Dukakis Still a Red Sox Fan at Heart

When the longest-running governor in Massachusetts state history decides to sit
down with you for an interview, you listen.  That’s exactly what I did on Monday
afternoon in the Northeastern University offices of Michael
Dukakis
.

The Democratic presidential nominee in 1988, Dukakis recently wrote an
article in the Boston Globe
about the Red Sox’ impressive 500 straight
sellout streak.

“I was one of a handful of folks who thought tearing down Fenway was insane,”
Dukakis said, “but the establishment all said we got to tear it down, and spend
850 million dollars to build a kind of phony version of Fenway. And when the new
folks came in and took a second look at Fenway, and decided, as Tom
Werner
said, ‘This is a cathedral, you don’t mess with Notre Dame,’ I
mean he expressed my sentiments.”

And here we are today — Red Sox Nation enthralled by the beauty and intimacy
of Fenway Park. A shrine it is, and remarkable is the sellout streak in an
economic time when the nation continues to struggle with its finances. Even
Dukakis himself finds the story moving.

“The Washington Nationals, which I don’t think have sold out their ballpark
in a long, long time, if ever, had three capacity crowds when the Red Sox played
this past week,” he said. “Now a lot of those folks were Red Sox fans needless
to say, who are now doing good work in Washington I hope. But this Red Sox
nation thing is not a joke.”

No, it’s certainly not.  Red Sox Nation has been around for a long time. It
wasn’t until the current ownership group of John Henry,
Larry Lucchino and Werner came along that the team began to
market themselves differently. But as for the Nation, it’s been here forever.
Just ask Dukakis.

“As I look back on my life as a fan, it was the 1967 team and what it did
that kind of changed things,”  Dukakis recalled. “And from that point on it was
a very different kind of relationship between the community and the team. I went
to my first game when I was four and a half in 1938, and remember Jimmie
Foxx
hitting one about as hard as I’d ever seen anything hit off the
left-field wall, so I go back that far. But there was a period during
particularly the ’50s and the early ’60s when not a lot of people were going to
Fenway. And it was pretty sad, and they weren’t doing well. But ’67 was the
first kind of dramatic change, and then of course we had ’75.”

No stranger to the game, Dukakis’ memories go way back, even to the days when
he and his wife Katie, as he affectionately calls her, were attending
ballgames.

“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘Of all the times you’ve been to Fenway,
What’s the most dramatic moment?’ I said, ‘When Fisk hit the home run, no
question about it.’”

Every story Dukakis told had me sitting on my seat listening intently. With
each story he recalled, Dukakis was giving me a history lesson, reciting a
firsthand understanding of an experience I can only read about today. It was
interesting, factual, and compelling. As I continued to ask, he continued to
recount the days of old, all the while helping me understand the true chronicle
of not just the Red Sox but also the city of Boston and the sports town it
is.

I asked him to compare Boston’s enthusiasm when he was in office in the mid
’80s when all four franchises were successful at the same time, to what the town
is experiencing now.

“That was unusual and remarkable in many ways,” he said. “In fact, by the
time it was all over, we were all exhausted!  One battle for a world
championship after another.”

Even though that decade wore him down, he said every team has been inspired
by the other, and we’re just very fortunate.

We’re also very fortunate to have people like Dukakis, who have been so
instrumental in maintaining the integrity of our sports teams, the venues in
which they play and the people associated with them.  He emphasized that there’s
no place for steroids in the game, and there’s also no place in the Hall of Fame
for those guilty of such cheating.

And in the end, it was his final answer that really revealed the essence of
the “kid at heart” passion Dukakis has for the Sox. When asked if he ever
dreamed of owning a team or being commissioner of baseball as former president
George W. Bush always expressed, Dukakis said no.

“But I wanted to catch for the Boston Red Sox.”

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