Before this week, the last time I heard from Shane Victorino’s people was July, during the All-Star break. One of his reps said Victorino, who makes his offseason home here, had just become the all-time RBI leader for a major league ballplayer born in Hawaii, thereby breaking Mike Lum’s record, and would I like to talk to him?
I said sure, because though there have been only 38 Hawaiian-born ballplayers who have made it to the bigs, Victorino now had 433 RBIs, which seemed like a lot for a little guy. Plus, I remembered Mike Lum from having to bat left-handed like him when we played Wiffle ball as kids and I was the Braves.
The Red Sox, Victorino’s new team, were in first place then, a couple of games ahead of the Rays. I guess his people didn’t think they were going to hang on, or that they couldn’t foresee the Sox growing out their beards and that Victorino would become one of Boston’s postseason stars, at least when his lower back wasn’t bothering him.
The Flyin’ Hawaiian (which is what they also called Danny Ongais, the racecar driver from Kahului on Maui), didn’t get a lot of hits during the playoffs and World Series. But every time he did get one, it seemed like three or four guys scored.
In the seventh inning of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against Detroit, he hit a fly ball over the Green Monster when there were three guys with unruly facial hair on base, and that put Boston in the World Series.
In the third inning of Game 6 of the World Series against St. Louis, he hit a double with three House of David lookalikes on the pond, and all three scored, and that would be all the runs the Red Sox would need to win their third Fall Classic in 10 years, which seems like a lot for the Red Sox.
So the people at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health threw a party for Victorino downtown the other night, because theirs is a good cause, and when Shane Victorino isn’t clearing the bases with clutch hits in the postseason, he’s all about good causes, too: In 2010, he received the Tug McGraw Good Guy Award from the Philadelphia baseball writers; the next year, he was presented with the Branch Rickey Award for all the charity work he does.
Placards outside the KMA Event Center showed an outline of Victorino’s postseason facial hair (beard would be overstating it) with the message that the brain institute and Shane Victorino were “Keeping Memory Alive” in various ways.
The room was bathed in red light — Red Sox light, I guess. Big guys with Hawaii shirts and ukuleles were playing cocktail hour music on stage. And when the guest of honor and wife Melissa (who made the Lady Rebels basketball team as a walk-on when Jim Bolla was coach) strolled in, a lot of people wanted to have their pictures taken with them.
The outfielder had shaved his facial growth; Melissa said she was thankful for that. In its place was fresh goatee stubble. Victorino was wearing dark jeans and high-top Nikes, because it was a tad too cool for flip-flops.
When we last met, when his foundation was announcing a Christmas toy drive at this time last year, Victorino was wearing flip-flops and he didn’t want to talk about baseball that much A) because he was there to talk about less fortunate kids and B) because he was coming off a season during which he hit a career-low .255.
He had been traded from the Phillies to the Dodgers, and the Dodgers didn’t want him back.
On Wednesday night, Victorino said you just never know how things are going to work out in sports (except, maybe, if you’re Tim McCarver).
“The last couple of years had been pretty tough,” he said, and he could have been talking about himself as well as Red Sox Nation. Yes, he had won a ring with the Phillies, but suddenly it seemed like a long time ago.
“If you would have told me this back in the offseason, I would have said, ‘Yeah, we’re good, and hopefully we’ll get there.’ So, yeah, you’ve definitely got to enjoy the moment,” said the slick-fielding Victorino, who will turn 33 on Nov. 30. “I feel truly blessed — especially to get an opportunity in a place like Boston, and then April 15, the tragedy, the Boston Marathon, and to me, that all makes this championship even sweeter.”
About that time, a pretty woman wearing a Red Sox uniform that was much snugger than Mike Napoli’s jumped out from behind the bar she was tending and asked if she could have her picture taken with the all-time RBI leader from the state of Hawaii.
Aly Bloom said she was from Stoughton, Mass.; she had been a Sox fan all her life. She was beaming after having had her picture taken with Shane Victorino. So when I asked who her favorite Red Sox player was before she slid back behind the bar to pour scotch, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation.
“Yaz,” she said.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.