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Living With the Red Sox in Istanbul

The last Red Sox World Series my dad saw was 1986.  He died in 2003, a few months before Pedro’s collapse in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the ALCS in New York.

Long periods of championship drought led fans like my dad to say that they lived and died with the Sox. But they mostly died with them.

The only Sox Series I watched with my dad was in 1986 when I was 14. It looked like they would win in Game 6, going into the bottom of the ninth up 5-3. I wanted to celebrate but the worried look on my dad’s face kept me glued to my chair. He had been quietly chain smoking Kent Ultra Lights since the 7th inning.  The silence continued after Wally Backman flied to Jim Rice in left for the first out. When Keith Hernandez lined to Dave Henderson in center I broke the silence.

“Dad, what are you worried about? The Sox are going to win the series.”

“It’s not over yet,” he said. He had smoked another Kent down to the nub.

When the Mets’ comeback was over and they were celebrating on the field, my dad shutoff the TV and spoke again. “Now you’re a Red Sox fan. Go to bed,” he said.

I went to my room and cried myself to sleep for the next two weeks.

More misery followed in 1988, 1990, 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2003, the year my dad died.  But the healing process began in 2004 and I slowly learned how to live with the Sox rather than die with them.  However, it wasn’t until this year that I was able to fully dispel the 1986 demons with the help of my five-year-old son and mother-in-law from the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan.  We’ve been living in Istanbul for the last nine years, a long and safe distance from that smoked filled living room that scarred my soul in 1986.

Watching the Sox in Istanbul at four in the morning with my son resisting the ever present bowl of kasha that his Kazakh grandmother tries to force down his throat is much different than watching the 1986 World Series with a chain smoking and jaded dad.  My mother-in-law doesn’t care about the game. Rather, she sits patiently as a Stalingrad sniper waiting for it to end so she can force feed my son and indoctrinate him with the Russian children’s songs she has on her iPhone.

In this atmosphere of post-Cold War tension my son, mother-in-law, and I settled in for Game 4 of the ALCS.  With Boston winning in the ninth, the Sox closer Craig Kimbrel took the mound.  He hadn’t pitched well in the playoffs and when I saw him standing on the hill I began to have flashbacks to 1986, envisioning my dad chain smoking and seeing Lenny Dykstra’s ugly mug in my mind’s eye.

Kimbrel was all over the place, walking and hitting batters and before too long the bases were loaded with two out. I looked nervously at my son, fearing this would be his 1986 moment. My mother-in-law fixed her gaze on the bowl of steaming kasha that my son ignored.

“You must eat!” she said.

“I’m watching the game,” he said.

Then she looked at me for help. I ignored her. After all, we won the Cold War.

“Are the Sox going to win?” my son asked.

I was silent for a moment and contemplated telling him it was anybody’s game. That it wasn’t over and it would never be over and you will die with this team like the grandfather you never knew.  However, a strange feeling of confidence gripped me. Maybe it was because I was far away in a small apartment in Istanbul sitting next to an old woman whose family had survived Stalin and could care less if the Sox won or not. Or maybe it was because I needed to raise my son as a Red Sox fan who knew that no matter how bad it looked the Sox would pull it out.  Perhaps I needed to finally become that fan, too.

“The Sox are going to win,” I said. Saying it made it real and it had to happen. My son smiled and gave me a fist bump.

Kimbrel wound and dealt and Alex Bregman hit a low liner to left.  I leaped to my feet and Benintendi dove headlong and caught the ball.

“Is the game over?” my mother-in-law asked.

“Yes! We won!” I said. But she only heard “yes” and moved in.

I walked into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and was suddenly overwhelmed with tears. I was happy that I could help my son be a Red Sox fan shaped by a confident spirt of winning. But a part of me was devastated that my dad didn’t make it long enough to learn how to live rather than die with the Red Sox.

 

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Dana E. Abizaid teaches European History at the Istanbul International Community School.

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