, mechanics, sports and entertainment. Honey Fitz, an Irish Catholic mayor, was a stark symbol of this ascendency and this paradigm shift.

The immigrants and their children embraced this new America of hope; and being largely catholic or orthodox and equally powerless, they found ways to work together while maintaining their distance: they built schools, hospitals, unions, and held St. Rocco's and St. Patrick's and Bastille Day celebrations, and learned not to fight over political crumbs. Basketball, Football, Hockey were still in the future. They loved baseball, and they built neighborhood baseball fields, and they built Fenway Park, and they loved the Red Sox. When Honey Fitz threw out the first pitch in 1912, Fenway itself became a powerful symbol of this shift of power in 20th century America.

I don't think it is a stretch to say, in a political and cultural sense, that as the Statue of Liberty represented freedom and hope for our oppressed immigrant ancestors, Fenway Park represented the overcoming of that oppression, the defense of that freedom, and the fulfillment of that hope. My uncle Dick, son of an immigrant pipefitter, loved Fenway when it opened, and came back from WWI with his purple hearts and stars, and spent as much time at Red Sox games as his job would allow until war injuries took him. Son of hopeful immigrants, lover of baseball, defender of freedom, living and dying with the Sox and Fenway close to his heart. These themes are inseparable in Boston.

Honey Fitz was a founding Royal Rooter, sang Tessie like any enthusiastic Irish Tenor, and threw out the first pitch ever, at Fenway Park. The names Fitzgerald and Kennedy, and the clan itself, have been inextricably linked to Fenway Park ever since. No family that I know of has so successfully blended a life of living richly, simply and well with a life of service to America and its people. Watching Ted Kennedy, looking so much like his brothers, riding with Jim Rice in the golf cart to the mound, was so deeply symbolic it has become one of my most profound moments in enjoying and appreciating all things baseball.

Ted's oldest brother Joe was the first of the Kennedy siblings to give his life for his country. Despite being the crown prince in a family with princely wealth and power, and despite being eligible to take his leave from the war and come home, he volunteered for a suicide mission and was shot down. By his actions he highlighted the Kennedy family policy of public service while living simply and well.

Ted's next oldest brother, Jack, another WWII hero living in constant pain from his service related injuries and a debilitating disease (Addisons) kept on giving and was assassinated in Dallas. He became president despite a constant barrage of scare tactics from the right that stridently claimed if the USA elects a catholic, then the USA will be run by the Pope. 50 years after Honey Fitz irrevocably changed Boston's religiously biased politics and threw out the first pitch at Fenway, JFK almost lost his election because of the same religious/political bias on a national scale. Like Honey Fitz, JFK rode the wave of an Immigrant Nation, but one which finally became an American Nation after being so severely blooded during WWII. In WWII baseball continued by order of President Roosevelt as essential to morale, and baseball players like Ted Williams became national heroes for sacrificing their careers while putting their lives on the line to serve their country. Service to nation became a national litmus test at this time, and manifested itself in the draft, the Peace Corps, Vista Volunteers and numerous private service programs.

Ted's next oldest brother Bobby, while at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. to win the California nomination for president, was also assassinated, probably for the same reasons which cost us JFK . . . a strategy to pull out of Viet Nam, racial integration (see the destruction of King, M.L., Chavez, Cesar), and coming down on organized crime which was just building its drug trafficking trade. As one savvy politician put it, the Kennedys were so rich they were beholden to no one, and were intent on reversing the military-industrial complex that Ike so strongly warned us about. Their success and financial independence made them targets, and they are still targets.

Then there is Ted. I was sickened to read some of the venomous comments regarding him throwing out the first pitch. Ted is the once callow, shallow baby brother who failed to man up after the tragic accident in which he nearly lost his life, and Mary Jo did. I went to that bridge shortly after, and talked with locals. It was an accident waiting to happen and it happened on the world stage of public opinion. Could Ted have saved Mary Jo's life? Maybe. Maybe not. It would have been tough in the best of conditions, and those conditions were not good. Did he try? No doubt. It would be a given for one of his clan. What galled people at the time was that he didn;t he do the right thing after the accident, acting like the spoiled rich kid that he was. He knows this, and this has obviously dominated his life ever since. Since that terrible day, he has spent decades trying to do the right thing. How many of us can say that about redeeming our own pasts? He matured and took responsibility for his life In the typical Kennedy way, I think, which is service to his country. With his wealth and influence, he could have moved to another country, or withdrew to collect butterflies, or hidden publicly in a vapid life of glamor and travel. Instead, he took the Kennedy baton and did the best he could, and is now the last of the Kennedy boys, fighting for his life, a fight we all lose.

For 40+ years Ted Kennedy has sponsored and fought for some of the most important legislation for the common man in the 20th century. Civil Rights, Womens Rights, Equal Rights, Equal Opportunity, Health Care, Insurance Portability, Access to education at all levels, Job traininig, Technology, Biodefense, Environment, Immigration Reform, Volunteerism, the National Service Bill. The list keeps going. He spent his very long career trying to protect America and Americans from those who would hurt Joe Average. Even at his age, even with his cancer diagnosis and treatment, he is still working, still trying to do the right thing. I think I would just go sailing.

Watching the last of the Kennedy brothers, all of them having so profoundly influenced our lives, and all of them once so vital, alive and athletic, shuffle up the mound and soft toss that pitch to HOFer Jim Rice was a moment so rich with meaning. The Kennedy brothers accomplished so much to insure racial integration, breaking color barriers in myriad ways, opening doors for Jim Rice. Jim Rice was the man who finally smashed Boston's color barrier during a time when racial strife was on every corner. The Kennedys, Joe, Jack, Bobby, Ted were integral to creating that equality, and de-fanaging racism.

On Easter Sunday, a day of forgiveness, redemption, renewal, perhaps it's time to mourn Nick Adenhart while remembering he did indeed experience redemption in his 6 shutout innings following TJ surgery and the ensuing rocky years. We understand his passing in the same way we understand so much . . . we don't, we can't, but we can honor his life; and we can pray for Joe Martinez to recover, and for Tony Conigliaro who didn't; and enjoy the heroics of Rocco Baldelli, Jon Lester & Mike Lowell who have fought cancer, disease and injuries and are finding redemption in the 2009 season; and appreciate Jim Rice whose level of play helped redeem and heal Boston's once deep racism; and Ted & the whole Kennedy clan who, through life, death, tragedy and service, redeemed themselves and those they championed; and in particular for Ted, who spent his adult life manning up, to the best of his abilities, and has earned forgiveness and redemption.

I was moved to see this old war horse for the common weal, close this circle of life which represents our nation of immigrants, one which still loves baseball, at Fenway Park, the Cathedral and National Shrine. . . starting with immigrant Mayor Honey Fitz singing Tessie in 1912 to Senator Ted listening to Dropkick Murphy's version of Tessie in 2009. Flawed or not, this was beautiful Symmetry.