The Impossible Dream, The Dream Team and the Dream Horse
A team that is actually not my favorite, a sport I know relatively little about and a team of mesmerizing perfection.
The Boston Red Sox, horse racing and The Dream Team. Two teams and a horse that stole part of three summers, grabbing on to a young kid in 1967, a teenager in 1973 and a young man in 1992 and never let go, all the while accompanying him through the passage of time.
Summers come and summers go. You hit the whiffle ball, ride the wave, tool around in the car, get the job, find the girl and move on in life as it whirls by. Okay I simplified it all a bit but you get the message.Those three summers came and never went. They have stayed fresh even as my hair curled and eventually giving way to follicle impairment, high school and college became history and a wife and child appeared on the scene.
I have never forgotten and never been more reminded of those summers and events than this summer. For the Red Sox it was the `Impossible Dream” season. Then there was the dream horse – Secretariat. And if you look at it chronologically, the desert supplied by Michael Jrdan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the best damn basketball team to ever take a floor.
What is it about this summer that has that all bubbling to the surface for me? In the Red Sox’ case it is the 50th anniversary of that wonderfully, wacky summer that had New England’s sweat glands in overdrive and nitro glycerin pills in high demand and short supply. It was the sports version of the summer of love at Fenway not Haight-Ashbury. I have also had the privledge of interviewing shortstop Rico Petrocelli and Southington native and pitcher Gary Waslewski from that team and seen their eyes still sparkle at it all while providing a personal connection for me.
This is no magic date for Secretariat. It has been 44 years since his Triple Crown and historical, stunning, almost incomprehensible performance in the Belmont Stakes. However, I was walking past my book shelf earlier this summer and happened to pick up William Nack’s addictive book on `Big Red’. I finished it a while ago but I haven’t put it down yet.
For the Dream Team there were a couple of lures. It is the 25th anniversary of the blending of 11 Hall of Famers that took your breath away. Plus, I was going to Barcelona and that was where the magic played out.
All the events hooked me one more time and once again I was back in three decades at various parts of the journey and loving every minute of it.
Most people know I have always been a Baltimore Oriole fan. It was Brooks Robinson and the Birds for me from the beginning. But what young kid in New England couldn’t bleed Yaz and Tony C. in the summer of `67, especially with a housefield of Red Sox fans.
You could feel the electricity born of powerful storm clouds of the unbelievable. This was a run from worst to first, last place in 1966 with crowds averaging in the 9,000 nightly range. Nobody expected this, fantasy summer in front of rocking Fenway.
And the season rolled along and the Red Sox hung around. There was Jim Lonborg who would win 22 games. The brilliant Carl Yastrzemsk (.326, 44 HR, 121 RBI) who to put it in Ken Coleman’s words, “If you have just turned on your radio, he has done it again.”
Yaz did it again and again and again. We quivered in fright and disappointment when Jack Hamilton put a fastball in Tony Conigliaro’s face throwing the hopes of a pennant in doubt and effectively ending what probably would have been a Hall of Fame career.
Long before the Wild Card, this was win or go home and it was forever radio listening on the transistor or whatever as the season wound down with one percentage point separating the Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers and Twins.
Boston need to win the last two at home again the Twins and hope Detroit split a final doubleheader. My brother The amazing Yaz went 6-for-7 forever cementing himself in New England lore. My brother Gary and I watched the game at the house of friends Mike and Tim Ingham and when Rico Petrocelli caught that final out we went wild jumping up and down on the couch.
It just didn’t get any better even with the seven-game loss to the Cardinals in the World Series. It was the beginning of Red Sox nation.
My excitement must have caught up with my mother and I was given the Red Sox “Impossible Dream” album for Christmas. I can still to this day recite so many of the quotes from the album.
“We need those wins to match the Twins, the Tigers and Chicago. Come on Lee Stange, go Brandon baby, blind’em Santiago.” Maybe not Twain or Poe type literature but it stuck with you. I still have the CD of it in my car and on nostalgic days it still gets a play.
Here’s the thing though. I got the album and my brother was the true Red Sox fan. I’m not sure he appreciated that nor did I understand it. But it was the thought that counts, right.
I know this, the Impossible Dream season took a very young kid to the Promised Land.
Six years later it was the horse that blew me away. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Secretariat win the Triple Crown particularly the Belmont. He set three records; he won the Belmont by 31 dam lengths. Nobody wins races by 31 lengths unless they are running alone. Of course, he was, the rest of the field just didn’t know it at least in the beginning.
He still holds the records including the time of 2:24 for the mile and a half Belmont, two and a half seconds better than the old mark. That’s like pole vaulting 23 feet or running the 100-yard dash in 8.0. Almost three seconds in horse time is off anybody’s chart.
I keep reading the part in Nack’s book where he recounts the race and the experts watching who believed he was going too darn fast and would collapse. People cheered the immensity of the performance. They cried at the end. He was a rock star of the first magnitude.
He was on the cover on Time, Sports Illustrated and Newsweek. The public adored him. This non-horse racing guy fell in love with him like so much of America. The best horse ever? I don’t know. Many think so, some think not. But it is hard for me to imagine any horse better when he was healthy and the only races he lost were when he wasn’t healthy.
Some called his performance in the Belmont the greatest sports performance ever. He is on ESPN’s list as one of the top 50 athletes ever. I won’t argue.
So I have spent many moments this summer watching that race and all the Triple Crown races. I have watched ESPN specials and just got caught up in it all over again. I will put the book away. But the horse? He stays. Forever.
Basketball was my sport as a kid and well into my adult life. The Dream Team was the Ryder Cup of hoops, you never thought you could get so many stars in one room on one thought level. We did. And you along with the world and anybody who stepped in its way was blown away.
Eleven future Hall of Famers and Christian Laettner – you will never convince me that another team could match it. Three of the players Jordan, Magic and Larry are on the top five of six of any all-time team. They were so good, some thought they were too good. They won their Olympic games by an average of 47 points. And they did it by putting ego in the back of the bus.
If Secretariat was the horse, these guys were the men – on a world wide scale. Opponents wanted their pictures taken before, during and after games. In Barcelona, security asked the players to stay in their hotel. They were the Beatles of basketball and massive crowds swarmed them wherever they went.
They were so big there were complaints even from Americans that too much attention was being paid to them. Most stayed in the hotel but not the star of the show off the court, Charles Barkley. He roamed Las Ramblas, a popular tourist center, and the fans adored him.
I have watched the Dream Team video a number of times and reread the book again. This team turned the world on to basketball and it has never been the same since then. You know when you have seen one in a kind and I knew. Larry would never play again, Magic was done. Michael and the rest would go on. But nothing was like that summer in Barcelona.
I have been fortunate enough talk to Bird and Barkley in this profession. I walked Las Ramblas recently thinking about Barkley’s night outs. I still remember the pride during the Gold Medal ceremony and understanding for all the titles and money in the world there was nothing like this.
A lot of this summer has been about other summers. The Dream Team, the team with the impossible dream and the dreamy horse with wings hooked this kid, this teenager and this young adult for all time. You just don’t forget the awesome.
The calendar says they were from summers of long ago. The brilliance says they are about all summers including this one.