“My father and I—both stolid men—have always communed through baseball. Sports are and always will be a way in which men connect and speak the unspoken, articulate our ineffable emotions.”
While growing up—although, admittedly, my wife makes a valid argument for this still being a work-in-progress—from the time I was 8 years old until my late adolescence, my father would take me to Fenway Park for a game each year. These Red Sox games are some of my fondest childhood memories.
I can still picture Fenway Park in the 1980s before the Monster Seats and the billboards and advertisements plastered everywhere; before $50 parking and $9 beers and engorged ticket prices; before The Wally Wave and “Sweet Caroline” and Pink Hat fans infesting the place.
This was also before the steroid-era, when Roger Clemens was still human-size, as opposed to a neck-less beefcake built of brick with bulging arms and a powerful chest. The players wore their uniforms tight with high stir-up socks and some unrepentantly smoked cigarettes in the clubhouse between innings. I had all of the Red Sox players’ trading cards and tried unsuccessfully to memorize the batting averages and the pitchers’ ERA’s from the previous season—I’ve never been good with numbers.
Most of all, I remember these games as a time when I got to be alone with my father and maybe that explains my nostalgic lens. At these games, I began to learn more about my father as a person as opposed to the patriarch of the household, the man who came home from work at 5 p.m. each day in a suit and a loosened tie.
For example, I learned that my grandfather once bought tickets to a Red Sox game in the late-1950s and was going to take my father to see them play the Yankees. My father was going to watch Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, and I can imagine his excitement. They drove up to Boston from Rhode Island, but my grandfather, a hot-headed and impetuous man, couldn’t find a parking spot so he pitched a fit and drove them home. This partially explains why my own father made it a point to take his own son to a ballgame each season.
Recently, I was able to grab two tickets to a matinee against the Baltimore Orioles. Finally, it was my turn to take my father to a game.
As we found our seats in the third-base grandstands, a man my father’s age—in his 60s—sat down beside us and introduced his self. The man then introduced his own father, an elderly guy with white hair who sitting beside him.
My father pointed to me. “This is my son,” my father said, and we all shook hands. There we were, three generations of fathers and sons sitting side-by-side, taking in a Red Sox game on an idyllic afternoon for baseball—80 degrees with low-humidity and blue skies and a warm breeze blowing out from home plate.
As I watched the game, which the Red Sox unsurprisingly dumped in extra-innings, it occurred to me that my father and I—both stolid men—have always communed through baseball. Whether we were breaking down a managerial decision or bitching about a base running blunder, we were connecting in a way that would feel forced and uncomfortable in a different venue. It also struck me that this is not unique to my father and me; sports are and always will be a way in which men connect and speak the unspoken, articulate our ineffable emotions.
In this sense, for my father and me, Fenway Park is far more than the overpriced venue where the Red Sox play. Throughout the day, my father and I reminisced about the games we watched together during my childhood, perhaps perplexed as to why our yearly ritual has been dormant for decades. I honestly can’t remember how and why it happened. I remember one year my mother and sister—who wouldn’t know the Infield Fly Rule from a No-Fly Zone, nor do they care—attended a game with us then I went away to college and knew everything about everything for a decade. Hopefully now, with my own 9 year-old son now enthralled with the game, this tradition will rekindle.
I was thrilled, however, to bring my father to the ballpark. While sentimental words have never come easy between us, it was my way of saying, “Thanks, Dad. For everything.”
Photo: charlie walker / flickr