My mom was a rabid New York Yankees fan. She embraced the team wholeheartedly when she moved to the US with my dad from Korea in 1963.
Forget that she barely knew English.
Forget that she barely knew baseball.
Her new father in law (my Grandpa) was the biggest Yankees fan on the planet (or at least, Edgewater, New Jersey). He found a willing recruit in the petite woman his son brought home as a bonus from a stint serving with the Army in Seoul. Forget that her husband was a Dodgers fan (Brooklyn, then Los Angeles). My mom saw the Yankees pinstripes and was hooked from day one.
As her command of the English language grew, so did her knowledge of baseball and her love of the Yanks. Her favorite players were Lou Piniella (as a player, then later as manager- we used to take "Sunday drives" past his house), Don Mattingly (I gave her a Cabbage Patch doll dressed in Yankee pinstripes for Mother's Day one year. She named him "Donny Jr." and held him at every game she watched. I inherited "Donny Jr." when she died), and, as she called him, Mike “Pagalulu”.
I have to insert a confession here. I, too, am a Yankees fan. I’m not as rabid as my mother and there were times I didn’t know the entire starting lineup (let’s just say my brain was a little addled at times, with help from foreign substances). My favorites (Bucky Dent, Rick Cerone <-circa 1970's) were not the same as hers. And although I was very familiar with Donnie Baseball and Sweet Lou, my unfamiliarity with a certain other player leads to the story that is being recorded here for posterity.
The year: 1985. A friend set me up on a blind date with this guy I had admired from afar. His name was Will and he was a surfer. Okay, he was really a waiter (but he surfed on the weekends). He was tall, sandy hair, nice build. (Ladies, you get the picture). Very athletic and into sports. So was I. Except… my sports knowledge lay with the New York Giants at the time, not the New York Yankees. Still, I decided to “borrow” from my mom’s expert ramblings in an attempt to match his enthusiasm for the Bronx Bombers.
Things got off to a good start. I knew enough about Sweet Lou and Don Mattingly to keep the conversation going. Then, I got a little cocky.
Me: Oh yeah, and let’s not forget third base. Mike Pagalulu
Me (coyly): You know. Mike Pagalulu
Will (scorn creeping into his voice): You must mean Mike PAGLIARULO
Me (face burning beet red by now): Oh. Yes. Of course, that’s what I meant.
If I remember correctly, our date ended about 10 minutes later. That’s how long it took to get the check and leave the beachside café. I remember it had been a balmy night and I was sure we would have walked on the beach after dinner, had things gone well. Not a word was spoken during the drive home. I didn’t even get the customary, “I’ll call you.” Wow. Who knew that Yankees fans could be so damn prickly?
The next day, my mom asked me how the date went. I told her it went fine, then paused, trying to figure out the best way to broach the topic of Mike “Pagalulu.” Finally, I just went for it.
Me: Mommy, I have to tell you something. You’ve been pronouncing a player’s name wrong.
Mom: What you talking about? What player? Who player?
Me: Mommy, the third base guy. His name is Mike PAGLIARULO, not PAGALULU.
Mom: That’s what I say. PAGALULU
Me: No, Mommy. Listen to me very carefully. pa-glee-ah-ROO'-low
Mom: That’s what I say. PAGALULU
Me: No, really. Listen: you’re saying: PAGA-LULU. It’s really: pa-glee-ah-ROO'-lowShe started to get annoyed.
Huffily she said, THAT’S what I SAY: PAGALULU
I gave up. “Okay, Mommy.” And I went to do the dishes.
As I worked, I thought about Will and how uptight he had become because I mispronounced a player’s name. I wondered what else would he get uptight about.