Oldest Red Sox fan not betting on outcome
Sean Kirst - The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY)
October 25, 2004
It is rare when something happens that Fred Hale Sr. has never seen before.
The Boston Red Sox managed to do it. By defeating the New York Yankees in the American League championship series, Boston became the only team in baseball history to escape from a three-games-to-nothing postseason hole. The Red Sox are now battling the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, the final step in their nerve-racking pursuit of their first series title since 1918.
Can they do it?
"That's the question," said Fred Sr., the world's oldest man at 113, which also makes him the oldest Red Sox fan. "We'll wait and see. Luck goes one way and goes out the other."
Those aren't reassuring words for the Red Sox Nation.
Still, it would be unfair to describe Fred Sr. as a pessimist. He simply isn't as obsessed with the Red Sox as are many of the faithful, including his 82-year-old son, Fred Jr. Father and son live in different buildings at The Nottingham, a retirement community and skilled nursing facility in DeWitt. They moved there in April, which made life much easier for Fred Jr., whose wife, Jane, is going through some minor health problems.
Every night, Fred Jr. and his father watch the first few innings of each World Series game, before the world's oldest man goes to bed.
Sunday, the son helped the father navigate through an interview at The Nottingham. Fred Sr. doesn't have much hearing left. He answers questions by reading them first from a sheet of paper or by listening hard when Fred Jr. shouts into his ear. Asked if he was surprised to see the Red Sox finally knock off the Yankees, he replied, "Yes, I was. They've got to do it again now."
To win the World Series, Boston must overcome the much- hyped "Curse of the Bambino," supposedly incurred when Babe Ruth left the Red Sox for the Yankees more than 80 years ago. Fred Sr., who was 4 years old when Ruth was born, gave the ultimate Red Sox answer when asked if he remembered the Babe.
"He was a great pitcher," said Fred Sr., referring to how baseball's immortal slugger first earned his fame in Boston.
Then Fred Sr., in his rich Maine accent, spoke of other things.
He wanted to talk about the sound of the autumn wind, which both alarms and fascinates him. He wanted to talk about doing chores on his dadís farm during his childhood in Maine. He wanted to talk about his appreciation for each season, the way he always loved New Englandís weather "for the change of it."
In subtle ways, Fred Sr. has made some intellectual concessions to his age. A year ago, he did an interview in which he spoke in detail about his allegiance to the Red Sox. He remembered spending the money to take Fred Jr. to Fenway Park during the Great Depression. He remembered how his wife, Flora, who died in 1979, used to listen to games on the radio.
And he remembered how the great Ted Williams sometimes stopped at a lobster pound owned by Fredís daughter Carolyn, where Williams was eager to talk about anything except baseball.
Carolyn died 12 years ago. Last autumn, Fred Sr. said he wanted the Red Sox to win a championship because his daughter had always wanted one so badly.
More than 12 months later, in the interview Sunday, Fred Sr. would occasionally shake his head and say he couldnít remember the answer to a question. His fatherís memory, Fred Jr. said, is no longer quite as exact as it was. Fred Jr. noted, for instance, that his dad was a longtime Republican who often spoke over the years about voting for his favorite Democrat, Harry Truman.
Asked Sunday about Truman, Fred Sr. thought for a while, then shrugged and said of presidents, "Theyíre all the same."
Yet he also offered spontaneous reflections. Asked what he considers the most important quality in life, Fred Sr. replied, "A good mother and father." He was especially animated when his son asked him to describe his childhood chores on the family farm.
One of his jobs, Fred Sr. said, was scooping up newborn lambs. Heíd put them in a basket filled with straw and take them to the barn, while the worried mothers followed at his heels. Fred Sr. was also expected to eventually help in the slaughter of those lambs, a reality that troubles him, a century later.
"I was pretty tenderhearted when it came to killing the lambs," Fred Sr. said. "I told my father I canít see that; Iíve got to be out of sight."
For a moment, Fred Sr. looked out the window, as if this was one memory he wished would go away.
Asked about his health, he responded that he feels "pretty fair." Reminded that researchers regard him as the worldís oldest man, he said, "I donít believe it. And I ainít going to die just to satisfy them."
If the Red Sox need a slogan, there it is, provided by their oldest fan.
Last year's column: For Sox fan, once in an epic lifetime
Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Post-Standard in Syracuse, New York and can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
© 2004 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.