I grew up in the great state of Maine. (Vacationland!) Growing up in the rural backwoods of the Pine Tree State, I didn't have access to the things that overwhelm the senses daily out here in Southern California.
Maine didn't have a hip-hop radio station; fully-stocked bars within walking distance of your home; high-speed internet; authentic Mexican cuisine; a thriving entertainment industry; indoor plumbing; Armenians; random celebrities shopping at your supermarket; or attractive women.
Without all those bells and whistles triggering every synaptic impulse in my brain, I was forced to live with what I had. And in Holden, we had two things: a backyard and NESN.
I didn't really get into baseball until the 1995 season, the summer of my 11th year. (Sips from Arnold Palmer on front porch rocking chair as the sun sets.)
I dabbled a bit in '93, watched the Strike of '94 on SportsCenter at my Nana's house; but '95 was the first season I began to truly follow the great sport religiously. And NESN was the pusher-man.
I had the Boston Red Sox lineups memorized. From Mike MacFarlane behind the plate to Troy O'Leary out in right to Willie McGee and John Bapst High School hockey coach Matt Stairs on the bench. Even a pitcher named Roger and a DH named Jose who always took a little longer than the rest getting suited up in the clubhouse.
The ’95 Sox were the most promising team we had fielded since the Boggs-Burks era and there were plenty of likeable players on that squad (a couple unlikeables, as well). But I held one above all the others: John Valentin.
Johnny V attended Seton Hall with a hefty slugger named Mo. He spent four years in the minors before finally cracking in with the Sox at short in '92, feeding assist after assist and sandwich after sandwich to his former teammate at first.
I distinctly remember the reason why I came to enjoy No. 13 so much. It was completely random and utterly arbitrary, which sometimes makes it all the more special.
It was early in the 1994 season ("The Season That Was Not"). Mid-April, still some frost on the ground in Penobscot County. One evening I was wandering out of my room, through the living room, toward the kitchen (A lot of "walking toward the kitchen" in my youth), Jerry Remy and Bob Kurtz (Not a Colonel) were calling a night game at Fenway and Mo Vaughn had just hit a home run. Dad was watching the game, Mom was probably sewing, and I paused to take a glance at the score (still didn't know all the players, probably vaguely recognized Mo — I was ten, gimme a break). John Valentin was at the plate and I said, "Home run right here, back-to-back."