A year ago in June I lost my last living grandparent. He was 89 years old and we were making plans to celebrate his 90th birthday in February. He had some trouble getting around without assistance and had an oxygen tank with him at all times but, aside from those obvious signs of aging, he was in good health and looked amazing. We found him in his eternal sleep around 4am on a Wednesday morning and were not only sad but also stunned. My great-grandfather, his father, lived to be 95 and given my grandfather’s relatively good health we all thought we’d have Big Papa around for a few more years. But it wasn’t to be. To this day I miss my great-grandfather terribly (I was lucky to have him in my life up to an age -12 – so I really do remember him) and the hurt of my grandfather being gone just over a year is still very fresh.
It’s often difficult to explain to those who haven’t lost someone who is older how difficult the loss is. There are people I’ve told that my grandfather’s death took me by surprise who responded with some variation of “But he was 89!” as if having someone around for such a long time should somehow ease the sorrow when they are taken from you. That isn’t the case. Not at all.
My grandfather wasn’t much of a sports fan but over the last ten years of his life he and I had a lot more time to spend together and he enjoyed watching the Red Sox with me. He liked to talk about the old players, especially Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, and held a soft spot for any player who had an Italian surname. (He would be enjoying the Jarrod Saltalamacchia era this year regardless of how he or the team is doing. Last year he was thrilled that Salty was on the team.) But it was Johnny Pesky who ended up being his favorite. “Johnny and Bobby [Doerr] are all we have left,” he would often remind me when one the other or both showed up for some Red Sox production. I spent a lot of time showing him Kelly O’Connor’s photos of Johnny and he would often get very melancholy noting how frail Johnny was getting with each passing year. There came a point, not long before my grandfather died, where he stopped talking about those old players and I noticed he would turn the channel if Johnny came on. He told me that for all the times it made him feel good to remember the past, seeing them, especially Johnny, started to make him sad.
After my grandfather died and we had our period of mourning we had to go on with life as usual and baseball was there to help me deal with my grief. Up until the September tanking, the Red Sox did a good job last summer in taking my mind off of the terrible times my family was going through. 2011 was a very bad year for my family and if not for the Red Sox there would have been nowhere to escape to for me.
I found out this afternoon about Johnny Pesky passing away when I opened up Twitter. I logged on and the first tweet I read was from someone who just wrote “R.I.P, Johnny Pesky”. Much like last June, my brain didn’t register it at first because it didn’t make sense. I saw him at the 100th Anniversary celebration. I knew how weak he looked and I knew how old he was but my brain, well my heart really, just wasn’t having it. Tweet after tweet lamenting the passing of Johnny Pesky came through and I realized that it wasn’t a Twitter ruse and he was gone.
Like most members of Red Sox Nation, I had met Johnny a few times. Brief meetings where I got a smile and a hello. I’ll cherish those. But the most memorable meeting is one I wasn’t around for but one my family talks about all the time. Back in April or May of 2007, my parents took my then five year-old niece to a signing where Dustin Pedroia, Wily Mo Pena, Kyle Snyder, Javier Lopez and Johnny Pesky were going to be signing. My niece was shy and didn’t have much to say to anyone (although today she brags about meeting Dustin Pedroia before he was Rookie of the Year and MVP) but one of the players had something to say to her. Johnny took her aside and asked her if she was married yet and offered himself up as her future husband. He then let her try on his 2004 World Series ring. My niece came home from that meet and greet not talking about how cute any of the players were or how much fun it was…all she could talk about was Johnny Pesky. It was the old-timer who made a fan for life out of my niece.
Today my entire family is in mourning. Not only my blood but my Red Sox family too. And to put it plainly, it really sucks.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in the universe who loved the Red Sox more than Johnny Pesky. All Red Sox fans take their own personal joy from the two World Series championships in 2004 and 2007 but Johnny is the one I’m most grateful was around to witness and enjoy them. He earned the right to be as beloved as he is and my next trip into Fenway will be a sad one.
We’ve had too many sad times at Fenway this year…having nothing to do with baseball.
Hearing about Johnny’s death immediately made me think of my grandfather and way too many emotions are flooding out right now. I feel like I lost another grandparent today and that whatever I write won’t properly relay my feelings. I just know that I’m feeling like everything has changed for the Red Sox and while I know that change is inevitable this one isn’t one I was expecting to deal with right now.
By all accounts, Johnny Pesky was a kind, friendly, thoughtful and warm person and even if you aren’t a baseball fan you should know that the world is a little bit less of a good place because he’s been taken from it.