When I started this blog, one objective was to write as a fan of baseball, not as a fan of a baseball team. Aside from the more provincial work I’ve done for the Forecaster and copied here, I’d like to think I’ve succeeded at that. In the wake of yesterday’s hyperactive day at the winter meetings, I’d like to write briefly as a parent of a Red Sox fan- a two-year-old Red Sox fan.
My son turned two in January. In late April, my wife and I took him and his sister to their first game at Fenway Park. We’d watched the Portland SeaDogs at Hadlock field several times, but baseball had barely penetrated his consciousness at this point. Fenway changed all that. The oversized images of batters and pitchers on the scoreboard; the way the crowd roared throughout, but reached another level when Big Papi came up to the plate; the pandemonium when Mike Napoli launched a grand slam over the Green Monster- a Red Sox fan was born.
If a day has gone by since April 22 without my son playing baseball, it’s only because he couldn’t find anyone to play with him, despite some begging. On summer weekends, we find Little League fields or make fields with the bases and pitcher’s mound perpetually in the car. On summer weeknights, he’s setting up the field in the front yard when I get home from work and handing me a cap and ball by the time I’m out of the car. On winter days, he sets up the bases in the living room, lobbies to play with a real baseball, and settles for a softer one to spare the furniture. He bats, he pitches to me, and sometimes he turns his batting helmet backwards, puts his glove on, squats behind the plate, and “catches”, even if nobody’s pitching.
We have several baseball caps, so he assumes various identities- Big Papi, of course, but also Andrew McCutchen, Coco Crisp, Ted Williams, even Hack Wilson. But his favorite persona is Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
It’s probably my fault that he latched on to Salty. His older sister always had great verbal skills. She first said “Saltalamacchia” around 15 months old, not long after “bottle” and “baby”. It became a bit of a parlor trick. “She talks well.” “Who’s the catcher for the Red Sox?” “Saltalamacchia.” Her little brother picks up cues from her, and was saying Saltalamacchia even younger. Ok, he may have started with something like Salty-amacchia, but he’s come a long way. It was just a word- a way to let his parents show off a little. But when he first saw Salty behind the plate at Fenway, my son became a catcher. “Is this how Salty sits, Daddy?” He became a switch hitter too. If Salty can bat from both sides of the plate, why couldn’t he? I’ll stop short of claiming Saltalamacchia’s curls influenced my son’s, but the two look an awful lot alike.
Yesterday, Saltalamacchia was signed by the Marlins. This has little to do with greed or baseball economics spiraling out of control. It’s as simple as a younger catcher wanting multiple years and the Red Sox preferring a guy seeking a one-year deal to give some catching prospects a path to the big leagues. A.J. Pierzynski’s production probably won’t be far short of his Boston predecessor’s. The Red Sox will be fine.
But as a parent, I hate this deal. I haven’t broken the news to my son that his hero won’t be on the Red Sox in 2014. At first, I was afraid he’d be crushed. No more cheering for Salty’s home runs. No more Google image searches for pictures of Salty that look just like my little guy in his Red Sox cap.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize I’m afraid that he won’t be crushed. He’s kind of moved on to David Ortiz as a hero since October. We got cable for one month and never watched anything but baseball. Papi seemed to crack a homer a night. It was Papi whose uniform my son wore on Halloween, and Papi whose beard I drew on his face.
He probably talks more about Andrew McCutchen than Saltalamacchia these days. He’s seen McCutchen play once, for a few innings of an NLDS game. Cutch didn’t really register until he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which we peruse regularly. He’s got cool hair and a Pirates hat like the one I wear when I play softball. We have a Marlins hat too, and now a reason to wear it and bat from both sides of the plate in the same at-bat.
This won’t crush the two-year-old. But it crushes his dad. My more recent parlor trick has been asking my son to tell me who plays every position for the Red Sox. “Who plays right field?” “Shane Victrino (somehow condensed to two syllables)”. “Who plays center field?” “Jacos-by Ellsbury”. We had the trick down by September. Later last night, after Pierzynski signed with Boston and Saltalamacchia signed with Florida, Ellsbury signed with the Yankees.
I still don’t want to talk about greed or baseball economics spiraling out of control. As a fan, I’d rather talk about liking Ellsbury and hoping that he proves doubters wrong by staying healthy and playing at an elite level for several more years. And I would root for him to do just that for any other team. As a dad, I’d rather latch onto that moment when my son first told me without a hint that Jacos-by Ellsbury was the Red Sox centerfielder and never let it go. I’d rather have him bat lefty when he leads off an inning because that’s how Jacos-by bats. I guess he has a favorite Yankee now. Great.
Tonight, I’ll tell my son that Salty plays for the Marlins now and Ellsbury plays for the Yankees. To him, those will be facts, not statements about the futility of baseball fandom or the incredible income disparity in this and most countries. He’s a voracious learner- new facts are good. We’ll eventually get used to rooting for Jackie Bradley and A.J. Pierzynski (a fine role model, by all accounts), and he’ll have an answer when I ask who his favorite Marlin is just like when I ask who is favorite Pirate is. He won’t be sad. He probably won’t even be confused. He knows that Babe Ruth played for the Red Sox and the Yankees and the Braves and that Coco Crisp played for the Indians and the Red Sox and the A’s. Nothing is permanent.
And that’s why I’ll be sad. The conversation won’t be about greed or baseball economics spiraling out of control. It won’t be about loyalty or camaraderie. It will be about the inevitability of change. The 2013 Red Sox season was a magical ride. I can’t imagine a better way to introduce my son to baseball than with this group of guys, their flare for the dramatic, and their brilliant postseason run. I love my son at two in a way I never would have expected when he was one.
But it’s over. The 2013 Red Sox will never play another game together. The next time they take the field, my son will be three. He’ll probably still love baseball, but he’ll love other things too. He’ll probably pronounce Jacoby without the s. In 2015, Ortiz may be gone and my son might want to play soccer when spring comes (or bolleyball- he talks a lot about bolleyball). In 2016, when he names every player on the Red Sox by position, it will be a little less cute and a little less impressive. Other five-year-olds can do that.
Change is good. I look forward to every year to come with my kids. I look forward to watching and playing baseball- or whatever other interests they develop- with them for a long time. But 2013 will never happen again. And that’s hard to accept.