December 24, 2004

Red Sox find fitting way to honor true fan

Christmas Day almost always has its bittersweet elements, except for the very young among us. You give thanks for those who are home for the holiday, and raise a toast and say a prayer for those who aren't and will never be again.

This year, one of the gifts under our Commonwealth's tree will be the promise of three refurbished ballparks along the Esplanade by the Charles River Lower Basin. They'll be just steps from the riverbank where Sox fans watched the nautical portion of the team's "Rolling Rally" victory parade celebrating the team's first World Series championship since 1918.

The gift tag says "From the Red Sox Foundation," but the funding and impetus for the project came from Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, who made a six-figure donation to enable the team's charitable arm to honor the memory of one of Werner's favorite fans, 14-year-old Edward "Teddy" Ebersol. The fields are to be named "Teddy Ebersol's Red Sox Fields."

"There's been an outpouring of interest from family, friends, and citizens to help defray the cost of the project," said Meg Vaillancourt, executive director of the foundation. "Nothing would make us happier than to have this project -- revitalizing these three diamonds in the rough -- continue to draw additional contributions and transfer the positive energy of Red Sox Nation into a social force."

Teddy died the Sunday after Thanksgiving in the Montrose, Colo., plane crash that seriously injured his father, NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, and Teddy's 21-year-old brother, Charlie. The plane's pilot and flight attendant perished in the crash, and the co-pilot remains in serious condition. Teddy's mother, actress Susan Saint James, wasn't aboard the plane.

The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry provided common ground for conversation between the Ebersols. Dick is a rabid Yankees fan and Teddy was an equally enthusiastic Sox fan.

Werner and Ebersol long have known each other as powerful figures in the world of television production, but Werner also could identify with the young fan who dragged his dad to Fenway. Werner, as a 17-year-old Harvard freshman, did an Opening Day documentary on Fenway Park that was a significant milestone in his life.

Teddy's love for the Sox showed clearly in excerpts from the remembrance of Jim Graham, one of many delivered at Teddy's funeral a week ago in Litchfield, Conn.

Graham is the husband of The Gunnery's head of school, Susan Graham. The Gunnery is the Washington, Conn., boarding school where Teddy was a freshman. Jim Graham described the student body as split between Red Sox and Yankees fans.

"But for our freshman boy Teddy, it was all about the Red Sox," Graham said. "No particular malice toward the Yankees, just a zealous belief in the Red Sox. He could even rattle off esoteric Red Sox stats, such as Manny Ramirez's batting average with runners in scoring position, when it's foggy.

"But being a Red Sox loyalist also was a very tricky situation for him. His father had counseled him to be careful about taking sides. You may be a Red Sox fan at heart, but keep it in your heart. Good advice. But he had to follow his own feelings. And so he unabashedly rooted for the Sox. Sorry, Dad.

"Life in the dorm was tough. As the baseball postseason got under way, he found his Sox trailing the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, 3-0, having just lost a game, 19-8. It was a challenge to win just the league title, and the World Series was very far off. But he had a vision. `He came to me with this crazy bet when the Red Sox were down, 3-0,' remembered Mr. Nicholas Carter, the dean of students. `He said that he was sure the Red Sox were going to win the World Series, but if by chance they didn't, then he would buy pizza for the whole dorm.' Mr. Carter readily accepted the challenge. Here was a chance for a pizza night in the dorm sponsored by a young freshman.

"As the Red Sox began their climb back, the freshman boys' dorm began to heat up. With study hours not over until 9:30 p.m., they would join the contests in mid-game. Commentary between the Boston and the New York fans got contentious. Our young Red Sox fan was right in the middle, citing statistics and defending his team. Finally, one of the dorm parents made a new rule, named after our young Red Sox fan. The T-Rule. `If your team wins the inning, just that particular inning, you are allowed to speak.' This ended the arguments. As the fortunes of both teams shifted, the discussions became one-way conversations with no rebuttals. And as the Red Sox prevailed game after game, the T-Rule tipped toward T's favor.

"October 27th marked the final out in the final game of this year's World Series. The next day and night belonged to the 14-year-old. At The Gunnery, in the classrooms and in the dining hall, the rule is that hats are always off. If you are outside, walking around, a cap was fine, but inside a school building it's not to be on the head. So T, as he walked between classes, would pop on his Red Sox cap and beam. In the dining hall or classes, he'd carry his cap and wouldn't even point to it; he would just make eye contact and then lead your eyes with his down to the Red Sox logo. Then he'd smile. He had made his mark after only eight weeks at a new school, betting on what he thought was a winner and by committing to a cause. Scholarship, integrity, respect, responsibility, and dedication. This young freshman had not only understood [school founder] Mr. Frederick William Gunn's Five Values, he practiced them. This was the day that T ceased being an invisible freshman. This is the day he made his mark. That night the freshman boys feasted on pizza, courtesy of the dean."

Now, 150 miles away in Boston, a city where it's arguably impossible to build a new stadium, the city's recreational ballplayers will play on new fields, courtesy of Werner, the Red Sox Foundation, Governor Mitt Romney, and the Secretary of Environmental Affairs, with the enthusiastic support of Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

They'll be home to a new generation of Teddy Ballgames, rebuilt as a tribute to a 14-year-old fan.

One whose memory forever will be part of his family's bittersweet Christmases.

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