BOSTON — Forty-four years ago, Carl Yastrzemski ended one of the most electrifying World Series in baseball history with a fly out to center field at Fenway Park. A little higher and farther, and Yastrzemski would have tied Game 7 with the Cincinnati Reds. He never returned to the World Series.
The year the Red Sox finally won it, 2004, was painful for Yastrzemski: His only son, Mike, a former minor leaguer, died that September of a heart attack after hip surgery. Only 43 years old, he had left behind a son, also named Mike.
On Tuesday, Mike Yastrzemski did something his father never could, and that his grandfather desperately wanted to do on that October night in 1975. He played a major league game at Fenway and hit a home run into the center field bleachers.
“I just had to take a second and understand what was going on and appreciate that moment and not take it for granted,” said Yastrzemski, who later added a double. “So I made sure to kind of keep my head up and look around and just soak it all in.”
The fans applauded politely but did not give Yastrzemski, 29, a curtain call. He plays for the San Francisco Giants, after all, and they would beat the Red Sox, 7-6, in 15 innings. But even in this record-breaking season for homers in Major League Baseball, the blast — on a 96-mile-an-hour fastball from Nathan Eovaldi — resonated. It was the first by a Yastrzemski in Boston since 1983.
That was the last of Carl Yastrzemski’s 23 seasons, all for Boston. Nobody has ever played as many games for one franchise as Yastrzemski did for the Red Sox — 3,308. By the time he was 29 — Mike’s age now — Carl had played more than 1,200 games. He was closing in on his third batting title and a place in the Hall of Fame.
“When I turned 23, that was kind of the big, shocking moment — that for my entire life he had shown up at Fenway Park every day,” Mike Yastrzemski said. “That kind of blew my mind — I can’t picture 23 years’ worth of Major League Baseball experience. That’s when that really set in, when I started to see the magnitude of his effect on this city.”
Grandfather and grandson roamed left field on Tuesday afternoon, in the shadow of the Green Monster, where Carl spent so many summers and Mike patrolled for the first time in the majors on Tuesday. Carl visited the Giants’ clubhouse, too, but planned to leave Fenway before the game to watch at home.
Yastrzemski almost never sees games in person, even when he throws a ceremonial first pitch at the World Series. But he stays up late to watch every Giants broadcast, he said, and he does plan to be here on Wednesday.
“The only way I can compare it to anything would be if I compare it to the ’67 season,” he said of seeing his grandson at Fenway. “That’s what it means to me, him being here.”
That is quite a statement: The 1967 season cemented Yastrzemski as a superstar. He won the American League Triple Crown and led the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox to the World Series, reviving the baseball passion of this region.
It captivated a young fan from Wolfeboro, N.H., named Tim Corbin, who eventually became the baseball coach at Vanderbilt. As he recruited Mike Yastrzemski — who played in high school at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Mass. — Corbin could not shake the echoes of his childhood idol.
“When I looked at Mike, I was trying to evaluate him as if he was Mike Smith, just take away the last name,” Corbin said. “But there was a lot of him that I saw and said, ‘That’s his grandfather.’ He’s got his grandfather’s edge. That’s a Yastrzemski fire; he has that in him.”
In 2011, the young Yastrzemski helped lead the Commodores to their first trip to Omaha for the College World Series. He turned down a $300,000 offer from the Seattle Mariners after his junior year, fulfilling a pledge to his late father to earn his college degree. He did so the next year — majoring in crime in society — and joined the Baltimore Orioles as a 14th-round draft choice.
For six years, Yastrzemski languished in their farm system, playing in major league spring training games but never the real thing. Traded in March to the Giants, he found his power in the minors and earned a promotion in May. He is hitting .266 and is the first Giants rookie with 20 homers since Dave Kingman in 1972.
“Those pitches where he’s doing damage now, before he was just trying to hit liners in the gap or make solid contact,” said Giants pitcher Tyler Beede, who roomed with Yastrzemski at Vanderbilt. “Now he’s trying to actually do damage and drive the ball out of the ballpark. I’m sure he’s adapted his swing and tried to add a little launch angle to it, too.
“But I tell you what, he’s also one of the most sound defenders you’ll ever see. There will be fly balls hit to him and I know it’s going to be a difficult play, but sometimes I don’t even turn around, because I know he’s going to catch it.”
Yastrzemski has started at all three outfield spots, but there was no question where Manager Bruce Bochy would put him on Tuesday. Bochy said Yastrzemski had impressed him in all areas — defense, base running, power — and Corbin, who has 15 former players in the majors this season, called him one of the best leaders he had ever coached.
The major leagues, he said, is where Yastrzemski belongs.
“I felt like if he got up there, he’s going to stay,” Corbin said. “He’s too good in the clubhouse, he’s too good on the field, and he treats every day the same way. He will never, ever, ever lose his innocence.”
No matter how the rest of his story unfolds, the purity of Yastrzemski’s moment on Tuesday — a grandson trotting in royal family footsteps — will be an indelible memory on the sparkling green of old Fenway.