At yesterday's write in, a friend told me the story of a woman she knew from her neighborhood in New Jersey that had ties to the Yankees. She was such a true and loyal fan, that when she died, the people she knew found a way to scatter her ashes at the old Yankee Stadium even though such things are virtually impossible.
I started thinking about how many loyal sports fans would want to be scattered in the one place that felt the most comfortable to them. What would be the kind of plan a kid would do to honor the wish of someone they loved?
“So how are we going to do this?”
“Carefully chuckle head. Very, very carefully.”
Brandon hoped that no one would look to carefully at the small plastic bag at the bottom of his backpack under his baseball glove. He knew his older brother had a similar one stuffed in his bag as well. Inside were the ashes of their great grandfather who had helped raise them.
At 80 Pop Pop was still a picture of health. He had always told the boys he wouldn’t stop moving until “the day the good Lord sees fit to call me home.” He didn't run away to Florida to hide like a lot of other men his age and he didn't hide away after he lost the "women of my dreams," their Nana. When their folks split up, Pop Pop convinced their mom to move in with him and was just as much a part of their lives as any parent. Pop Pop didn’t stop for anything and had just run the Boston Marathon as a bandit a little more than a month earlier. He was training for a triathlon and, on an easy 20 mile bike ride, an SUV veered and hit him. The driver had been drunk and the boys had to go to court this week to give victim impact statements before the judge pronounced the sentence.
For Brandon, it didn’t matter what the sentence was. It wouldn’t bring back Pop Pop so anything the guy got for drinking in the afternoon was pointless. His mother had said that was the perfect thing to say to the judge.
At least it was better than the wake and funeral. People were trying to comfort him when they said things like, “He didn’t feel a thing…” and “at least he went quickly and doing something he loved.” The words rang hollow for Brandon. His Pop Pop had been there for him. He had given him his first glove, taught him how to throw and told him that he would have a swing for Fenway one day but to play for the love of the game while he was young and could.
If anyone defined what it was to be a Red Sox fan, it was Pop Pop. He had suffered through it all, the bad years, the worse years, the highs and lows. He had told Brandon that he knew his parents marriage was doomed because his dad proposed to his mother at game four of the 1999 playoffs between the Sox and the Yankees. The one where Chuck Knoblauch supposedly tagged out Jose Offerman causing a riot. Mild mannered Jimy Williams flipped his cap. Fans pelted the field with garbage and it was horrible, horrible moment in Red Sox history.
“Anyone who proposed to a girl that day in the park had a marriage doomed from the start,” he’d tell Brandon.
In 2004, Pop Pop convinced their mom to let them stay up for game four against the Cardinals.
“History is going to be made tonight Maura. Let the boys have one night. I kept you up to watch Neil Armstrong land on the moon at that age, let them stay up for this.”
She wasn’t as convinced. After being raised as a Sox fan herself, she knew the Sox could still blow it, and probably would, but she listened to her grandfather and let the boys stay up. In that moment when Jason Varitek charged the mound to catch an excited Keith Foulke, they were jumping up and down screaming in joy in their living room.
“I told you Mo! I told you this was the night! I can die a happy man now and if I do, then make sure you scatter me on the outfield where I can always be a part of the action.”
They all celebrated with root beer and popcorn until the boys fell asleep and it was Pop Pop that carried them into bed and tucked them in. Brandon remembered opening his eyes as Pop Pop kissed his forehead and pulling the covers up around him.
It was that moment in time that Brandon chose to go back to whenever he thought about Pop Pop in the past couple of weeks. Today he and Brandon were supposed to come to their first game of the season. Instead it was his brother Andy that brought him to the game and Brandon knew he had no choice, he had to fulfill Pop pop’s wish from that night.
When he shared the plan with Andy, Andy thought he was nuts.
“Seriously Brandon. What if we end up in a ‘Big Lebowski’ situation?”
“I think we’d be smart enough to make sure the wind was blowing in before we let go.”
“If we get caught, we’ll get tossed out of there.”
“So we won’t get caught. We can do it during batting practice when people are still coming in and it doesn’t matter where you are. We’ll hang out by Pesky’s Pole and, when the breeze is right, we’ll just sort of let him go.”
Andy wasn’t fully convinced, but Brandon had worked on him until he not only agreed but had actually began to work out details.
“We can only scatter a little bit, sort of like how they only sent a little bit of Carl Sagan and Gene Rodenberry into space. That way mom won’t know and we’ve got a better chance of making it happen.”
So they moved stealthily through the house that morning, just scooping a few spoonfuls of their great grandfather into zippered snack bags and burying them deep into their backpacks in hope security wouldn’t notice. It was exciting and they had giggled and spoke in whispered conspiratorial tones until they found themselves standing in front of the gates on Yawkey Way.
“What if they catch us?” Brandon suddenly gulped.
“It was your idea pinhead, so it better work.”
The old Andy was back. The older brother who had no real use for his little brother - except maybe as a punching bag. Gone was the co-conspirator from the past week as they approached the gate.
The bored guard made a cursory glance into their backpacks before affixing the neon band with the Red Sox logo on it to indicate they were cleared to go in the park.
Containing their excitement, they waited until they made it into the crowd on Yawkey Way before high-fiving each other. They made their way to the right field box seats and elbowed their way next to the pole.
Brandon kept a close eye on the flag over the press box. Right now it hung limply as not even a breeze blew in park. On the field there were plenty of players doing warm ups. Some were batting, some were throwing the balls around and still others were doing wind sprints and stretching.
“Pop Pop,” Brandon whispered, “help us out here.”
He took the bag from his backpack and gently elbowed his brother indicating he should do the same. Just as they got the bags out, a breeze began to pick up blowing in the right direction. With a smile, Brandon and Andy held the bags over the wall and gave a shake. The breeze caught the ashes, carrying them into the right field grass and a bit beyond.
The two boys stood there watching the ashes dance a bit on the wind towards the left field grass with a smile on their faces and a tear in their eye.
“Thanks for everything Pop Pop,” Andy whispered. “I’m going to miss you.”
He put his arm around his brother’s shoulders as they stood transfixed watching little motes still flutter on the breeze around various players as they landed.
“Do you think Pop Pop is watching?” Andy asked.
“I think so,” Brandon responded as the wind died again.
“It was a good idea.”
“Thanks. We wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without your planning.”
They both laughed as they began to feel people pushing them from behind who wanted to leave their names on Pesky’s Pole.
“Let’s head down to canvas alley and see if we can get an autograph,” Andy suggested.
As they made their way back up the aisle, Brandon felt a breeze on his forehead. Again he was brought back to October 27, 2004 when the Sox won their first series in 86 years. The breeze felt a little like the kiss his Pop Pop gave him that night.
“What is it squirt?”
“Do you think it will ever stop hurting when you think about Pop Pop?”
They walked a few steps in silence.
“I think that eventually it will, especially as we remember the good stuff. You know, the ‘remember when Pop Pop said…” or ‘remember when Pop Pop caught us…’ sort of stuff. I don’t think he’d want us to feel sad when we think of him. I mean all we pretty much did was laugh when we were with him.”
“That’s true. I know one thing, I’m not going to tell mom about this.”
“Well, I might in like 20 years or something when she can’t punish us any more.”
“Yeah, maybe then. But until then, we better not say anything to her.”
“Another good idea chucklehead,” Andy agreed.
“Who knows, maybe we’ll win another World Series with Pop Pop out there to help.”
“Wouldn’t that be sweet?”
“It certainly would Andy, it certainly would.”