The Dads of Summer

My father would have loved the room I had at the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston last month. It overlooked Fenway Park: the great light stanchions, the bleachers, the towering John Hancock sign.
Like me, my father is a serious baseball fan. Unlike me, however, he isn’t especially partisan: He appreciates the sport in general and is as capable of rooting for the Florida Marlins as he is the Boston Red Sox. I think he is most likely to cheer for whichever team is the underdog. Put a team down three games to none in a best-of-seven series, and he is going to be pulling mightily for that team in need of a miracle.
I’m a little like that, too, but I do have my favorites: My beloved New York Mets, followed by the arguably more interesting and idiosyncratic Red Sox. I should admit that in a head-to-head competition I will always be pulling for the Mets, the team of my boyhood in suburbs of New York City.
Consequently, that view I had from the Commonwealth was a real treat because it was at Fenway Park that my favorite team had one of its finest moments. In 1986, down two games to none in the World Series, the Mets went to Fenway and took two of three from the Red Sox, setting the stage for that remarkable game six at Shea — Mookie Wilson, Bill Buckner, and a dribbler up the first base line — and the Mets’ eventual World Series victory.
Incidentally, I saw those three critical games at Fenway while sitting on a stool at Esox Bar on Main Street in Burlington. I had lived in the city less than three months and knew almost no one, and I watched the game surrounded by Sox fans. (I kept my glee at the Mets victories to myself.)
That was a very long time ago. Ancient history. Buckner has been forgiven, and the Sox are the only team to have won the World Series twice in the new millennium. Meanwhile, those Mets? Plenty of post-season games in the last two decades and change, but no championships.
My father and I went to a lot of ballgames together when I was a boy. And, yes, we really would toss a ball back and forth a la poet and essayist Donald Hall in his beautiful composition, “Fathers Playing Catch with Sons.” My father had been a pitcher when he was teenager, a leftie. At least he was usually a leftie. He was ambidextrous and a part of the family lore was that he would become a rightie when he needed to drop a curveball on a right-handed batter.
In any case, I still think instantly of my father whenever I am near a Major League ballpark. I’ve noticed this in Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and most certainly New York. Partly that’s because he actually appears in the Yankee Stadium stands in the background of an old Curt Blefary baseball card. But the main reason, pure and simple, is that my father and I went to a lot of games when I was growing up. We didn’t live all that far from Yankee and Shea Stadium, and back then a family could visit a Major League game for less than the cost of a Ford Explorer (or, these days, for less than the cost of filling the tank of a Ford Explorer). Even now, there is no more verdant green in my mind than the grass of a Major League outfield when you first emerge from the dark of the tunnel.
And so while we are usually contemplating the players themselves when we refer to the boys of summer (and, in fact, to one specific team from a bygone era), I think when we visit a ballpark we are reminded that once, long ago, we were all boys or girls playing catch with our parents.
Happy Father’s Day.
(This column originally ran in the Burlington Free Press on June 15, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.