Of baseball, astronauts and decisions we make

Posted on April 13, 2012 by

Opening Day at Fenway. It has a certain ring to it, I think, and always has ever since I moved to Massachusetts 36 years ago and became a faithful member of Red Sox Nation.

I’ve never been there on Opening Day. But my grandson Jack will be there today, heading in to the iconic ball park with his cousins Cooper and Camden and their dad, Jack’s Uncle Bobby.

He was more than excited when he got the news yesterday. But there was a little concern, at first at least, about dismissing the boys from school early for the big event.

Do it, I encouraged. They’ll never forget it, and it’s the last day of school before April vacation. How much work will they really miss?

The discussion carried me back a half century ago to a cold spring day in 1962. I was a senior in high school. I’d been accepted to college. All was right with the world, especially since the astronauts were coming to New York City for a ticker tape parade.

These were the original Mercury Seven space men – John Glenn, who’d just orbited the Earth, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Deke Slayton and the rest.

It was a no-brainer to my friends and me. We were going in to the city to watch our national heroes in person being deluged in ticker tape, one of the most iconic events that New York City throws to honor heroes and celebrities.

So we cut school —  but it wasn’t a sneaky cut. We told our parents and they gave us the OK. Go on, have fun, enjoy yourselves, it’s a day to remember and celebrate, they said.

So we did. We took the ferry into the city, bought steaming cups of coffee to warm us from the biting cold and joined thousands in a cheering throng that lined the streets. I bought a pennant with the astronauts’ names and a newspaper with Glenn’s and the others’ pictures filling the entire front page, items I still have in my high school yearbook.

It was a day to remember, for sure, and we got to cheer our heroes and see them up close as they rode by in open air convertibles, waving to the crowds.

It was history in the making and we were awash in the thrill of the moment.

But Mr. Samsel didn’t see it that way. The next day he called us to his office, and, as the assistant principal responsible for discipline told us we would be given zeroes for the day and have to serve detention for a week.

My father would have none of it and that night wrote a letter in our defense, pointing out that we’d had permission, the event was historic, and surely in the years to come, we would remember seeing the astronauts much more than any algebra problem or French lesson we had missed in school that day.

I don’t recall the outcome. Mr. Samsel may have erased the zeroes from our records and dismissed us from detention hall duty. Or he may have not. But it doesn’t matter. I graduated, went to college, did well, and, as Dad pointed out, still remember that special day when I saw the astronauts in person far more than a single day’s lessons in the classrooms.

That will be true for Jack and his cousins today, too, I am sure – even if the Red Sox lose.

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