Life, death, and baseball

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Though I am a son of the Bay State, it’s been a long time since I’ve had an open heart for Boston Red Sox fans. It was a charming tale back when they were a cursed franchise that hadn’t won a World Series since 1918, playing in the idyllic (though dumpy) Fenway Park. Eventually they got a fat-cat owner who turned the franchise into the second coming of the New York Yankees, and the fans came to feel as entitled to success as their cousins, followers of the evil empire down the road on Interstate 95.

But some things about baseball transcend those realities at this time of the year, because unlike any other sport, there are old fans literally just clinging to life for one more game.

Writer Tracy Mayor, a contributor to WBUR’s Cognoscenti blog, captures this perfectly with her article today about her dad, who is 75, suffering from congestive heart failure, and is hospitalized. His family has assembled for what appear to be the goodbyes.

She writes that in every room on the hospital floor, similar scenes are repeated: family sitting around a very sick person, watching the Red Sox, talking Red Sox.

“Like dealing with a serious illness, baseball favors the quiet and the patient, people who won’t freak out when the count is against them, even though things look bad from the dugout,” she writes.

A CPAP breathing machine covers my dad’s whole head; it’s as if he’s being embraced by a transparent plastic octopus. He’s struggling with every breath. He can’t talk, and his eyes dart wildly from my face to my mother’s. I swallow back tears. I have seen my father annoyed, impatient, irritated, peevish, and very angry — he’s an Irishman, after all — but I have never before seen him frightened.

The ER nurse, a big guy named Franklin, says, “let the machine breathe for you. That’s its job.” My father closes his eyes, trying to comply, and my mother, exhausted, closes hers. I stare at the endless loop of an infomercial. It’s 3:30 in the morning.

The pace of his life and the pace of baseball were at last in sync.
After 40 minutes, Frank says he’s going to move my father onto a different machine, though he still won’t be able to talk. “You’re gonna have 10 seconds to have your say while I switch masks,” he warns my dad jokingly.

When the big mask comes off, my father says, “How’d the Sox do? I missed the end of the game.” I roll my eyes and pull out my cellphone, calling up the score. My dad is in his late innings now, possibly in the ninth, but he’s not out yet. Not as long as the Sox still come first.

The game had been close, 4-3. I hold the small glowing rectangle up close to my father’s face so he can see it over the top of the mask. “They came from behind, dad,” I tell him. “They came from behind.”

Maybe there are hospital rooms in which life and death involves a baseball team in St. Louis, and Detroit, and Los Angeles too. I’ve grown to hate members of the Red Sox Nation for their smugness about their passion, a passion that — in my most private moments — I acknowledge exists to an extent I’ve never seen anywhere else.

With two championships already — two more than my team has won in my lifetime — Ms. Mayor’s dad may soon leave this world with the joy of his team winning a third World Series.

I hope they do, although I’ll still hate them for it.