Luis TiantOctober 5, 2011
Last Wednesday, my wife and I took our son to the doctor for his two-month checkup. Two months seems too insubstantial. Parents of older children tell me to enjoy every moment because “it goes by so fast,” but I find myself yearning for a quicker passage of time so that the boy can stack up the days and weeks and months and become more and more fully and safely here. I don’t know how to explain that feeling (or feelings in general) except in baseball card terms. Most players, like most things, come and go with very little trace or even no trace at all, but certain cards, such as this 1979 Luis Tiant, seem to be invincible, despite their inherent flimsiness, and it has to do with all the many seasons on the back of the card anchoring the player into place as a star, a bright constant in an ever-shifting world.
At the doctor, my son got two shots, one in each leg, to protect him from several diseases. When we got home his legs began to swell up, and he started screaming. We couldn’t find any way to help him. Finally, around dusk, we put him in a stroller and went to the drug store to get some baby Tylenol. The walk seemed to distract him a little, and the screaming tapered off to little grunts and groans. When we got to the store I stayed outside and rolled the stroller up and down a patch of sidewalk while my wife went in to buy the pain-killer. The store is in an area where there are some sketchy characters, and on the way out of the store my wife was harassed by a pack of them.
“Fuck you,” my wife shouted over her shoulder at them.
“What’d they say?” I asked.
“Whatever,” she muttered and started leading the way back toward home, where our son would start screaming again. She held the Tylenol, and I pushed the stroller containing our suffering baby away from the pack of harassers, salving my feelings of powerlessness with fantasies of violent revenge.
This is Luis Tiant’s last card with the Red Sox. He left the Red Sox a little over a month after a one-game playoff defeat ended the team’s 1978 season. Players on the Red Sox lamented that the heart of the team was gone, and the team’s immediate plummet into uninspired mediocrity bore those claims out. I was only 11, but I didn’t blame Tiant for leaving. I don’t think other fans did, either, even though he went to the Yankees; the general feeling about the exodus of many players from the star-studded 1970s team was that the incompetency and cheapness of the front office was to blame, not the players. This last card of him as a Red Sox player seems fitting to me, a quiet, almost meditative shot of him doing what he did as well as any player ever has: connecting with a fan. We want to feel solid and capable and powerful. We need that connection.
I am fairly certain that I would lose to almost everyone on earth if ever pitted against them in a fight, so it was difficult for me to come up with realistic fantasies in which I was able to run up toward the street-hardened harassers of my wife and cause them all grave pain. I decided I’d have to rely on a lot of surprise groin-kicks, as many as I could fit in before their superior strength, fighting skills, and generalized rage at the unjust world kicked in and left me fractured and bleeding on the sidewalk (at best). Really what I needed, I reasoned while pushing my baby home, was a large and powerful weapon, not a gun but some kind of industrial-strength many-barreled taser capable of subduing with agonizing force several members of a gang of harassers, but even armed with that in my fantasy I saw myself somehow fumbling my grip on the weapon and having it used against me in horrible ways. Finally I surrendered to that old standby of my life and of the impotent and powerless everywhere: the impossible fantasy of having super-strength. Oh, they would laugh and heckle as I approached in my glasses and my drab middle-aged ectomorphic garments, but then wham and ca-crush and b-doouuzzzh and bodies flying everywhere, jaws cracking, eye sockets caving in. Oh, the weeping and begging. Oh, my great and awesome power! Fear me!
“What’s the matter with you?” my wife asked as we neared the entrance to our building. I guess I had a look on my face.
It was a rough night with the baby, but not as bad as the day had been, and finally he settled into a shallow sleep. I was free to follow the progress of game 162 of the 2011 baseball season. I have nothing to say about that game, but the departure the following day of Terry Francona from the Red Sox reminds me a little of Luis Tiant’s in the fall of 1978, just after the end of a Red Sox collapse that until the night of baby Tylenol and groin-kick fantasies was inarguably the worst regular season flop in franchise history. That 1978 team, like all 86 yearly editions of the Red Sox that had failed to win the World Series from 1919 to 2003, was redeemed in 2004, thanks in considerable part to the leadership of Terry Francona. Once the Red Sox finally won the World Series, everyone who had ever played for the Red Sox got to ride in the victory parade (figuratively if not literally), which to a lifelong fan was supremely gratifying. It helped give me back my childhood, the sheer fun of rooting for Lynn and Rice and Yaz and that warm ancient wizard, Luis Tiant, of believing he was going to lead them all the way. Until 2004, I avoided my summery childhood memories because they were tangled in a slanting October twilight that made all the players from the 1970s team seem forever doomed to fail, and since my identification with them was so deeply rooted and intimate—they were the projections of my deepest wishes in the world—I felt forever doomed to fail, too. Terry Francona was the leader of the team that lifted that burden. I will always be grateful to him. Fan is short for fanatic but it might as well be short for fantasy. In being a fan we hope to become more powerful, more victorious, than we are in real life. Amazing that sometimes it actually turns out to really feel that way. It certainly didn’t last Wednesday night for me, and the next day Terry Francona was no longer the manager of the Red Sox, but two times in my life I really did have super-strength, and both of those times Terry Francona presided.