One of my favorite stories about my dad is a sports story. It was 1978 or 1979. My old man took the family to see the Red Sox play the Texas Rangers. Portland was the biggest town I had ever experienced, so going to Boston, coupled with my first pilgrimage to the holiest of all holy places, Fenway Park, made for the most exciting, memorable day of my young life.
What do I remember about it? The Red Sox lost. We sat high up, on the first base side, and I thought that the guy who circled Fenway blowing a bugle so fans could yell CHARGE was pretty cool. A fidgety kid at his first game, I was devouring concessions and asking a million questions: about the sea of people, about the beautiful green cathedral that is Fenway, and about baseball itself, the myriad intricacies of which I had yet to grasp.
But my most vivid memory from that day came after the game, as the Fenway Faithful filed out of the park. My dad held my hand so I didn’t get lost among the departing crowd. While walking along, with my mom and sister right behind us, we passed someone throwing a fit. He was big, and, to my eight- or nine-year-old eyes, frightening. I can still see his stringy hair, the crazed look on his face, and the way he kicked a pea-green iron girder, repeatedly screaming, “Those fucking Red Sox! Those fucking Red Sox!” I was stunned, and too young to know not to stare.
My dad hustled me past. As he did, I looked up at him and said, “Geez, dad, that guy was upset. He must really love the Red Sox.”
Pops smiled as we pushed forward, to exit the turnstiles, and then, with a laugh, said, “No, son, that guy just lost his paycheck betting on the Red Sox.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah,” my dad replied, full of certainty. “Remember, never bet on baseball.”
“OK,” I said.
It never occurred to me to question his instruction, because, in that crowded, bustling moment, I knew that the old man had pulled back the adult world’s veil ever so slightly and imparted something valuable. It was adult knowledge, and not the kind I used to glean back then from covertly listening to George Carlin LPs. (Carlin was my secret hero.) This was man-knowledge, delivered personally, from father to son. What’s more, he was right. You should never, and I mean never, bet on baseball, where even good teams lose 60 games a year. You gamble on football, pro and college. In the years that followed, my father would teach me about that, too.
My father passed away last month, coincidentally one day before George Carlin died. As a son, I feel totally broken and bereft. Right now, everything reminds me of him. If I watch a game and spend a moment loving the Red Sox, I’m reminded of him, because he instilled that love of sports and of certain teams within me, so the echoes ache. But the knowledge he shared? That still pays off.
Rick Wormwood can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.