×

Keeping Score: A sacrifice n’er forgotten


Friday, August 10, 2018

Good morning!

Ordinarily, August is when people go to Red Sox games, sit by the lake or laze in a hammock. It’s the happy time of year, except when it isn’t.

Fifteen years ago, Anita Fritz came over to the sports desk and asked me what I remembered about Greg Belanger. Fritz was the Deerfield reporter and knew that my family lived down the street from Greg’s family.

Momentarily puzzled, I stared at her.

“Oh, no,” I said, and she sadly nodded.

The 24-year-old Belanger — Army Sgt. Gregory A. Belanger — was killed in Iraq when the Humvee he was riding in struck a land mine. Ed Belanger was driving to Vermont for Sandri Oil when he got the call to come home. His heart sank when he saw the Army officer waiting for him.“I don’t even know your son,” he said, “but I’ve cried twice already today.”

His mother Kathy was working at Buckley Nursing Home, sister Allison was enrolling at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, and younger brother Jeff was enjoying the last few days of summer vacation.

The Army said that Belanger lived in Narragansett, R.I., but he was a Deerfield townie through and through. The week he died I wrote about coaching his Old Deerfield Little League team. “He was neither the best nor the worst player, simply a quiet kid with a shy smile who’d show up and play while his parents watched from behind the backstop.”

At Turnbull’s Restaurant in Greenfield, owner Mark Raymond told him, “Go to culinary school kid, you’re a natural.”

He studied at Johnson & Wales University and enlisted in the Army Reserves to help pay tuition. “He never dreamed he’d be in active duty,” said his father.

In Iraq, Belanger was a cook and seemingly safe from harm’s way, but on Aug. 27, 2003, an infantry soldier took sick and Belanger was “volunteered” to take his place on the convoy. It was the early days of the war, and the U.S. had yet to fortify the thin-skinned vehicles. They were no match for the powerful IEDs (improvised explosive devices) hidden underground.

He was given a hero’s farewell. Cars lined Sugarloaf Street and reporters interviewed neighbors outside Wrisley’s Funeral Home. Services were in the Frontier auditorium and overflowed into the gymnasium. Belanger had captained Frontier’s wrestling team, and the pastor read from A.E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young.”

    Today, the road all runners come,

    Shoulder high we bring you home.

    And set you at your threshold down,

    Townsman of a stiller town.

He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery on the slope of Mount Pocumtuck, not far from the woods where he played near Potters Shack.

Every August the family has an annual remembrance to raise scholarship money and collect gift cards for the veterans at the VA Hospital in Leeds. It’s become a celebration, and this year’s is at Camp Apex on Aug. 24.

Everyone’s invited. Call Kathy at 774-7300 or Allison at 413-265-9137 for details.

Last week’s item regarding Mark Chmura’s comparison between the crowds at Mountaineer Stadium in West Virginia and the good citizens of Conway prompted an amusing response from Jimmy Recore, the longtime girls assistant track coach at Frontier Regional.

“I have always been fascinated by the other three Frontier towns’ take on Conwayians,” wrote Recore, who lives in Conway. “The land is a little more rugged up here, but otherwise the only difference is a line on a map someone made years ago. My Sunday was just like the Sunday of most others in the rest of the Frontier district. Up early, I let my chickens out, worked in my garden and shot my recurve bow. After hitting Baker’s Store for coffee and gossip I mowed the lawn, scouted for deer in our local woods and threw my tomahawk to relax before the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen. Hillbillies. Really?”

STREAKING SOX: Forty years ago Red Sox fans loved their underpaid band of potbellied sluggers and hated their entitled pinstriped foes in the Bronx. The Yankees won the AL East four times from 1976-80 while the Red Sox won 97, 99 and 91 games in that span without going to the playoffs.

Now it’s role reversal and Yankee fans are squawking their team will be forced into a one-game playoff despite 95 or so wins. Hey, at least they get the chance to advance, unlike the Red Sox who couldn’t fall back on a wild card in those days. It wasn’t instituted until 1994.

The Red Sox have the highest payroll in baseball, and what they haven’t signed, GM Dave Dombrowski has acquired with Bill Belichick fairy dust sprinkled on top. Last year it was Eduardo Nunez, this year it’s Steve Pearce’s five home runs and .317 average and Nathan Eovaldi’s 15 shutout innings through two starts.

Moreover, Dombrowski’s trade for Chris Sale looks like highway robbery. Sale, who comes off the disabled list Sunday, is 28-12 in Boston. The player the White Sox got in return, Yoan Moncada, is batting .218 with a league-leading 163 strikeouts.

Alex Cora’s team is cruising on all cylinders. His top three hitters in the lineup — Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez — are all in the AL’s top 10 in batting average. The team has power, pitching and most surprising, their 90 stolen bases is double the Yankees’ 45. Indeed, New York is playing the brand of station-to-station baseball that was once a Boston trademark.

Best of all, Cora showed fans he’s not an analytic android by getting ejected during the Yankees series. The guy has a heart.

Red Sox fans fear the streak is too hot to last and remember last year’s 22-game win streak by the Indians was all for naught when they lost to Joe Girardi’s Yankees in the ALDS.

SQUIBBERS: Outside Adams Donuts this week, 92-year-old Herb Hohengasser said he’d bought new ski boots at the Stratton Mountain Ski Shop so he can give Nancy Yankowski lessons at Berkshire East this winter. … Memo to all sports show hosts: Let’s leave Urban Meyer to Dr. Laura and get back to talking college football. … “I’m not saying analytics and shifts don’t work, but if (Kevin) Pillar’s playing the usual straightaway center field that’s an easy catch,” said Blue Jays broadcaster Ben Wagner on Wednesday. …  Seven teams are contending for the two NL wild card spots, including the Nationals, who are coming out of their season-long slumber. … Dennis Eckersley wasn’t the first to call Mookie Betts the next Willie Mays. That comparison was made by Pablo Sandoval his first year with the Red Sox. … The Indians come to town for four games a week from Monday, a possible ALCS preview. … Twenty-eight years ago this month Lou Gorman traded future Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell to Houston for Larry Andersen. The right-handed reliever’s now a color analyst in Philadelphia, where he asks pithy questions like: “Why does everyone stand up and sing ‘Take me out to the ballgame’ when they’re already here?”