My Baseball Origin Story: Craig Richmond

An oft-watched, grainy VHS recording of The Blues Brothers is not the most obvious place for a three-decade love of baseball in general, and the Boston Red Sox in particular, but Jake and Ellwood’s use of 1060 West Addison as a fake address which diverted law enforcement to the iconic marquee of Wrigley Field was where mine started.

It took a long time to get going though. It wasn’t until fifteen or so years later in 2002, on holiday with my wife, that I visited Wrigley whilst stopping off in Chicago on a three-week train trip from the East Coast to visit friends in Minnesota.

I knew very little about the game, the sum total of my knowledge having been gleaned from the ZX Spectrum game, ‘World Series Baseball’ and a couple of chats with a work colleague who was an enthusiast. But the chance to visit a key location from one of my favourite movies was too good to pass up.

Wrigleyville was great. I loved the walk from the El, the atmosphere around the stadium, the grandstands on the roofs of neighbouring buildings, and the hawking of hotdogs and merch. The Star-Spangled Banner before the game was belted out by an incredible singer, and goosebumps and tears hit us both quite unexpectedly at the end of the penultimate line (this was approaching the one-year anniversary of 9/11 so the anthem was still pretty poignant at that time).

The soon-to-be-defunct Montreal Expos were in town, and the atmosphere inside Wrigley was muted.

I was trying to figure out the rules and the scoring system by squinting very hard at an overhead display about the same size as this laptop screen. By the end, I thought I had the basics down, but even so, the teams walking off as soon as the Cubs scored in the ninth caught me by surprise.

There were some (unknown to me at the time) big stars on the field; Sammy Sosa, Vlad and Tatis Sr, a binder-less Joe Girardi, and a second baseman who, in two short years, would become a legend – Mark Bellhorn. But in football terms, the game had the feel of an end-of-season midtable clash – intriguing but not exciting. What stuck with me the most was the speed and accuracy of the fielders’ throwing – utterly ridiculous distances at utterly ridiculous velocities.

The following September, we visited Boston. As a Peterborough United fan, I was well versed in the ritual of turning up to an antiquated stadium with poor facilities, enjoying the raucous joy of high-expectations being met by the team, and getting almost the same level of enjoyment in the more regular event of management and players being rubbish and the atmosphere turning immediately toxic. I felt right at home in Fenway Park.

Before the game with the Orioles, the noise inside Fenway was cacophonous as they needed only one more win to secure a place in the playoffs. But Red Sox pitcher John Burkett retired only one batter, conceding seven hits and six runs, and the park went from loud to quiet to scarily loud like a golden-era Pixies song.

But then up stepped a player signed with little or no fanfare in the previous offseason who was having the season of his life – David Ortiz. He hit two massive home runs as the Red Sox looked to make a comeback and single-handedly turned the crowd from apoplectic to appreciative. When he came to bat for the final time, the sound levels went up to a level even Kevin Shields would baulk at. There was something about the way this big bundle of charisma approached the plate that meant we all just knew he was going to crush the ball for a third time. And he did. Sadly, it was caught up against the wall in that weird little triangle in centre field and, once again, Fenway fell silent and the Red Sox lost. But I was completely and utterly hooked.

We don’t need to re-cover the ground that I’ve covered since because it’s been done to death. Late night TV with Jonny, Josh and David. Aaron f***ing Boone in 2003. The comeback in 2004. The winning machines of 2007 and 2018. The Big Papi-inspired (’this is our f***ing city’) Boston Strong season of 2013. The crazy September of chicken and beer in the clubhouse and Francona’s departure. The inexplicable hiring of Bobby Valentine. Trading Mookie. Compared to the previous 80-odd years though, the last 20 years of Red Sox fandom has predominantly been a joy.

Never more so than when they came to London to face the Yankees in 2019 and I was able to see modern-day greats like Mookie Betts and Rafael Devers in the flesh just 80 miles from my house in the company of thousands of fellow British baseball obsessives.

The London Series would then become even more important to me.

In February 2023, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and spent two weeks in hospital having radiotherapy on the secondary tumours it had caused on my spine, before undergoing an eighteen-week course of chemotherapy. The Cubs versus Cards series in June suddenly became a target for me to hit – to be fit and strong enough mid-treatment to go and cheer the Cubs on once again. Thankfully, a steroid-bloated, nauseous, bald, excessively sweaty, exhausted man in his fifties did make it to both games thanks to the incredible work of the NHS and the love and support of his wife, children, and friends. After the lows of spring, this glorious weekend in the summer was an enormous and emotional high, and a real signifier of how important baseball had become to me over the last 20 years.

I was told I was officially in remission in August (which I continue to be) and this brush with mortality, as is often the case, has stoked our determination to enjoy life and do the things we love. Which means we will be back at Fenway in June to see the Red Sox take on Tatis Jr and the Padres. I can’t wait.

Article by Craig Richmond. You can follow Craig on Twitter X @CraigAre

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