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In Scottsdale, Mesa, Phoenix and Tucson, in Palm Springs and San Diego—towns where the Boston Red Sox have played exhibitions this spring—the men who announce the lineups over the public address systems have been faced with the problem of pronouncing Yastrzemski. It is not an easy name to pronounce, but anyone who has mastered Kluszewski and Mazeroski should be able to make it. It has three syllables, accent on the second. Say Yuh-strem-skee. It is a name worth learning, for Carl Yastrzemski, a rookie with the Red Sox, is going to be a star.
Yastrzemski will play left field for the Red Sox this season. No one has come out and told him this, and for that matter his name isn't even on the roster, but it is typical of his quiet confidence that he is already thinking about housing in Boston this summer for his wife and infant daughter. Carl's father and mother share this confidence. Carl Sr. has calculated that it will take him about six hours to drive from his home on eastern Long Island to Fenway Park in Boston. Hattie Yastrzemski, looking at the Red Sox schedule, moaned when she discovered that the Sox will be in Kansas City in late June, for it means that Carl will miss his brother Richard's high school graduation in Bridgehampton.
The Yastrzemskis have a right to feel confident. Signed to a generous $100,000 bonus two years ago, Carl hit .377 at Raleigh in 1959 to lead the Carolina League by 54 points. Last year with Minneapolis, a Triple-A team, Carl hit .339, losing out on the American Association batting title in the final days of the season. Now, with Boston's greatest hero, Ted Williams, in retirement, left field at Fenway Park awaits him.
It is inevitable that Yastrzemski will be compared to Williams. Where Williams wore No. 9 for two decades, the Boston management has pointedly given Yastrzemski No. 8. Both men hit left-handed. There is no question that Yastrzemski, who has a good arm and can run quite fast, will be a better left fielder than Williams was. But it would be folly—and unfair to Yastrzemski—to expect him to hit like Williams. He is not nearly as big as Williams—only 5 feet 11 inches and 175 pounds—and though his strong arms and wrists give him some power he is not a pull hitter. Many of his good drives go straight to center field for outs.
But the Red Sox—and Ted Williams, who spent spring training with the team as a batting coach—would not dream of changing Yastrzemski's style. His swing is smooth, and the low line drives he hits are marvelous to see. Other players stop what they are doing to watch him take batting practice, the ultimate tribute.
"All Ted says to me is, 'Be quick,' and, 'Study the pitcher,'" Yastrzemski said recently. "I'll pass Ted going into the shower and he'll say, 'Be quick, be quick.' That's all."
Carl Yastrzemski, at 21, is not handsome, but his black hair, dark piercing eyes and bony nose give his face an alert, eager look. He is a farm boy. His father, only 43, grows potatoes on a 60-acre farm in Bridge-hampton. In batting practice recently, after Carl laced two straight pitches to right field, a teammate sighed, "Man, those potato-picking wrists." Carl said nothing but later explained that he didn't actually pick potatoes. "I moved irrigation pipes and helped store bushel baskets of potatoes," he said.
It was hardly an accident that Carl became a ballplayer. His parents have always been crazy about the game. Carl Sr., a wiry little man with a leathery, weathered face, was a good semipro infielder, a hero in the summer leagues on Long Island. Hattie Yastrzemski, nee Skonieczny, watched every game and kept a scrap-book. When young Carl was 3 his father gave him a bat, which he dragged around behind him wherever he went. A photograph in the family album shows Carl at 4 being taught the proper batting stance by his father, who is dressed in a baseball uniform. Carl remembers long summer evenings, chores finished, supper over, playing catch with his father.
"He taught me the fundamentals," says Carl. "He told me only to swing at good pitches. But about the time I became a sophomore in high school he stopped. And that probably helped me more than anything. Sometimes you have to work things out for yourself."
When he was old enough Carl, too, played in the summer leagues, several times on the same team with his father. One year they had a family team, five Yastrzemskis and four Skoniecznys. Carl played shortstop, his father second base; in one game they hit back-to-back home runs. One summer a league in which Carl was playing folded. So that he could play, the Yastrzemskis drove him to another league 50 miles away every Tuesday and Saturday evening, never returning before midnight.