Tru’s Take on the Taylors

Tru and the Taylor family before the game - photo taken by Cyn Donnelly

Tru and the Taylor family before the game - photo taken by Cyn Donnelly (Click to enlarge)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Waking up tired is no way to begin a day.  The last 48 hours have been pretty busy and they sped by.  It seems a cliché, but the blur of events seems long ago, as if it took place some other month or year, and now I’m left with a memory of what happened that has slowly been taking shape since the last hugs were issued.

They Taylor family is asleep in their hotel, exhausted from another full day of seeing and doing the multitude of activities this great city has to offer.  I’m imagining young boys, who are hanging onto a bit of their youth yet holding back the maturity they’ve had to harshly confront all too soon.  They’re kids.  Good kids actually, if you can believe it.  They are the kinds of kids that surely must have made their father proud.  Spending a little time with their mom, it’s clear she is deeply proud of them.

It’s hard not to be.

There’s also their cousin, Chris, who is the oldest kid among all of the boys visiting here from Salt Lake City.  I learned yesterday that he knew what was going to take place before leaving Utah and he had a chance to tell everyone what their day at Fenway was going to entail.  He kept a secret.  He kept a secret that most twelve year olds would have been hard-pressed to keep quiet about.  He also wasn’t bitter, or jealous, as if he was being cheated out of something special.  He was also being a good son and a great cousin.

The boys’ mother, Traci, is a slight, almost pixie-like gal, with bright eyes and a huge smile.  She was gracious, warm and overly appreciative.  I’ll admit that aside from meeting her at the hotel, I did not spend too much time with her as the boys were the focus of the day.  The little time we did share was occupied with her talking about her boys.  When she does, she lights up.

There’s James Sr., who is grieving.  He’s also mourning his father, who passed within weeks of his oldest boy passing.  For much of the day, his eyes were red-rimmed and tired.  I cannot imagine the depth of his grief, but know the man is grateful beyond all description.  His happiness and joy was pouring forth to every one of us who spent time with him.  He told us how he could not believe what a great thing it was we’d done to honor his son and of what it meant to show that to his grandsons and daughter in law.  He wore the cap Tom Disy, the commanding officer of the USS Benfold, sent for him and the boys and Traci.  He wore it all day long.

Then there’s Shane, the uncle of all the boys and brother to James.  He is a baseball fan, but wasn’t a fan of any specific team, and the goal was to “educate” him. I don’t know if we succeeded, but his Red Sox shirt looked good.  This is a big guy and a big HEARTED guy.  Jackson is Traci’s youngest boy and he is autistic.  His love and affection for his mother and brothers is apparent, but there is a special bond with his uncle that is as obvious as the nose on your face.  Shane, throughout the day, was carrying Jack, allowing Traci to soak in all that Mason and Weston were doing.  Shane was at a loss for words much of the time and I suppose that’s just fine.  He told me, and those around him, how important this day was to him and to all of the family.  He also got a chance to hug me and tell me repeatedly that “We’re a family of huggers.”  That was fine with everyone they came in contact with, as there was a whole lot of huggin’ goin’ on!

Laurie Brady, the gal who wrote the eloquent and impassioned plea for assistance, is truly a special woman.  She’s formidable and a huge presence in her will and capacity for love.  It was she who kicked off the effort to get to Fenway.  She stepped off a small cliff, looking for help to realize this day, to make it happen.  And she did.  A sister, a daughter and an angel, Laurie is one of a kind of gal that has made an awful lot of friends in and around Fenway and I’m particularly pleased to have met and know her.  Through a lot of emails and phone calls, while planning all of this, we got to talk about a lot of other things.  She is a gift to her family that is beyond measure and words.

And finally there are Mason and Weston, the two boys who were polite and well-mannered, but are 100%, the real deal, authentic boys!  When first meeting them, there is that moment that all guys have; they size each other up.  They sat there and were polite, but as I tried to gauge them, they were doing the same to me.  So as we launched into what was going to happen that day, Weston was outward and jubilant.  Mason was reserved.  He was taking it all in and, although not so forward in manner, he was happy.  They thanked us for every gift and did so several times during the day.

Before meeting the boys, I got a call from my friend, who took them to the Regina Pizzeria the night before.  He told me the boys love pizza and they told him that Regina’s was the best they’d ever had.  Well, seeing that it is one of the North End’s landmarks it has to be, right?  He also told me that he quizzed the boys about Sox history, and they knew lots of stuff, which surprised him.  Okay, kids from Utah know stuff about the Red Sox?  Well, yeah, they do.  It turns out that they knew who wore which number, who World Series MVP’s were, ROY player names, and all kinds of stuff about Fenway; that was amazing.  It’s true, that the boys knew about the Sox from what their aunt and my friend had told me.

So let’s get to it.

The family got the framed pictures of Mason’s, Weston’s and Jackson’s names flying from the Halyard from the USS Benfold.  The picture had a special inscription from CMDR Thomas C. Disy.  Now Tom might not mention this himself, but he is a devout Red Sox fan.  Imagine if you can, that every day he wakes up, he has a routine.  He checks all pertinent activity relating to his ship, crew and mission.  He then checks the Sox score.

Cyn Donnelly presented Traci with a check for $2,000, which came via the generosity of people from literally, all over the world.  The first donation came from New Zealand, from a guy who is a Red Sox fan and travels here as often as possible to see the team play.  Money came in from Denmark, Canada, and all across the United States.

Kelly O’Connor, an ace photographer contributed to the event by chronicling the day in pictures, but also organized a “mad money” envelope that at best guess contained $400 ~ $500.  Kelly’s thought was, hey, they might need an ice cream while in Boston!

My sister, who came up from Connecticut for the game, came with an envelope from a person she did not know.  It seems the person had met my sister in a business meeting, and asked what her Labor Day plans were.  As their meeting ended, they said their goodbyes and that was that.  The next day, my sister found the envelope on her desk.  I watched Traci open the envelope and there was a lot of cash in it… a lot!

And then we talked about going to the game.  The boys knew they were going to see the Sox play and wanted to get in the park early, hopefully to get an autograph.  It was then they were presented World Series baseballs and sharpies that were graciously supplied by Susan Johnson, who most of you know as Brenken.     She made it a point to get the retractable sharpies, knowing that the other types dry out fast if the caps are left off for too long.  Clearly, Brenken knows something about getting autographs!

As each boy was handed a ball, so were the adults, and then they were told that they would be leaving the hotel soon for a brief stop at the souvenir store, because at 4:15 we were headed into Fenway Park, where they’d be on the infield during batting practice.  Chances were pretty good that they might have an opportunity to get autographs.

They talked about how they were excited to see a Sox player in person, so we asked them if it would be okay to spend a few minutes with a World Series winning pitcher.  It was that Christmas morning, jaw dropping look that only a kid can deliver; they were going to meet a Red Sox player?  And yeah, they were.  Susan got the ball rolling and when the player heard the story of the Taylors his comment was “Let’s make this happen.”  I wish to point out that the player insisted no media be present.  He did not wish to have his meeting the boys and the family used as publicity, thus denigrating the memory of their father, husband, brother and son.  It was the right thing to do, and no one’s idea but his own.

Then we asked Mason and Weston if they knew what bat boys did, which was important because they were going to be honorary bat boys at the night’s game.  We explained to them that it meant working with the regular bat boy for the Sox and involved collecting helmets, bats and being on hand in the dugout as players left the field.  Neither kid hesitated to accept the job!

So we took a short break and then reconvened at the souvenir store.  A good friend of our works there on the weekend and spoke to her manager about what was going on.  He graciously offered a steep, very deep discount on anything and everything in the store.  So the boys went there seeking out their favorite player jersey.  Some of those jerseys were not on hand but it wasn’t a problem.

Now I might not have mentioned this yet, and we really need to pause here, because Stan Grossfeld from the Boston Globe got involved with this story.  I received a call from him prior to the Taylor family getting into Boston.  I also need to admit to putting my foot in my mouth fully up to my knees.  When speaking with Stan, I mentioned that Kelly was going to be on hand to take photos, so there would be no need to bring a photographer.  Stan said that was okay, he had a camera.  However, I restated that Kelly was really a very good photographer and it wasn’t at all necessary for him to bring his camera.  Again, Stan said that it was required in his job to bring his camera along.

In my zeal to share the news with Cyn, Kelly and Susan that the Globe was picking up the story, I made sure they knew that this Grossfeld guy was going to be bringing his camera, but rest assured, Kelly was the photographer who would be there to record everything.  In a return email, Kelly asked me if I knew who Stan Grossfeld was.  I replied to her and said no, I didn’t who he was.  Kelly sent me a response informing me who Stan was – a two time Pulitzer Prize winning photo journalist.


Well, I sent off a note to Stan expressing my embarrassment and apology.  I also told him, I guess it’s okay if he brought along his camera.  He laughed about it and I’m still laughing about it.  I’ve since done a little homework to see what it was Stan has done, so yeah, I’m glad he brought his camera.

Well, now we have two photographers in the souvenir store, flashes going off all over the place, and people are noticing, including the owner.  As he learns about whom these kids are, why they’re there, all of sudden, money is not a point of discussion; we couldn’t pay for anything.  It was yet another amazing act of kindness.  I watched this guy in awe, as he stood in the middle of his busy place, packed with customers, while openly shedding tears.  On the way out, I stopped to express my thanks for his deed.  He wouldn’t have any of it and said thank you for bringing them to his store.  Kind of makes you stop and wonder how the world can be some times.

Our next stop was to Fenway Park, Gate D.  We split into two groups, with some heading for the field, while the Taylors headed for the media room.  I will only share here that the player was welcoming and hugged and embraced every one of them.  He signed whatever they wanted signed.  He posed for every picture and continued to embrace them all.  He then gave each of the Taylor boys a game jersey with his greetings to them signed on it.  It was a very impressive.  Laurie asked me if there was a scar and I said I didn’t know, but why not ask him.  So she did and he showed it to her.  It’s not much of a scar, but it is pretty famous around these parts.  Please note that the time flew, but it never seemed that we were being rushed.  It was a great moment for the boys and the family.

Our next stop was the Sox infield.  It was my first time ever being on Fenway’s infield.  It was incredible to be able to look around from that vantage, up towards the stands, and the foul poles, and Green Monster.  We were met by Ross Yellin, who is a Fenway Ambassador.  He’s a law student and truly nice guy, who went out of his way to help make the arrangements for the Taylor kids.  The number of requests the Red Sox receive daily for some sort of tour or accommodation is staggering.  That the Taylor kids got onto the infield, and better still, honorary bat boys for the game, is simply amazing,  These things are normally planned far in advance.  He surprised us with a tour of Fenway, just before the pre game ceremonies, then handed the family a think envelope, filled with Fenway infield dirt.

So there they were, standing a few feet from where the Sox were preparing for the night’s game.  The boys came away with autographs from Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia, who signed whatever the boys wanted.  Again, truly awesome.  And we stood together with the Taylor family while Mason and Weston were introduced.  It was all coming into perspective now.  The whole notion of why we were there together, watching these two small guys, standing with Wally between them, was a clear to me as anything that’s ever happened before.

We went into the stands, saw Matsuzaka go deep into the game and the offense back him to the hilt.  Some of the Taylor boys’ favorite players were pivotal to the game, and it was Stan who pointed that out to me.  As for Stan, it is worth noting that at times, I swear he was more than recording the story.  He presented the boys a book he and Dan Shaughnessy co-authored and both signed to the Taylors while we were at the hotel.  But he also took a lot of joy in his time with the family, especially the kids.  He said that the inside dust cover of the book pictured his and Dan’s kids because he and Dan were both ugly.  It was a funny quip, but there is nothing ugly in Stan that I could see.

Yesterday, the family went to the Aquarium and then had dinner at Joe Tecce’s, where they met with their host again.  Afterwards, they wandered around the North End to take in the festival-like atmosphere of the feast of St. Anthony.  Today, the Taylors are off to Six Flags, where Shane gets to go at New England’s roller coaster and thrill rides; he digs that kind of thing.  And then tomorrow, they head over the Museum of Science to look at a bloody sock that covered a wound and then became a pretty famous scar.

Before I forget, we met after Friday night’s game as planned, under the right field seats in the picnic table area for one group photo.  A lot of the forum people were there to greet the Taylors.  We hung around until security asked us to vacate the park.  So we moved outside the park and said our goodbyes.  Laurie spoke to all us, expressing gratitude for all the efforts on their behalf.  It was heartfelt and moving, causing even old men to cry a little.

To be a part of what happened is truly hard to describe, but if there was a feeling, a way in which to do that, I’d opt for saying it was magical to witness a dream come true.

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