Opinion, Sports

Brotherton: Fathers, sons, and baseball

My dad never got to celebrate a Red Sox world championship. He passed away at age 75 in 1997, a few days after the April Fool’s Day blizzard.

He could never have imagined the Sox’s current success, winning four World Series titles in the 21 years since his death. This generation of Red Sox fans doesn’t realize how lucky they are. They expect, every year, Duck Boat parades and championships, such as this most recent domination of the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers.

When I was a kid, we expected the team to lose. It usually did.

As it is for many fathers and sons, rooting for the underdog BoSox was a big part of our relationship, a common interest we could discuss and fantasize about. Mostly, it was about spending time together, away from “the girls,” my mom and two younger sisters. We cheered for the Impossible Dream team in 1967, and through sheer will helped Carlton Fisk’s home run stay fair in 1975.

We sat in the bleachers for the Bucky “expletive” Dent AL East tiebreaker with the detested Yankees in ’78. We groaned when the ball sneaked through Bill Buckner’s legs and the 1986 team blew the series against the Mets. Inevitably, our baseball team would disappoint us; it finished second-best in ’67, ’75 and ’86.

Each summer in the ’60s, my parents would buy discounted tickets to family day or bat day. We would all go to friendly Fenway.

My mom’s father was a big baseball fan. He even traveled by train to various World Series throughout the country. Every April, he would take me to opening day. We would take the train from Beverly to North Station, hop on the Green Line and then walk up to the box office on game day and buy tickets (50 cents, in the bleachers). After the inevitable loss, we’d make our way to the Union Oyster House for supper and a few cocktails for Papa.

My dad would always have fun writing the note explaining my absence from school, since about half of the class would skip school that day: I bet the principal wished he could’ve played hooky and gone to the game himself. “Please excuse Billy’s absence from school yesterday. He had severe diarrhea, and stunk up the house something awful” was how Dad worded one such note.

In later years, Dad and I would make it to Fenway for at least one game a year. Just the two of us. Bonding over hot dogs, beer and baseball. The memories remain strong.

In 2004, the Sox, trailing the Yankees three games to none, miraculously staged a comeback, winning four games in a row. They then swept the Cardinals to capture their first World Series championship since 1918.

The next day, I stopped at the packie, bought a pint of Jim Beam — dad’s favorite — and rode my bike to the cemetery. “Dad, you won’t believe it,” I stammered through sobs. “Those clowns finally did it. They won the World Series.”

I filled two Dixie cups with bourbon, pouring one into the earth for my dad and clutching the other with trembling hand. I leaned against the tombstone, sipped my bourbon and gave dad a game-by-game rundown. “Curt Schilling tore his tendon but still pitched. His sock was all bloody, It was unbelievable,” I said.

I was not the only baby boomer visiting the cemetery that day. Many sons and daughters gathered at their loved ones’ gravesite, sticking 2004 World Series Champion banners into the ground and telling dad or mom about the unexpected victory.

Yesterday, I drove to the cemetery and told dad and mom about the Sox’s most-recent accomplishment. “Yup. They did it again,” I said matter-of-factly. No bourbon this time. No banner.

No company, either. I was the only living person there.

Kids these days are incredibly lucky. Not only because their team is a winner, but, for many, their grandparents and parents are sitting right there with them, celebrating a championship together, making plans to take the train into Boston for a Duck Boat parade.

I hope Sale, Mookie, Bradley Jr., et. al fuel a Red Sox dynasty for years and years and years. And that families throughout New England can celebrate together, hug each other and raise a glass to lasting memories courtesy of our sports teams.

We are lucky indeed.

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