The Frontstretch: Gentlemen, Start Your Engines...and Play Ball! by Amy Henderson -- Thursday April 13, 2006

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Gentlemen, Start Your Engines...and Play Ball!

Second Fiddle: Around the Busch and Craftsman Truck Series · Amy Henderson · Thursday April 13, 2006


The National Anthem ends and the crowd waits expectantly for the words they’ve been waiting for: "Play Ball!" Hang on, hang on. This is a racing column, not a baseball column. Let me try that again. The National Anthem ends and the crowd waits expectantly for the words they’ve been waiting for: "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!"

When the Craftsman Truck Series heads to Mansfield next month, fans will have to forgive one of the entrants if the first words that go through his head as the last strains of music fade are, indeed, "Play Ball!" It was announced earlier this week that the entry for Gene Christensen’s Green Light Racing will have a name on it that is familiar to millions-even though he has not yet taken a single green flag in a NASCAR national series. That’s because this Craftsman Truck Series rookie played left field for the Boston Red Sox for twelve seasons, appearing on the roster for a World Series. At 43 years of age, Mike Greenwell is once again a rookie, and just like in baseball, he’ll have some pretty tough acts to follow.

Greenwell came up with the Red Sox in late 1986, following in the footsteps of great Sox left fielders Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, and Ted Williams-all among the sport’s elite. He adjusted well to playing in Boston and was a staple of the team for several years. He was not always the fastest man on the team, not always the best hitter. But what made him successful and popular in baseball are also part of the reason he’s risen through the racing ranks. A career .303-hitter, Greenwell was a smart ballplayer. He knew when to hold and when to run, when to swing for the fences and when a well-timed single would, in the long run, be more beneficial to a winning effort. Those traits should serve Greenwell in his second career-they’re precisely what make the best races.

Greenwell isn’t young, and he has a long road ahead of him. He’ll only attempt four races this season, and beyond that, who knows? Green Light Racing isn’t one of the top-funded teams in the series, but they were in need of a driver after Bobby Hamilton Jr. left to fill his father’s seat while he battles cancer. Greenwell, who has raced late models since 1999, was happy to help out. He is nicknamed "Gator" because he reeled one in-on purpose-while fishing in Florida one year during spring training in full view of his manager. He was told in no uncertain terms to show up at the ballpark with all ten fingers. Which, to the relief of everyone, he did. Wrestling reptiles has given way to wrestling racecars, but if Greenwell can race strong, he should earn a few fans on his personality and willingness to work and work herder to succeed. He’s slated to run at New Hampshire International Speedway in September, a good choice because he’s sure to draw cheers in the heart of Red Sox Nation. "It’s always been a dream of mine to come back and race NASCAR at New Hampshire," Greenwell said.

I loved those Red Sox Teams of the late 1980’s and early’90’s. Never the best team on paper, they led fans to the brink before giving way, never without a fight, to teams that just had-well, more. Seeing Greenwell’s name on the NASCAR roster brought back all kinds of memories of a team that never seemed to know-or care-that they were an underdog. If Mike Greenwell races like his Red Sox played, he’ll do just fine.

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Contact Amy Henderson

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