A Baseball Education


Last week, I attended my first Boston Red Sox opening day, a game against the World Champion New York Yankees. My father, Steve Sardella, was born 89 years ago this week in Wakefield, Massachusetts. These two seemingly unrelated facts are linked in my mind because my father was a huge Yankee fan, despite having lived his entire life just outside Boston.
Opening Day - 2010
I don’t know exactly how to explain my father’s allegiance to the Yankees. It may have had something to do with the fact that the Yankees were among the first teams to sign Italian-American players like Tony Lazzeri, Frankie Crosetti and of course, Joe DiMaggio.

Growing up, I received my early baseball education watching Red Sox broadcasts with my father on a black and white TV. Back in the days before cable, my father was reduced to watching the only televised baseball available, even if it was the Red Sox, a team that he detested as much as any Bronx-bred Yankee fan.

Still, he would patiently answer my baseball questions, while giving his own editorial spin on the game. These were the waning days of the Yankee Dynasty, whereas the Red Sox were perennially fighting to stay out of the American League cellar. It could be tough watching a baseball game on TV with my father if you were a Red Sox fan.

If a Red Sox player made a good play or if they won, they were “lucky.” If Boston beat Detroit, for example, my father would say, “The Red Sox didn’t win – the Tigers lost.”

Like any good Yankee fan of his time, my father despised Ted Williams and his successor in left field, Carl Yastrzemski. He derisively referred to Yaz as “God,” because he believed that Yastrzemski had an inflated image of himself. “God’s up,” my father would announce to the TV each time Yaz strode to the plate.

My father also had no use for Boston baseball announcers on TV and radio, who he believed favored the home team. Maybe he assumed that in every other city the announcers were objective whereas he was forced to put up with this bunch of homers, which included the legendary Curt Gowdy back when the games were sponsored by Narragansett beer and broadcast on Channel 5 and WHDH radio.

My father would be all over the Red Sox broadcasters if they misspoke or made a factual error in calling the game. “Are they selling the Narragansett or drinking it?” he’d wonder aloud every time a Red Sox announcer made a mistake.

I got to watch last week’s opening game against the Yankees from Section 9, not far from where we sat one night in 1966 when my father took my brother and me to Fenway Park for our first Red Sox game. My most vivid memory of that game is Tony Conigliaro hitting a home run that was still rising when it hit the net that used to sit on top of the left field wall.
Green Monster
In my younger days, my father and I disagreed on almost everything – not just baseball. Still, I was happy that my father got to watch on TV from his bed at Melrose-Wakefield Hospital as the Yankees’ Dave Righetti tossed a 4-0 no-hitter against the Red Sox on July 4, 1983. It was one of the last games he would ever watch.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve come to appreciate some of my father’s more conservative views. The more birthdays I have, the more I understand where he was coming from.

But I’ll never share his love of the New York Yankees – not, as my father would have put it, “if I live to be a thousand.”

[This column originally appeared in the April 15, 2010 Wakefield Daily Item.]

4 Responses to “A Baseball Education”

  1. 1 Cousin Diane

    Wow! This is a wonderful article and tribute to your dad. It made me smile as well as tear up. You are a gifted writer, and I am so proud that you are my cousin, and that I was blessed to have your dad as my uncle. I vividly recall the heated “discussions” over baseball, and I could never understand your dad’s allegience to the Yankees, which was just as strong as my dad’s to the Red Sox. Thanks for sharing this with me. I will forward it on.
    Love you!
    Cousin Diane

  2. Hi Mark,

    This is Uncle Louie responding to your informative and revealing article appearing in the Wakefield Daily Item.
    Being the younger brother of Steve(Your father) and “Puck” (avid Red Sox fan) I was caught in a dilemma as to which team I should support.
    My brother Leo had turned to be a yankee fan but as he got older his allegiance turned toward the Red Sox.
    I must admit that for most of my life I as a yankee fan, although I absolutely adored Ted Williams.
    In my (golden years) my allegiance turned toward the Sox too.
    I would like, for a moment, to focus on “Sunday Dinner” at the Sardella homestead on Richardson Street in Wakefield.
    Sunday dinner was a special time the entire family got together, sat around the table and got ready to enjoy food prepaired by our mother an excellent cook. Early in the morning meatballs were being fried prior to being droppedin the luscious source.
    My mother would yell at us because as each of us got up from bed we would sample the meatballs leaving none for the simmering sauce.
    Baked stuffed chicken was the second course after delicious spaghetti, meatballs and sausages.
    Now let me regress for a moment as we sat down at the table. Six children, Rose, the eldest sister, Steve, Joseph, “Puck”, Connie, sister, Leo, brother and me Louie and of course mama and papa.
    As we got ready to enjoy this detectable dinner, suddenly the fireworks began.
    Steve would blare out, rhe Red Sox stink, Ted Williams is a bum. Puck would respond “Ted Williams” is the best hitter that ever lived. He batted “406”.
    Steve would respond Joe DiMaggio is the best all-around baseball player that ever lived. And it would go on and on.
    Finally, my father would get up and yell “SILENZIO” and all was quiet.

    • 4 Mark Sardella

      Uncle Louie,
      Thank you for sharing that – your writing created a vivid picture in my mind of those Sunday dinners. As a kid, I remember going to Grammy’s on Sunday morning with my father to visit. The water would already be boiling for the macaroni and the meatballs were frying in garlic and oil. By that time, I think she knew she had to make extra meatballs, because she would give us each one to snack on when we got there.

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