October 17, 2003

Special Language

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This past week has afforded me much material upon which to dote in this column. Pedro’s mauling of Zimm, the Cubs shattering an entire city’s hopes and dreams, the Giants’ fall from grace, the Kobe mess, and so much more. However, one event stands out in my mind over this last week, which I can’t seem to stop thinking about.

And it took place in a tiny living room in a quiet, North Jersey town.

Simply put, I finally got to watch a Yankees’ game with my grandpa.

There are few things I enjoy more than spending time with my grandfather. He’s a kindhearted, optimistic, loving and all-around great guy. He has the smile of a former stage-performer and the caring manner of a retired, universally adored college professor.

Interestingly enough, he actually spent his working years as a welder in an Edward’s engineering factory. Yet, he lacks any of the gruff, bitter sentiments that so often characterize lifelong laborers.

Though hampered by a defect in his leg since birth, my grandpa has always loved to work. He regrets not being able to still work, though he is well over 70 years old.

He also loves people. While not a gregarious jokester, my grandpa’s selective humor and ability to make himself laugh, cracks me up like few others can.

My grandpa glows when he meets new people, and you can’t help but instantly fall in love with his easy-going manner when you first meet him. He exudes a quiet confidence that is magnetically comforting — or maybe better yet, soothing.

“What a great man. He just seems so happy and content with his life,” most say after talking with him.

And it’s true; he just loves every minute he gets to spend on this Earth. He and my grandmother span the U.S. in the their newly acquired motor home and they love to take it all in.

At times, they won’t talk for hours on a long trip and it’s not for a lack of love for each other (that too, is immediately evident when you get to know my grandparents). Instead, their silence is simply a vehicle through which they can take in every moment riding along a beautiful mountain range or a pristine ocean coast.

My grandpa lives life the way we all hope we could and he does it by cherishing everyday, every face, every experience, and every opportunity God’s afforded him.

While a very likeable man, my grandfather’s greatest quality — and the thing I most admire and value about him — is his timeless wisdom. With a single comment, my grandfather can break down a seemingly desperate problem into a simple solution.

He has — unknowingly I’m sure — guided so many of the decisions in my life by simply being himself and offering a straightforward, effortless opinion on whatever I was going through.

Time with my grandpa, then, is time well spent.

And over my twenty years as his grandson, he and I have found a language through which we can bridge the gap of our 50-plus-year age difference; that language is, albeit oddly, the Yankees.

From a very young age, one of my greatest thrills would be making the hour and forty minute drive over to Pompton Plains, N.J. to spend the night with my grandparents. Once in a while, I’d get the added bonus of being able to stay up late and watch the Yankee game with my grandpa — a lifelong devoted fan of the Bronx Bombers.

As time went on and I became a true, inquisitive fan myself, my grandfather and I continued to bond over our mutual love for the Yankees. Invariably, the first thing we’d talk about when we saw each other was the current state of the Yankee dynasty.

“So, whatdya think grandpa?” I’d ask.

“Well Scottie, they just don’t have the horses in the bullpen,” he’d say.

And then we were in. Then we were communicating and soon we’d moved on to other, more important topics like my little league career or the spelling test I was worried about next Friday.

When the Yankees began winning in the late 90s, our conversations were more emphatic.

One of the best things about the Yankees’ success was that I’d get to call my grandpa after each series win and celebrate our mutual exhilaration over the phone.

Now myself a teenager, our discussions at that point would move into more serious talks about looking at colleges and choosing a girlfriend.

Throughout my years, the simple fact remained that we were actually talking, he was a friend — a good friend — and yet my grandfather all the while.

So when my grandparents offered to drive me back to school and have me over on Monday night — which just happened to be Game 4 of the ALCS — I relished the chance.

And sure enough, there we sat. A grandfather and his grandson, speaking a language we both knew so well. Speaking our language, in a world only he and I could fully understand. I hadn’t been able to enter that world for a long time due to the busyness of a college summer, but once in again, I didn’t ever want to leave.

And I was actually lucky enough to also watch Game 5 with him at the hotel my grandparents stayed at while dropping me off in Ithaca. The feeling I was afforded by being with him on those two occasions, in our special universe, hasn’t left me yet and I hope it won’t for a while.

I suppose the reason I tell you this is because the sports world can get so ugly — and has been so nasty of late — that we can be tempted to give up on it entirely.

Yet, sitting there in living rooms across this nation are people who cherish that world, who cherish the life it gives to otherwise difficult situations, and who wouldn’t trade sports in for anything else.

It’s not about winning or losing, either. That never seemed to be the point with my grandfather and I don’t believe it ever was.

For him, sports is just a way of engaging in life, a way of being at once silent and yet involved in a world that can often lack the words we wish we knew to say.

Sports is what made my grandfather one of my best friends. It’s what we know and our easiest way into each other’s lives.

It’s an invitation and one which shouldn’t ever be ignored.

Long live sport and long live the Yankees.

If for nothing else, then for the conversation it just might start between a grandfather and a little boy sitting in a hotel room watching the Yankees win Game 7.

Archived article by Scott Jones