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AN Classic: Happy Birthday, Dad

This is a post originally ran on December 10, 2003. Since many of you didn't see it back then, I wanted to honor my father by running it once again. Obviously the curse is irrelevant now. Feel free to share any stories about your own father, and how he made you the person you are today. Happy 62nd, Dad! - Blez

Today I'm going to stop and give thanks to the man who gave me my fervent passion for sports. I'm not sure if this was genetically ingrained in me, but regardless, it's there. His name is Walter Bleszinski Jr. and he is my father. If he was still alive, he would've been 61 years old today. Unfortunately, that's not always the way things work out.

My Dad died in 1990 of a heart attack. He was only 47 years old. It was, as most heart attacks are, completely unexpected. He went out to play golf one day and never came home. My Dad was one of these high stress, high intensity guys who yelled a lot and often freaked out over things like a misplaced screwdriver. So moments of peace and bonding were treasures to me. More often than not, they happened at the ballpark.

Sports, in particular, baseball, has become so very important to me because of my overwhelming need to feel like he is still with me in some way. Watching sports, occasionally yelling at the TV and decking myself in team colors is in a strange way, an homage to Walt. Our common experiences through sports are often what makes me feel closest to him.

He and I spent many, many days at Fenway Park back in Roger Clemens' highlight years. At the time, I was much more of a hockey fan, so the baseball itself wasn't important to me. Sure, I loved a good game and I loved watching The Rocket pitch, but it was the experience of the ballpark. The views from just to the left of home on the third base side were spectacular. Dwight Evans, Mike Greenwell, Rich Gedman and company weren't really the entertainment (believe me), it was the throngs of people chanting and groaning at every play. I anxiously looked forward to my hot dog, soda and peanuts. These are still a big part of the bone-fortifying diet I follow at A's games today.

But it wasn't about the game, the views or the ambiance, it was spending time quietly bonding with my father.

See, I was always the odd one in the family who didn't conform and just root for the home team because they were the closest. My father could never understand me. I was a conundrum to him. I'm sure that he probably asked my mother o numerous occasions, "Are you sure he wasn't switched at the hospital?" All his other sons just followed his passion and gladly adopted the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics as their own.

I guess I considered myself more of a free agent back then. And I had a real tendency of latching onto specific players and making them the linchpin for my adoration. This was obviously before free agency became so prevalent. The New Jersey Devils became my hockey team because I played goalie and Sean Burke was my hero. I loved the Oakland A's from a far because of Jose Canseco and his vicious, nasty, violent swing. Plus, for whatever reason, we used to go see the A's against the Sox live a lot. At the time, I really had no concept of where Oakland even was.

So, it's ironic in a way that I wound up living in Sacramento, rooting for the home team (yes, the A's are the home team here, not the Giants--we have the A's Triple A team here for goodness sake!). I still chuckle when I think about how I've become closer to my Dad through following the hometown A's and hoping one day to give that same passion down to my own children.

If someone asked me to point to a vivid memory of my Dad at Fenway, I would probably come up blank because the time that meant the most to me never had anything to do with a particular game or a specific action. It may have just been the cramped seats of the majestic stadium, but I never felt closer to him than at Fenway Park.

Fenway may have ghosts and a curse, but the truth is, it will always be a temple to me.

Happy Birthday, Dad.