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Nick Cafardo: One of the Good Guys

I am a Red Sox fan. I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but I do remember when it happened. It was a snowy February day in 1978, maybe a day off from school during the Blizzard of ’78. I flipped through a few of our limited available channels and chanced upon the beginning of a Red Sox Grapefruit League game (spring training in Florida). I’m pretty sure the Red Sox were playing the Cincinnati Reds at the time. It was sunny and colorful and, for lack of a better term, optimistic. I was hooked and, later that year, indoctrinated into official Sox lore with Bucky Dent’s round-tripper into the screen on October 2nd.

I recall reading an article that summer titled Five Who Made a Difference documenting the influence of Red Sox newcomers Dennis Eckersley, Jack Brohamer, Jerry Remy, and two others from a pool of I think Mike Torrez, Frank Duffy, Bob Bailey, Fred Kendall or Jim Wright.

I remember being completely enchanted by an interview in Boston Magazine with Dennis Eckersley, and was especially intrigued by the fact that Eck drove a Jeep CJ.

And somewhere in there, with all of the proverbial journalistic stars aligning, Peter Gammons’ mission at the Boston Globe had evolved into what became his weekly Baseball Notes column.

I read the Gammons column every Sunday. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the paper every week.

Eventually, Gammons graduated to the national stage and, although he would still sneak in an occasional column, there was clearly a difference in the style of those who were assigned to replace him. To read the Baseball Notes column by Gammons, you were like a fly on the wall in Sox General Manager Haywood Sullivan’s, and later Lou Gorman’s office, but also the offices of the Yankees’ George Steinbrenner, Hal Peters of the Orioles, and Buzzie Bavasi of the California Angels.

Dan Shaughnessy began to carve out a legacy of his own taking over the Sunday Notes column when Gammons left with references to “Lou ‘Dinner Bell’ Gorman having to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’, Gorman asking the media where the Sox would possibly play Willie McGee and finally, Gorman declaring in the wake of media criticism, “The sun will rise, the sun will set, and I’ll have lunch.”

Steve Fainaru replaced Shaughnessy and was soon followed by Gordon Edes. The Globe’s Sunday Baseball Notes column had become a bit like the Sox shortstop position following the departure of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004. It was occupied by some really talented people, but none of them could ever be Nomar.

And then Nick Cafardo began writing the Sunday Baseball Notes column for the Globe. Although I was skeptical initially, Cafardo eventually managed to create his own path with knowledge, passion, and style.

Nick Cafardo was a professional. In contemporary Sox comparison, Gammons was the smooth swinging, naturally talented Andrew Benintendi while Shaughnessy was more the outspoken middle-of-the-fracas Dustin Pedroia. Cafardo, on the other hand, was more like what J.D. Martinez showed us last year in the batter’s box. The quiet production was always there with little controversy. He was committed, authentic, hard-working, and it was clear that the man loved his job.

I met Nick Carfardo while working as a bellman at the Marriott Copley during the early 1990s. Nick had just started to write for the Boston Globe, and the discerning reader that I was, his ability to succeed in that capacity was still yet to be determined. Just as people have described him this past week, Nick was about as gracious as a person could be, almost always willing to engage in informed discussion. To Cafardo, everyone’s opinion and/or viewpoint deserved consideration and mattered. A baseball fan was a baseball fan to Cafardo, whether that person was a bartender in Boston or a banker in Beverly Hills. I got a sense from his wife that day at the hotel that she was extremely proud of Nick, not because he had risen to the point where he was recognized by a random Boston bellman, but because she knew how much it really meant for her husband to be able to cover baseball for his hometown Boston Globe.

At the time, I was conflicted about the direction of my own professional future. I told Nick that I was an aspiring writer, but was also considering a career as a teacher. In the same balanced manner that he wrote the Baseball Notes column, Nick offered me straightforward encouragement, giving me the feeling that there are many, many paths up the so-called mountain, but to always have confidence that you end up exactly where you are supposed to be, which is exactly where Nick Cafardo was when he left us last week – at the ballpark.

Exactly where he was supposed to be.

Nick Cafardo, nationally recognized baseball writer, passed away on Thursday, February 21 at the age of 62. He was in Fort Myers, Florida covering Red Sox spring training at JetBlue Park.