Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Yankees Do Not S__K. And Yes, I'm the Judge of That.


“YANKEES SUCK!”  --the “go to” chant of drunk/confused fans at Fenway Park in Boston

Actually, the Yankees don’t.

It was a warm August night, 2003, a year before the Boston Red Sox finally broke ‘the curse’ ending 86 years of sports futility. From 1918 to 2004, the Sox either missed baseball’s World Series or, when they did make it, they always lost. In 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986. Lost in heart breaking fashion, like a simple ground ball dribbling through the legs of a befuddled first baseman for a game changing hit. The curse was supposedly placed on the Sox by the baseball gods for trading Babe Ruth in 1919 to their much and still despised rivals, the New York Yankees.     

That curse haunted Bosox fans for years who hated and still are known to hate those damn Yankees, our “enemy” who plays in the equally reviled Yankee Stadium, aka the house that Ruth built, some 200 miles to the south and west of Boston.  From the nineteen eighties on, the fan chant that dominated at Fenway Park, especially when the men in pinstripes were in town, was this inelegant two-word declaration.

“YANKEES SUCK!”

Not very subtle and certainly it crosses the line of polite language, even at the game. Back to that humid summer evening nineteen years ago. I walked out of Fenway after a Red Sox win over a now forgotten team, in a huge crowd of fans, a good majority drunk. And I don’t know, maybe to pass the time or claim his place as the Alpha dog in the crowd or just to do what inebriated twenty-something men do, a guy behind me started the chant: “YANKEES SUCK! YANKEES SUCK!”

I turned to him and clearly and dispassionately rebutted his argument and said, “Actually the Yankees are pretty good. Twenty-six world championships and counting.” The guy lunged toward me, but I was cold sober, and dodged him. Me and my friend Kevin moved away from this sadly mistaken young man and escaped unscathed.

And then that kid started up his chant again. Oh well.

I still believe what I said about the Yankees then. They don’t…s__k. And this year the team and especially one of their players redeemed my baseball fandom this summer, redeemed baseball for me and a lot of folks. The Sox have been awful in 2022, as bad as the Yankees have been good. As the season ends, the Sox are in last place, 23 games behind the first place Yankees.  

The Yankees have been carried on the back of someone who is chasing history. This season their right fielder Aaron Judge hit 62 home runs, surpassing fellow Yankee Roger Maris’s 1961 record of 61. Most ever in the American League. It’s been fun each day to turn to the sports pages or highlights online, to see if Judge was close to breaking the record and achieving the seemingly impossible.

On Wednesday of this week, he did just that, swatting a 391-foot home run for number 62.  That number really matters to nerdy fans like me, because while there are others who’ve surpassed 62, those three players are widely recognized as steroid users. Cheaters. Imbibers of now banned substances.

But Judge played straight by the rules and throughout his summer long crusade he carried himself with authentic humility, quiet resolve and gracious thanks to the fans. Even when he slumped a bit lately (including against the Sox) and took almost two weeks to hit numbers 61 and 62, he was unflappable. No tantrums. No flip remarks to the press. Just getting up to bat each game and trying his best.

I know it’s just a baseball game and statistic. I know baseball has been supplanted by football and basketball as American’s true pastime. I know at my age I’m not supposed to get all starry eyed about an athlete, especially one who plays for the nemesis of my home team.

But still, baseball with its seasonal rhythms, its traditions, and its place in my life for as long as I can remember—still it thrills me. Especially when someone like Judge comes along and does his job so well, and now so much better than almost everyone else who has ever played the game.

The Yankees—yes, to me they are still the Evil Empire and they have far too often broken my heart, and I won’t ever wear a Yankees cap but there is no denying this truth. They do not, well, you know…the “s” word. 

And Aaron Judge: he is true a champion. I’m glad I had some baseball fun this summer, even if it was with the “wrong” team. The Sox?

We’ll just have to wait ‘til next year.

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.

 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Home Sweet Home. Is It a Fading American Dream?


“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”    --Maya Angelou, poet

It was home sweet home.

Not the biggest of homes or filled with fancy high tech appliances or a two-car garage or even a dishwasher. Us four kids were the dishwasher. That house didn’t have a finished basement, or a sprawling backyard. The space between our house and the Crifo family homestead next door put us nearly next door to their door. As in 25 feet or so of separation.

It was a Cape. Pretty basic shelter. That’s where my family lived in our early years, back in the nineteen sixties. The home was maybe 1,300 square feet or so, if that much. Center staircase. Modest size kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and dining room on the first floor. Two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second. In their spare time, my dad and grandfather put up plywood paneling floor to ceiling, to make a family room, in the basement.

Home sweet home. Home sweet “starter home” too.

That’s the quaint term used to describe a style of house that once was very common in the United States. A home of limited size, nothing fancy. Just enough space for a growing family, and just the right price too. Perfect for young people or first-time home buyers or blue-collar folk or veterans returning from war or retirees downsizing or people of modest means. 

There was a time when to buy and own your own home, maybe a starter home, was central to the American dream. It was within reach of most people too. Once the supply of starter homes was plentiful. Zoning rules and land costs still made it possible to put up a Cape on a half-acre lot.

But not so much anymore.

Not after the rocket like rise in home prices that has marked the past few years, years when in the United States the average price for a home rose from $391,000 in 2020 to $453,000 by the end of 2021, an increase of 16 percent in one year. This year home prices are up by another 15 percent.

In the greater Boston area where I live, the average home now costs $900,000.  To afford that your household needs an income of at least $135,000, and that’s after a twenty percent down payment. Even out towards western Massachusetts and beyond, the median home price in the Bay State is a whopping $625,000.

And not a starter home to be found.

Not when buildable land is scarce, and a buildable lot is so expensive. Not when a town like the one I call home, has set of zoning regulations that clocks in at 109 pages. Not when, as in most Boston suburbs, you have to have a big lot for one house, and you can’t build on a mother-in-law apartment, and you have to be set back very far from the neighbors and you’re not allowed to subdivide your land and build clustered housing and so on and so on.

I’ll confess I embody the challenge of housing, its growing inequity. I live in a four-bedroom two car garage house, all by myself. (I’m not the owner.) I mean I absolutely love it. It’s my home, at least for now, where I find shelter from the storm of life on some days. Where I host loved ones around the dining room table. It contains all my stuff. I have lived in this home longer than any other place in my six plus decades of life.  It is home sweet home.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all Americans, all humans, had access to affordable housing, to places where they could live in safety and serenity with their loved one? Places that were within economic reach. Wouldn’t it be great if we could again build starter homes for anyone who wanted a home?   

A beautiful bungalow. A diminutive Cape.  A regular sized ranch. A simple split level.  

The average size of an American home has increased since from 1,300 square feet in 1960 to 2,200 square feet in 2019. In that same time the average number of residents has decreased from 3.6 people per household to a little more than two people per household.  

WHAT?!

To have a place to call home, and to call it all your own is a human dream for many.  From the moment God created the first humans in their first home, a garden, we have always longed for home. Home, both metaphorically and spiritually and physically too. A real dwelling place.  With a little space for living and a little green for growing.

Is that too much to ask? Right now, in much of the United States, yes. Can we change zoning laws, subsidize home costs, or offer more government guaranteed low mortgage rates, just a few ideas it easier to build starter homes again? Yes, we can.

Home sweet home. It’s up to us to make that dream come true for the many and not just the few.  

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.

 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Autumn Knocks at the Door and Yes, We Must Answer


“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves. We have had our summer eves, now for October eves!”             --“Autumnal Resignation” by Humbert Wolfe, 1926

“I’m going to need that back now that you’re done with it. Can I have it? Please?” she politely asked me.

"No!” I protested.  “I don’t want to give it back.  It’s too soon. Can’t I just keep it for a few more weeks. Just a little longer. Maybe even for another day or two? PLEASE!!!!!!” I said, my voice rising in protest.

I gave Mother Nature my best toothy grin, hoping that somehow, I could hold on to summer, and I might be able to convince her to not begin autumn on the 22nd of September, as the plan goes for God’s creation this year. The fall equinox is officially on the fourth Thursday of the ninth month in 2022. That day the sun shines directly on the equator and both the northern and the southern hemispheres enjoy the exact same amount of daylight.  It happens at 9:04 pm for those of us in the east.

But like many other years, I had so much fun this summer and I just do not want it to end.  Not yet. Not now. Every September is the same. I’m reluctant to hand back summer to Mother Nature. After all, I won’t get to enjoy it again for another 273 days! That’s when summer solstice happens next, on the 21st of June 2023.

This longing to make summer stretch out as long as possible has been a part of my make up as long as I can remember. As a kid, come September, I didn’t want to give up my summer freedom and return to the regimented pace of school. Long afternoons of playing wiffleball in the back yard. Long days at the beach, dodging the occasional jellyfish and eating sand covered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the warm sun, then getting wrapped up in a towel by Mom as the long shadows of dusk came out. 

Almost no better feeling in the world, those last few precious minutes of a perfect summer day.  

Now in my life as an adult, it’s not school that beckons to me come the end of summer. It’s the siren song of work, of going from zero to 60 overnight, of returning to the frenetic pace of life in these parts of the world.  Coming back to town and getting back to the “normal” pace of activities. It’s like being shot out of a cannon. Until on or around Labor Day all is calm and all is bright.

But then on Labor Tuesday the traffic returns and the school busses fill up and kids are jam packed with stuff to do from dawn until dusk and the highways are stacked up again and the Red Sox wind down their season, and the church I serve begins all of its committees and programs again. If only we could slow down ourselves come September and then October but instead it is most often….

Off to the races!

There really is no way to move from one season to the next, elegantly, or smoothly. Embracing autumn can be hard because we have really enjoyed our summers. This seasonal transition is just as jarring in December when the first snow starts to fly. It is miraculous in the spring when the flowers begin to bud. Then it is so graceful come June when the breaking of the waves on the beach and the staying power of long days, herald summer’s return.

Granted, there are autumnal blessings I absolutely love.

The technicolor God show of leaves that turn so bright and bold in their colors, that cling to the trees and then fall to the earth in a beautiful dance of demise.  I love a chilly evening when I build my first fire in the firepit, hang out with friends for a fun fall Friday night, maybe even make ‘smores. I love the way the earth itself seems to begin to settle down and settle in come autumn, as plants die back and green gives ways to bare trees and the brown earth. I love the swishing sound of downed leaves caught up in a brisk autumn wind. I love the night of Halloween when my neighborhood is jam packed with costumed trick or treaters who laugh and celebrate as they make their way up my long driveway, open bags in hand. I love the excitement of October baseball, though this year the Sox are stumbling to a last place finish.

Wait ‘til next year!

That could be the melancholy cry of the fall. Wait ‘til next year! Wait ‘til next summer! But for now, since none of us can do anything about the march of days and the turning of the calendar, let us enjoy autumn as much as we can.  It is here after all. It is official. 

Bring it on. As the poet Humbert Wolfe concludes in his poem “Autumn Resignation” ….

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.

Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.”

Amen.

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.