So last night I had this IM exchange with daughter Elizabeth after an excruciating three hour, 2-1 Sox victory over the Marlins:
Elizabeth: Get home OK?
Richard: Almost. You?
R: Home, finally.
E: Did you get lost? Easier to sit in traffic when it’s a win.
R. Not lost. Took forever to get out of the garage. I was thinking the same thing about it being easier to sit…Why do we care so much about them (i.e., the wins, the Sox, etc.)?
E: I blame you.
I admit to committing this transgression on my daughter(s).
From their early years, I encouraged them to follow and understand this life imitating game, even carting groups of their friends to the Orioles’ Park for birthday parties, at least until they realized there were other ways to celebrate with their friends.
So why would an otherwise (arguably) mostly rational fellow (moi) be so obsessed by a game that lasts three hours, is played 162 times a year, and, according to some folks (the uninitiated), is boring?
My wonderful maternal grandfather is to blame.
It started with Pappy, 60 years ago this month.
He lived in Lowell, MA but had season baseball tickets to Boston’s Fenway Park for night and weekend games. The best week of my life for a number of years was when my school let out in Orlando, FL where I was growing up, I’d come to Boston on my way to summer camp in NH and spend a week with Pappy.
We’d go to Fenway around four or five in the afternoon to watch batting practice prior to an evening game. He had seats just behind the Sox dugout, and as I remember it, the players knew him and called him “Pops.”
Imagine what it was like for a kid of nine or ten years old to see Ted Williams and the other Bosox players of that era greet my grandfather.
I lived for that week. When I wasn’t able to go to a Sox game, I would sit next to a radio and try to dial into a scratchy broadcast of game. Every morning I would open the newspaper to the Sports’ section to digest the box score from the previous days’ game.
But nothing matched going to Fenway with Pappy. There was no one I have ever known who was as wonderful as he was. And since he loved the Red Sox, so then did I.
And so if I am to blame for Elizabeth’s having to live through three-hour nail biting games as we did last night, then Pappy is to blame for my obsession.
But ‘blame’ is really the wrong word.
‘Gift’ is a more appropriate word, albeit it comes with strings.
For the record, it was an SMS exchange. IM is like, so 2001.
Great article, UR. makes me teary and having seen it in writing and been there to see the bricks for Pappy and Beth, I appreciate the tradition started by pappy. How cool that must have been as a young boy to see the Bosox players pop out of the dugout and says hey Pops” to YOUR Grandfather – Awesome !
Land Wayland said:
Like you, it is impossible to imagine life without baseball. This way of life was the way I was raised. My father played semi=pro ball for several years with many players who went to the majors. We went to spring training games in Phoenix and Tucson and as dad knew many of the coaches, they and some of the players would frequently come to our home after the game for beer, barbeque and BS. My mother managed a Little League team when I was 13 and I was one of her coaches. For two years I kept a huge scrapbook with every article I could find about the Cubs (who trained in Tucson). I don’t have the devotion to one team the way you do Richard but there is nothing more comforting or as engaging as turning on the radio and listening to the waves of baseball sound stimulate and sooth the nerves.
Thank you for sharing this paean to this most perfect of sports. I read it at 6:00 this morning and it will stay with me the rest of the day.
David P Stang said:
Re your “I Blame You” essay concerning your addiction to the Bosox, I had a comparable childhood playing little bigger league baseball in Bucks County, Pa and idolizing the Phillies.
When I was 11, the Philadelphia Bulletin that summer of 1950 featured an autographed 8×10 inch black and white facial portrait of each of the Phillies day by day for the month of June, and my Dad brought me a new one home each day and soon my whole damn bedroom wall next to my bed was full of my Philly heroes. Del Ennis, Richie Ashburn, and Dick Sisler in the outfield; Eddie Waitkus 1st base; Mike Goliat 2nd base; Granny Hamner Shortstop; Willie Jones 3rd base; Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons, Jim Konstanty (the closer called ‘the Fireman’), Bubba Church, Bob Miller, Russ Meyer, Ken Heintzelman (notice those Pennsylvania German names?), Milo Candini (no German roots here) pitchers. Eddie Sawyer was the manager. The whole lot of them looking back at me from my bedroom wall as I starred at them worshipfully.
They went 91-63, took the National League pennant, but fell to the Yankees in the World Series.
I saw five Phillies games that summer. In only one did the Phillies lose. I’d wear my Phillies hat and take my glove to Shibe Park, knowing I was going to snag a foul ball, but never did. I’d yell encouragement by name to my heroes as they took the field or stepped up to the plate. I knew they could hear me but accepted they didn’t know my name.
Returning home from the game, I’d stand in front of my bedroom mirror with my Phillies cap on imitating Robin Roberts with glove and ball. The catcher I failed to mention was Andy Seminick. Standing there in my room believing I was in real life the all-star pitcher Robin Roberts. I’d pretend to spit, then reach down, grab the rosin bag, drop it, massage the ball and look at Andy for the call. I’d waive off some of his calls, then give him a slight nod before I commenced my wind up, which of course varied if there were one or more runners on base. If the runner on first was — as I was imagining it– taking too big a lead, I’d sneak a look at him out of the corner of my eye, pivot on my left foot and fake a throw to first base.
Next I’d take off my cap, wipe the sweat of my brow onto the left shoulder of my shirt and replace the cap. There was no air conditioning back then. I’d fire a fast ball –strike one, curve– strike two, fastball –fouled off, then the change up. Called out on strikes. After fanning three batters in a row, I’d hang my head down and walk back to the dug-out nonchalantly like there was nothing to it.
Then I’d become Del Ennis, put down my glove, pick up my shellacked ash Adirondack bat, take some warm up swings, walk to the plate, do some gardening with my spikes, scratch my nuts, dig in, look at the opposing pitcher and growl, “Throw anything you want sucker. I’ll smack it out of the park!”
Only in Little Bigger League games I’d usually ground out to short. But one day I stepped up to the plate facing a superstar pitcher I went to school with who knew I couldn’t hit didley squat. He was a black kid — then politely called negro — whose name was Reginald Jones. He had a good heart and decided to serve an easy one up right over the plate so I could at least get a single. Wow! Can you believe it? I knocked it over the fence. Trotting around the bases, I took off my cap and waved it like I was a hero.
The next time at the plate the party was over. Reginald had enough of my pretenses. He fanned my sorry butt with three successive fast balls. I never got the bat off my shoulder.
Do I know and respect what it’s like to acquire a puerile addiction to Major League Baseball? Red Sox or Phillies, it’s all the same process. Hooks you for a lifetime.
Wonderful Dave. How many of us growing up did as you did, standing in front of the mirror, batting in the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded, two outs, the crowd screaming, and the whole season, the Pennant, the World Series in the balance? I must have played that scenario hundreds of times.
Thanx for capturing it.
Sometimes at Fenway I look at the person next to me and think, “this person may have the T-shirt and the hat, and might even cheer louder than I do, but I doubt they feel that alteration of their entire state of being when that second out is made.”
We can answer who is to blame for the caring, but I’m not so sure we can know why we care so much.
Jere, that’s a wonderful question (why do we care so much?).
The Little Prince said it’s the time we spend for our rose that makes our rose so important.
Is that the answer?