Monday, February 06, 2006
Five months back, I published a post entitled Tony C. After publishing it, and re-reading it a couple of times, I came to the conclusion that the first part of the story could probably stand alone if it was fleshed out a bit. Since this is my blog and I can do whatever the hell I want, here it is.
(I'm telling you this to save you the trouble of searching through all of my previous stuff when the thought enters your head that you've read this before. What a nice guy I am!)
If you never saw the original, and would like to do so, it is here. I don't think it's a bad piece, per se; it's just that the first part deserved a place of its own. So, without any further ado (since up to here it's been nothing but ado) here is...
THE DAY I BECAME A RED SOX FAN
I can pinpoint with precision the day I became a Red Sox fan. It was Sunday, July 12th, 1964.
I was 7 years old at the time and my parents were visiting the home of my Granduncle Jim. He was a bachelor who shared an apartment in Roslindale (a section of Boston) with two of my unmarried grandaunts, Aunt Loretta and Aunt Pat. I remember many a pleasant day visiting there. The apartment building itself has since been torn down, much to my chagrin. Looking back, I suppose it was a somewhat strange apartment, but to a kid it had all sorts of interesting and mysterious features. I loved the place.
When you went in the front door, you entered a vestibule populated by a love seat and side table, neither of which was ever used by anyone, for anything - but they looked nice. The vestibule led to a long hallway, from which all of the rooms of the apartment proper were entered, from the right. The long wall of this hallway was covered with family photographs and gigantic depictions of Jesus wearing his crown of thorns, agonized and bleeding. The rooms included three bedrooms; a bathroom (with a magnificent lion's paw tub); a sun porch with stucco walls, where I spent many hours stretched out on a cane couch reading, most notably The New Yorker Book Of Cartoons and a tearjerker children's book called, as I remember, So Dear To My Heart, which was about a boy and his pet black lamb; the living room (which had a grand oriental rug and a severe [the only adjective I can think of that fits] couch, with wooden arms and brass studs, that it was near impossible to get comfortable on, not in any way like the overstuffed ones I was used to from my own home or my grandparent's place); a kitchen (where everyone spent the most time, sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee, chainsmoking and arguing politics, and where my Aunt Loretta always had Jell-O made for me); the dining room (where a box of chocolates was an ever-present temptation, and I wasn't one to resist temptation); and an actual pantry - which was something that astounded me, coming as I did from a home where foods were kept in cabinets and didn't have their own separate living quarters.
My Granduncle Jim was an interesting guy. First off, he was stouter than any other man in the family. Perhaps I'd look at him now and think "fat", but as a kid he was just... substantial. A bit jowly, with ever-present glasses and his dark hair combed straight back, he looked a bit like Edward Arnold, who played "Big Jim Taylor" in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. He had been elected to the office of State Representative in 1945, serving one term in the Massachusetts legislature. He had also been commissioner of Public Buildings during some part of the tenure of James Michael Curley, a renowned (or reviled, depending upon which side of the aisle you were on) Mayor of Boston, Governor of Massachusetts, and Congressman. I don't know how my Uncle Jim got on Curley's A-List, but it wasn't surprising. Uncle Jim was a very smart fellow - so far as I know, the only college graduate from his generation on that side of my family - and a hard worker.
Anyway, on this particular day, while my parents and aunts sat in the kitchen talking about whatever parents and aunts talk about on a summer Sunday, Uncle Jim removed himself from the conversation to go sit in his favorite comfy chair in the living room and watch the Boston Red Sox play a doubleheader against the Washington Senators. I wasn't interested in the conversation, so I tagged along.
The Red Sox and Senators were battling it out to see which team could clinch 9th place before September. The Sox were three years away from the beginning of their rise to glory, the marvelous "Impossible Dream" team of 1967. The starting infield was populated by the likes of Felix Mantilla, Eddie Bressoud and Dick Stuart. Of the regulars that year, Bressoud led the team with a .293 average. Dalton Jones and a young Carl Yastrzemski tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 6, so they obviously didn't have speed to make up for their lack of hitting. The Senators, on the other hand, had such luminaries as Ron Kline, Fred Valentine, Eddie Brinkman and Don Lock on their roster. In 1964, you would have been hard pressed to find a less-appealing doubleheader, but Uncle Jim was a seriously diehard baseball fan.
Anyway, Uncle Jim settled in to watch this thing on his black and white TV, and I settled in next to Uncle Jim, laying by the side of his chair on the oriental rug. Curt Gowdy was calling the action, such as it was.
I knew very little about baseball, so I asked Uncle Jim all sorts of idiotic and (to a knowledgeable fan) exasperating questions. Questions like, "How come when the guy catches a ball on the ground it's not an out like when it's in the air? Isn't that harder?" and "If the guy with the bat gets to first base before the other guy catches his fly hit, is he safe?".
Uncle Jim answered all of my questions, patiently and thoroughly. Meanwhile, the Sox split the doubleheader with the Senators. Over the course of the five or six hours we sat in front of the TV watching, I became hooked. I have lived and died with the fortunes of the Red Sox since then, and even had a secondary rooting interest in the Senators, until they deserted Washington for Texas in the 1970's.
The Red Sox radio and TV theme song lives on in my head to this day...
You're just in time for the ballgame
You're just in time for excitement and fun
WHDH has reserved your place
So glad you could make it; So glad you could come
Here's Curt Gowdy standing by
The voice of the Red Sox; A real nice guy...
I also learned a number of commercial jingles which will never leave my memory. For instance...
Schaeffer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one!
Atlantic keeps your car on the go, go, go
So keep on the go with Atlantic!
I could probably dredge up a couple more jingles of defunct products, but MY WIFE will read this and then say to me, as she often does when I reel off something utterly obscure and useless, "So, Jim, what are your cousin's names?", and I'll mumble obscenities and leave the room, disgraced.
My Uncle Jim died in 1969, at the age of 72. When he was 21, the Red Sox had won the World Series. He never saw them win another one. Thanks to him and his patience on that day in 1964, I had the incomparable thrill of enjoying the Sox big win in 2004. I've also played ball for some forty years now, which I probably wouldn't have done if I hadn't become such a big fan of the game. All in all, some of the most spectacularly enjoyable wasted hours of my life I owe to him and his patience on that long-ago Sunday.
Thanks, Uncle Jim.