The night before Game 3 of the 2018 World Series, Xander Bogaerts' mind raced. He was restless, but not because of any concerns about his team and its fate. He never doubted the Red Sox would win the World Series. In that moment, the game was the least of his worries.
He entered the postseason as the only active player on the roster with experience in the Fall Classic in Boston. The nerves, the anxiety, the excitement, he knew how to deal with all that after feeling it back in 2013, the first time around when he started at third base as the Red Sox beat the Cardinals for their eighth title.
Instead, his anxious thoughts centered around the reunion later that night in the ballroom of the Langham Hotel in Los Angeles. They made him feel like a rookie all over again.
Twenty-three years. That's how much time had passed. Twenty-three long years since Bogaerts last saw his dad, Jan Maarten Bogaerts, a man whose first names are the middle names of his 26-year-old twin sons, Xander Jan and Jair Maarten. Growing up, those middle names were only heard when Mom, Sandra Brown, grew angry with the boys in Aruba.
Maarten, as the elder Bogaerts prefers to be called, was in Los Angeles only because Xander reached out to him last week while he was in Hong Kong, where he works in imports and exports. Maarten and his wife, Lourdes, soon found themselves on a plane en route to LAX, flying 7,000 miles over the Pacific Ocean to watch his son play in his second World Series. To watch his son play baseball in person for the second time in his life.
As Xander inched closer to the ballroom, his mind jumped from thought to thought. What are you supposed to say in this situation? What do you say to your dad after not seeing him for 23 years? What do you say to your father who left behind Aruba and his family when you were three years old? What do you do when you sit down for a meal with your dad for the first time since you were old enough to remember?
"I didn't know how it would all feel," Xander tells Bleacher Report. "Whether it would be awkward or not."
As he sat down, he took a moment. He reminded himself of the biggest lesson he had learned since being a fresh-faced rookie who raised a World Series trophy, what he tells himself every time he steps up to the plate.
Stay in the present. Stay in the present. Stay in the present.
Sandra Brown did her best to make sure her three kids never missed out on anything, as if they never missed out by not having Dad around.
Supermom, the kids called her, and they watched her shuffle from her duties as a social worker to the never-ending job of being a single mom. The family grew up in a four-bedroom home 12 miles southeast of Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba. Mom's boisterous, enthusiastic, optimistic personality did enough to fill all the rooms by herself.
"She didn't make it feel like there was something missing," Chandra, Xander's sister, says.
The hardest part was explaining where their dad was. As little kids, Xander and Jair struggled to put words together to explain to their friends why their dad didn't live with them, let alone lived halfway across the world. Year by year, the missed moments piled up. The brothers preferred not to think about the situation.
Whenever the topic came up, Sandra always made sure to never speak negatively about Maarten. "Whatever happened between him and me, that was between him and me," Sandra says.
The kids and Maarten spoke sporadically. Sandra always made sure on Father's Day, on Christmas, on birthdays that Xander, Jair and Chandra spoke to their dad, even if they didn't want to.
"Until they were 18, I made sure they were diligent," Sandra says. "But once they were 18, they were grown, so they can take care of themselves. You are on your own."
In 2004, with Xander 12 years old, Chandra left Aruba to attend college in Hong Kong, where she felt a pull to reconnect and get to know her dad. She reached out to Maarten's wife, who helped her make that connection. "I've grown to know my dad better through his wife," Chandra says. "[Xander and Jair] didn't have that."
After she would meet with Maarten, she would text updates to her brothers. "We saw Papa this weekend," Chandra would text the boys. This is how he is now, this is how he used to be, she texted them. He's different from when we were little, she assured.
Xander and Jair showed varying levels of interest. They received encouragement to reach out to their father from their aunt, Nydia. The boys, seven years younger than their older sister, still teenagers, weren't ready yet. Supermom didn't worry.
"That time always comes in everyone's life," Sandra says.
Maarten always kept up on his sons' baseball careers. He knew when Xander and Jair both signed with the Red Sox. He knew when Xander made the jump to the Red Sox Dominican Academy to Greenville and then was promoted to Salem, Portland and Pawtucket. He followed Jair, who went from the Dominican Academy to being traded to the Chicago Cubs to a pursuit of a career as a sports agent. He just wanted them both to have success.
"You follow that in the background," Maarten says. "You do a lot via the internet and the newspapers and things like that." He says he just wanted to see how Xander was progressing, doing what he wanted, playing the game he loves. "That was the most important."
He left Aruba before Xander became a baseball player, before Xander became the island's star shortstop who nearly didn't go to his Red Sox tryout because he had chicken pox. He left before Xander and Jair signed their professional contracts at Fenway Park in 2009.
He had wanted to reach out for years, to reconnect, but the timing wasn't right. "He'd been trying for a while already, but it had to be up to them," Chandra says. "You can't impose something like that on your children, so he left it up to them. He left the door open."
Maarten came to understand why his sons weren't ready. "It was a lot of family stuff," he says now.
When the Red Sox reached the 2013 World Series, Maarten felt a pull to connect with his son, to congratulate him, to see him play in person and spend time with him after so many years had passed. Already overwhelmed with being a rookie and a starting third baseman in the World Series, Xander couldn't handle anything more. He told Maarten that he wasn't ready to see him. That the time hadn't yet come.
So Maarten, determined to watch his son play baseball in person for the first time, flew 18 hours to St. Louis to watch Xander play third base in Busch Stadium, camping out with his wife high in the right field corner. He left the next day, heading back to Hong Kong.
After the Red Sox raised the trophy back in Boston, the family received a picture of Maarten and Lourdes at the game. "I was glad that he respected our decision," Jair says. "We were 21, and that would've been even more tough of a World Series."
Xander and Jair continued to receive encouragement from their aunt to reach out to Maarten. While on a trip across Europe in 2016, Jair decided it was time to see his dad. "I decided I wanted to make it happen," Jair says. "I just wanted to get it over with." They met. They caught up and started to talk.
The family started to wonder about Xander too. Jair talking to Dad again cracked open the door. Xander began to wonder in the family WhatsApp group chat whether it was time for him to do so as well. He peppered Chandra with questions, as Jair had done a year before. After a long conversation with his aunt, Xander added Maarten on WhatsApp. "F--k it. Let's get it done," Xander told Jair. So they did.
A day after the Red Sox beat the Astros to advance to the World Series, Xander asked his father if he wanted to join the family for the Los Angeles leg of the series. "We have to be there," Maarten told Xander. A flurry of logistics later, Maarten was in Los Angeles, ready to watch all three games at Dodger Stadium.
Xander, Jair and Maarten talked at dinner and then at breakfast the next day. Chandra took photos. "I have so many photos of them together, smiling and laughing," she says. "That wasn't something we had growing up." Over the course of the week, they filled up the empty family photo albums.
"It's one of the best decisions I've ever made," Xander says. "I've grown up as a man."
When the final out came, when Chris Sale struck out Manny Machado on a slider that brought the Dodgers' slugger to one knee, when the Red Sox became world champions for the ninth time in franchise history, Jair turned to his father. As they watched Xander join the celebration mob on the mound, they hugged and celebrated together for the first time. "I made sure I was there next to him," Jair says.
As the crowd settled down, Jair met his brother on the field. He gave him a dap and a hug. Maarten, wearing a Bogaerts jersey and a blue-and-green backpack, grabbed and hugged Xander as well, whispering something in his ear and rubbing his back. Xander smiled.
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The family walked toward the infield dirt. Maarten continued to pat his son on the back.
"It's all worth it," Maarten said. "It's all worth it."
The family took a photo together, among the first in 23 years. Chandra's son ran away as soon as he was let go. Xander chased him into the outfield.
When Chandra looked at her brother now, she saw the transformation. Xander wasn't the same 16-year-old kid who signed out of Aruba. Even the 21-year-old who won a World Series during his rookie year seemed like a distant memory. "He's matured the same way he's matured playing baseball," she says. "It helped him find himself as a man, and that was what he needed to actually get face to face with Daddy and figure things out."
Xander is briefly pulled away to do a TV interview in the outfield. When he is finished, he takes a moment to think about his dad, that Maarten was with him to celebrate his second world championship.
"I've forgiven him for everything, all the time he wasn't here," Xander said. "I'm trying to enjoy the good times we're going to have going forward, and hopefully we can see him more often.
"I'm just glad we won it in Dodger Stadium while he was here."
Everyone acknowledged this was just the beginning of a road mended. Conversations still need to take place, and 23 years don't disappear overnight. But as the Jumbotron flashed "WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS" along with the Red Sox logo, Maarten glanced at Xander.
Life isn't a fairy tale with an easy beginning, middle and end. But at least for one ephemeral moment, Maarten couldn't have imagined things being any better.
"Perfect," Maarten said. He paused and thought. "Yeah, perfect."
The time had finally come. It was now.