A reasonable person would assume that a man born and raised in New York City, with a blood connection to All-Star third baseman Red Rolfe of the great Yankees teams of the 1930s and early '40s, would be a devoted fan of the Bronx Bombers.
That reasonable person would be wrong. My father was a Red Sox fan, if for no other reason than to curry my goat. Or so it seemed.
My allegiance to the Yankees was born while watching the fading Mickey Mantle in the late '60s. The slugger's cool name appealed to me, and although he only showed flashes of his once-awesome power, I could see why he was so beloved. The first ballgame I ever attended was the Twins-Yankees at the old Yankee Stadium, but I went with a friend's family, not my dad. The Mick played that day, but I mostly recall how vast that ballpark looked, how green the grass was, and how a fat guy landed on me while I reached for a foul ball hit by Harmon Killebrew. (I didn't get the ball.)
Dad preferred thoroughbred races at Belmont Park and Aqueduct to baseball games, but he occasionally regaled me with tales of going to Detroit on business and stopping by Tiger Stadium to say hello to his second-cousin Red, who managed the Tigers from 1949 to '52 after 10 seasons with the Yankees, where he played on five World Series winners. My dad's fondness for the Red Sox, though, did not become apparent to me until a certain principal owner arrived in the Bronx in 1973.
How well I recall the nights spent watching the Yanks on TV with my parents during the Bronx Zoo years. My mom was my ally and greatly enamored of second baseman Willie Randolph. My favorite player by that time was Yankee ace Ron Guidry. My dad spent every minute poo-pooing our heroes while guaranteeing victory for their opponents.
"Raymond, honestly!" my exasperated mother would say, "Why can't you root for the home team?"
"That Bronfenbrenner is for the birds," he'd say, blowing a cloud of cigar smoke toward the screen. So was the swagger of Reggie Jackson, the fire of Billy Martin and the scruffy menace of Thurman Munson. Dad wasn't too keen on Bucky Dent, either, although I don't recall him ever using the F-word as the light-hitting shortstop's middle name. But most of all, Dad -- who always identified with an underdog -- didn't like "that Bronfenbrenner." He considered Boss George a loudmouth and an arrogant buffoon. I saw his point, but I still loved my team.
Dad was also an avid golfer who proudly sported his Red Sox cap on the links. We sparred good-naturedly every baseball season, and for Father's Day in 1985 I bought a T-shirt at a Yankee Stadium concession stand. It was a snappy gray number with big red letters on the chest that read BOSTON SUCKS. Dad was asleep by the time I got home from the Saturday night game, so I draped it over him. He was wearing it the next morning, but he still boldly proclaimed the superiority of his Red Sox. He had this cool, calm faith in that team -- an uncommon demeanor among the Boston faithful, but he was an uncommon man.
Dad passed away in 1994 at age 83, so he never experienced the bewildering joy of the Sox' 2004 ALCS comeback -- lord, how I would have heard about that -- and their subsequent World Series triumph. But part of him did. My son Colin is a Red Sox fan, even though I've done my level best to usher him into the Pinstriped Church. Dad only knew Colin for the first three years of the lad's life, but that was enough time to convince him to defect to Red Sox Nation. Every time the Sox win and the Yanks lose, Colin snickers that snicker from beyond the grave.