Living the Impossible Dream
August 31, 2017
Gentleman Jim: The Boston Red Sox welcomed the 1967 team to Fenway Park Aug. 16 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Impossible Dream season. Photo by Matt Ganski
— Dr. Jim Lonborg coyly stepped into the media room at Fenway Park Aug. 16, his 6-foot-5-inch stature betraying the subtlety in which he moved.
He was the first of his friends to arrive and within seconds, he was swarmed by TV, radio and newspaper reporters looking for their perfect shot and quote. With a friendly smile and relaxed attitude, the man Bostonions know as "Gentleman Jim" took questions from the dozens of reporters as they shoved tape recorders and cameras in his face.
It was the start of a reunion for Dr. Lonborg, who visited the park that day in honor of a 50th anniversary celebration of the 1967 Boston Red Sox team, known as the Impossible Dream season.
"The Impossible Dream season was so memorable because we started out with 100-1 odds to win the pennant after finishing up the 1966 season in ninth place in the American League," said Dr. Lonborg, 75.
The team shocked the sports world — and themselves — by winning the American League pennant and facing the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. The Red Sox lost in a seven-game series, but the memories of their rise from the bottom to the top of Major League Baseball remain.
Dr. Lonborg spent 15 years in Major League Baseball, pitching for the Red Sox from 1965-71 before moving on to the Milwaukee Brewers and ending his career with the Philadelphia Phillies. He won the American League Cy Young Award in 1967, led the American league in strikeouts that year and is now a member of the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Wearing an ivory Red Sox jersey provided by the team, Dr. Lonborg reunited with old pals Carl Yastrzemski and Hawk Harrelson, along with more than 15 other players from that year, for a pre-game ceremony on the field.
National and local star: Dr. Jim Lonborg, left, is interviewed by a TV station Aug. 16 at Fenway Park.
2017 is a special year for Dr. Lonborg and the culmination of two of his life's passions. He's not only celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Impossible Dream season — Dr. Lonborg also retired after practicing dentistry for 34 years.
You see, baseball was only the first act of Dr. Lonborg's career. Within a year of throwing 90-mile-per-hour fastballs, Dr. Lonborg was preparing to use his hands to work in millimeters of space.
In 1980, at age 38, Dr. Lonborg said his arm wore out so with a wife and five children at the time — the sixth would come later — he enrolled in Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. Graduating in 1983, Dr. Lonborg would go on to practice dentistry for 34 years before retiring in July.
Born in San Luis Obispo, California, in 1942, Dr. Lonborg played Little League baseball and in high school before he enrolled in Stanford University as a pre-med student, thinking he wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon.
Vintage: Dr. Lonborg's baseball card when he pitched for the Red Sox.
"Mother Nature took over and I developed a good fastball and was signed by the Red Sox in 1965," Dr. Lonborg said.
After ending his baseball career, Dr. Lonborg and his wife, Rosemary, drove up to Vermont amid discussions of what he would do next.
"During the course of the drive, she casually mentioned, 'Why don't you become a dentist? You've always looked good in a uniform and felt good about health care,'" Dr. Lonborg recalled.
And, simple as that, he took her advice and enrolled in dental school, propelling him into the second act of his career, one that wasn't any less exciting than the first.
"The thing I loved the most about dentistry was being able to incorporate the science and the engineering of clinical work into the health care setting that provided compassionate treatment for all my patients," Dr. Lonborg said. "I looked forward to going to work every day. It was like being a starting pitcher every day and going to the ballpark."
Dr. Lonborg may have left the practice of dentistry behind but he still gets to enjoy his first pastime every so often. He lives about 25 miles from Fenway Park and once a month or so, Dr. Lonborg will take in a game and attend meet and greets with VIPs or corporate groups.
The third act of his life — retirement — will include golf, traveling, gardening and spending time with his wife, six children and nine grandchildren. Many were in attendance at the Aug. 16 game, waving a banner that said, "We love you Gentleman Jim," from the stands.
As he took the field during the pre-game ceremony, "Dr. Jim Lonborg" flashed across the jumbo tron, letting the crowd know that for Gentleman Jim, life after baseball included dentistry.