October, 2004, Norton, Massachusetts
"Swing and a ground ball, stabbed by Foulke. He has it. He underhands to first. And the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions. For the first time in 86 years, the Red Sox have won baseball's world championship. Can you believe it?" - Joe Castiglione.
Father and son flawlessly performed their post game high five victory ritual just as they had with each Red Sox win since the season before. They hastily invented the routine last October when the Red Sox defeated the Oakland Athletics to advance to the ALCS to face the hated New York Yankees. Of course they would have their hearts broken two weeks later when Aaron Boone launched a Tim Wakefield knuckleball high into the New York night ending Game 7 and the Red Sox season in extra innings.
But 2004 year was different. Before steamrolling over the accommodating St. Louis Cardinals, the Red Sox completed the greatest comeback in sports history by winning four straight games over the Yankees after trailing three games to none. In the process curses were broken, demons were exorcized, scores were settled and for many, including the Robinson's from Norton, multigenerational journeys were completed.
After the high five was complete, George H. Robinson III (known as Herm) instructed his 11 year old son, George Robinson IV (known as G4), to go to the garage and retrieve the black leather case with the two brown straps around it. It was the one he had shrinkwrapped alongside the fishing gear. He added to carry it flat, not by the handle, and to be very careful.
A few minutes later, G4 returned and handed over the case to his dad as if contained government secrets.
Herm took his pocketknife and cutaway the shrinkwrap. This exposed an envelope in Herm’s father’s writing that said “THIS END UP” on the exterior sealed with tape. Herm trimmed the edges of the tape and removed the contents of the envelope. He put on his reading glasses and began to read aloud.
To the Reader,
It is hard to properly write this letter because I don't know who will be reading it or when it will be opened. I hope it is being read by my son, Herm, but in matters related to the Red Sox, nothing can be predicted.
Reading this means you either broke a sacred pact or the Red Sox won the World Series. If the former, shame on you, if the latter, hallelujah!! Taped on the inside of the envelope that contained this letter, you will find a key. The key opens the case. I have no idea what you will find. I was merely the executor of a request made to me by my father, George Robinson Sr. when his health was failing.
He gave me the same instructions I gave to my son when I knew I wouldn't live to see the Red Sox win the World Series –
Open the case when the Sox win the World Series and follow the instructions. If they don't win in your lifetime then pass on the case and instructions before you die.
George Robinson Jr.
February 19, 1999
The letter was written a few months before Herm's father, known to all as Junior, died at the age of fifty six, two months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Reading the letter from his father was strangely unemotional to Herm. He thought maybe it had to do with the business-like manner of how the letter was written and the fact that it was written to an unknown recipient, not specifically to him. It was more peculiar than anything. He just wished his father was still around to enjoy the Red Sox victory. He wished his dad was the one opening the case like it was supposed to be, not him.
As directed in the note, Herm located the key. He held it and looked at G4. He slid the key into the lock, took a deep breath, and turned. The lock willingly popped open and the mystery of the case was soon to be revealed.
In the case were three boxes and another letter on top. The envelope was dated June 19, 1984 and bore the address of George H. Robinson Sr., Herm’s late grandfather, G4’s great-grandfather.
Once again, Herm began to read aloud.
When I was a boy my father always talked about the great Red Sox championship teams before I was born. He talked about the old field before Fenway Park. He told me countless times about how the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth for cash and ruined a great thing for the city of Boston and all of New England.
I always wanted to share the experience of a great Red Sox team with my father. It never happened. My father experienced something I never did.
Then my hopes changed and I wanted to share a championship with you. Now according to Dr. Reid, it looks like that won't happen either. So I figured I would pack my dreams away in this case and maybe someday we could celebrate a bit together.
I am sure you noticed there are three boxes in the case. The first two boxes are for you and the third one is for me. When your grandfather died he gave me all his beloved old Red Sox souvenirs. I never cared much to look at them. If I couldn't share the glory years with him, I didn't want to frustrate myself by looking at something I couldn’t be part of. I tucked those items away in the first box. In the second box you will find my old catcher's mitt and the cap I got when I went to Fenway Park for the first time. In the third box is a special request for me. You'll see when you open it.
I hope this odd little intrusion finds you well and in the spirit of celebration.
Yours in Victory,
Your father, George H. Robinson, Sr.
Herm took off his glasses and put things into perspective with G4. They had just opened a case that a father had left for his son to be opened when the Red Sox won the World Series. The triggering event never occurred during the son's lifetime. Instead it was passed on and opened by a grandson and great grandson. The father and son lived their entire lives without ever experiencing a Red Sox championship and now the third and fourth generations were left to fulfill the wishes expressed in the case.
The next order of business was to open the third box. Herm untied a thin satin ribbon and lifted off the lid. There were two tin cans of Narragansett Beer, a can opener and yet another note. The note said, “Son, we did it. Let’s share a beer together and tell me how it feels to be a champ.”
Unlike the letter on the outside of the case, this short elegant note ripped through Herm’s heart. He ached that his father and grandfather never got to experience the soul satisfying journey he and his young son just lived through.
He told G4 to grab his glove and a ball and meet him in the driveway. Herm tiptoed upstairs, whispered to his wife that the Sox pulled it off, kissed her on the cheek and quietly closed the bedroom door. He went to the fridge, grabbed an Amstel Light and a bottle of champagne he had chilled and ready in case the Red Sox finally did it. He put them in the box with the old Narragansetts. He slapped his grandfather’s cap on his head and tucked his old mitt under his arm and met G4 at the car. It was past midnight.
After a few right turns they were on Route 140. They took a left on to Main Street and headed towards the Town Common Cemetery. They took a left on Olympia Street and looped around. Herm knew just where to park.
Over the course of the next hour, Herm and G4 celebrated as if they were on the field in Busch Stadium alongside the Red Sox. They played catch on the small patch on lawn just outside the stone and iron rail of the cemetery by the lights of the car and the moon. They took the cheap bottle of champagne and they shook it as fiercely as they could. They shot the cork high into the Norton sky, seemingly higher than that now insignificant Aaron Boone homerun and sprayed the champagne just like the players did. Fulfilling the pact outlined in the note, Herm and G4 stood arm and arm at the graveside of their forebears and recounted how the Red Sox had finally done it. Herm poured the old cans of Narragansett Beer on the headstones of Senior and Junior sip for sip while he enjoyed his Amstel Light. All the while he talked freely with G4 about how it felt to be champions.
When they left the cemetery, they placed the old wool cap on the corner of Junior’s headstone, they left G4’s ball on Senior’s grave and they kept the catcher's mitt for themselves. They got home very, very late, snuck upstairs and Herm and G4 Robinson slept the slumber of champions.
There was one more surprise for the Robinson’s in that case. In their haste to celebrate, they neglected to open the first box. When they did the next afternoon, Herm uncovered an unprecedented collection of Babe Ruth memorabilia from his championship years with the Red Sox with a value that would easily put G4 through college and graduate school.
Four generations of Robinson’s rarely acknowledged the fact that on December 28, 1919, George Herman Robinson Sr. was named after his father’s favorite Red Sox player, George Herman Ruth, two days after his rights were sold to the Yankees. By extension, they all had the same nominal connection but were loathe to admit it. Each generation took nicknames that would steer clear of any affiliation or connection with the Babe. For 86 painful years, to New Englanders, Babe Ruth embodied the New York Yankees and the Robinsons wanted nothing to do with that.
But undeniably, at his core, Babe Ruth was a champion for the Boston Red Sox. For decades his proud Boston Red Sox legacy sat stashed away, refusing to die, in a case on a shelf in Norton, Massachusetts alongside an old cap, a mitt, and a couple of rusty old beers. On one glorious night in late October 2004, a New England family got to honor their past, celebrate the sweetest of victories, and savor the riches that come to those who wait.