Theo Epstein and Me

Theo Epstein and Bill Janovitz at Hot Stove Cool Music. Photo by Steve Latham Photography.

At some point in a guy’s life, he begins to realize that professional athletes are younger than he is. The guy goes from seemingly a whole lifetime of looking up to these “men” as heroes to a brief way-station where he is more or less the same age as them. That overlap is all too brief, as the next step is the one that makes the guy feel old. He can now no longer reasonably look up to baseball, football, and basketball players as some sort of heroic ideal to aspire to. I got hip to this at a pretty young age. I realized I could never be a good athlete, but I could still hope to be a rock star. They continued to get older. I mean, as long as the Stones kept going, I could always see that I had another 20 years to catch up to them.

But athletes? No way. Most dudes realize by the time they’re 30 that the professional players are younger than they are. Dudes have to get on with their lives. We can still root for these kids in the local laundry, but there’s no longer any real looking up to them.

At about the age that I made my calculation and move from a baseball glove to a Les Paul guitar, many aspiring jocks start considering majoring in sports management as an alternative to the dreams of being sports heroes. The few best and the brightest of the aspirers may eventually rise to the ranks of management or marketing professional teams. Theo Epstein is among the best of the best and the brightest of the brightest.

Being in a fairly well-known band, it was always a trip to find out some actor, athlete, or coach was a fan. Those occasions were rare, but fun. When Theo was brought on as general manager of the Red Sox, he was interviewed for the Globe that first year, and he mentioned Buffalo Tom as his favorite local band (I believe he was offered Aerosmith as a choice; we are often up against those guys, whoever they are, for the same honors). Now, this guy, just named GM of his home team — the team that I still had a hard time not looking up to as “men” while my own self-image was that of a boy — was a mere boy himself. Are you kidding me? Now the general managers of these teams are a decade younger than us? When did that happen?

2003 is when it happened.

I was already about a year or two in as one of the early organizers of the Hot Stove Cool Music benefit that was founded by then-Herald writer Jeff Horrigan, artist manager Michael Creamer, Kay Hanley, and the legendary Peter Gammons, who had long been a supporter of lesser-known musical acts. Theo was like a gift from heaven for us: a GM who was not only a young music fan, but one who actually can play guitar and was interested in being a part of our little show. We couldn’t imagine Dan Duquette in that role.

Needless to say, over the next decade, the show grew leaps and bounds by his presence on stage. As with all things associated with the Red Sox around here, the visibility of our event grew because of the work he did with the team and the new ownership, molding the team’s new image and, more importantly, winning two World Series Championships after 86 … well, you know that story. The beneficiaries of Hot Stove Cool Music were now those of the Foundation to Be Named Later, Theo and Paul Epstein’s charitable organization under the umbrella of the Red Sox Foundation. FTBNL contributes more than $400,000 annually to local charities. The gorilla suit alone raked in $11,000 at one of our between-sets auctions, helmed by the most talented auctioneer I have ever seen, Mike O’Malley. Theo, rock guitar player, GM of two WS championship teams, had also once snuck out of Fenway in a gorilla suit to avoid the media. Did I already say he was a gift to the event? While I slid away from my dreams of rock stardom into the more humble career of real estate, Theo became more of a rock star around here than any of us.

I knew no 20-somethings who had it together like Theo. Even at that age was already brilliant and had poise, professionalism, a charitable nature, and a cutting and self-deprecating sense of humor. The ad he took out and the column Theo published in the Globe last week tell you much about his personality. Though I am eight years older, I feel like he is the adult in the room. I only got to hang out with him a few times a year, but I am — all of us at Hot Stove are — going to miss him deeply. When else am I going to get to hear expert inside-baseball running commentary and insight into trades while I watch a Sox game? Watching a baseball game with the GM of the team offering unrestrained comments — how much would fans pay for that priviledge? Plenty, according to our auction results.

I get the feeling, though, that I am going to see him more after he leaves for Chicago. At least there he’ll be able to leave the house without Joey from Meffid running out of a Dunkin’ Donuts yelling, “Why’d you sign that bum, Lackey?!”

Hot Stove Cool Music continues in January. Artists and other details to be announced soon.