Friday, April 1, 2011

How I Learned to Curse in French

Spring means a change of wardrobe. I trade button-down long-sleeved shirts for short-sleeved polo style shirts. Gone are the sports jacket worn in winter. It feels foolhardy to wear a sports jacket when it is more than 90 degrees outside, unless attending a funeral or similar formal event. And I only wear a tie under duress.

It also means switching hats, literally. Spring means that, when not working, my bald spot will be covered with a Boston Red Sox cap purchased at Fenway Park two years ago. Major League Baseball season is about to commence. Life is good.

I became a Red Sox fan in the womb, up in Concord, N.H., where I lived the first 13 years of my life. I had no choice in the matter of which team I followed, though my dad — not a native New Englander — rooted quietly for the Cardinals. He was outnumbered by my mother’s French-Canadian family, which had immigrated from the Quebec province into the Granite State in the 1920s. They promptly took up rooting for one of baseball’s most star-crossed teams.

I learned a wide array of profanities seated near kinfolks, watching the Red Sox on television during the 1960s. These included French phrases that comprised my only foray into that language. I have since learned how to curse in Spanish but forgotten nearly all the French imprecations learned at the knee of my grandfather and uncles. My grandmother, who outlived her husband by more than three decades, didn’t curse. She would just cluck her tongue and talk to the television as the Sox blew yet another lead.

That all changed in 2004, when incredibly, the team came back from a three-games-to-zip deficit to the hated Yankees to take four straight and win the American League pennant. They next dispatched the Cardinals in four straight. The 86-year-old Curse of the Bambino, so named after the team traded Babe Ruth to the Yanks in 1918, had finally ended.

I have attended games sporadically at Fenway Park since 1967, when my dad bought tickets to the next-to-last game of the season. That was the year of the Impossible Dream. The Sox won the pennant on the last game of the season. We sat in the bleachers the day before, watching our team win to tie the Twins for first place. My best friend Bruce Courtemanche and I held up a banner in hopes of getting on television. My father was our hero for having bought tickets back in the spring. None of us suspected our ragtag Sox would be vying for a World Series berth in autumn. (This was when there were just two leagues, no divisions or playoffs. The Sox lost in seven games to the Cardinals. The Curse continued.)

I visited Bruce in New Hampshire a couple years ago. He still lives a couple of blocks from our elementary school and confessed that he still has that banner, more than four decades later. As for me, I acquired a baseball a few years ago signed by my boyhood hero, Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz won the Triple Crown in 1967, leading the American League in batting average, runs-batted-in and home runs. No player has repeated that feat since. My baseball, perched in Lucite, has his signature and “TC 1967” inscribed. It’s part of the Red Sox d├ęcor that makes up my upstairs bedroom and study, along with a large black-and-white photo of the famed scoreboard at Fenway and a 1967 photo of Yaz leaping to catch a line drive in left field.

The photo I shot in Fenway of the first game of the 2007 World Series between Boston and the Arizona Diamondbacks also hangs in my bedroom. It shows Josh Beckett throwing the first pitch as the crowd watches. It is framed together with my ticket to the game. Naturally, I’ve since changed my mind but at the time thought the Lord could go ahead and take me now. I’ll die a happy man. Since then I’ve conjured up other events, goals, etc., to keep me plugging away on this planet. But that was a moment of pure happiness.

Like spring, the opening of baseball season is a time of hope and renewal. There are 162 games to be played — starting on April 1 for the Sox against the Texas Rangers. The latter is my second-favorite team, though a distant second. I’ll never trade my affection for a team that’s been part of my life since I was old enough to know what the phrase, “You *@**@&@& bums” meant.

In French, no less.
Originally published in The Hill Country News, March 31, 2011.

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