Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"Play Ball" by Beverly LeConche

This post and those following are by students in Lary Bloom's and Suzanne Levine's Memoir class, Spring 2010.

The day I was born the Red Sox won a double header against the Washington Senators, 5-4 and 10-4.

About 10 years later my father started taking the family to Yankee baseball games in New York. I remember him driving through the heavy traffic and swearing at the crazy city drivers. Many times we visited Yankee Stadium to cheer on the Bronx Bombers. That was the old Yankee Stadium, the real Yankee Stadium. I’ve never been to the new one. Around the time I started high school, we stopped going to ballgames. I guess maybe the New York City traffic got to be too much for my father, or maybe he just got bored with the Yankees.

My mother tells me that, as a child, I would insist on sitting in front of the TV with my father to watch baseball. She says I asked a million questions: Why are they getting a new pitcher? What’s a balk? Why is the batter out if he didn’t swing at the ball? My mother never cared about baseball. She went to the games with us, but didn’t pay attention. She’s 89 now and still doesn’t get it.

My younger brother was born a Yankees fan. He had 8 X 10 Yankee publicity photos on his bedroom wall and made anyone entering his room memorize all the players’ names: Cletus Boyer, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Bobby Richardson, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Yogi Berra. If I went into his room, I had to recite their names. He collected baseball cards, too. Now he wonders what happened to his baseball card collection. He figures my mother, a clean freak, threw them out along with his Beatles cards. Fifty years later, my brother still roots for the Yankees.

My father and I, on the other hand, finally saw the light and became Red Sox fans in 1967, the year of the Red Sox Impossible Dream, when they reached the World Series for the first time in 21 years. It was impossible not to be a Sox fan after that. A few years later, I thought I was a Minnesota Twins fan for a while, because I was in love with Harmon Killebrew. I even named my first car Harmon. It was a 1970 Ford Maverick. But that affair didn’t last long. I soon switched back to the Sox.

My family spent several weeks every summer at Chapman Beach in Westbrook. We always had a portable radio with us on the beach, tuned to the Yankee games. I can still hear Mel Allen (and later Phil Rizzuto) yelling “Holy cow!” when the Yanks scored a run. Those were my favorite days. There was nothing to do on those long summer days but swim, sit on the beach, and listen to baseball.

In the Wethersfield house my family lived in for 30 years, if you looked closely, you could see where one of the spokes on the staircase had been repaired. My brother cracked it in 1960, angry that the Pirates beat the Yankees in the World Series. He still gets angry when his team loses.

In 1969, the Mets finally went from being the laughing stock of baseball to being in the World Series. That was back when they used to play day games. I was a student at UCONN and used to rush back from my last class each day to watch the Series. Some students didn’t bother going to class at all. They stayed in the dorm in front of the TV. The Mets won the Series. Everyone cheered including me. In college I met a fellow Red Sox fan. She was from Rhode Island and didn’t mind driving in Boston traffic, so she drove Harmon to Fenway Park. We saw about five or six games a year for those four years we were at UConn. Then we graduated. She got married, and moved to Virginia.

I joined VISTA and was sent to Arizona. That was 1972, the year of the baseball players’ strike. I know, because I had tickets to a game I never got to see. I mailed the tickets from Arizona to a friend in Connecticut, but I don’t think he ever used them. It doesn’t matter, though; back then it only cost $6.50 for box seats along the first base line.

I missed the Sox for the nine years I lived in Arizona, but at least I could watch spring training. The San Francisco Giants trained in my town, Casa Grande, and a hotel in town had and still has a swimming pool in the shape of a baseball bat and a wading pool in the shape of a ball. I did get to see the 1975 World Series on TV, and the famous scene with Carlton Fisk waving his arms at the ball to stay fair. That was the greatest game ever, but the Sox lost the Series. My brother sent me a sympathy card which I still have. I reciprocated by sending him one the following year when the Yankees lost to Cincinnati.

I own my own home now and have a craft room that is decorated with Red Sox banners, memorabilia, and photos, and each year at Christmas, one of my trees is decorated totally with Red Sox ornaments.

My niece got married two years ago. The day she got married the Sox were playing the Yankees. My brother, the father of the bride, grabbed the microphone and announced to all present, how happy he was on this joyous occasion, and by the way, the Yankees were whipping the Red Sox 10-3. My grand-nephew, Gabriel, was born last August 31. For Christmas he received a Yankees hat from my brother and a Red Sox layette and bib from me, both of us trying to make sure Gabe got started off on the right foot.

My father lived to be ninety years old. The night before he died, the Sox played the Yankees at Fenway. We called an ambulance to take my father to Hartford Hospital because he couldn’t breathe. As he was being wheeled into the emergency room, just hours before he died, he asked, “Are the Sox winning?”