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Dan Shaughnessy

How sports connects us to key dates

If you remember the night Tony Conigliaro was struck, you probably remember something else from that time.

1967 globe file photo

If you remember the night Tony Conigliaro was struck, you probably remember something else from that time.

The Orioles are playing baseball in October. I watched Game 2 against the Yankees on TV the other night. I saw those orange and black colors and the cartoony bird on the O’s helmets and the warm breath shooting out of the hitters’ mouths into the cool Baltimore air of early October . . . and I thought of the day my dad died when I was at Memorial Stadium, covering the World Series for the Washington Star in 1979.

It was Wednesday, Oct. 10. Today.

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Maybe it’s a guy thing. Maybe it’s a sports thing. But I always have connected important life passages with things that were going on in sports.

It’s a trick. It makes people think you have a terrific memory. It makes people think you are some kind of calendar savant, but that’s a lie. You are just a sports fan and you naturally associate personal events with big games.

I always remember my sister Mary’s wedding anniversary. Aug. 19, 1967. She’s so impressed when I call every year. What a thoughtful guy.

Actually, no. It’s just that I remember that Tony Conigliaro was struck in the face by Jack Hamilton’s fastball on Friday, Aug. 18, 1967. Mary’s wedding was the next day. I remember her anniversary only because I could never forget what happened to Tony C.

Do other people do this? Are you always able to remember you’re goddaughter’s birthday because she was born on Feb. 3, 2002, the day Adam Vinatieri split the uprights in New Orleans at Super Bowl XXXVI?

Sports. It makes us all Rain Man. Sometimes the game reminds you of the personal event. Sometimes it’s the other way around.

When I run into somebody who attended Boston College in the early 1990s, I am able to remind them of the day the Eagles blew a trip to the Sugar Bowl when David Green fumbled against West Virginia on Friday, Nov. 26, 1993. They are amazed I can remember all that.

How could I forget? I was supposed to cover that game, but instead wound up at Children’s Hospital, where my 8-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia (Kate Shaughnessy is fine, thank you). I never have to look any of it up. Who forgets details about a day like that?

The Celtics were playing the Bucks in Milwaukee in the 1984 Eastern Conference finals when my first child was born. When my son was born three years later, the Blue Jays and Tigers were locked in a final-weekend winner-take-all series. The middle child’s birth came when the White Sox were in town in the summer of ’85.

Bastille Day is July 14. It’s a holiday in my house and it has nothing to do with France. It’s the day John McNamara was fired by the Red Sox in 1988.

The last time I saw my dad was at Fenway Park on Sept. 9, 1979, a Sunday afternoon. Red Sox-Orioles. I was covering the Series-bound Orioles as a daily beat writer. I’d introduced Jim Palmer to my mom before the game and she loved that; Palmer was kind of a handsome guy. On my way to the visitors’ clubhouse in the late innings, I detoured past Section 27 to say goodbye to the folks.

A month later, I was at Memorial Stadium late in the afternoon on a cold, rainy day, getting ready for the first game of the Orioles-Pirates World Series.

Hours before the game was scheduled to be played, I bumped into the wife of Orioles starter Mike Flanagan. Flanagan would win the Cy Young Award for his 23 victories in 1979 and was slated to start the first game of the World Series, but his wife was having trouble getting the tickets he left for the family. She didn’t have her checkbook or her wallet. I wrote a check to the Orioles to cover Mike Flanagan’s World Series tickets. Different times, no?

A few hours later, the first game of the World Series was postponed.

I stayed with friends in Baltimore that night. When I awoke, I was unaware that my dad had died in his sleep back home in Groton, Mass. This was pre-cellphone, pre-Internet.

There was snow on the ground in Baltimore that day, so I swung by the ballpark to see if perhaps commissioner Bowie Kuhn was inspecting the field. When I sauntered into the Orioles executive offices, one of the secretaries said Bob Brown was looking for me. Brown was an Amherst graduate and a public relations visionary. He was clearly upset as we took our seats in his office.

“It’s your dad,’’ he started.

“He died?’’ I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Yes,’’ he said, shaking his head. Then he left me in his office and told me I could use his phone to make calls home.

I was in my house in Groton later that day, unpacking in my old room, a few feet from the room where my dad died the night before. The World Series was on television. From Baltimore. It was a cold night and Flanagan was beating the Pirates, 5-4, in Game 1. I smiled, imagining Mike’s dad sitting in the stands, watching his son win a World Series game.

It was Oct. 10.

Today.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.
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