Jim Rice Forever His Hero
Fan still grateful for slugger’s quick-thinking aid 27 years later
By Dan DugganTuesday, January 20, 2009
Jim Rice evokes many different kinds of memories.
One generation of Red Sox [team stats] fans remember the 382 career home runs and the MVP season in 1978. A younger sect of Sox followers may know him primarily as a NESN studio analyst. Most recently, Rice became a Hall of Famer, after he secured 76.4 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s votes last week.
But even given all of these roles, the 55-year-old has found one moment that has resonated as much as any home run he ever smashed over the Green Monster.
On Aug. 7, 1982, four-year-old Jonathan Keane of Greenland, N.H., was sitting with his father, Tom, in the second row along the first base line at Fenway Park [map] when he was struck in the left temple by a foul ball of the bat of Red Sox first baseman Dave Stapleton. Rice sprung from the dugout, lifted the bloodied boy into his arms and raced him through the clubhouse to an ambulance.
“There’s a big reaction from that,” Rice said. “People always say, ‘What happened to the kid?’ ”
The “kid” is now 31 and living in Raleigh, N.C., where he works for an Internet company. While Keane suffered a fractured skull and was hospitalized for five days, he had no lasting effects from the incident. For that, he thanks Rice’s quick reaction.
“What he did saved my life,” Keane said. “In those types of situations, most people freeze. He was really quick to react. That’s heroic in my eyes.”
Rice downplays his response as something he’d like to think others would do if his children were in the same situation.
“I had two kids at the time. It was just a reaction,” Rice said. “It wasn’t anything where you could sit there and plan or anything like that. I knew doctors were in the ballpark. Why not pick the kid up and bring him in the clubhouse where he could have medical attention?”
Rice is reminded of the moment every time he’s at Fenway.
“That picture is in a collage upstairs (in Fenway Park). When I go upstairs, I see that picture,” Rice said. “When I come to Fenway Park, every time I look at the park . . . that’s the thing I think about the most.”
Keane was too young to have vivid memories of the day, but a small scar on his forehead serves as a reminder of his injuries and how Rice responded. With that in mind, the Keane family was thrilled to see Rice finally get voted into the Hall.
“I think it’s about time,” Keane said. “My whole family was hoping he would get in every year and we never knew if it would happen. We’re really happy that it did.”
Rice fondly recalled a letter Keane sent eight years ago after he graduated from North Carolina State, but aside from that the two haven’t had much contact. But that one moment 27 years ago was all Keane needed to form his opinion of Rice.
“I think what he did speaks volumes about his character,” Keane said. “He really did save my life. There’s no question about it.”