Columns

Thanks, Dad

This weekend, Daniel “Butch” Borrello would have been 69 years-old.

To this day, nobody knows how he got the nickname, but in Silver Creek, NY, it made things easier in 1980 when “Danny” was born.

During a 1979 Little League All-Star tournament featuring two of Butch’s nephews, he leaned over to his pregnant wife, Mary, and told her, “have a Little Leaguer.”

It took a few years, but one of the best days of Butch’s life was the day his then 8 year-old son came home from school after being told by his classmates that T-Ball tryouts were that weekend.

Immediately, Butch drove to Bradigan’s Sports in Dunkirk and purchased a T-Ball set with a retrievable ball, a brown Wilson glove stamped with Ron Guidry’s autograph, and an orange baseball. Why orange? Who knows? Maybe Butch had a hunch his young son had issues seeing the ball.

That hunch proved correct. Unlike his nephews nine years prior, who starred in Babe Ruth and High School, Danny was no All-Star.

One day that spring, Butch decided to go out and buy a VCR when they were not only needed, but expensive. In the 1980s, it wasn’t uncommon for a VHS player to run anywhere from $500-$1000 bucks.

Mary went to the local library and borrowed a tape called “New York Yankees: The Movie.” And the year-old documentary was watched by the Borrello household to the point where the family needed to actually purchase the tape due to getting eaten by the cassette monster. Nowadays, people flip if Wi-Fi disconnects during Netflix. Back then, you needed to buy a new video, even if you rented it.

Danny fell in-love with the Yankees the way his dad had. In fact, Danny would end-up telling his father more about the Yankees than Butch even remembered.

However, as much as he retained from the tape, and countless games on WPIX, SportsChannel NY and eventually MSG, it didn’t translate in Danny’s play.

So Butch would throw countless grounders and high-flies, with comical promises of hundreds of dollars if he could catch tougher and tougher balls.

It cost him his rotator cuff. Yet, he continued working with his son until Danny finally realized he just didn’t have it and got into coaching.

At 16.

But that’s where all the learning from Butch really went to use.

It wasn’t just about the Yankees, though. It started with the Buffalo Bills. One Sunday afternoon, Butch’s father, Danny’s grandpa, asked his grandson, “why don’t you turn-off the cartoons and get into sports?”

Switch: flipped.

Butch and Danny never missed a Bills game. Whether it was on TV, or through Van Miller’s voice, the Bills were second only to Jesus in the Borrello home on fall Sundays and Monday nights–much to Mary’s chagrin.

The pair were able to enjoy the Bills right as Bill Polian and Marv Levy had gotten them to their highest achievement. Nice timing.

Bills and Yanks. Baseball and football. Those were the only sports that mattered.

The goalpost-tearing 9-6 OT win over the NY Jets that clinched the AFC East in 1988? They watched it together.

The loss to the Bengals in the 1988 AFC Championship Game? They watched it together.

The Ronnie Harmon Game? (Ask your parents, kids.) They watched it together.

The home-field-advantage-clinching win in 1990 over the hated Dolphins, which led to another goalpost replacement? 51-3? Wide Right? XXVI, The Comeback, XXVII, and XXVIII?

Yup. And Butch was there to bring young Danny back to reality through all of it.

“These guys aren’t gods, Danny Boy. And we need to stop treating them as such.”

May be the most important sports lesson a son could hear. To this day, autographs are no big deal.

Meanwhile, unlike the last 21 years, and the those from 1923 to 1981, the Yankees weren’t exactly, uh, good.

Yet, the pair were there to enjoy watching the Bronx Bombers channel the past only Butch had enjoyed until that point in 1996, and again in ‘98, ‘99, 2000.

In fact, Butch and Danny shared a moment that woke-up the house; one they didn’t realize would change the fates of the original “Team of the Nineties,” and the real one.

Earlier that night, the Yankees were down six runs in Game Four of the 1996 Series with the Braves. Butch, a steel worker, was about to leave to work the third shift.

“At least we got one (win), Danny Boy,” he said before he left.

A couple hours later, with Butch at work and Danny in the armchair, Jim Leyritz homered, tying the game and helped swing the series back toward the Yankees.

Mary and the rest of the family awoke to Danny’s cheering and Butch’s immediate phone call, sharing another moment together, even if they were a dozen miles apart.

The Yankees and the Bills were a big part of their lives. Too big, perhaps.

In 2004, when the Yankees blew their three-game lead to the Boston Red Sox, that was the second-worst news the family received that fall.

Butch, who always put his family before everything, including trips to the doctor, was diagnosed with Stage Four colon cancer.

Danny and his family were devastated. And in his immature mind, somehow, he felt the two were related.

Butch quickly jumped in with a father’s guidance and common sense.

“That Boston team deserves it. The Yanks blew-it. You knew all year they didn’t have it. This has nothing to do with anything. Stop. I’ll be OK.”

Butch faught valiantly for three more years–two more than doctors had given him–only to succumb to the disease in 2007.

But among the many lessons he taught his family, an important one is was how to look at sports.

“We’re not bringing it home with us.”

There’s no cosmic connection. Joy passed and shared between father and family, sure. Happy moments? Absolutely. But as high and low it will take you, none of it will get you into Heaven.

Enjoy it, but keep it in perspective. God and family are the only things that matter. If sports or anything else are your identity, you’re in for a rough life.

It’s been ten years. Every year on November 12, I’ve wanted to call my dad and wish him happy birthday. There are also, still, those moments I instinctively reach for the phone to ask him for advice, or if he saw something that happened with the Bills or the Yankees. But that’s selfish, because where he’s at, nothing on this Earth even remotely matters. And for that I’m grateful.

Just like all the joy he passed down through Jesus, family and sports while he was here, as well as the lessons of perspective.

Thanks, Dad. Happy Birthday. I love you. Looking forward to our next conversation.

P.S. When it comes to the Bills, you haven’t missed a thing.