Summers where spent at my maternal grandparents ranch in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Regardless of the plan or the menu (for the day), the small 13” black and white television was always on, always transmitting a baseball game—when there was one.
My grandfather, a lover of baseball, who played in several Mexican semi-professional leagues and later served as umpire in the local city leagues, mesmerized us with his knowledge of MLB players and depth of the game. He had seen and met Fernando Valenzuela as a young man in Mexico sometime before he made it big, as well as others.
Las “Medias Rojas (Red Sox)” and “Los Dayers (Dodgers)” were always on his mind. The Red Sox were almost a mystical team to us, as Boston seemed so far away from our small world in that part of Mexico. But anytime their games were aired on national television (didn’t have cable or satellite), by God, we were there, glued to every pitch, every play. It was great to see grandpa scream and curse at the tube when he disagreed with a call!
Game 6 of the ’86 series was an especially memorable one. I was 13, and my brother was 9. After Bill Buckner’s faux pas on that grounder that gave way to another failed attempt at greatness by the Red Sox, grandpa—disgusted—pushed the TV off the dresser it rested on, and we went outside to the roof (a favorite spot of ours in his ranch in Mexico), where we sat quietly for better than 30 minutes. We lived that dreadful moment alongside the Fenway Faithful, though we were better than 2,400 miles in distance.
During a late afternoon game many years ago, grandpa was the umpire behind home plate in a decisive playoff match in the city leagues. A wild batter swung, lost his balance and hit grandpa on the left side of his head with an aluminum bat, specifically the area immediately above his left ear, the temporal area. He dropped to the ground, unconscious.
For 60 days my grandfather was in a semi-vegetative state. His speech was slurred—at best—and his motor skills went to heck. We thought this might be the way things were henceforth. For a man that stood at least 6 feet tall (an anomaly in that part of Mexico) with piercing green eyes, watching him unable to raise his drink or his fork was very devastating.
At 60 days and a few hours, he began to feel a tingling throughout the numb areas of his body. Slowly but surely, and by the grace of God, he regained his motor skills. And though at first he was a bit unbalanced and “tipsy,” after a few weeks of constant rehabilitative exercises, he was back in full form. The doctor warned, though, this may come back to bite him later.
And it did…
My brother got married in 2001, late in the summer. Though hopeful, that year the Red Sox would not make it to post-season play. One thing I do remember grandpa saying was that he was happy Pedro finally beat the Yankees. It had been a year since he had done it.
Aside from another frustrating season, that was the last time my grandfather recognized me. Little did we know that Alzheimer’s was germinating with vigor in his brain.
On visits since 2001 (I live 650 miles away from him), he would hug and kiss me as he always had, but he was very quiet and stared at me with confusion. In the summer of 2004, as I ran to hug him and kiss him, he extended his arms and backed his face. He said some of the saddest words I’ll ever hear, “Who are you? Did we invite you over today?”
There was no denying it. The man who gave us baseball and the love for the Boston Red Sox was with Alzheimer’s in full form. And although his body was physically healthy for a man enjoying five years better than 3 score and 10, his brain was ravished by the evils of Alzheimer’s, a disease that only gets worse, making his world a strange, menacing one—even in the presence of his most beloved family. He’s lost so much weight and his eyes don’t tell the story they once did.
Here’s a man who served as a police officer for better than 30 years, a man so confident and well loved in the city that we never paid to get in any ball game. Here now is a man who can see, but doesn’t know what he sees or why?
Because this hurts my family and I so much, we cling on to anything we have with regard to grandpa, a man known by his friends as, “El Gato” (The Cat).
Baseball and the Red Sox are my favorite memory of him.
And so, because of this tragic episode in our mortal lives, baseball has come back into mine. I was away for a while (baseball-wise), going to college, enjoying marriage, raising children and evolving in my profession.
I joined the Red Sox Nation this year.
The 2003 ALCS and the devastating Aaron Boone missile launch re-fired my passion, but it was really the Varitek-gives-A-Rod-the-glove in 2004 that brought it all back for myself, my brother, my dad and now, our kids and wives.
I blew up the cover of Faithful, a great work by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan, and hung it in my office.
Then, of course, there’s the greatest comeback in history, during the 2004 ALCS and the Yankee choke! The World Series win pushed me to action and regain my love for America’s pastime and the Red Sox.
A North Texas resident, I have access to Ameriquest Field, home to the Texas Rangers, who this year, 2005, will host the Red Sox twice. I’ll be there.
Though we told grandpa of the 2004 World Series, he doesn’t understand—completely—what happened or why. But, I still believe that when he sees that “B” on our caps, there’s a twinkle in his eyes.
Here’s to you grandpa…thanks for the love…I know one day you’ll remember who we are, again.
Las Medias Rojas!!!
Javier E. Najera is a mortician and the director of funeral service operations for a funeral home in North Texas and writes in his spare time. His grandfather still lives at his ranch in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, where his living room is adorned with trophies, pictures and other memorabilia of his baseball days. Javier may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.