I interviewed Fred Lynn, so now I can die in peace

I interviewed Fred Lynn, so now I can die in peace

Yeah, I know, it’s a hockey blog. I know you probably want to know more about the status of Adam Foote than hear me ramble on about a boyhood hero.
So, here’s fair warning then: stop reading now. It’s just one blog entry. But it’s my blog, and I’m going to write about what it felt like to interview a boyhood idol just now.

Let me tell you, it feels unbelievable. To interview a man you grew up watching and idolizing, who played a big role in forming your love of sport, of forming the basis for silly thoughts of ‘I wonder if I could maybe make a living some day somehow connected with all of this stuff that so occupies all of my time and energy right now?’ and then dismissing it quickly as a stupid fantasy – better to start thinking of that life as an accountant instead, more realistic, you idiot – is just stupefying.

I just really hope every single one of you out there can a) identify with a good enough role model when you’re young and have him/her as a template for future ambitions and b) actually get to thank him/her for what they meant to you.

I won’t make this too much more melodramatic, because the fact is, I haven’t really thought too much about Fred Lynn the last several years of my life. He’s a baseball player who retired 21 years ago, and I’ve covered a hockey team the last 16 years.

But, wow, was Fred Lynn ever a big part of my life at one point. Carlton Fisk was my first real big boyhood sports idol, but Fred Lynn was the second, and in some ways far eclipsed Pudge. The graceful left-handed swing, the effortless-looking diving catches in center field, the rookie-of-the-year and American League MVP award his first full year (1975), the leading-man looks with the girls fawning over him – if ever there was a guy to want to be like, Fred Lynn was it for me and thousands of other kids growing up in New England in the mid-to-late 1970s.

So when I dialed his number tonight at precisely 5 p.m. MDT and heard myself say “Hello, Fred?”, and proceeded to spend the next 40 minutes on the phone with him, well let me just tell you the digital recording of thatconversation won’t be deleted anytime soon. (Why was I calling Fred Lynn tonight, you ask? It has to do with a story tenuously related to the Avalanche, which will run in Saturday’s paper, and another one some time down the road related only to baseball itself. I did write a book on the Colorado Rockies once, you know).

I was professional with “Fred”, but this is really what it was like for me the whole 40 minutes: Fred Lynn is talking to me, oh my god, Fred Lynn is talking to me, oh my god…”

I started to gush a little about him toward the end of the call, recalling little memories of his career that meant a lot to me. “Fred” was gracious about that and I think enjoyed the finite recall I had, but I couldn’t help but feel I’d violated the great Bill Simmons’ rule of “meeting” a celebrity and getting the chance to talk to them:
“Get in and get out. I don’t care how great it’s going. Don’t try to throw a complete game no-hitter, just settle for five innings and the win.”Simmons wrote for ESPN.com

I was working on a nice 7-inning, four-hit, 2 ER, 5K, 1BB outing when I lapsed a couple minutes too long into Chris Farley-Paul McCartney territory and tried to hand the ball to the closer instead of the setup guy. I started babbling a little about things like “Remember that catch in Shea Stadium off Graig Nettles in 1975, when Bill Lee was pitching and Bobby Heise slammed the ball to the grass after you swept the Damn Yankees in a doubleheader late in the year” and “Remember that catch you made off of Lyman Bostock in Minnesota, the one that got shown on “This Week in Baseball” every week, narrated by Mel Allen?” (except that I stupidly forgot that it was Disco Danny Ford who hit the ball that “Fred” made a miraculous catch on at the old Met in Minnesota, not Bostock, which immediately had me doing my unfortunate best Farley impression silently on the phone after “Fred” corrected me – “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”).

“Fred”, of course, was as gracious as could be, but I knew I’d messed up on the Ford/catch memory, and he did too. I tried for the complete game, no-hitter, but got tagged around like Rick Wise with two out and none on in Milwaukee in 1975.

So that’s the part I won’t want to listen to on that digital tape 20 years from now. But the rest of it? Like I said, it won’t be erased anytime soon. My favorite part of the interview: “Fred” telling me an inside story I’d never known, about the night he went 5-for-6 at Detroit on June 18, 1975, with three home runs, 10 RBI and 16 total bases for Sawx. After the game in which he accomplished something only 12 others have done in MLB history (10 RBI in a game), he went out to a late dinner with teammates at a fancy place in Motown. But he didn’t have a sportcoat, and the place required them. They told him he couldn’t come in. It was only after guys like Carl Yastrzemski said stuff like “Do you have any idea what this guy did tonight? that the place relented and sat him at a table.

Thanks for that story “Fred”, and thanks for making me feel like a kid again tonight.