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Rivalry trumped by love

Yankees fan's widow to take mound for him

Sara Bejoian and grandson Benjamin practiced at her home in Chatham for their appearance at the Oldtime Baseball Game in Cambridge. Sara Bejoian and grandson Benjamin practiced at her home in Chatham for their appearance at the Oldtime Baseball Game in Cambridge. (Bill Greene/ Globe Staff)
By Peter DeMarco
Globe Correspondent / August 10, 2009

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Sara and Jim Bejoian of Watertown were married one week shy of 54 years, but their home was always divided. She rooted fiercely for the Red Sox, and he was a diehard Yankees fan.

To say things were a bit uneven during the first half-century of their relationship would be an understatement. As of their golden anniversary in August 2004, the Yankees had won 10 world championships. No one needs reminding of the number the Sox had won by then.

How did the Bejoians manage to survive all those years with such divided loyalties?

“One Christmas we bought a Yankees ornament to put in the back of the Christmas tree. Never in the front of it, though,’’ Sara Bejoian said. “We always had bets going. It would be a nickel. But we never paid them off. We had this running banter the whole way.’’

On Thursday, though, for the first time in her life, Sara is going to step into Jim’s shoes. She’s going to honor her husband, who died of cancer last year, in the best way imaginable: by throwing a baseball in his memory.

Jim Bejoian’s passion for the sport extended to the Oldtime Baseball Game, an annual charity game held at St. Peter’s Field in Cambridge in which local amateurs dress in uniforms from bygone teams and swing wooden bats in the gloaming of a late-summer night. Bejoian was a dedicated volunteer, working the concession stand, selling raffle tickets, and printing thousands of game programs at his Belmont print shop from the start of the game’s 15-year run.

Last year, in appreciation for his work, Bejoian was asked to throw out the first pitch. But he never got the chance; his long battle against cancer ended the very morning of the game. At this year’s contest, scheduled for Thursday, a banner in Jim Bejoian’s memory will be unfurled along the outfield fence. And his wife will stand on the mound to throw the first pitch.

She’s been practicing with her grandson, Benjamin, whom she wants to join her on the field.

“He’s been telling me, ‘Jamma’ - that’s what Benjamin calls me - ‘you have to practice how to throw a ball. You have to pick your leg up when you throw,’’’ said Bejoian, who is a spry 80. “So we’ve been practicing. It’s a joy having a 6-year-old telling you what to do.’’

Bejoian knows that no matter where the ball lands, her throw to home plate will be the easy part. Taking her husband’s place in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of fans who knew him exactly one year after he died - that will be the daunting part.

With the game so bittersweet, Sara did not wish at first to participate. But organizer Steve Buckley kept on asking, and a few weeks ago, she finally warmed to the idea.

“My husband was a Yankees fan, and I was a Red Sox fan. We went through 50 years of arguing about everything,’’ she said. “The Oldtime Baseball Game kind of brought us together. It really means a lot.’’

How Jim, a Worcester native who grew up in Needham, came to be a Yankees fan was forever a mystery to Sara. He said the Yankees were better managed than the Red Sox, but she never quite understood his reasoning.

They started dating while Sara was at Boston University in the early 1950s. Jim, who flew 34 bombing missions over the South Pacific in World War II, would get them box seats at Fenway. It was the era of Sox greats Ted Williams and Jackie Jensen, but the Yankees, led by Mickey Mantle, were always better.

Jim never rubbed it in too badly, Sara said. But that didn’t make losing any better. “My husband and I would not speak for a week’’ if the Sox lost to the Yankees, she said. And when Bucky Dent hit his infamous homer in 1978: “I just made dinner and we ate in silence and I put the dishes away.’’

But her baseball wounds healed quickly. And in 2004, the year the Bejoians celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, Sara finally got to say her team was the better one.

“Oh, 2004 and 2007 were the biggest years of our lives. Well, my life, anyhow,’’ she said.

After the first Sox championship, Sara enlarged a photo of the trophy and stuck it on the front door of their mom-and-pop business, ALBA Press printing of Belmont.

“Every time I answered the phone that day I’d say ‘This is Red Sox nation’ and he’d have a fit,’’ she said. “I said I was proud of it, and he said, ‘All right. I’ll give you a week. Then forget about it.’ ’’

Through all the years, Sara said she was never tempted to root for her husband’s team. Their three children, daughters Lynne and Laurie, and son J.C., who helped organize the first Oldtime game in 1994, are all Sox fans. Nor did Jim ever give an inch to the Sox. When he was laid to rest, a Yankees cap was in his casket.

As Yankees fans go, Bejoian said, she couldn’t have loved a better one.

“But I think, deep down, he wanted the Red Sox to win,’’ she said. “He was in the hospital [during the 2004 playoffs] and at like 1 o’clock in the morning he called me. ‘Are you watching the game?’ he said. ‘Put it on. I think Papi is going to hit a home run.’ ’’

“Sure enough, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he hit one, and we won,’’ she said. “And I told him, ‘Thanks for calling me.’ ’’

For more information on Thursday’s game, which benefits Hospitality Homes, see www.oldtimebaseball.com.