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Bill Lee’s still having a ball

When speaking with Bill Lee, the ex–Red Sox southpaw and avowed "liberal, hippie, Rastafarian–Zen Buddhist–Communist with a lot of Catholic guilt," it’s usually best just to let the tape roll. The leftist lefty — who’ll be in town March 2 to read from his new memoir, Have Glove, Will Travel: Adventures of a Baseball Vagabond (Crown), co-written with Richard Lally — always has something interesting to say. Chronicling Lee’s post-professional adventures playing in various independent leagues from Cape Breton to Cuba to China, Have Glove is a hilarious, sometimes hash-hazy account of one baseball purist’s refusal to hang up his cleats. When we reached the Spaceman at his home in Craftsbury, Vermont, last week, he’d spent the past hour watching deer forage in the snow outside his window, but sunny summer days were clearly on his mind. Here’s what he had to say once he put down his copy of Plato’s Republic.

On whether the dawning of spring training still packs a thrill for him after all these years. "Oh yeah! Oh, you bet it does. I get a jump on [the players]. I go down in January and play in a wood-bat tournament, then do a couple of fantasy camps, and then turn around and cut some more wood up here. But, yeah, the middle of February I always have the urge to leave and beat the next big storm south. They’re all like young dogs frolicking in the grass down there. They all feel pretty good. They’re not blistered by the sun and bored of the regularity yet. The first week is always the best."

On why, at age 58, he still plays ball. "I kind of get a reprieve from old age from it. I made a pact with myself: I would play until I didn’t hit a home run in a given year. And each year I seemed to hit one or two or four. I hit two in the [Triple-A] All-Star Game down in Pawtucket last summer. This year, I made a special bat out of birch, lighter and a little whippier, so I could face younger pitching. And damned if in the first game this year, I didn’t take a 2-0 fastball and hit it out of Eddie Popowski Field down in Fort Myers."

On the Red Sox’ remodeling of Fenway Park. "I love it. Remarkable. I’ve always wanted the Boston Pops to play in the right-field corner, up on that veranda. But they put a bar up there instead, and that’s the second-best thing."

On watching the Sox’ historic post-season run last fall. "I was in Maui. I found out that it’s the greatest place on earth to watch a Red Sox playoff series. The games start at 2 p.m. You get up at first light, have a nice Kona coffee, and then you snorkel with all the natives and the 2000 species of fish and turtles. And then you have a nice lunch, a cocktail, and then sit down and watch the Red Sox kick Yankee butt. It doesn’t get any better than that."

On his admiration for Curt Schilling’s ALCS heroics, Schilling’s political views notwithstanding. "I call it the Stigmata of Schilling, that blood leaking through his sock. But it wasn’t blood, it was probably that Betadine solution that they put over a wound to keep it sanitary. I’ve always thought that everybody in Boston, instead of having plastic Jesus on their dashboards, should have little [statuettes] of Schilling. Even though he’s a right-wing fascist. Anyone who will go up and stump for Bush in New Hampshire.... I mean, aren’t there enough conservatives up in New Hampshire without sending another one?"

On why there are so few true characters like himself in the game today. "Everybody’s got an agent now, and it tends to make you more conservative and commercial-oriented. No one’s a free thinker because of the economics of the situation."

On players who use steroids. "I don’t care, they can do anything they want. I love a hitter that’s wound up and grinding his molars down to dust. They don’t tend to last very long, and all you have to do is hold the ball on ’em and they’ll eventually blow up at home plate."

His prediction for the 2005 Red Sox. "Oh, I think we’ll win every ball game. And the Yankees will decide not to play; Steinbrenner will move the team to the Philippines and call them the Manila Folders."

Bill Lee reads from Have Glove, Will Travel at noon on Wednesday, March 2, at Barnes & Noble in the Prudential Center, 800 Boylston Street, in Boston; call (617) 247-6959.

Issue Date: February 25 - March 3, 2005
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