It was the summer of 1993, Fenway Park and my first Major League Baseball game. The Boston Red Sox were taking on the Oakland Athletics that day and Rickey Henderson was the first major league hitter I'd ever seen in person. Not too shabby.
This was long before any "Red Sox Nation," monster seats or sellout
crowds being the norm (not that tickets were easy to come by) and "The
Curse of the Bambino" was still intact. I still have my Red Sox hat
and program from that day, pictures and memories as well.
Sitting out down the right-field line in Fenway Park gives one an immaculate view of the Green Monster, but it also leaves your neck craning left for the full nine, but I was nine and it was baseball and I didn't care. All I could think was this is so cool, this classic ballpark and there's Rickey and Dave Henderson (no relation) in the outfield, Mo Vaughn and Mike Greenwell slugging away, Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage and Ron Darling milling around in the bullpen and my younger brother spilled his soda right before the National Anthem (sorry Matt).
The game itself, well I was nine at the time so I can't give you every single intricate detail, but I do remember it was Todd Van Poppel vs. Danny Darwin and Rickey Henderson led off the game with a base hit. Rickey also scored the game's first run, but Rickey wasn't done after that.
In a seesaw slug-fest that Boston ended up winning 9-7, thanks to an exciting two run rally in the eighth keyed by Vaughn, Andre Dawson and Greenwell, it was a big night for Rickey.
Rickey homered twice off Darwin over the Monster and ended up going 3-4 with three runs scored, three RBI and a walk. After all that what didn't Rickey do? Oddly enough, steal a base. No it was more of a trotting kind of night for Henderson, who was one of the last remnants of an Oakland team that was once an AL power and had fallen by the wayside.
Of course at that time no one knew that Henderson would be traded to the Toronto Blue Jays to help them and himself capture a second championship. And in that ninth inning of game six of the 1993 World Series, Rickey coaxed a lead-off walk from Philadelphia Phillies closer Mitch Williams. It was Henderson's presence on the base-paths that caused Williams to pitch from the slide-step, something he hadn't done all season. Hence Williams slipped and Joe Carter ripped a walk-off HR.
One of the things I always loved about watching Rickey as a kid and trying to emulate was that he could beat you in so many different ways. Rickey had power and speed, a keen eye at the plate and uncanny instincts on the bases.
As a kid I remember you always wanted to be like Rickey, Rickey would always hit lead-off and what kid didn't want to bat first? Rickey could run like the wind and whenever I got on base I knew I was going to steal and score no matter what, just like Rickey did. Rickey was also the consummate winner, playing in two countries, every team along the West Coast not named the San Francisco Giants, both New York teams and even made a stop in Boston.
The man who once was 1990 AL MVP, even went so far as to suit up for the Independent League Newark Bears, because like him none of us wanted to give this grand old game up.
So congrats to Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, Joe Gordon and Tony Kubek (who I grew up listening to on MSG Network) and thank you so much for the memories.