09
Apr
10

What 42 means to me

I turned 42 this week, on Tuesday.

I didn’t feel any older that day. Nor do I feel that I’m “getting old.” I feel quite fortunate to have made it this far. I’ll feel the same way when I’m 84.

Age represents a number, a measurement of time. Nothing else.

So, yeah, everyone marvels when Tom Watson (who’s 60) and Fred Couples (he’s 50) are on the leaderboard at golf tournaments. And Chris Chelios, 48, is referred to as the “aging” Chris Chelios.

Was he not aging when he was 28?

Most athletes used to retire by age 40. Not anymore. By staying in better shape and eating properly, 40 isn’t the end. And we should get used to it.

At least this way, there are some pro athletes left who aren’t younger than me.

When you’re a kid, your idols are quite a bit older. Until one day, you’re the same age.

Boris Becker certainly wasn’t an idol of mine, but I remember when he made his first run at the Wimbledon title. He was only 17. And so was I.

Watching him dive on the grass courts of the All England Club was fascinating for me. “He’s the same age as me,” I kept marveling. Becker ended up winning Wimbledon that year, 1985, becoming the youngest ever to do so.

Well, Boris, we’re both 42 now. Time for a look back.

While you played in seven Wimbledon finals, I was home living the good life of a Boston sports fan. And the number 42 played a big role.

The number is now retired in honor of Jackie Robinson, but two Red Sox players wore it during this heyday before it was put out of play.

The first was Dave Henderson, who will always be famous in Beantown for hitting the two-out, two-strike, ninth-inning, go-ahead home run in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS against a team then known as the California Angels. The Sox were down a run when Henderson came up to the plate, and the Angels were an out away from reaching their first World Series.

Henderson changed all that. I’ll never forget the reaction of Angels leftfielder Brian Downing when the ball sailed over his head and into the stands. He looked up and rested his neck and chin against the wall as if to say: “You’ve GOT to be kidding me!”

The Sox eventually went to the Series, took leads of 2-0 and 3-2 against the Mets, then Henderson hit a tie-breaking homer late in Game 6 and … I can’t quite recall what happened after that. I do have a fuzzy picture in my head of Ray Knight crossing home plate and Vin Scully exclaiming, “and the Mets WIN!”

Henderson was wearing “40” at the time, but changed to 42 for the 1987 season.

Four years later, the number was worn by Mo Vaughn, who became one of many Sox stars (Fisk, Clemons, Boggs) to leave town without so much as a box of baseballs in return. Vaughn was a hero to many when he played in Boston.

Sure, he was frustrating to watch because struck out so much. But when he connected, good things usually happened.

Vaughn wasn’t remembered as much of a clutch hitter, but I do recall one game that I attended at Fenway where he was the difference in the outcome.

It was during the early 1990s, when Sunday night games were just becoming popular on ESPN. It was also a time when you could actually get tickets to a game a few weeks beforehand (Nowadays, you need to sleep out in December to get tix). And this one was against the Yankees, a team I rarely saw the Sox play because of the popularity of the rivalry.

I went with my father and we sat a ways back along the third base side. Jimmy Key was the pitcher that nighy for the Yanks, a tough lefty who gave Vaughn fits. Key, by the way, didn’t wear 42 (he donned 22 that season) but he did make his major league debut on April 6, 1984, the day I turned 16.

Anyhow, Vaughn ended up hitting two solo home runs in a 3-2 win.

Key wasn’t key on that night.

The other 42 that is special to me was worn by a Boston Celtic: Chris Ford.

He wasn’t a Hall of Famer and didn’t stick around too long, but he was fun to watch.

Ford was an outside shooter, and was the first to sink a 3-pointer when the NBA adopted that rule in 1979. He was always a threat from long range.

I didn’t attend many Celtics games when I lived in Massachusetts (age 6-26); maybe four. And only one stands out.

It was against the Milwaukee Bucks at the old Garden. It was Larry Bird’s first year. The whole family went and the game was tight.

I don’t remember anything but the final seconds.

Ford ended up getting the ball near midcourt with the game tied and launched a 40-footer at the buzzer that went in as the place exploded.

The best part was, no one left the Garden right away. We just screamed with our fists in the air for what seemed like 10 minutes before the place began to empty, the fans still walking on air.

I was 11. Eleven and a half, to be precise.

I have no idea who wears 42 for the Celts these days. But the number holds a special place for me.

At least until next April 6.

Hmmm: 43. Another year closer to 50? No. Only thing that comes to mind is … Dennis Eckersley. Oh, and Gerald Henderson.

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