In the mid-1970s Luis Tiant, the rotund, cigar-chomping, masterly whirling dervish pitcher from Cuba, became Boston's first true Latino baseball star. Even Boston sports columnists, rarely warm toward minority players with outsized personalities, revered Tiant. Sure, I dug the Spaceman, Oil Can Boyd, Bernie Carbo, but Tiant was my favorite Red Sox ever. I thought of him as the Gabriel Garc�a M�rquez of baseball, a magical realist pitcher, a true maestro. A shy slow starter, I even finally had sex for the first time while El Tiante pitched on television, though it wasn't planned that way--the girl I liked, bolder than I, dropped by my college dorm room while I was watching the game.
Later, seeing Tiant in a Yankees uniform was infuriating. But in Central America in 1980, beginning my years as a journalist there, I received a newspaper photo from a friend, of Tiant pitching the first Yankees game after the death of Thurman Munson. Beneath it my friend wrote, "Pitching against Death." In the picture he looked like a mythological warrior--even in Yankees pinstripes.
"DAD, THE Red Sox took three. And they beat Clemens!" On the eighth day of my father's coma the Red Sox swept the Yankees in New York for the first time since the pennant year of 1986. "They took three.... "
My father's dry lips twitched. The drawn leather cheeks quivered. I heard the faintest scrape of a voice and felt his hand pressing mine, hard now. I leaned down.
" ... eee ... teee ... three."
" ... three?"
His eyes, caked shut, flickered and slowly opened, just a narrow squint.
"They took three?" went the dry riverbed of a voice. "The Red Sox took three?"
My father lived for three more years. Three years of finishing behind the Yankees and crushing finales. I was again convinced that he would never let go of life until the Red Sox won it all. Wherever I was, we talked on the phone about the Red Sox. Like so many other ineloquent, emotionally clumsy fathers and sons, we used the game to communicate. But I also just loved listening to my father talk about baseball.