Archive for Sunday, October 24, 2004

Lifelong fan won’t share in Red Sox joy

October 24, 2004


Next week we'll talk about the election. I have some things to say about it -- mostly about why it has been such a disappointment and why it's our fault, not only President Bush's and John Kerry's -- but all that can wait. It will have to.

Because I have in my hand a tidy little volume, well-loved, well-read, well-worn. It is called "The Red Sox Reader," and I have long regarded it as one of my favorite books. Two years ago, on my dad's birthday in July, I gave him a copy. I hope you will permit me to quote myself, or at least to quote my inscription:

Not in your lifetime. Nor mine.

I know now what I could not have known then, what I could not bear to have thought about then, that Dad would have lived a long and full life, 79 years, and still not once have seen the Red Sox win the World Series. This is not a big thing, I say to myself as I type this, and in my head I know that is true. But if it is not a big thing, then why are the tears dripping down my face?

I didn't come in early to write a reminiscence about fathers playing catch with their sons across the generations, because Dad was a polio victim, and his oldest son was a klutz who cultivated a love for baseball but never much skill in it. And I am not going to tell you that, in our house, we talked about baseball because we couldn't talk about anything else. We could. We just didn't want to.

So bad did it get that in 1967, which is the year the Red Sox defied 100-to-1 odds to win the pennant (only to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh game), Dad imposed a dinner-table rule. We were not allowed to talk about the Red Sox. Not allowed to. This made for a very awkward period in our lives. What, after all, were we supposed to talk about, in that autumn that still stands out as the most vivid in all of our lives? President Johnson's meeting with Ayub Khan?

That didn't last very long. It couldn't. I remember well the way we used to talk about the Olde Towne Team, in those years when pennant fever gripped the Hub, and how we had our own views on whether Dalton Jones or Joe Foy ought to be at third and our explanations for why, after so many miserable and mediocre years, Carl Yastrzemski suddenly lit the American League and our lives afire.

There is, in fact, only one time I can remember when all that Red Sox stuff came in handy. My little sister defied our expectations and maybe our hopes and grew into a lovely young lady, one of those willowy women who in their college summers ask businessmen what they would like to drink before ordering their entrees, and one noontime in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace she overheard some customers in her restaurant talking about the Red Sox of 1967, a season during which she was 4 years old. "Excuse me, gentlemen," she said, "but the second baseman that year was Mike Andrews."

So by now you know that I can't think of my childhood without thinking about the Red Sox, and that, now that the Red Sox are in the World Series, I can't think about anything but my dad, who died not quite seven weeks ago. You probably have heard about the Red Sox and their dance with destiny, or rather how that dance is always interrupted somehow, maybe by the Yankees, maybe by the National League champions, maybe by the curse of Babe Ruth, maybe by the poetry and mystery and awful beauty of life itself. All of these remembrances have to note that the Bostons have not won the World Series in 86 years.

Last summer, when he was dying, my little sister and I took Dad to what we knew was his last game at Fenway Park. He was so frail, his movement so slow, that we knew we had to get him there by 5 to be sure he could be seated for the first pitch at 7:05. As we sat there on the third-base line, I remembered the first time he took me there, on June 26, 1962. I thought I was old then. I was 8. I thought he was old then. He was 36. We both seem impossibly young, now that I am thinking about that landmark in my life, and the night seems impossibly beautiful, and probably it was -- for how could it have been anything else? I could not know then what life would hold, the sadnesses and disappointments, many of them even deeper than the Red Sox finish that year (they lost 84 games, about the same number my other team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, lost in 2004). Nor could I know yet of the joys and triumphs, though few of them more remarkable than Earl Wilson's no-hitter that June night. I couldn't know any of that. But now, a father myself, I know Dad knew. Dads know those things, our dad especially.

The day last month when we buried Dad, I said to my brother Jeff and my brother Pete and my sister Cindy that the irony of all this was that Dad was dead and the Red Sox would win the World Series. That might be true: This might be the year. But this, I know, is the truth: I miss him so much.

-- David Shribman is a columnist for Universal Press Syndicate.

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