CIVIC PLAZA--Ten years ago, on October 26, 2004, Chester Nez stood here on Civic Plaza. We were in the middle of the Bush/Kerry presidential campaign and John Kerry needed something of a boost. The stage at the north end of Civic Plaza was crowded with VIP’s trying to lend Kerry a hand. I took out my vintage cell phone and tried to capture the moment.
Senator Jeff Bingaman was at the microphone ready to do the introduction of the presidential candidate. But before he did, he introduced the only non-politician on the stage: The Navajo Code-Talker Chester Nez. Mr. Nez raised both arms as he accepted the applause of the crowd.
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry stood right next to him. But Chester Nez and John Kerry shared something else that evening besides campaign politics: they both had an interest in the Boston Red Sox. At the very time of the rally in Albuquerque, the Red Sox were in St. Louis playing the third game of the World Series against the Cardinals. The Red Sox were already ahead of the Cardinals two games to zero going into Tuesday night’s contest. Within slightly more than 24 hours Boston would win two more and become the World Champions of baseball for the first time since 1918.
What does this have to do with Chester Nez? The story begins in 1919, when the Boston team sold the Bambino, star player Babe Ruth, to the New York Yankees. It is said that the money was used to finance a Broadway production of "No, No Nanette." Boston, which had been World Series champions five times up to that point, did not win it again. Decades passed. Fans despaired. Many fans lived and died without ever seeing the championship return to Boston. It became known as “The Curse of the Bambino.”
Then early in the 2004 season retired Marine Corps major David Flores had brought Chester Nez to Boston to talk about his time as a Code-Talker to high school kids and Harvard University students. The Red Sox found out about it and invited Chester to throw out the first pitch at an upcoming game. A 2004 Associated Press article described what happened:
With his medicine bag full of corn powder dangling from his left hand, Nez threw a right-handed strike down the middle as the ceremonial first pitch before the Red Sox played Toronto on April 10.
Nez stayed on the mound, faced east, took out some corn powder and said a blessing for the team.
"First, I did the blessing for all the spectators who were there," said Nez, one of only five living Code Talkers who received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Bush in 2001. "Then I said a blessing for the Red Sox to do well and keep winning their games from then on."
The Red Sox won seven of their next nine games. By October, they had made it to the American League Championship Series. But they fell behind the hated New York Yankees 3-0 in the first three games. The Red Sox called up Chester again.
He stood in the front yard of his Albuquerque home, faced east towards Fenway Park, took out his leather bag of corn powder, and blessed the Red Sox one more time. The team did not lose another game that year. Boston won the last four games against the Yankees to make it to the World Series. Then they went on to defeat St. Louis 4-0 in the World Series to finally bring home the championship to Bean Town after a drought of 86 years.
No wonder John Kerry wanted Chester Nez on the stage with him. I covered that rally for my old blog, Albloggerque. Here is what I wrote:
Now the Kerry campaign has him on stage with JK. And last night in Albuquerque's Civic Plaza there he was extracting corn pollen from a little leather bag and letting it sift into the air in all 4 directions. The thousands of people at the rally were hushed during the brief ceremony...including Yours Truly, Johnny_Mango.
However Chester Nez, Hero of the War in the Pacific and the Exorcist of Fenway Park, was not able to reverse the close loss of New Mexico Kerry was to suffer in the November election.