Saturday, February 18, 2012

The End of an Era

Era (noun) 1.a period of time marked by distinctive character, events, people, etc.
                    --Random House Dictionary

ERA (noun) 1. Total number of earned runs allowed by a baseball pitcher, divided by total innings pitched, multiplied by nine. For example if Tim Wakefield pitched nine innings and gave up one run his ERA would be 1.0              

Seventeen years: that’s a long time, relatively speaking.  It’s almost a quarter of the average lifespan of an American man, 76 years.  Seventeen years takes a person all the way from the womb to senior year of high school. In seventeen years the average American will hold three different jobs and change her address three times.  Seventeen years equals 884 weeks or 6,205 days.  Alot can happen, change, transform, shift, and go away in that span of time. 

Seventeen years ago, 1995, feels like a lifetime ago, another era.  Bill Clinton in the White House. The Internet just an infant, America Online the dominant player.  When we connected then we did so by a phone line with beeps and clicks and chirps. Remember? A cell phone was the size of a brick and only for the rich.  9/11 was a distant nightmare.  And in April of that year, a young athlete named Tim Wakefield signed to pitch for the Boston Red Sox. He was 28, an almost washed up knuckleball pitcher, released by his last team, and hoping for one final shot at the big leagues.

Wakefield stuck with the Sox, took the mound for 3,006 innings, made 430 starts, won 200 games and played longer for the team than any other players, except Carl Yastrzemski and Dwight Evans.  The year Wakefield donned the red and white uniform the Sox were perpetual also rans, sad sacks who hadn’t won a World Series in seventy seven years. They always found a way to lose and lose very badly and often played before a sparsely filled Fenway Park.  When Wakefield retired last week he left a team which won two world championships in his era, slayed the once mighty Yankees and became one of the dominant teams in major league sports, selling out Fenway Park an amazing 631 times in a row and counting.

His departure represents the end of an era, the placing of a final “period” on a specific length of time.  Yes it was only baseball and all Wakefield finally did was toss a little white five ounce ball ninety feet. He played catch for a living. 

Yet he stayed while others left.  He played while others moved on.  He showed up year after year after year and many of us fans marked the passage of time in our lives by Wakefield’s longevity, by trusting that come Opening Day on a chilly April afternoon he would just be there, number 49, ready to take the ball and play the game of baseball and life again.  It was spring again.  It came back.

It’s rare to be able to mark our lives by such trustworthy symbols of tenacity and faithfulness. So many things and people and traditions and institutions quickly come and go in life, one moment on the stage, the next departed, gone.  As our world has sped up, as the new seems to continually push away the old, life can feel shaky and undependable. 

But when we are blessed by God we remember and are grateful for that which sticks around and is trustworthy, especially through all the changes.  A God who has seen us through the joy and sorrow, fear and faith.  A house of worship where we married and saw our kids welcomed, a sacred place which has given us sanctuary for so long.  A spouse who stands by our side after so many years of love and loss.  A team who stole our hearts as kids and whom we still adore, summer after summer after summer.

So good job Tim. Well done.  You didn’t just pitch for the Red Sox.  You marked a special time and era in the life of a team, a city and an entire region.  You will be missed.  But thank God, that even in 2012, some things last and some people stay. Some ideals are durable and strong and true.  Some hopes and dreams can be trusted, through all the years and all the eras.


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