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Daddy's girl

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  June 15, 2008 03:10 AM

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When you're a father, especially of a little girl, you change as a man. It's true. You become softer, more sentimental. Maybe you even start listening to Coldplay.

In those whirlwind first moments as a parent, you recognize your wife - the entire gender, actually - as impossibly heroic and strong. That is, unless you happen to be A-Rod. Then you black out and go all fetal until a less-than-impressed nurse meets your demands of a cold compress, some lip gloss, and a glass of Sunny Delight.

When you're a father, you fret more about the ominous condition of the world and its maelstrom of a future. You worry about failing those who depend on you, in ways both small and significant. The blunt humor in Chris Rock's famous "A father's only duty is to keep his daughter off the pole!" routine suddenly applies you, and you shiver when you realize your darling and innocent 4-year-old is but a decade away from being hit on by Roger Clemens.

When you're a father, you realize how crucial it is to cement those lifelong bonds early - you show me tonight's featured performer at the Golden Banana, and I'll show you someone with a long and heartbreaking history of daddy issues. But I must admit, there's also an air of selfishness to my intentions: I desperately want my daughter to love the same things I do. Which, you might have suspected, pretty much begins with the Red Sox.

My complex and intensive program of brainwashing began in October, '04, when Leah was eight months old and plucked out of a rare deep sleep in her crib just so her daddy could someday tell her she was "watching" as Edgar Renteria grounded to Keith Foulke and all heaven broke loose in New England. To this day, it remains the only time I've held her since her day of birth where I was the one with welling eyes.

I'm sure similar scenes played out in living rooms all over New England that glorious night (man, how I regret not honoring her on SoSH's legendary "Win It For . . ." thread) but I must report that, 3 1/2 years later, she's not yet a candidate for the Red Sox Nation early admissions program.

Oh, she'll watch with me from time to time, mostly to avoid being sentenced to an early bedtime, and she'll gleefully identify Manny and Papi, though I think she looks at them as cartoon characters, daddy's personal versions of Max and Ruby. (Which, in a sense, is exactly what they are.) But mostly, the Red Sox remain my thing; she sees herself as a big girl, and she has her own business to keep herself occupied.

Leah never fails to amaze and amuse us with her uncommon independence; she was born with a mind of her own, and she sure is determined to use it. She enjoys being a girly-girl, loves wearing dresses and mothering her dollies, but she's not all sugar and spice; her daily to-do list includes digging for worms in the backyard, and just yesterday she informed me that her new pink bike really could use an oil change. If she's going to care about the Red Sox, she will do it in her own time. Right now, she has worms to accidentally dismember.

Maybe the notion of taking her to a Red Sox game was a season or two premature. Sure it was. But dammit, I just couldn't wait. My parents first brought me to Fenway at age 8 in 1978, and you longtime readers are well aware of my sepia-toned odes to that enduring memory from my childhood; hell, I still remember thinking, "Holy crap! That's Butch Hobson!" as he took his position not too far in front of us at third base. For some reason, I also remember that his neck looked really red. In retrospect, I suppose that was an oddly appropriate impression of 'Bama Butch.

As it worked out, a homestand or two ago, I came into some tickets, and we decided it would be the right time for Leah's big-league debut. When the night arrived, I hoped all the usual cliches would apply, the same ones that applied to me 30 years ago and still linger today. I wanted her to be awed by the sprawling emerald grass and the enormity of the Green Monster, to marvel at the Prudential building in the distance and the players so close that they can hear your cheers. I wanted her to fall in love with Fenway, baseball, the Red Sox, and I wanted it to happen for her the exact same way it happened for me.

As strolled up the ramp and the Fenway scene unfurled before us, her jaw dropped ever so slightly and her eyes widened like Manny's when he spies a fat slider coming his way. But she was not overwhelmed, or even especially awed. She was almost immediately comfortable, whether it was chattering at our companions for the game, my good friend Yuri and his sweet and lovely almost-7-year-old daughter, Grace, or yelling "GOPAPI! GOPAPI! GOPAPI! as he chugged into third base, or angling for position to high-five Wally the Green Monster, or systematically devouring one of the great inventions of modern times, an ice-cream sundae in a mini batting helmet.

It was wonderful and sweet and easy, though that's not to suggest we were without a tense moment. Sometime in the middle innings, she turned to me with a concerned look on her face and uttered those words every dad in a public place with his daughter dreads hearing: "Daddy . . . I gotta pee. Bad." I'll tell you that I did cover her eyes as I guided her to a stall in the gruesome men's room, though I can't help but wonder what the occupant in the neighboring stall thought when he heard a little girl's voice blurt, "Daddy, I think there's a guy poopin' in the next one over." We washed up and zipped out of there before she could find out for sure. I only wish I could have hosed her down with Lysol afterward.

Our foursome made it through seven innings, one fewer than Josh Beckett threw in victory that night, and I'm pretty sure she could have gone the distance had we not decided it was prudent to be back in our beds in Maine before mommy broke out the Worry-O-Meter.

As we made our way home, with Leah fighting a losing battle to stay awake in her car seat, I realized that for her, the fun was in the adventure - getting to stay up much later than her little brother (who you know is pre-booked for his first Fenway trek in two years), riding in the car to go to faraway Boston where daddy works, seeing those twin shrines to tackiness on Rt. 1, soaring high into the city on the Tobin ("the biggest bridge EVER!"), and getting to feel like a big girl in the big city.

I hope the details stay with her as she grows older and up . . . well, except for that one about the rancid potty. If they don't, I'll be there to retell the tales.

Because when you're a father, your sentimental heart doesn't let you forget.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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