Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Every writer has a comfort zone.
I go outside of mine from time to time but for the most part, you know what you're getting into when you click on my articles. Movie references, DeMarcus Cousins jokes, figuring out which player is the fantasy equivalent to George Costanza ... it's all part of the Jesse Pantuosco package.
I try to entertain my audience (and myself) 700 words at a time, navigating through the worlds of sports and pop culture simultaneously.
What I'm describing to you is my sweet spot, my happy place. This realm is my safe zone. I'm convinced it's what I was put on this Earth to do.
But the other day, life threw me a curve ball and I wasn't sure quite how to hit it.
My grandfather died Thursday morning at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was just two months shy of his 94th birthday.
In the movie "Forrest Gump," Forrest's mother (Sally Field) says, "Death is just a part of life."
Well for me, that wasn't true until just a few hours ago.
Somehow, I miraculously made it through the first 23 years of my life without ever seeing a family member pass away.
This was WAYYYY out of my comfort zone. Suddenly I was forced to ditch all the pop culture references and deal with reality for a second.
This man I've known all my life, someone who has watched me grow up, someone who has played the harmonica for me on my birthday since I was a little kid ... he's gone.
He won't be at the family Fourth of July party this summer. He won't be there to talk to on Christmas Eve. He won't be at any of these family gatherings.
And that's kind of hard to grasp.
My grandpa's funeral will be held on Monday. At the service, we'll probably hear stories and see pictures of my grandfather from when he was young, photos that were taken long before I even existed.
Everyone in my family probably remembers Grandpa a little bit differently but the Grandpa I knew had one burning passion, one thing he loved above all else. Coincidentally, it's a love that I share.
Grandpa was one of the most devoted Red Sox fans you've ever seen. I bet you could count the number of games he missed the last 30 years on one hand.
He watched all of them from his special "Red Sox" chair. Even when he wasn't in the room, we'd leave that seat empty out of respect for the person who made the Red Sox such an important part of all of our lives.
Almost every conversation I ever had with my grandfather somehow led itself to the Red Sox. And I didn't mind that one bit.
What better topic to discuss? There was so much to talk about. Pedro Martinez slamming down Don Zimmer, Trot Nixon running into walls, Jason Varitek putting his glove in A-Rod's face ... the material was just endless.
Being a Red Sox fan is synonymous with being a Pantuosco: it just comes with the territory. That's a trait we all inherited from Grandpa.
Even in the last few years of his life when his health was really failing him and he could hardly hear what the broadcasters were saying, Grandpa followed the Red Sox as diligently as ever.
As a 93-year-old, Grandpa was just as engaged, just as invested in this team as I was. I never corrected him when he called Jacoby Ellsbury "Jacoby Ellsworth" or Julio Lugo "Julio Logo." If Grandpa thought that's what their names were, who were Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy to tell him any differently?
One thing I was always aware of as a kid was that Grandpa was born in 1919, the same year the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. I didn't know how much time Grandpa had left and I wondered if he'd ever see the Red Sox win another World Series.
I don't think Boston's miracle comeback against the Yankees in 2004 happened by accident. I mean how could something unfold so perfectly all by itself? The Kevin Millar walk, the Dave Roberts stolen base, the David Ortiz walk-off ... it had to be destiny.
Of course I was jumping up and down celebrating like a nut when the Red Sox finally finished off the Cardinals to win the World Series. I had been through 14 years of suffering for this team and that had to count for something. But mostly, I think I was just happy my then 85-year-old grandfather was alive to see it.
They sold t-shirts after the parade that read, "Now I can die in peace." Bill Simmons later wrote a book by the same name.
I think that's exactly what my grandfather did on Thursday.
We'll miss you a lot, Grandpa. And just so you know, Jacoby Ellsbury will always be Ellsworth to me.
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