When I was 12 years old, I felt as if my life was crashing to the ground. During the summer after sixth grade, my family and I were moving 35 minutes away. But in stereotypical childhood exaggeration, 35 minutes might have well been 35 hours in my mind.
With my bubbled world about to explode, where was I the day before my first day in my new school? Not surprisingly, I was in my hometown playing wiffle ball with my childhood friend Steve Heck, who passed away suddenly on July 27, 2012 at the age of 31.
During the course of the game, some trivial and now-forgotten disagreement arose and a fight between us broke out. When the dust finally cleared, Steve had single-handily managed to crush my fragile and delicate view of the world.
He broke my glasses.
So, the next day I ventured into seventh grade with strange faces (partly because I couldn’t see them) staring back at me. And during the day when nature called, I naturally answered. However, I chose the wrong door and took my first pee in the girl’s room.
Way before the scuffle had reduced me to a blind Ralphie from A Christmas Story, he was by far my best friend. Attached at the hip, we were constantly doing the juvenile, silly and mischievous things kids are known to partake in. His goofiness and eternal smile were infectious from the first day I met him. But, baseball, particularly the never-ending Red Sox-Yankee rivalry, would be one of our most sacred bonds.
Following my father’s direct command, I immediately joined the storied brethren of the Bronx Bombers. On the other hand, Steve stubbornly decided to go against his brother, Mike, on both football and baseball. Mike rooted for the Yankees and Giants, so Steve logically had to choose the Red Sox and Jets.
Even with the Red Sox recent awakening in relevancy, the fan base remains a tortured gaggle with scars that run deeper than the Fenway “triangle.” And the Jets, well, we don’t even need to address that one, do we?
Even in our youth, the arguments were feisty. More times than not armed with zero stats, we would furiously debate an assortment of queries. “Who was better? Wade Boggs or Don Mattingly?” “Whose team had the better home field?” and “Was Mike Greenwell more cool because of his nickname, The Gator?” It was classic childhood back-and-forth banter that made me thankful I had such a stubborn, argumentative and truly amazing friend.
After regaining the gift of sight and moving to a new school, Steve and I still kept in touch. Sure, it was the never the same as elementary and middle school, but we did our best (and succeeded) to still remain great friends. And it didn’t stop there.
In 1998 when it came time to pick a college, unbeknownst to either of us, we both chose the same state school to further our “education.” I loved Steve, but I told him our rooming together might not be the best idea amidst our virgin pursuit of the Dean’s List. He agreed whole-heartedly and promptly requested me anyway.
I might have been on academic probation my entire Southern Connecticut State University career, but our daily viewings of baseball, UConn basketball or Revenge of the Nerds made it all worthwhile.
Around this time the Yankees were in the midst of their latest dynasty and I was gloating with unabashed delight. Drunk on the World Series championship elixir, I offered him the chance to convert to experience the pure bliss that follows Yankee Universe. Donning an unfamiliar deadpan face, he responded with a line of expletives that would have made Eddie Muphy’s classic standup Raw sound like the Old Testament.
During the 2003 and 2004 American League Championship series matchups, Steve and I both shared the euphoric highs and dastardly lows of the age-old clash. When Pedro Martinez shoved the AARP card-carrying Don Zimmer to the Fenway ground, unprovoked, he called me to argue the actions of Petey’s self defense. However, his real emotions flooded out when he confessed to me that after Aaron Boone “happened,” this curse thing might be real.
With that being said, only a few months later 2004 “happened.” I called him from a noisy bar fresh off the Yankees Game 3 win, in which they embarrassed Boston 19-8 to take a 3-0 lead. “The sweep is on!” I trumpeted as I swept an imaginary broom. In a way I was right, as four days later the Sox managed to sweep their way into the record books with four straight wins.
As one you would expect, I received several phone calls when Ruben Sierra grounded out to Pokey Reese to end the Yankees 2004 campaign. With blank emotion, I sat stunned beyond belief, in the same bar listening to Steve bask in pure unadulterated nirvana.
Ugh. Anyway. Moving on.
Even after I thought our cohabitating days were over, we moved into an apartment together in 2007. Dipping his beak in Red Sox glory from three years prior, he took it upon himself to litter our pristine walls with the likes of David Ortiz and Jason Varitek. Obviously, I responded by doing the same with equal Yankee garb, making the living room the most dyslexic place to watch a baseball game in America.
With the 2007 season in the books and the Sox hoisting another trophy, Steve had climbed upon his soapbox telling me Coco Crisp would be better than Melky Cabrera when all was said and done. The past few months I had fun prodding him with this blunder, which he tried his best to ignore before ultimately asking for unrelenting mercy.
However, even more recently I received the worst phone call in my life from his brother. Two weeks before his wedding, Steve had passed away unexpectedly and ultimately left all of our lives carving a deep hole in our hearts. My emotions ranged from severe states of shock, disbelief, anger and uncontrollable sorrow. How could my right-hand man be gone? How could God be so unfair? Those moments that were shared by two had now been reduced to a solo conversation.
During the weekend, I tried in vain to be positive and be strong. However, the only time I could remotely be at peace and display a shoddy grin was for nine hours and thirty four minutes, the length of time it took for the Red and Yankees to play three games.
After New York blew the doors off of Boston in the first game, I wrote to Steve’s absent Facebook page telling him how much I loved him, how my life would never be the same, and of course extending that sacred invitation once again. In Game 2, Boston managed to come from behind and even up the series.
Finally in the last game with the Yankees looking to win the rubber game, a rookie Red Sox shortstop named Pedro Ciriaco barely made contact with a David Robertson fastball in the 10th inning that floated for what seemed like an eternity before finding lush green grass behind first base. The bloop hit allowed the Red Sox to score their eventual game-winning run and take the late-July series.
With my Sox-loving wife (yes, you heard me) silently cheering through facial expressions beside me, I felt a combination of emotions. I was beyond pissed the erratic David Robertson had once again gotten himself in trouble and spit the bit when it mattered. But, I felt a weird sense of unexpected and NEVER-before-felt pleasure in a Red Sox win. I knew deep in my heart that my departed friend had charmed the pants off of some angel and allowed that surefire out to find daylight.
I’m not sure what the rest of my life will be like without Steve Heck just a phone call away. No one can replace the genuine laughs and at the same time provide the lifelong loyalty he gave to me. I have the best friends an average guy could ever ask for, but they will never be Steve. There is no duplication to growing up with one the best people I’ve ever known.
People say as the years go on you remember your lost loved ones at the most unexpected times. A song is played, an expression is used, or a gesture is given that conjures up the sweet and irreplaceable memories of the past.
Among the treasure-trove of moments we shared, the constant Yankee/Red Sox good-natured ribbing always teetered near the top. For over a hundred years, the rivalry between two baseball teams separated by 205 miles has been dissected, argued, and celebrated, but more importantly never forgotten. In 31 years, Steve managed to create a cornucopia of snapshots that will stay deep inside me for the rest of my life.
Regardless of the season, his memory and our “rivalry” will always be a cherished connection that never takes a day off.
This article appears on The Fan Manifesto