Today marks Patriots’ Day – the third Monday in April (not to be confused with Patriot Day which commemorates 9/11). Traditionally, the Red Sox play at home at 11am, and the Boston Marathon is run. It was actually on this date – April 19 – in 1775 – that the “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired – the first shots of the American Revolution. On the night before, British troops – who controlled Boston – set out from Boston Harbor on a mission to seize weapons in the nearby towns of Lexington and Concord. Their orders included arresting Patriot leaders – most notably Sam Adams and John Hancock – who were hiding in the countryside and who would face execution if captured.
The Patriots long anticipated such a move. A spy network called the “Sons of Liberty” watched the harbor from both in Boston and the surrounding hills for signs of British action. In the event that British forces moved – Patriot spies would warn “Minute Men” in the outlying areas – they were to be ready in moments notice to repel the “redcoats” – British troops. The only question was whether the British would be ferried across the Charles River then begin their march or set out on foot down Boston “neck” – a much longer route that would give the Patriots more time.
A signal was set up from the tower of Boston’s North Church where lanterns would be hung by the sexton, Robert Newman depending on troops movements. In the words of Longfellow’s famous poem – “One if by land and two if by sea, and I on the opposite shore shall be – ready to ride and spread the alarm to every Middlesex village and farm.” The “I” on the opposite shore would be Paul Revere who became famous for the “midnight ride” – in the earliest hours of April 19.
You might not know that Revere never completed his ride. He rode with Billy Dawes, and together they reached Lexington to raise the alarm in that town and warn Adams and Hancock. They were met by Dr. Sam Prescott en route to Concord. They were stopped by a British patrol and Revere and Dawes were detained. Prescott escaped and rode on to Concord. As daylight broke, Hancock and Adams were nowhere to be found – but the Minute Men were. By day’s end the British had 73 dead and 174 wounded – there was no turning back on the road to the American Independence.
Here are some other things you may not have known – these related to baseball – and the city of Boston.
The first is about Ted Williams – a Boston Red Sox legend from 1939 to 1960. Over those years Williams hit .344 with 521HR. But Williams didn’t play from 1943-45 – losing those years at age 24,25,26 to serve in WWII. Then at age 33-34 he again left the game, recalled this time to serve in the Korean War. In the years after Korea – he batted .345, .356, .345 and .388 – so the lost five years total were at the peak of his game – which may have added 1000 hits and 150-200 HR to his Hall of Fame stats. He might even have passed Babe Ruth who held the HR record of 714 until Hank Aaron broke that record in 1974 (for the Braves who once played in – Boston- before eventually moving to Atlanta).
What those years held for Williams in baseball we can only imagine. What we do know is that Williams – like Patriots before him – answered the call to give up everything to fight for his country. While he didn’t see combat in WWII, Williams flew 39 combat missions against Korean and Chinese targets in that war. He crash-landed during one mission, his plane in flames and often took enemy fire.
Another thing casual fans may not know concerns Babe Ruth. Before he became one of the best hitters in history and an all-time great Yankee – he was a pitcher – for the Boston Red Sox. And not just a guy who used to pitch! With the Red Sox he was 89-46 with a 2.19 ERA, winning 65 games from 1915-1917. In the 1918 World Series he was 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings – a World Series played partly in Boston, the same year the Spanish flu pandemic upended life in that city – one of the first to see a wave. It swept the globe as World War I came to an end. While Williams may have gained on Ruth, Ruth too lost years as a hitter – while pitching for the Red Sox – life’s full of what-ifs!
That’s a lot to think about this Patriots’ Day! Hopefully, you’ll get a chance to have a cigar, maybe with a Sam Adams or two. Remember the Patriots across the decades who made it all happen – and all that America’s been through since. We appreciate life’s simple enjoyments – like baseball, a beer and a cigar – things that “mark the time….and reminds us of all that once was good and could be good again.”