It did not take long, just a few hours after we landed at Logan Airport on Sept. 12 and checked in at the Copley House apartment-style hotel complex in Back Bay.
“F… the Yankees!” a passenger in a moving car yelled out as I, wearing a New York Yankees cap, waited outside for my 23-year-old son to come out of a nearby CVS. The potty-mouthed young man punctuated the expletive slight with the middle-finger New York salute. I chuckled and blew him a kiss in return.
Welcome to Boston. This was our first trip to the city and the incident was affirmation that the historic rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox is still alive, even if both teams are out of the playoffs this year and tussling mightily not to finish in last place in the American League East division.
I know it well. The first pro baseball game I saw involved these two iconic baseball franchises and took place June 21, 1967, at Yankee Stadium. I was 13. My best friend and I bought seats in the nosebleed upper deck.
Not surprisingly, a brawl erupted after Bosox third baseman Joe Foy was plunked by Yankees pitcher Thad Tillotson and Red Sox star pitcher Jim Lonborg returned the favor a half inning later by beaning Tillotson in the back.
The on-field drama that day spilled into the stands.
“Mickey Mantle sucks!” a spectator, probably a Red Sox fan, bellowed loudly a few rows above us. That prompted a man seated across the aisle near us to pull out a switchblade and chase after the Mantle hater. Welcome to the Bronx.
A bit overwhelmed, scared, and also deflated by the fact that the Red Sox were beating the stuffing out of the then hapless Yankees by 8-1 that day, we left before the game ended.
Now it pains me to publicly admit this, but in spite of all my pleadings and begging, my son, Jonathan, grew up a fan of the Red Sox and all other pro teams from Boston. I blame Tom Brady, who is my son’s all-time favorite athlete.
Mind you, I dressed this kid in pinstripe jumpers since birth. I plastered a picture of Yankee Stadium in his room. His older sister worships Derek Jeter and anything Yankees. Nothing has worked, which is why his name is written in invisible ink in my will.
But I do like the kid regardless. So I fulfilled a promise to take him to Boston to see the Patriots and the Red Sox play.
I hate saying this, but we had a blast. Fenway Park, where we took in a doubleheader, and the city itself are must-sees. We had the requisite clam chowder and lobster roll. We took a tour of Fenway on Sept. 13 before a scheduled game that was eventually postponed after a frustrating two hour-plus delay due to rain. But if it weren’t for the delay, we would not have by chance met and befriended Mario and Kelly Fossile.
Mario, a father of five from Marlboro who runs a construction excavation company, feels my blended sports family dilemma: He grew up a Yankees fan and married Kelly, a die-hard Red Sox fan from Hudson. I guess opposites do attract.
On this day, he was treating his wife of 25 years to her first baseball game at Fenway. She agreed to go, on the condition he not wear any Yankee gear. He obeyed and dutifully donned a Patriots windbreaker instead.
Tribalism is a primordial human trait, and it is not that different in sports as it is in politics, nationalism, religion, and other allegiances. But as we saw at the Miami Dolphins-Patriots game on Sept. 17 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, extreme and misguided fanaticism can result in tragic consequences. A 53-year-old Patriots fan, who went to the game with a group of friends, died after a fight involving a group of Dolphins fans. According to eyewitnesses, Dale Mooney of New Hampshire was tussling with a man when he fell unconscious after he was reportedly punched by a third party wearing a Dolphins jersey. A preliminary autopsy report determined that he died from a medical issue not related to the violent confrontation. My son and I were two sections away from where the incident took place, but we did not see it or know about it until we returned to our hotel room later that night and saw the news.
How senseless. Some of us take this stuff too far. I remembered how graciously the Red Sox ball club treated my son more than 11 years ago. At the time I was undergoing chemotherapy following my diagnosis a year earlier of stage 3 multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer.
My then 12-year-old son, fearing that I would die at any moment, took it hard in spite of assurances from me that I would beat this thing. His grades plummeted. I reached out to the club, explained the situation, and asked whether he could watch his favorite team take practice when they came to play at Target Field in Minneapolis.
No problem, they informed me. He met and got batting tips from Adrián González, his favorite player at the time. He got a ball signed by González, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, and other players.
No doubt it helped his morale. His demeanor and grades got better. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul last year.
Before we took the train to Foxborough for the Pats game, we attended Father John Unni’s sermon at St. Cecilia Parish in Back Bay. It centered on forgiveness.
“I want you to think about a resentment,” Unni, the church’s longtime pastor, said during the homily. “I want you to think about something you or I haven’t let go off, a simmering anger, might be something long standing or recent, a frustration, or a slight from someone else that we are carrying.
“Wrath and anger are hateful things ... yet the one who hugs them tight here is the one who’s stuck,” he added. “We torture ourselves when we can’t or won’t or are not ready to or willing to let go, to let it go, to forgive.”
We introduced ourselves to Unni after Mass.
“I like your B shirt,” he told my son, who was wearing a Bruins shirt.
Wonderful. I let him know that I was a Yankees fan as we shook hands. He jokingly recoiled. I then informed him that I was initially intent on asking if he could perform an exorcism on my Sox-loving son, but that, after listening to his homily, I should forgive.
“Let him be, and he will let you be,” he said.
Or, as Mario Fossile agreed during our chat, “In the end, it’s only a game.”
This rivalry, or any other, should never rise beyond friendly banter. Bottom line: My son’s back in the will.
Rubén Rosario is a journalist in St. Paul.