For the better part of the 1970's Rick Burleson strutted around the middle infield of Fenway Park. Known as the "Rooster", Burleson had a fiery nature and the look of a man who came to fight. Despite an obvious lack of range and experience, by an act of sheer will Burleson was able to take the starting shortstop job away from Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio. In his first start Burleson committed three errors, a record that stands to this day for a Major League debut. Ever confident, Burleson quickly turned things around and in 1979 won a Gold Glove award and the following year led all American League shortstops in putouts, assists and double plays.
Despite becoming a defensive stalwart and playing in four All Star games, when I think of Rick Burleson I am reminded of Craig, my sandlot teammate and dyed in the wool Burleson fan. Before 24 hour sports coverage, when catching a Sox game on TV38 was a special occasion, all we knew of the hometown team was found in well read yearbooks and on the backs of baseball cards. Ironically, in a time when we knew less about the players, they somehow seemed more accessible. Every time we took the field to play, a litany was said. Started by Craig with, "I'm Rick Burleson," the roll call continued until everyone had chosen a player and usually ended with, "I'm Reggie Jackson." This coming from some kid from New York or New Jersey visiting their grandparents on the Cape.
It's been over 30 years since we last played on the sandlot. The warped bench, the chicken wire backstop and the rusty fence in left field that guarded an overgrown tennis court are all gone. To satisfy the hunger for summer homes and retirement condos, a complex was placed there. Like most buildings that spring from rapid fire expansion, it is soulless. Aluminum sided, box shaped buildings and landscaped grounds with automatic sprinkler systems now ensure that any trace of the tall tufts of grass, rocks and sand we called a field will never return. Despite the depressing reality of "progress", I can count on this; every day when I head to work and open the door to my office, a tiny voice inside me still says, "I'm Carlton Fisk."
23 bats down 60 to go.