We were in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish Country, with many family members to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday.
Our family started to gather in the hotel lobby so we could head off to dinner. Sitting at the center of it all, proudly wearing his Red Sox hat, was Dad, basking in the joy of togetherness. He had his wife and children with him – and a few of the grandkids. My dad loves his family even more than he loves the Red Sox (although he has loved the Red Sox longer than any of us. Dad’s love of the Sox goes back to 1946. He met my mom in the late 1950’s and my sister and I came more than a decade after that.)
In the lobby, I was sitting opposite my dad in a straight backed wooden chair when I was distracted by the voice of people entering the room behind me. I heard a teenage boy state with joy, “Didi homered and the Yankees are leading the Orioles.”
I also love my family, but the Yankee news immediately distracted me from the conversation. I turned to the voice and inquired about the game. I was greeted with a big smile from the father of the boy who, wearing a Yankees t-shirt and Yankees hat, was obviously a big fan. As the man passed with his two sons, we enjoyed a little friendly banter about the game, the state of the Yankees, and what not.
In the course of this passing discussion, past Yankees’ successes against the Red Sox came up. This often happens when Dad and I get together and people see that we love different teams. Dad can bring up the recent Red Sox World Series wins, I have to revert to Aaron Boone, Bucky Dent, and, even though it predates me by decades, when Joe DiMaggio came back from his famous heel spur to destroy the Red Sox pennant hopes in 1949. As a Yankees fan, I revel in the stories. It all makes for good fun.
As we talked about DiMaggio, the new guest mentioned the wonderful book Dinner With DiMaggio, which is one I reviewed for this blog. I mentioned that I had the pleasure of talking with the author, Dr. Rock Positano, a few times. This other guest (I still didn’t know his name) mentioned that his own podiatrist is a cousin of Dr. Positano’s. “What a small world,” was the expected and typical response. The man and his children passed, and life moved on. We've all had moments like these - quick acquaintances, friendly banter, and a few smiles. But five o'clock was quickly approaching, and with it, our smorgasbord dinner at the local restaurant.
That man though must had more than his fair share of luggage, because as we continued chatting in the lobby (it wasn't quite five o'clock after all), he came back again. This time, he took more notice of Dad’s Red Sox hat. We get this a lot. The man asked, “A Red Sox fan and a Yankees fan? How did that happen?” I jokingly walked over towards my dad and attempted to remove his hat. Dad didn’t necessarily like that - I agitated him. At that same moment, the friendly guest and my Dad started to playfully argue about the rivalry - neither man giving an inch and tensions, just maybe, getting a little tense. My dad even stood up to try to make a point - probably that the Red Sox have won more World Series this century than the Yankees have. (I think Dad and I already know the direction of each baseball discussion long before either of us utters a word.)
Somewhere in all of this, it was mentioned that we were in Lancaster to celebrate Dad’s 80th birthday.
The man stopped. “It’s your birthday? God bless.” he said. “Wait right there. I have something for you. Seriously. I have a gift for you. It’s a Carl Yastrzemski bat. God must have wanted me to give this to you. I’ll be back in a moment.”
We all sat in stunned silence. We weren’t quite sure what was going to transpire. Of all things, did this man, a guy we never met before, have a Carl Yastrzemski bat? And was he really going to give it to my dad?
The passing moments had calmed the rising tumult (not that there really ever was any true anger or frustration, just the friendly needling of baseball fans from different persuasions).
A short while later, but a bit longer than we anticipated, the man came back, carrying still more bags, but also, with them, an old Adirondack Big Stick, Flame Treated bat typical of the 1970s. It was, as promised, a Carl Yastrzemski model. With a great smile, the man gave the bat to my dad, “Happy Birthday," he said.
My dad was stunned. A Yaz bat? For him? The man then said, “I really don’t know why I threw that bat in the car, but I did, at the very last moment. It must have been God; he must have wanted me to bring it and give it to you. Happy Birthday. God is good.”
“He sure is. God is good,” said Dad.
And with that, across the divide that separates all of the Fenway Faithful from the fans of the Evil Empire the Bronx, a new friendship was formed.
“I don’t think we’ve actually been formally introduced," my dad said. “I’m Paul.”
“Pleasure to meet both of you. I am Andrew…and these are my sons, Paul Andrew and Mark Peter...”
(Postscript: Five o'clock had arrived and the rest of the family had had enough baseball talk. Dad and I were late to dinner. We were having too much fun with our new friends Andrew and his boys…)