SI Vault
Jonathan Rhoades
October 02, 1961
As a spectator the old man was a participant—so was brother Charley. Everybody from football player to foxhounds hated them
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October 02, 1961

My Father Was A Fearless Fan

As a spectator the old man was a participant—so was brother Charley. Everybody from football player to foxhounds hated them

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Soon we were sitting on the sunny side of the bull ring, in the middle of some of the wildest-eyed fans in the world, and Father was on his feet shouting at the top of his lungs: "Come on, tor-ro, let him have it, baby!"

The bullfighter swirled his cape and passed the bull by a fraction of an inch. "Attaway, tor-ro!" Father cried. "You're getting the range now!" This might have gone on all afternoon, and some of the bilingual fans in our section might have given Father a moment of truth of his own, but a kindly trio of ushers rushed down to our seats and escorted us out. I will never forget Father's closing shot. "Hey, tor-ro," he hollered, just before we were whisked out of sight of the ring, "stick it in his ear!"

Father's favorite spectating passion was tennis, a game he had played middling well in his youth. The first rule of tennis viewing is, "Don't cheer during a rally." If one is wearing soft gloves, one may politely slap one glove against the other (gently! gently!) to denote one's exuberance, but anything louder than that is considered gauche. Father knew all this, but he was simply unable to restrain himself. "Listen, Sonny," he would say to me before a big match, "if I get up and start rooting, you pull me right down."

Then a rally would begin, and Father would squirm, and all of a sudden he'd be on his feet screaming, "Way to hit it, baby! Oh, beauty, beauty, beauty! Now kill it! Kill it! KILL IT!" Down on the court Father's hero would slam a shot, and the opponent would make a brilliant recovery and Father would shout, "He was lucky that time, Ellsworth, baby. Now give it to him, right on the baseline, attaway, baby!" All this noise sounded exactly like a string of cannon crackers going off at High Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral. I would pound and pummel Father and climb on his back to pull him down, but he couldn't even tell I was there. Then the set would end, and there would be nothing for Father to shout about, and he would suddenly realize that everybody was glowering at him. At such times he would look around embarrassedly, slump back into his seat and stare straight ahead. Soon he would nudge me, and without turning his head he would say out of the corner of his mouth, "What'd I say, Sonny? What'd I say?"

I always soft-pedaled my answer. "You just gave him a little encouragement," I would say. "Nothing much."

I was very pleased last year when the high officials of tennis announced that they would permit a "reasonable expression of excitement" by spectators. History had at last caught up with Father, and not a minute too soon. The week after the announcement, he was at Forest Hills shouting at a chubby linesman: "You really blew that one, Fatty. Yes, you, Rabbit Ears!"

It was difficult to argue with Father about such matters; he was one of those fortunate human beings who are born with the knack of always being right. When first and second base were occupied and there were less than two out, Father would jump up and shout "Out!" as soon as the batter hit an infield fly or, for that matter, a home run. When a left-hander would start to work in the bullpen, Father would say instantly, "That's Asuza warming up." If I pointed out to Father that Asuza was a righthander and had been sent to the minors three months ago and then had retired from baseball, Father would simply say, "Well, he's back tonight. I'd know that motion anywhere." Father was equally expert at basketball games, where he would call all fouls, except those called by the referee.

I suppose it will come as no surprise that the son of so bizarre a fan should turn out a little strange himself. I do not refer to myself (I am the epitome of grace and dignity at a sports event) but to my brother Charley.

Charley was not the athletic type. He was the only kid in our neighborhood who had to have a five-minute rest period after a game of jacks. If he got into a baseball game it was an event, and if he got any wood on the ball at all, even to hit into a fielder's choice, it was discussed in the neighborhood for days. The result was that Charley was always the last player chosen in our pick-up ball games. He would stand there feigning nonchalance, looking around and whistling softly, while the other kids were selected one by one. Once in a while a captain would say, "O.K., I'll take Charley, but his outs don't count." More often, he wasn't chosen at all.

The result of this sort of trauma is predictable; every kid has to eat a peck of dirt and every kid has to take part in so many games. If he doesn't take part in them in one way, he'll take part in another. So it was with Charley. Denied a chance to play in the neighborhood games, he played instead in the games at Shibe Park. That's right, Shibe Park, now known as Connie Mack Stadium. Charley would sit along the left-field foul line and reflect the sun into the outfielders' eyes with a 10� mirror. In 1938 Charley and his mirror had six errors, two triples and an inside-the-park home run for the season.

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