I remember three things from high school physics: my super-nerd, super-sweetheart, super-pregnant teacher who took us outside one day to demonstrate friction by driving her car and slamming on the brakes, the fear of having a birth result from said experiment, and the idea of potential energy. The potential energy contained in a wrecking ball at its peak, about to swing to crush a building. The potential energy of a slingshot, pulled tight, ready to shoot a rock. The potential energy of a baby inside the womb of a pregnant lady who is driving a car and slamming on the brakes.
I took the escalator up three levels to Fenway Park’s EMC club. The club is a large room where I would be networking, mostly with a French angel named Melanie who is now my fiancée. I passed former Red Sox icons remembered on the walls near the escalator, and my eyes rested on a black and white photo of a guy named Tony Conigliaro.
Since starting my job at Tocci Building, I work closely with my uncle who takes great pleasure in quizzing me on things that I have no business knowing—like lines from the 1957 TV show Maverick, or a scenario from a single Three Stooges episode (started in 1925, there are 190 of these), or the best player on the Boston Bruins roster circa 1970 (Derek Sanderson, duh).
“You know who Tony C. is, don’t you?”
We were eating at sports bar called Tony C’s, with massive screens that take up an entire wall, and about a million beers on tap. I thought, he’s the guy who owns this bar, duh.
“No I do not.”
“How do you not know who Tony C. is?!”
If I knew what I know now, I would have said, “Because Tony C. died when I was three years old.”
Tony Conigliaro was a hometown kid from Revere—the only thing that makes us love players more is if they are from our city. In his first at-bat in Fenway, at age nineteen, he hit a homerun. He hit 100 home runs by the time he was twenty-two, and he still holds the record for the youngest player to do that in the American League.
A month after he played in the all-star game in 1967, he was hit in the face with a pitch. His cheekbone was fractured, his jaw dislocated, and his retina was permanently damaged. After a year and a half break, he played four more seasons but was never able to regain the spark he had before the injury. He retired after his eyesight became worse.
Tony died in 1990 at the age of forty-five, after a heart attack and a stroke. People say that these were certainly complications from being hit by that pitch in 1967.
I walked through the EMC club, made new friends, exchanged business cards, and ate food. I sat outside the club in the cool December night, looking down onto the half-lit Fenway Park. There were no people in the stands, no screaming fans, no yelling peanut-vendors or loud speakers. It was remarkably calming—almost somber, eerie, like sitting in a cemetery.
A group of three engineers sat next to me, and we talked about the things you’re supposed to talk about at a networking event. What kind of company you are, what projects you do, where you perform work. When two of the three engineers left, Seth and I talked about what you’re not supposed to talk about at a networking event. Why I moved from Chicago back home to Boston. Why he moved from California back home to Boston. Relationships, family, work. He was only a few years older than me, and he told me about raising two girls, being married, and living closer to parents. We talked about community and responsibility and the perils of growing up.
We like Tony C. because he was good, but we love him because he could have been great. We love him for his potential. We love him because we can imagine what he could have been. 100 home runs by twenty-two? He could have been the best player who ever lived. He’s a tragic hero because so many people feel that his story of injustice is our story. “If only I hadn’t thrown out my shoulder.” “If only I had been chosen as the boss.” “If only things had gone according to my plan.”
Potential is what makes you appreciate an empty stadium in the dark. Fenway, packed full of people on a warm night in June, with the lights bright, grass green, cleanest dirt you’ve ever seen surrounding a pearl-white home plate. You know what it could be.