John McDonald was in the visitors dugout at Yankee Stadium a few years ago, a Toronto Blue Jay, awash in memories about his father, the late, great Jack McDonald, whom cancer took from us too soon. He grinned at the idea that he and his wife, Maura, had just bought a home in Scituate, Mass., which would have been too close to Fenway for his dad, the lifelong Yankee fan.
"My dad knows I'll never be a Red Sox fan," Johnny Mac said, big grin. "My kids, my wife, who knows how that will end up?"
Here how it has ended up:
Johnny Mac, never a Red Sox fan?
Liar, liar, pants on fire.
Not only is Johnny Mac, the favorite son of East Lyme and 14-year Major Leaguer, a Red Sox fan now, but he's also the happiest player on the team. As Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro told McDonald Saturday when he was traded to Boston, "you're going home and into a pennant race."
"It doesn't get any better than that," McDonald was saying Sunday night, leaving Fenway after the Sox moved a step closer to the playoffs with a sweep of the White Sox.
McDonald said he never saw this one coming. The best stories usually come from nowhere, don't they?
Now McDonald gets to experience baseball's ultimate objective - find your way home - in the best way ever. McDonald got to see the family Sunday night. He slept in his own bed. This is news, beyond the obvious. "Home" for him since April has been spring training in Arizona and then to Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Philadelphia.
And Johnny Cash was everywhere, man? Johnny Cash, meet Johnny Mac.
"That's baseball," he said, after listing the logistics that go into moving now for the fifth time in five months. He'll pick up the car in Philly this weekend, for example, when the Sox visit the Yankees.
And so while McDonald beams at the thought of being home and in a pennant race, there's still the matter of his dad. Jack, a longtime umpire and referee in the region, was his son's hero. A hard-working, wisecracking regular guy who just happened to love the Yankees, too. And it turned out they loved him, too.
That's the ironic, amusing part of all this. Jack, John and the Yankees have a history.
Jack McDonald was in a hospital room one day in 2010, trying to beat cancer, when the phone rang. Voice on the other end: Joe Girardi, whose dad was also ill at the time. After Girardi came CC Sabathia and Derek Jeter. They'll never know what they meant to the McDonald family.
Sabathia and McDonald were teammates in Cleveland.
"Johnny Mac is one of those guys, when you play with him, you'll always be friends with him," Sabathia said once. "I had met Mr. McDonald a few times and I felt like I knew him. If the situation were reversed, John would have done the same for me."
Earlier in John's career, Jack heard whispers of a potential trade to the Red Sox. That's when he said, "John, you're my son and I love you. But there will be none of that Boston (stuff) in my house."
Johnny Mac giggled at the memory Sunday.
Mostly because he knows that his house would be overrun with Boston (stuff) now. Jack wouldn't be able to help himself.
"I know he'd be happy for me," John said.
Jack must be smiling. Sonny boy's career has come back to New England. He gets to see Maura and the kids. What father wouldn't be thrilled to see his son happier than he's ever been?
"This means so much to me," he said. "Playing for a storied organization. The opportunity we have right now. And I'm driving home right now about 20 minutes from my house. You should see the smile I have."
McDonald, 38, said he's absolutely not ready to retire. He knows that depends on how well he plays. But there's a reason his teammates call him "pro." Red Sox fans who don't know him will love him instantly. Johnny Mac has a little Pedroia in him. They do professionalism as a habit, not an affectation.
"I can't wait to get to the ballpark (today)," Johnny Mac said.
A nice, short drive from home.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.