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Johnny Mac: 'How do you put this into words?'

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published October 23. 2013 4:00AM
Charles Krupa/AP Photo
East Lyme's John McDonald, right, advises Red Sox rookie infielder Xander Bogaerts during a workout at Fenway Park on Tuesday, a day before the start of the 2013 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

First, the big news: Yes, John McDonald has grown a beard. And what are a few specks of gray, really, in the face of camaraderie?

"My wife says it's looking pretty good, too," Johnny Mac was saying the other night through a hoarse voice, the product of a lingering cold and the champagne celebration of a lifetime, the one that that ran like a current from Saturday night into the euphoria of Sunday morning.

How happy, indeed, the news: A piece of East Lyme — actually, its favorite son — is going to the World Series.

"How do you put this into words? Honestly, I can't," Johnny Mac was saying from the calmer, quieter climate of his home in Scituate, Mass., maybe 45 minutes from where the 2013 World Series commences tonight.

"You play baseball your whole life and you get to go to the World Series with your uniform on?" Johnny Mac said. "I can't wait for it to start."

McDonald was not on the active roster for the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. But he was there in the dugout, the eyes and ears of the place, sitting there Saturday night next to David Ross. They were on Terry Francona's old haunt, the makeshift bench thing, watching Shane Victorino's fly ball rocket into the night, a little white projectile on John McDonald's own rainbow.

And then there was McDonald on the field after the game in the pile. The wife and kids came along later. If you saw Dustin Pedroia's postgame interview on Fox, you saw Maura and the kids in the background. On the Fenway lawn. A family photo for the McDonalds. And then this nomadic summer, all the moving from spring training in Arizona and then to Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Philadelphia, became mere prologue for the greatest chapter and verse of them all.

"You don't want a night like that to end,' McDonald said. "The guys just wanted to enjoy being around each other. Our families were on the field, the kids were in the locker room. A big family."

McDonald calls himself the Red Sox "insurance policy," there in case of injury to a teammate. Meanwhile, there is mentoring. His pregame work is ground balls with, among others, Xander Boegarts, 21. Johnny Mac might have cleats older than Bogaerts, who was born in 1992, the year Johnny Mac graduated high school.

Bogaerts was in Pampers 20 years ago this past summer when Johnny Mac won the Zone for Niantic American Legion, the ultimate Johnny Mac play, crackerjack and instinctive. He scored from second base on an infield hit in the bottom of the ninth of the clinching game. Johnny Mac never stopped running, despite an innocuous little chopper. Scored standing, too, spiking his helmet as if he'd just scored a touchdown, punctuating his best baseball moment, until his next one.

Now 20 years have passed. Baseball owes Johnny Mac nothing. A 14-year career, unwavering respect of his peers who call him "Pro."

And then came the call from Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro last month, the call that would change Johnny Mac's life. He was going to Boston. The team in contention. The chance — maybe, finally — to compete for the championship.

The pixie dust rained on him Saturday night, maybe even sprinkled from his late father, Jack, the man who taught him how to play baseball. Jack McDonald was a great Yankee fan. But where others might see irony in this story, Jack's son sees symmetry.

"The guys on this team play the game the way my dad taught me to play it," Johnny Mac said. "(Saturday) night, Dustin Pedroia was on the bench at 7 o'clock for an 8 o'clock game. My dad would have loved watching this team. I think about him the whole time. I was on the field in the last inning of the series against the Yankees (late September in Fenway). I caught the last out in the game that eliminated them from the playoffs. He would have been so happy for me."

The World Series starts tonight at Fenway. East Lyme's in the house. Johnny Mac will be calmer, most likely, than he was Saturday night.

"I'd never been so nervous before a game. Maybe nervous is the wrong word," he said. "Maybe excited. I never wanted to win a game as badly as I did (Saturday) night. We had to wait out the day to 8 o'clock. I'll never forget the anthem by the Dropkick Murphys. I'll never forget the whole night."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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