'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
BASEBALL IDENTITY CRISIS
Now I know how Luke Skywalker felt when he discovered that Darth Vader was his real father.
First, there is total shock, followed by utter amazement. Then you walk around in a fog questioning your own identity. Every twenty minutes or so you are overwhelmed to the point of lightheadedness by the realization that you have been living your entire life under false pretenses. Sleepless nights are filled with obsessive thoughts of what your life might have been if only you had known the truth.
I thought I knew who I was and from whence I hailed: Irish-Catholic baby boomer, Connecticut native, loyal and suffering subject of Red Sox Nation. This identity has shaped my entire life, for good or ill (mostly ill).
And then I saw the photograph.
It was a small black-and-white print, most likely produced by an early model Kodak Instamatic. Along the edge of the photo was stamped “AUGUST 66.” In the snapshot, two youngsters posed with carefree smiles, each clutching a brand new baseball bat and wearing a dark plastic batting helmet with an interlocking “NY” on the front.
I recognized the youngsters right away. The squinty-eyed smile was my younger brother, age 8. The buck-toothed grin was me, age 9.
“Hey Ma, what’s up with this?” I said, handing the photo to my mother while cradling a shoebox stuffed with four decades of Dunn family memories in my lap.
“Oh, that was when your father took you boys to Bat Day at Yankee Stadium,” she replied. “While you were there you begged him to buy those silly plastic helmets.”
“You mean I wanted to wear a Yankees helmet?!”
“You boys wore them everywhere that summer. You ran around the backyard all day long with those bats and helmets, pretending to be Mickey Mantle.”
“Mickey Mantle?!” I grimaced. “OK, great hall-of-famer, sure, but he…he was a Yankee!”
“Well, I know, dear,” my mom said, “but you just loved the Yankees back then.”
“Hey, whoa!” I blurted, “Don’t even say that, Ma, not even as a joke. I mean, that’s like calling a guy a commie. Suppose someone overhears you say that? They might not know you’re kidding.”
“I’m not kidding,” she said. “The Yankees were definitely your favorite team.”
Sometime later, after the smelling salts had revived me, I began to interrogate my parents. I discovered that I have been suppressing crucial memories about my baseball history. I always thought my first baseball love was the Red Sox, a relationship which began during the Impossible Dream, pennant-winning summer of 1967. This is very important because the Cosmic Law of Baseball Fidelity requires that you remain faithful to your first baseball love until death do you part. (The only exception is when the ball club moves away, for example, the Brooklyn Dodgers or Washington Senators. After an appropriate period of mourning, it’s OK to find another team.)
Because the Red Sox were my first baseball love, or so I thought, I was consigned for the remainder of my natural life to suffer through a litany of heartache and woe: Bob Gibson, ’67; Luis Aparicio, ’72; The Big Red Machine, ’75; The Boston Massacre and Bucky Dent, ’78; and the most gut-wrenching of all, Bill Buckner, ’86 (although I maintain Schiraldi, Stanley, McNamara, and especially Gedman ought to shoulder an equal portion of blame, and if you’d like, I can offer a passionate and erudite one-hour presentation—complete with Power Point slides—on exactly why).
But now it turns out my first baseball love really was the Yankees. (Wow, it was painful even to type that sentence.) Instead of crying in my beer during college, I should’ve been dancing in the streets because of the exploits of Reggie, Thurman, and the Goose. I should’ve been reveling in another four world championships in just the last six years, rather than obsessing about 1918, the Curse of the Bambino, and the very likely possibility that the Sox will not win the World Series even once during my lifetime.
I’m so confused. If I close my eyes, I can hear the voice of James Earl Jones: “Bill, come over to the Dark Side. Bill, it is your destiny.”
After much painful soul searching, I have only one course of action, the Cosmic Law of Baseball Fidelity notwithstanding. I must stand tall and declare to all the world: “Yankees stink! Go Sawks!!”
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