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It had been 36 years since a Yastrzemski hit a home run in Fenway Park. That changed Tuesday night in a moment of baseball magic that spoke to the power of family and history, and highlighted how sport can transcend the game at hand and resonate with us at a much deeper level.
Mike Yastrzemski, the 29-year-old grandson of Boston Red Sox legend Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski, stepped up to the plate in the fourth inning of last Tuesday night’s game. And just like his grandfather did so many times at Fenway during his 23-year career, the younger Yaz sent a pitch over the wall for a home run.
The Red Sox fans, as they did for his grandfather, cheered Mike Yastrzemski while he rounded the bases. But there was at least one important difference: Mike doesn’t play for Boston.
The major league rookie is a member of the visiting San Francisco Giants. So while the initial standing ovation during Yastrzemski’s first at bat, given the family history, was expected to lead things off Tuesday night, the second round of applause after the home run is a bit more remarkable. Even though this player had just hit a home run against their own team, Red Sox fans appreciated the weight of the moment.
Even the Red Sox pitcher who gave up the home run realized just how special it was.
“Yeah, it’s cool,” pitcher Nathan Eovaldi said afterwards, as quoted by the Associated Press. “And I mean you see our fans, too, they give him a really good welcome. Cool experience.”
Sure, the Red Sox season is all but over, at least in terms of making the playoffs. But it’s not always about winning and losing. Toward the end of an ultimately disappointing season for the reigning World Series champions, the game still gives us reasons to stand up and cheer. That’s part of the magic of baseball and other sports, which even in a bad year connect us to family, to shared memories, and to history.
Giants Manager Bruce Bochy clearly has an appreciation for the pull of history, choosing to start Yastrzemski in the same position his grandfather played for the Red Sox.
“To be honest, sure, I wanted him to play left field tonight. He gets the nod there. It’ll be a cool moment,” Bochy said before Tuesday’s game, according to ESPN. “I’m sure for a lot of people here, it’ll be a great reminder of all the great things his grandfather did, bringing special memories into their minds. I look forward to it. I had a chance to meet Carl today and he came into the clubhouse and we sat and talked for a while, and so this is cool for everybody. The fans here in Boston, but us, too.”
Carl Yastrzemski, who roamed left field with his grandson before the game Tuesday, emphasized how proud he is of Mike’s persistence after grinding it out for several years in the minor leagues before this year’s breakout season.
“The only way I can make any type of comparison would be to compare the ’67 season to this moment,” he said, again according to ESPN. “To play 700 games in the minor leagues, he always said he’d make it. I think that’s what I’m proud of the most, because of his sticking to it, not complaining. He’s a great kid, which is more important.”
We were treated to another great Yastrzemski moment on Wednesday, when grandfather threw out the first pitch and grandson caught it behind home plate. That pitch not only connected two members of a family, but generations of Red Sox fans.
The younger Yastrzemski, for his part, tried to enjoy his Fenway experience this week without getting too caught up in the moment.
“Playing here is cool, as part of my job, something I’ve always wanted to do, so that doesn’t really overwhelm me,” he said, according to Fox News. “But being able to do it in a setting where I have so many fond memories with friends and family, and then having them able to be here, that’s special.”
It was special for us fans, too.