Apples, Kids, & Attitude
Field of Dreams…
It was the summer of 1968. For a young boy from Fall River, Massachusetts, it was also the year that followed the "Impossible Dream" season of the Boston Red Sox. I've mentioned before that Carl Yastrzemski, the former Red Sox left fielder, was one of my childhood heroes. 1967 was a Triple Crown year for the man simply called "Yaz." He led baseball's American league in Home Runs, RBIs (runs batted in) and in batting average.
As remarkable as Yaz's 1967 performance had been, so were the collective performances of other, lesser known players who helped the Red Sox capture the American League pennant and brought the team to within one game of the world championship. It was called the Impossible Dream year because the Red Sox had finished the 1966 season in almost last place. This Cinderella era was, unfortunately, not without tragedy. Tony Conigliaro, the Red Sox outfielder and up and coming league star, was felled by a errant pitch that essentially ended his promising career. The incident was so graphic that after it happened even "real men" of the time began wearing batting helmets.
In the summer of 1968, the memory of the extraordinary 1967 season was still fresh in the mind of this young boy as he went about the serious business of being a kid. It was a hot and humid season in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. There was a 7/11 convenience store within a very short drive that stocked the boyhood summer essentials - ice cream, candy, cold soda and... baseball cards. Though I had already bought a lot of cards that year, I still didn't have my 1968 Carl Yastrzemski baseball card.
I remember being excited that summer, less by the hope that the Red Sox would repeat the prior season's performance and more because my grandfather was coming to visit. I very much liked my grandfather. He was the only person I recall that set-aside time just to be with me. He emigrated to the US during his teen years and made a living for awhile, from what I understand, planting and grafting trees for people. I remember long drives with just my grandfather and me as we toured homes and gardens where he had worked many years earlier. There was always a bag of candy in the glove box and, with just enough conversation to maintain my interest, we would quickly "visit" the work he had done many years before. After my family moved to New Jersey, I did not see my grandfather nearly as often as I once did and I very much looked forward to his visits.
Unknown to me at the time, this trip would was one of the last occasions I would ever see my grandfather. The memory of that visit has stood in my mind for almost thirty years. It wasn't so much what my grandfather said as what he did without needing to say a word. Every morning during his visit, he and I would get in his car and take the short drive to the 7/11. And, every day as we arrived at the store, he'd hand me a $1 bill to buy baseball cards. In that year's currency it meant 20 packs of cards, each with 5 cards, for a grand total of 100 baseball cards a day! Fort Knox might have had some gold, but this little boy wanted his Carl Yastrzemski baseball card!
It isn't always easy waiting for what you want. In the years since my grandfather's last visit, the things in life that I want may have changed, but deep inside is that same boyish desire. Unfortunately, many of the things I truly want are no longer found at the convenience store nor can they necessarily be purchased with money. But, without my grandfather's help, I seemed no closer to that summer's dream of getting my Carl Yastrzemski baseball card than I am to many of my dreams today.
Life was a bit different in 1968. To a young boy growing up during what we now call the "Wonder Years," TV and neighborhood friends occupied most of my time that wasn't spent in school. Color TVs were being purchased by many people for the first time. Young and old alike were quite captivated by what we sometimes called the "boob tube," especially when its offering could now be viewed in color. However, our "interactive" capabilities were limited to the TV channel selector. Either we watched what was offered on a particular channel or we didn't. During the summer of 1968, Neil Armstrong's lunar landing was still a year away and hand-held calculators for students and consumers were a few years into the future. Thoughts of owning or using a personal computer occupied only the minds of science fiction writers and a few of their readers.
That era's version of today's video games was the pin-ball machine. For two player interactive action we had Ping-Pong tables. Since very few of my friends had either, it left lots of summer hours for backyard baseball games. Each of us pretended to be our favorite all-star. We had our own play-by-play monologue which told of dramatic, make believe events that surrounded us whenever we were "at bat." The usual scenario was: two outs in the final inning of a decisive game that only our favorite hero could win for his team. These backyard musings were the closest many of us would ever come to meeting the legends of our childhood. One reason we had such strong affection for baseball cards is that they represented a tangible connection, however remote, to the sports stars that seemed bigger -than-life.
I don't remember my grandfather being a baseball fan. But that's part of the point. He didn't need to be one. What mattered to him was that I was a baseball fan and he wanted us both to have some fun. It was a chance for a sharing of the moment between young and old that might be captured in a Norman Rockwell style painting. To him it was Americana. To me it was Carl Yastrzemski on card and in my hand.
My grandfather also seemed bigger-than-life to me in many ways. Here was a man who made simple things an adventure. Whether it be collecting eggs from his backyard chicken-coop while I ( not always successfully!) dodged the angry pecks of his rooster, or his planting of the watermelon seed that had just dripped off my cheek as we sat to enjoy a natural snack, my grandfather and me just seemed to enjoy our time together. In the eyes of a "not-so-impartial" young boy, he seemed able to do things that few other people knew how to do.
One of the things that I remember most about spending time with my grandfather is that we were always doing something - driving, playing, digging, planting, reaping. building, laughing. His backyard, as I remember it, was the closest thing I've ever seen to a vegetable and fruit forest. He was always making something with his hands. As a second-generation American, I'm sorry so many of those skills have been lost by the members of my family in the ensuing years.
Instead of being on a farm or field, I spend much of my time at a desk, staring at my monitor. One of the reasons that I enjoy being a writer may be because it's one of the few opportunities I have to tangibly build something (in this case a column or article) that I hope is constructive and positive. While my materials may be an alphabet and a keyboard instead of seeds and lumber, it is my desire that the words I choose help build images and ideas in the minds of the readers.
As you may imagine, I spend a lot of time using my computer. It is my window on the world, my artist's palette and my work tool. For my personal dreams and desires, it's often my "message in a bottle," too. The Internet is a vast "ocean" of information and places. Today it is at least as intriguing as TV was when the visual image changed from varying shades of gray to the 60's version of "living color."
When I think of the 1967 Red Sox, what still strikes me as remarkable is the level of competitive play for a group of mostly lesser know players. Day in and day out, game in and game out, they battled through the season's schedule and into the American League pennant race without knowing for sure where they would ultimately end up in the standings. As it turned out, the league championship wasn't decided until the final moments of the season. In retrospect, what I think was remarkable about my grandfather is that he was an ordinary man who sometimes did extraordinary things. Even if it only meant taking a moment to share the dreams and desires of his grandson. He didn't know whether or not I would get my Carl Yastrzemski baseball card during his visit. But he did take the time and he did make the effort to share my dream.
As Mac users, we know the past few months have been filled with surprises from Apple Computer; not the least of which is the acquisition of NeXT Software and the return of Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder, to an advisory role with the company. It brings to mind the extraordinary events of twenty years ago when two remarkable people, working together in a garage, started a legend and a company now called Apple Computer.
Despite our efforts, none of us are perfect nor can we be expected to be at our best all day, every day without let up. I think it's also a mistake to expect a group of people or a company, such as Apple Computer, to perpetually make every decision and react to every circumstance in a manner that only hindsight can deem correct. That expectation is an inappropriate burden to place upon any group or individual.
Apple Computer decided that it needed help in developing its next generation OS. The company chose to look to outside sources, deciding it was better to acquire other people's work that could be adapted to its own work (in this case the work done by NeXT Software), than it was to fund the development the new OS almost exclusively in-house. There has been so much written about this decision and so much debate about whether or not the company should have acquired the Be OS instead, that I don't think it's of much value for me to add my view on the matter.
More importantly, I think we need to give everyone involved a little bit of credit for making a decision that will lead to the release of the next generation Macintosh OS. Too often I think that we expect the party's involved in these decisions to be constantly bigger-than-life or super human. It's not easy to stand at a cross-roads, knowing that any road you take has some pitfalls and hazards. The road to Apple's next generation OS has been chosen. Let's see where it takes us.
What Wozniak and Jobs were able to do in a garage twenty or so years ago was remarkable. So too was the development of the Macintosh technology a few years later. It's the stuff that legends are made of. But legendary things can't be foretold nor should they be constantly expected. They're more apt to happen when fewer people are looking.
In 1967, it's what happened on the last day of the regular baseball season when the Boston Red Sox found themselves in first place. It's also what happened that next summer, as I sat quietly in the living room, probably holding my breath, as I opened just about my last pack of baseball cards that were courtesy of my grandfather. There, in the middle of the pack, was my 1968 Carl Yastrzemski baseball card. The stuff that boyhood memories are made of.
Today, I also have a special dream. I'm no closer to that dream now than I seemed to be to my Carl Yastrzemski baseball card back in 1968. I'm hopeful. Life is full of surprises. That summer's visit was about the last time I ever saw my grandfather. I don't recall if I looked to see how happy that small moment may have made him. Back then all I saw was a childhood hero's picture printed on card stock and neatly placed in my hand.
Now, when I think of that moment, it means so much more. I have no idea what happened to that card over the years. But it was one moment out of life that taught me to maintain hope; that dreams and desires can come true; that asking for what you want can have merit. I'll keep asking. We'll see what happens.
I think the next several months are a time for quiet confidence in Apple Computer. I'm not saying we shouldn't make our views known - I believe we should succinctly and forthrightly state what we want in a new operating system. Remember, it's the meek, not the weak that will inherit the earth. What I am saying is that Steve Jobs, Gilbert Amelio, Marco Landi and Ellen Hancock can not be expected to do extraordinary things every moment of every day. Even the bigger-than-life memories I have of my grandfather don't include that super human quality.
As Mac advocates I think we need to battle each day, every day as best we can. Some days will be better than others. I believe the standings at the end of this season will speak for themselves. You never know where Apple's next all-star will come from. My view is we will all be pleasantly surprised. Stay tuned...
Also in This Series
- Good Morning America, How Are You? · October 2003
- Martians in the Manholes · February 2001
- The Golden Touch · May 2000
- Three Kids and an iMac · February 2000
- How? · November 1999
- Apples, Kids, & Attitude · August 1999
- Play Ball! · May 1999
- A Time For Change · February 1999
- New Year, New Times · January 1999
- Complete Archive