My father worked hard, days and nights and Saturdays, fixing all sorts of electronic gadgetry. This is not a gene he passed on to his son, who is challenged by such intricacies as working the dimmer switch on the dining room light fixture. Our home is a perpetual handyman-for-hire’s cash cow, Mr. Fix Its clamoring at the end of the driveway like scalpers working the gates of the Super Bowl.
Mel Dupont’s ability to fix things, and his unwavering honesty, is part of the reason I’ve sat in press boxes the last 40 years. I thought of him often Wednesday night while working at Fenway, watching the Red Sox win the World Series. I’m sure many baby boomers thought of their late parents and maybe grandparents, wishing just once in their lifetimes they witnessed such splendor in the Back Bay grass.
All those generations of Sox fans, loving their team, for decades left with nothing but heartache and that “wait till next year’’ lament that bonded them in their protracted, generational misery. Now it’s a team with three titles in 10 seasons. For the boomers out there, it’s as impressive as it is bizarre.
My dad probably would not have watched the Series clincher on television. He preferred his Sox served on the radio. He was born in 1922, in America’s pre-TV bronze era, and his connection to his favorite team remained mostly through newspapers and radio. On hot summer nights, he often sat in the kitchen, back door open to entice a breeze, leafing through the Record American while listening to the last inning or two after returning from his night job as a TV repair man in Arlington Heights.
Reporter’s aside: Around the mid-’70s, having fixed tens of thousands of Zeniths, Admirals, RCAs, and Magnivoxes, my father boldly predicted no one ever would pay for this newfangled “scam job’’ called cable television. At least no one in their right mind. But then, I figured the Sox for roughly 78-82 wins this year. Obviously, the prediction gene has taken full root in our family tree. And, oh, our monthly cable scam job runs about $200.
In the spring of ’72, a customer from Belmont dropped off his TV for fixing, the signal strong, tube lit, image scrambled. My dad fiddled with it, quickly returned it to working order, and later noted to George, the customer, that he obviously had kids. For years, George Sullivan was a sports columnist at the Herald Traveler. He had three young children, and one of them, the repair man surmised, must have delighted in twirling the TV’s horizontal, vertical, and fine tune buttons. These are not buttons you’ll find today on your Sony or Samsung.
To make a very long story short, my father refused to charge for the repair. He had kids, at least one, messing up electronics all the time (see first paragraph). Grateful, George scribbled out his name and phone number, offering a pair of Sox tickets in return. Time passed. My father gave me the piece of paper, which I tucked in my wallet and forgot. Months later as a sophomore at Boston University, I walked into my first journalism course with the instructor’s name, George Sullivan, neatly written on the chalkboard. The same name that was in my wallet.
And here I am, more than 40 years later, in part because of the friendship and mentorship that all relates to my father’s one small favor and George Sullivan’s reciprocal and generous gesture. In case you are wondering, I never took the Sox tickets.
George was, by far, my finest college instructor, above all preaching accuracy and fairness on the job, and conveying his passion for sports, reporting, writing, and newspapering. Each day on this job, I think of what he taught me. The Herald Traveler forced to fold, George also worked the copy desk in the Globe sports department. I was the first of nearly a dozen students he helped shepherd through the Globe’s front door as a copyboy, and I think I’ll be the only one of that lot to have stuck with the business. That proves only that the rest of the lot was far brighter.
The Red Sox went 95 years without clinching the Series at home, and when I rushed down from the press box in the ninth inning Wednesday night, my intention was to cut through the grandstand on the way to my postgame on-field assignment. It was a poor plan. The aisles were jammed, almost frighteningly so, as was the standing-room area behind the last row of all the grandstand seats. Fans lined up so deeply back there that it was impossible to see the field from where I stood at the top of Section 18.
It was a raucous and wonderful moment, among the most memorable of my career, to be there, to witness the excitement and the joy and the relief.
To know Sox history well is to know that Sox fans, those with history, sense relief as much as they do joy when it comes to winning. As the mourning cycle has its stages of sadness, anger, and acceptance, Sox fans cycle through victory in stages of disbelief, relief, and finally joy. The most grizzled don’t really reach the joy stage until the victory is certified in the next day’s paper.
Standing in the darkness behind the grandstand, what struck me profoundly was the countless number of fans, many of them unable to see the field at all, hoisting smart phones far above their heads. They were documenting the final outs. Those tiny TV screens in their hands, showing video and still pictures, lit up the night like fireflies dot the darkness on a hot July night in New England.
I stood and stared briefly, unable to see the field below, but watching the game through all these tiny hand-held screens held high by the roiling throng. My father, what would he think of all these screens? The flickers of light gave it a magical aura, as if it were a concert or prayer vigil.
With all those tiny TVs aglow in the darkness, I thought of my old man at the back door with his newspaper, with his radio on, with his love of the Sox. And I thought of how hard he worked, his honesty, and how his one kind gesture led to the connection with George Sullivan, my work, my life.