Yaz turns 75

Former Boston Red Sox player Carl Yastrzemski waves to fans before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1 of baseball's World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, in Boston.

Today is no different from yesterday for Carl Yastrzemski. At least according to the high and low tide schedule. In other words, it’s a great day to fish.

“That’s where I’ll be for the next six to 10 days,” said Yastrzemski, who is better known as “Yaz,” the greatest living Red Sox player and arguably the most important player in the franchise’s rich history.

But today is different to several million people who remember or have heard about the Baseball Hall of Famer’s incredible 23-year career with the Red Sox.

Today, Yaz turns 75.

“It doesn’t seem like I’m 75,” said Yaz, from his Boxford home. “I feel good. I just got back from fishing. I’m lucky. I still do things I did 20 and 30 years ago after I retired.”

But then, in an instant, he reminisces a little bit.

“It has flown by,” said Yaz. “I remember when the Red Sox called me up for the ‘61 season. I had no idea what to expect. And then to have some tough years, followed by 1967 and then some more great, great years ... I’m very lucky.”

Yaz said he was talking to an old friend, Bob Wesson, yesterday, who wished him a happy birthday.

“Bob said, ‘Carl, do you remember those one-on-one basketball games we played at Merrimack (College)?’” said Yaz, who graduated from the school after starting out at Notre Dame. “That was in 1966 and 1967. I can’t believe it was that long ago. Those workouts and all of the other stuff we did was a lot of fun.”

The year that defined Yaz: 1967

While being a major leaguer fulfilled a life-long dream, the first six years (1961-1966) of Yaz’s career, he often would rather forget. The Red Sox average record over that span was 72-90, including a 62-100 record in 1965, the worst record they’ve had in the last 82 years.

The Red Sox drew 1,003 fans to a game over the last week of 1966.

“It’s no fun losing,” said Yaz. “There is a lot more pressure on a losing team. Everyone is coming out to watch you and they want you to get a hit every time up. And if you don’t, they let you know about it. It was tough atmosphere to play.”

That changed in 1967, with rookie manager Dick Williams leading the way. For half the season, the Red Sox hovered around .500, something they hadn’t done since 1957. But then the Sox, with Yaz among league leaders in several offensive categories went on a 10-game winning streak.

By the time the regular season was done, the Red Sox had won 50 of its last 80 games, winning the American League pennant on the last day.

Yaz said he didn’t realize his date with baseball history until the next morning, when the Boston newspapers said he won the AL Triple Crown, with a .326 batting average, 44 home runs and 121 RBI.

Yaz didn’t remember the stats as much as he remembered the wins.

“It was the first time I was with the Sox that I had fun,” said Yaz. “You didn’t have to hit a home run or drive in a run to be appreciated. If you made a nice play in the field, or sacrificed a guy over, the fans gave you a standing ovation. I will never forget how much fun I had that season.”

The Red Sox ended up losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in the World Series, but the seeds had been planted.

“We brought the fans back,” said Yaz. “We brought baseball back.”

Red Sox ace that year, Jim Lonborg, said Yaz’s quest for perfection every day is the memory he will take most from the incredible 1967 journey.

“I remember on many occasions, after an 0 for 4 or a game he didn’t perform the way he expected, Yaz would get the coaches back on the field after the game, working on stuff,” said the 72-year-old Lonborg, a dentist in Hanover, Mass. “I believe he knew something special was happening and he was focused on being the best he could be. I’ve never seen a player with a stronger commitment to the game than Yaz.”

Everything changed after 1967, mainly expectations and influx of talent — Carlton Fisk, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice and Fred Lynn.

“Coming to the park every day was a great experience for most of my career after 1967,” said Yaz. “I knew when Fisk, Evans, Rice and Lynn came aboard, that we were going to contend every year. That really is great motivation. We didn’t win a World Series, but we gave it our best.”

A passion for fishing and golf

Fishing was and always will be a safe haven for Yaz, who started this hobby in earnest in the early part of his career with the Red Sox.

“I’ve always liked to relax, to get away from everything,” said Yaz. “When you’re playing in a place like Boston, there’s a lot of pressure and intensity, which I liked. But it’s nice to get away from it sometimes and fishing was the best place for me.”

To this day, he has a spot about 20 minutes away from his Boxford home where he spends a few hours a day.

He remembers the early days with the Red Sox, when he and Reggie Smith would get up early before workouts in Winter Haven to fish.

“Reggie and myself would get up at 4 a.m. and drive the back roads to Sarasota, to fish from about 5:30 to 7:45 (a.m.),” said Yaz. “Reggie would bring the cookies and I’d bring the milk. We had to leave around 7:45 (a.m.) because we had to get back to Winter Haven in time for the workouts. If we were later than that, we would’ve been stuck behind school buses and would’ve been late.”

In the winter, Yaz spends all of his time in Delray Beach, Fla., where he golfs six or seven days a week. And he walks the course.

“I don’t golf as much up here, probably because I golf so much in Florida,” said Yaz. “Up here, I like to hit balls.”

Yaz a North Shore ‘native’

When Yaz first joined the Red Sox in the early 1960s and started his family, they set roots in Lynnfield, just off Route 1. He’s had business ties to companies in Lynn, Peabody and Danvers.

Since then he has moved north, to North Andover and eventually Boxford, where he has settled for more than three decades.

“I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked the North Shore,” said Yaz. “Where I live now is perfect. It takes me 20 minutes to get to where I fish. The ocean is close by, too. If I want to play golf, Haverhill Country Club is only 15 minutes away.”

Yaz said his residence in Boxford, with his land, reminds him a lot of his youth, growing up on a potato farm on Long Island (Bridgehampton, N.Y.).

“We have a lot of land here, which I love,” said Yaz. “I raise a big garden every year. It reminds me of when I was younger, I guess.”

Cares about his legacy

Yaz was asked about what he would like to be remembered for as a player.

He thought about it for about 15 seconds.

“To sum it up in one word ... a winner,” said Yaz. “I’ve run into a lot of people over the years and so many of them told me, ‘I wish I worked as hard as you did at the game.’

“Hearing that is honestly a great feeling. I was sad when I retired (after the 1983 season). But I asked myself, ‘Could you have worked any harder?’ And the answer was ‘No.’ I gave everything to my profession. It’s a great feeling knowing that. Honestly, it still feels good.”

Yaz has lived north of Boston for nearly 54 years and considers this part of the world, his home.

“I had a great career with the Red Sox, which I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’ve lived a great life and was always proud to represent New England ... I’m very lucky.”

Ditto for the New England region. He might not have been the best Red Sox player of all-time, but few will argue his importance on baseball in this region, probably the most important player in franchise history.

Happy birthday, Carl Yastzremski!

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