In 1967 I was seven years old and it was the year of my sports awakening. Finally old enough to understand a bit of what was going on, my Dad took the opportunity to share with me his love of sports of all kinds. He was a travelling salesman which meant he was gone much of the work week. And he had a love of golf that bordered on addiction, which would stay with him for his entire life, so many Saturday mornings while I watched Augie Doggie and Huckleberry Hound he could be found at Sunningdale Golf and Country Club. But sports on TV gave us a chance to spend time together and formed an unbreakable bond that endures, even since his passing.
That spring we watched our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs (we lived in London, Ontario at the time) win their most-recent Stanley Cup. Every Wednesday and Saturday night was devoted to Hockey Night in Canada, and to this day, I can recite most of that team’s roster, positions, and jersey numbers. That fall and winter we rooted on his beloved Green Bay Packers through the memorable “Ice Bowl” NFL Championship Game at Lambeau against the still-despised Dallas Cowboys, and onto their second consecutive Super Bowl victory over the Oakland Raiders.
But in between, it was baseball. Unlike me, my Dad was a bit of a fickle fan. He and his high-school buddies had all been fair-weather Yankees fans, and Dad had spent one summer in Chicago at the American Institute of Baking (seriously), where he became fond of the Cubs. Later in his life he switched allegiances yet again to root on our local expansion team, the Toronto Blue Jays. But for me in 1967, without any geographic reason to choose a specific team, over the course of that summer and fall I fell in love with the Boston Red Sox.
Baseball coverage on TV back then was limited to watching Curt Gowdy and Pee Wee Reese call NBC’s Game of the Week each Saturday afternoon, which provided broad, but shallow exposure to many MLB teams. Yet, regardless of whether the Red Sox were featured or not, it seemed that they crept into the narrative each week.
Given my young age and the time that has passed since, most of my recollections – like the pictures on our black and white TV with the rabbit-ear antenna – are fuzzy at best. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation devotes considerable attention to the (often insidious) phenomenon of “remembering” things that you actually don’t remember. Much more benignly, having seen highlights and replays so often in the intervening years, false memories such as Yaz’s catch in the Billy Rohr game or Tony C.’s tragic beaning are part of my personal history. Names like Josephson and Foy and Jones are in there too. And romantic images of the young sure-fire superstar, Reggie Smith, the certain Cy Young winner, Jim Lonborg, and the second baseman with the movie-star good looks, Mike Andrews come to mind as well. But in truth, what I really remember most are the unfolding exploits of the man with the funny name and his pursuit of something called “the Triple Crown”.
My lifelong love of the Red Sox was really cemented during the final weekend of the season against the Twins. Most vividly I recall Yaz hitting one out to right during game 161 to take the lead in home runs and move closer to clinching the Triple Crown, only to have Killebrew homer in the ninth off Gary Bell in relief – and fretting my 7-year-old head over whether it would still be a Triple Crown if they ended up tied (they did, and it is). And then the finale with Rich Rollins’s pop-up nestling into Rico’s glove, and the joyousness that leapt off the field, into the stands, and all the way into my living room over 500 miles to the west, even though the pennant would not be clinched until the Tigers lost in Anaheim a few hours later.
Of course, the World Series is in there too. Santiago’s homer, Lonborg’s Herculean efforts falling short, and, maybe most of all, the ferocious Bob Gibson as the anti-hero of this epic. The entire “almost worst to first” storyline etched itself on my impressionable mind and left a permanent mark (which until my forty-fifth year would have been more accurately characterized as a scar). And I was well and truly hooked.
As a somewhat more aware 15-year-old, I watched MY team fall just short again, further cementing our relationship. My most prized physical possession is a complete set of handmade 1975 World Series scorecards, annotated in my very best pencilmanship.
The tragedies of 1978 and 1986 wounded me deeply and shook but did not break the foundation of faith laid by the Impossible Dream team. And all this somehow served to make the triumph of 2004 even sweeter.
But perhaps the most important aspect of my life that was shaped by the 1967 team came in 1992. That January I met and fell in love with a remarkable woman. Fortunately it was the off-season, so my passions were not conflicted. But by spring training things were getting serious enough that I told her there was something we needed to discuss. I sat her down, and could see the concern in her eyes. I braced myself and said “There’s something you need to know about me.” She took a deep sudden breath, anticipating some shocking revelation. I continued “I’m a Red Sox fan.” She laughed with relief and said “You scared me! I thought you were going to tell me you had some terrible disease or something!” Well, kind of. But despite this, and aided by the awfulness of the 1992 squad making me a bit less of a crazy person than usual, in June the love of my life accepted my my proposal of marriage.
Her rationale? Well, if I could love the Red Sox so much, for so long, despite all the hardship they had put me through, she knew I would be a faithful and devoted husband for the rest of our days. So far, so good.