As a born, bread and buttered Bostonian (Newton Centre, a suburb, to be specific), one of my enduring and genetic passions has been to live and die (figuratively speaking; this is not a cancer column) for The Boston Red Sox. My father sold concessions at Fenway Park (the stadium home of the Bosox since 1912), during the Depression when he was a little boy (not yet an adolescent even). He was nicknamed "Beezo," (his given name was Benet, although he was always called Barry) so he could gain full acceptance to a local knothole gang. Named after the wooden planks which surrounded the old Braves Field in Boston (a National League team called Boston its home as well back in the day), the kids ("gangs") would stand and peer through the knotholes in the wooden planks which otherwise blocked their view. It was a privilege and an honor for my father to be so connected to the game this way. He grew up loving baseball, and as a parent, he passed his love of the game on to me – and my brother.
Growing up in the suburbs, there were no planks surrounding our fields and no knotholes. The grass might have been a little thin though. It was on these fields where I played "sandlot" baseball. Close to home but miles away from Fenway Park. Here we mapped out our own base paths and used hats, gloves, coats, etc. to identify the bases, the pitcher’s mound and of course, home plate. To fill out the respective teams, we often split however many kids we had into however many positions we needed filled, often with some kids playing multiple positions on both teams. Anything to get a game in. I spent many afternoons and evenings before the age of 10 practicing in this manner.
I thought I had become pretty good, too – for a kid, so when Little League tryouts were announced – for ages 9–12, I was very excited. My goal was to play baseball. My older brother had done so; now it was my turn. Unfortunately, my tryout was not very successful. I was not picked for "The Majors." I was picked by a "Minor" League team and that’s where I began my career. I pitched a few games, even caught a few games, not really distinguishing myself in either endeavor. Still, about halfway through the season, I was called up to "The Majors," by the Boston Red Sox, (Little League version). I was thrilled by the selection and even more excited that I’d be playing for the Red Sox – of all teams, wearing a similar uniform and colors of my heroes at the Big League level. I chose uniform number 16; to this day, I always look to see who’s wearing that number on the current Sox (Will Middlebrooks, currently) and then envision myself being in that uniform. Wearing that uniform, and hat, solidified my dream. I wanted to play for the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park when I grew up, and for the next 10 years or so, through Little League, Junior High School, Babe Ruth League, High School; in spring, summer and fall, I pursued that dream. I tried out for my college team, but ultimately, that’s where the dream ended.
Still, it was during these extremely formative years when my father and I built the foundation of our relationship: baseball. We practiced together, played catch together, attended all my games together, went to Fenway Park together, listened to games on radio together, watched games on our black & white television together, and filled up my scrapbook together; in essence, we enjoyed our life together – through baseball.
And even though the prospects of fulfilling my dream were never particularly realistic, its common pursuit by me and my father made for memories that have lasted over 50 years. My father may be gone, but he’ll never be forgotten. Every time I watch a baseball game, I remember how it all began – for me, throwing a ball to my father. That was no field of dreams; that field was, and is, my reality.