Red Sox Game Locks in a Father's Day Memory
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Fire up the barbeques. Today is Father's Day and we wish a special day to all fathers, whether you use gas or charcoal to burn the burgers.
For WEEKEND EDITION contributor Kevin Cullen, Father's Day came early this year, in April, at Boston's Fenway Park. Just as he had as a boy with his own father, Kevin went to a Red Sox game with his nine-year-old son, Brendan.
KEVIN CULLEN reporting:
My dad was a firefighter, and the best seats he could score were so deep in the right field grandstand that the only distinguishing features of my favorite players were the numbers on their jerseys. My two sons get a closer perspective. My brother Joe is generous with his corporate seats. They're near the visitor's on-deck circle, prime foul ball territory.
Patrick, my older son, got one on his very first game when he was seven. His little brother, Brendan, assumed the same would happen to him. But by the time Brendan got to his first game in my brother's seats, five years had passed and the Red Sox, in their never-ending campaign to wring more revenue out of the band box that is Fenway Park, had built two more rows, pushing my brother's seats back.
Brendan was in full Red Sox regalia, wearing the number seven jersey of his favorite player, Trot Nixon. He had smeared pine tar and dirt on his Red Sox cap. He was a dirt dog, he informed me, and he was going to get a ball.
Brendan is a free spirit, a non-conformist, always challenging authority. Especially mine. He was named after Brendan Behan, the Dublin writer whose greatest work, Borstal Boy, is an evocative memoir about being confined to reform school for being a rebel. Behan was forever raising hell, and he was stubborn. But he had a heart of gold and always took the side of the underdog. My Brendan is well named.
I try to let him down easy, telling him the chances of getting a ball were not good. He didn't care what I said. He was going to get a ball. In the top of the first, the third batter, Ritchie Sexton of the Seattle Mariners, rolled a foul to the backstop. The game was young. The corporate types with the front row seats had not even shown up yet. Brendan stepped to the front row, leaned over the railing, and stuck out his black Rawlings mitt. The bat boy plunked the ball in the glove. The game was seven minutes old.
Brendan walked back to his seat, graciously acknowledging the cheers that washed over him, sat down and looked up at me. Now, Dad, he said rolling his eyes, that wasn't so hard, was it? I spent the next eight innings trying to regain my authority in Brendan's eyes.
I explained the hit and run. I expounded on the subtle difference between a curveball and a slider. I tried to make sense of Manny Ramirez's outlandish hairdo. But nothing I could say seemed to help the Red Sox.
They were losing by a run, six to five, when they came up in the bottom of the ninth. The first two batters made outs, and the crowd just seemed to deflate. Well, Brendo, I said, we saw a good game. I should've known better. He turned to me fiercely, as if he had been slapped. Dad, he snapped, there's only two outs. The next batter, Kevin Youkilis, legged out an infield hit, giving the Sox life.
Mark Loretta, the weak hitting second baseman, dug in at the batter's box. I think Loretta's going to hit a walk off, Brendan said nonchalantly predicting a mammoth home run, as he popped the last crumbs of his Cracker Jacks into his mouth. I could have let him have his little fantasy, but father doesn't just know best, he knows baseball. And so I explained that, given Loretta had hit just 63 homeruns in 11 big league seasons, the chances of him slugging a walk off were slim and none. The best we could hope for, I predicted, was that Loretta got a single or worked a walk to move Youkilis into scoring position.
Of course, on the very next pitch, Mark Loretta crushed an Eddie Guardardo fastball over the green monster. We all went crazy. Loretta later said he had never hit a walk off homerun, ever, not even in little league.
As we left Fenway I expected Brendan to let me have it, with I told you so's and all sorts of juvenile crowing. But he said nothing. Instead, he tossed his precious ball in the air every few steps, catching it with his glove as we walked toward Kenmore Square, on our way home.
HANSEN: Joseph Duke Cullen's son, Kevin, is a reporter for the Boston Globe.