One reason baseball is America’s pastime is because the country’s love of the sport spans generations. A love that brings families closer as they spend time watching the perfect game. Brandon Magee discusses the fond memories of his mother that baseball helped to create.
My first memories of Boston are of a crisp, early fall day in late September or early October 1980. My father had a treatment scheduled at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the whole family piled into the Oldsmobile ‘88 and traveled the two hours north to Boston. While my father was receiving treatment, my mother, sister, two brothers and I walked the neighborhood surrounding the treatment center. It was a good day for the season, warm enough to know it was fall but cool enough to know winter was coming.
As we left Boston, we stopped at a service station. For reasons I cannot recall, we all piled out of the car. I noticed a piece of paper on the ground and I picked it up. The exact composition of what was on the paper is lost to memory, but it caused me to look around. And, as I turned, I noticed this large green building. Being from a small town in Connecticut, I was not used to such large buildings … but I knew it was something special.
It was Fenway Park:
It was my first glimpse of the building that would give me memories. So many memories.
My father passed away a few weeks later from leukemia. I was eight.
My father was not a sports fan. Or, perhaps, more accurately, it was not on his radar. Between work, and family, and politics – his plate was full. In his spare time, he showed a love of music that filtered down through all of his children. But, the chance encounter with Fenway on that trip with my father stuck with me.
That day, I became a Red Sox fan.
I never met my maternal grandfather; all I have is stories from my mother. But, in his youth (1910s & 1920s), he was a baseball player. A player that was good enough to not only be scouted by the Red Sox, but offered a contract. Of course, the times were very different then. Baseball was not necessarily a lucrative profession … and children did not disobey their parents. My grandfather grew up as the son of a farmer, and that was what his father wanted him to be. Dutifully, he did not sign the contract and became a farmer.
Baseball never left him, though. My mother raced home from school in the 1950s in order to listen to the World Series. My grandfather worked as a delivery man for a dairy company, and he would already be at home listening to the radio in the kitchen when my mother arrived. They would sit together, enjoying the games and enjoying their time together. The stories my mother told me left me with two impressions: He loved his family and he loved baseball.
The 1986 season was big for the Red Sox. For the first time in my recollection, they were good. I remember waking up one morning before school and Good Morning America was reporting on Roger Clemens’s record 20 strikeout game. The words “At Fenway Park” immediately made me pay attention – and then to hear it was a major league record!
For the Red Sox?
I followed the rest of the season with fascination. Always a fan of the little guy, I remember being La Schelle Tarver’s biggest fan. I remember reading about the Spike Owen–Dave Henderson trade two days after it happened; the internet – and instant information – was years away. Watching games was a special occasion. Not all the games were televised. Many were on cable television that cost, relatively speaking, considerable money – NESN was not part of any basic cable plan.
The playoffs were televised nationally, though, and I remember watching the ALCS against the Angels.
Don Baylor, my mother’s favorite player, hit a dramatic 9th inning home run … which was soon followed by Dave Henderson’s homer to put the Red Sox ahead. The game would, of course, be tied in the bottom of the inning, but the Red Sox won the game in the 11th. And they went home to Fenway and took the last two games with ease.
I watched the World Series with great anticipation; I was certain the Red Sox were going to win. Then Game 6 happened. I was devastated. I was sick to my stomach. I woke up the next morning and I really did not want to go to school. I was so invested in this team and I did not know the hurt that generations before had gone through. But my mother was having none of it. She said that there will be good days and bad days and you can’t hide every time you have a bad day. It was a lesson that was needed and was provided in the best motherly fashion. I went to school that day …
… and the next day. After the Sox lost Game 7. Life moved on. Despite my disappointment.
I only went to Fenway Park a handful of times with my mother. Each one, I remember bits vividly … and few of the moments are about the game.
The first time was in the spring of 1992. I was just finishing my sophomore year at Brandeis University. I had been to Fenway many times in my first two years of college, but never with my Mother, and I had mostly sat in the bleachers. This day, a beautifully sunny day, we sat in the box seats in right field, right next to the bullpens. The view was different – the game felt closer.
But, the game was never particularly important when I was with my mother.
It was about the atmosphere. The most memorable thing that happened that day was that it was a giveaway day: We both received a Book, Fenway Park A Stadium Pop-up Book. I still have the book, still in the original plastic. I just found my mother’s copy, out of plastic and ready to pop-up:
The second time was sometime in the late ‘90s. This trip was with my older brother as well, another Fenway neophyte. This time, we were high up in the bleachers. It was a hot summer day without a cloud in the sky. The only thing I recall about the game was that it was long and that I got heat exhaustion because of the sun beating down. But it is a rare memory of the three of us during that time, a time when our family was geographically far apart.
In the last 20 years of my mother’s life, she lived in various towns in the eastern part of Connecticut. This gave her easy access to Dodd Stadium, home of the Norwich Navigators, the Connecticut Defenders, and, now, the Connecticut Tigers. We spent many a summer evening watching the various prospects of the Yankees, Giants, and Tigers. And, of course, the Red Sox, whenever Portland or Lowell came to town.
Baseball is a game with many facets. Pitching. Defense. Hitting. Strategy. But, the ballpark experience is more than just the game. Whether it be on-field entertainment, ballplayer intro songs, the food, or just crowd watching, a game at the ballpark has a number of ways to keep one distracted.
My mother liked watching baseball. She was appreciative of a nicely turned double play. She was excited about a long home run. She loved a big strikeout.
But, my mother was impatient. Which made the experience much more important.
She liked to be entertained. She liked the dizzy-bat races and the race with the mascots and all the other between inning fun. She liked to participate in YMCA and Cotton Eyed Joe. Mostly, she saw the game as entertainment. And, she was always a fan of the home team – even if they were playing a Red Sox affiliate. She just could not help it – the atmosphere would carry her away.
But, she knew the players. When Madison Bumgarner or Pablo Sandoval made the majors, she knew she had seen them come through Norwich. Travis Ishikawa was a mainstay in Norwich for three years and she always asked how he was doing after he had left. She loved saying Schierholtz.
The last time I went to Fenway with my mother was June 27th, 2012. The trip was organized by the local senior center, so my mother, my fiancée, and myself boarded a bus to go up to Fenway for a Wednesday afternoon game. The Red Sox vs. the Blue Jays. The three of us had gone to games in Norwich before, but this would be our only trip to Fenway together.
It was a beautiful early summer day, sunny and breezy. The Red Sox came out swinging, scoring six in the bottom of the first and went on to win 10-4:
But, none of that really matters.
This game will always be remembered as the search for kettle corn. Yes, my mother wanted kettle corn – the long bag that one only finds at a ballpark. I was eventually successful. To this day, I think it was a ruse so that my mother could talk to my future wife.
After an initial diagnosis of pneumonia and then COPD, my mother was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer and renal cell cancer in April of 2013. Radiation and chemotherapy and doctor appointments and second and third opinions followed during the summer and fall. During her chemotherapy, we were able to talk about the Red Sox and their magical year. We were able to share the Sox’s third championship in a decade. It was a rough time, there were some bad days, but there was a lot of laughs and lots of love. And, the treatments helped.
2014 was a poor year for the Red Sox, but an excellent year for my mother. She was able to enjoy a final trip to her beloved Cape Cod. She was able to enjoy time with her sons. She was able to enjoy Thanksgiving with one extended family and Christmas with another extended family.
But, cancer is a beast. It came roaring back this year, moving into the brain.
My mother passed away on April 7th. Stubborn to the end, I like to think she waited until after one more Red Sox win, especially after the disappointment of 2014. I’d like to think she was happy as she lay in her hospital bed, flanked by my wife and I, watching Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, and Hanley Ramirez play Home Run Derby against the Phillies. Mostly, I like to think she was happy because I was happy.
The last month of my mother’s life was extremely difficult and stressful. She was no longer the fully capable woman I had known my entire life. Her mind was as sharp as ever, but her body was failing her. But that is not how I will remember my mother. Because that was not my mother. What I will remember are the good times. Holidays. Vacations. And, most of all, the trips to the old ball field. Basking in the joy that her father and her son both shared.