He was just shy of 90 years-old the first time I met him. He’d forgotten more about everything than I can remember about anything. He had welcomed me into his home, allowed me to sit with him in the early night of a Long Island Thanksgiving and hear his stories of a life well-lived.
There was an amber glow in his modest dining room, but as he talked I saw him in black and white. I could see the font from Ken Burns’ Baseball materialize as he reflected on his formative years in Brooklyn, spent supporting the local team. His circumstances were not unique. He was an immigrant’s son trying to carve out a new life in a city of eight million. He took odd jobs, scraped and saved. He eventually opened his own store.
This new success afforded him the ability to see the Dodgers in person instead of relying on Vin Scully’s radio call. It afforded him the ability to have tickets to Game 7 of the 1955 World Series. By his own admission, he was not a superfan. To him, rooting for the Dodgers was part and parcel to being a full Brooklynite. But when I pressed him for details about that historic day, when unheralded lefty Johnny Podres threw a complete game shutout at Yankee Stadium, he didn’t have many.
What he remembered most was leaving early.
My reaction did not mirror his calm delivery. I was apoplectic. How could a Dodgers fan leave Game 7 of the World Series with his team holding a narrow lead over a bitter rival? Surely there was some sort of emergency, some pressing matter that caused him to punt on witnessing history.
But, there wasn’t. The reason he’d departed the Bronx — the reason he didn’t see the only Brooklyn championship clinched — was extremely pedestrian. He just wanted to beat the crowds and avoid traffic. He just wanted to be home in time for supper.
More striking than this unbelievable admission was the complete lack of regret behind it. Further prodding yielded that there was nothing special about that October evening. He simply believed he needed to be home to eat with his wife — because, well, that’s what he did every night.
Like Will Hunting trying to get his therapist admit that seeing Carlton Fisk’s homer would have been nice, I probably badgered him too much before coming to an important realization.
This was a man with no regrets about the ending of a baseball game he’d missed 60 years prior no matter how perplexing someone a third his age found it. More than that, it was a memory he hadn’t drawn upon in decades, he said. That Tuesday afternoon and its historic import had been buried by an avalanche of other more important memories.
He hadn’t spent any time at all lamenting missing the apex of his fandom. He was perfectly at peace. He’d make the same decision if given the chance.
If I live to be 90, I’ll still never understand his choice. But I don’t have to. No one has to understand but the man who made it and never looked back. This memory came back to me yesterday as his friends and family gathered to celebrate his life. I couldn’t help but wondering if he’d left just a bit early to beat the rush, to get where he needed to go.