November 1, 2013

For some Mainers, love of the Red Sox is for life – and beyond

The families of fans who didn’t live to see the team win Wednesday remember their loved ones’ passion.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

 

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Patricia Kennedy sits in her living room Thursday next to where her late husband, James, often watched his beloved Red Sox play baseball. He died Tuesday, so the family placed the jersey there for Wednesday’s game.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

James Kennedy Sr.

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Patricia Kennedy spent Wednesday night doing the same thing as many other Mainers: watching the Boston Red Sox win the World Series at Fenway Park for the first time since 1918.

It was the first Red Sox game in years that she didn’t watch with her husband, James Kennedy Sr. He died of cancer Tuesday, after watching the Sox take the series lead, three games to two, over the St. Louis Cardinals.

His nurses at Maine Medical Center were told there were two firm rules for caring for him: Leave his shaker of black pepper handy – “he likes it on everything,” his son Kirk Kennedy said – and make sure the game is on TV.

On Monday night, he said, they sat at his father’s bedside in the hospital and gave him a play-by-play of Game 5, not sure how much he heard.

But even as he was dying, “he knew they won,” Kirk Kennedy said. “We put him to bed after the game.”

On Wednesday night, James Kennedy’s family draped a Red Sox jersey over the back of his favorite recliner in his home in South Portland and put the headphones he used to listen to games on the seat. Patricia said she made sure to watch the series-clinching game.

She said the game was “great” and she knew that, somewhere, James was happy.

The Kennedys were among the fans whose loss loomed a little larger this week, as they mourned citizens of Red Sox Nation who didn’t get to see their beloved team’s championship.

Antonio Bifulco adored his wife and children – and the Red Sox – with seemingly equal passion. He lived long enough to see his team capture two World Series titles, in 2004 and 2007, before he died in August at the age of 80.

Wednesday night, when the Sox completed their worst-to-first turnaround from a dismal 2012, was a bittersweet moment for Lena Brooks, who remembers going to games at Fenway Park with her father and gathering in their basement to listen on the radio in the days before cable television put every game on the air.

“When they scored, he would jump up,” Brooks said Thursday. “It was a low ceiling, and one time he almost broke his hand because he hit it so hard on the ceiling.”

When he was growing up in Italy, Bifulco played soccer, not baseball. His favorite hobbies were foraging for wild mushrooms and making wine.

At his funeral, his three loves were represented. There were mushrooms. There was wine. And there were the Red Sox, in the form of a wreath with the team’s logo and pennants. His favorite Sox jacket was there during the visitation and the funeral, Brooks said.

It’s common for sports to be a focal point in families and communities, and it’s not surprising that people use sporting events to create deeper connections, even with those who have died, said Jay Coakley, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Colorado.

Sports creates “a communal sense, and we always kind of long for community – it’s in our DNA,” Coakley said. “We’re an individualistic society, but it’s nice to be able to unite around something that is not contentious. Sports teams provide that relatively non-contentious communal focus.”

Antonio Bifulco and James Kennedy got to see their team win titles in 2004 and 2007.

Kathy McInnis-Misenor said her family still mourns an uncle, Kenneth “Bobby” Murphy, who didn’t live long enough to see the victory in 2004, when the Red Sox beat the Cardinals and ended an 86-year championship drought.

She said baseball is central in her family – her mother and father met at a game when her mother, the official scorer, gave her father an error on a play. Her mom was a Red Sox fan, and her father rooted for the New York Yankees.

Bobby Murphy was a rabid Sox fan. He died in 2002, and his nephew, Mark McInnis, and Mark’s son, Matthew, conspired to make sure part of him stayed in Fenway forever.

They signed up for a tour of Fenway Park and, from small plastic bags they had in their pockets, spread part of their uncle’s ashes around, McInnis-Misenor said. His final resting places include an area near home plate and the warning track in left field in front of the Green Monster, where Carl Yastrzemski roamed for much of his 23-year career.

Leah Tobin, a media relations representative for the Red Sox, said she wasn’t sure if the team has an official policy forbidding someone from spreading ashes in Fenway. She said she would check to find out, but didn’t have an answer by late Thursday evening.

McInnis-Misenor said her family figured that Bobby Murphy’s ashes would bring the Red Sox good luck and an immediate World Series win. But 2003 brought heartbreak, as the Red Sox blew a lead in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and lost to their archrivals, the Yankees.

The Sox triumphed the next year, and the family believes that Bobby Murphy played a role in that long-sought championship, she said.

Lena Brooks and her brother, Leo Bifulco, said they never knew where their father’s love for the Red Sox came from, but they knew it ran deep.

Leo Bifulco said his parents bought a house in Winter Haven, Fla., where the Red Sox had their spring training camp before they moved to Fort Myers.

His father developed a friendship with Joe Morgan, who was the Sox manager in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Morgan had a taste for Bifulco’s mushrooms and wine that earned the Portlander a clubhouse pass.

When Antonio Bifulco was in Maine Medical Center in 2007 after a fall, he made sure to get his photograph taken with the Red Sox World Series trophy when it was brought to the hospital as part of a victory tour through New England.

Brooks said she thinks she has a clue about why her father loved the Red Sox and baseball. The game itself was just a piece of it.

“He loved being a citizen and being in this country,” she said. “It’s America’s pastime and he loved America.”

News Assistant Melanie Creamer contributed to this report. 

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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Kathy McInnis-Misenor of Saco holds a baseball given to her mother and father by the Boston Red Sox on their 60th “diamond” wedding anniversary.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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When Tony Bifulco died in August, his family wanted items at his funeral to reflect his passions, so they had wild mushrooms like the ones Bifulco foraged, his homemade wine and a wreath reflecting his love of the Red Sox, which began shortly after he emigrated from Italy to the U.S. in the late 1950s.

 


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