Not deferential enough: The boys of October

Posted Tuesday, October 22, 2013 in Opinion

Not deferential enough: The boys of October

by Gina Hamilton

It's a game, it's just a game.  It's a game played with small white balls and sticks made of finest ash and gloves of supple leather.  It's a game that grown up men play, but they take us all back to our childhoods.  For nine innings, we suspend any worries, any other thoughts. Politics melts away.  If the sun shines over Fenway, no other weather, on this or any other planet, is a concern.

And as summer melts into brilliant autumn, the boys of summer ... those that survived the grueling schedule ... become, for a moment, national heroes.  But more than that, they become our brothers, our fathers, our best friends.

We call them, not by their team number, as they do in football, but by friendly nicknames.  Big Papi.  Salty.  Pedie.  Or by first names sometimes.  Jacoby. Koji. Johnny. 

The Red Sox hadn't won a World Series in 86 years in 2004.  That was the year my dad was near death from lung cancer.  They'd sent him home from the hospital to die. We went to visit him to say goodbye.  We didn't talk too much.  Instead, we watched baseball - specifically, we watched the last regular season game between the Red Sox and the Yankees.  The Yankees won, thereby winning the season series and home field advantage. 

"Well, that's that," I sighed, not really expecting anything else. 

But my dad, who had faithfully rooted for the Sox, and the Cubs, and every other underdog he could find throughout my childhood, and who had, in fact, pointed out to me the Red Sox Rollercoaster so familiar to fans - the sparkling dazzle of the early season, a steep decline after the All-Star Break, a brief rally in August, and then a heartbreaking, long, slow decline to the end of the season, was undeterred. "They hit in the clutch," he pointed out. 

We made our difficult farewells and went home, fully expecting to get the call every child, no matter how old, dreads.  And while we waited, a remarkable thing happened.  Over a series of seven long nights, the Red Sox, sensing their fans' desperate need, perhaps, battled the Yankees for the AL pennant ... and won.

As soon as it was decent, I phoned my dad the morning after Game Seven. 

"See there," he said.  "Faith.  I can die happy, knowing they are Yankee killers.  I don't need the World Series.  Not anymore."

And then a really remarkable thing happened.  My father didn't die.  He watched his Sox win the Series in four games in his adopted hometown of St. Louis, and he was around to watch them three years later take the Series in 2007.

An embarrassment of riches.

When his illness finally took him, four years later, I found myself grateful to the Sox for giving him a little bit of a boyhood wish.  So many other fathers and grandfathers and brothers went to the grave without that little bit of pleasure.  On the day after the Sox won the Series, the cemeteries in Boston were filled with people visiting graves and planting pennants and pouring beer and celebrating with dyed in the wool Sox fans who didn't live to see the day.

I was glad I wasn't among them. 

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