In the final weeks of the 2003 baseball season, I stopped cheering for the New York Yankees. I didn't plan it. It just happened. To further twist my mind, I started cheering for the Boston Red Sox.
This might seem amusing to many of you reading this, but to me it was very serious. I don't give my loyalty lightly, don't change hats as a team rises and falls in the standings. My team loyalty runs very deep. Being a Yankees fan has been a big part of my identity. When the Yankees won the World Series in 96, 98, 99 (etc.), people I hadn't heard from in years left messages on my answering machine. Casual acquaintances know they can always ask me how the Yankees did last night. (I always know.) Add to that the peculiar circumstances of my home and relationship – that Allan and I have always been diehard fans of rival teams - and the identity grows even stronger. (Somehow the word "rival" is too small to describe the relationship between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Are the Palestinians and Israelis rivals?)
The circumstances that combined to drive me away from the Yankees and into the arms of the Red Sox are complicated and difficult for me to articulate. My friend Regina asked me about it recently, and I stumbled over an answer. She said it made perfect sense, so I'm giving it a shot here.
In no particular order...
The atmosphere at Yankee Stadium. I was tired of being yelled at for not standing for God Bless America, tired of the jet flyovers, the moments of silent prayer, the military marching bands. I was also beyond fed up with the commercials blaring at ear-shattering volume, the "make noise" and "get loud" and TV trivia (and etc. etc. etc.) that makes it impossible to enjoy a ballgame at the Stadium, or for that matter, to talk to the person sitting next to you.
This didn't drive me away from the Yankees, but it did finally stop me from attending games. I used to go to about 15, 20 games a year, plus as many post-season games as I could get my hands on (usually three or four, sometimes more). In 2003, I went to two games, and both times came away discouraged and disgusted. In 2004 I decided not to go at all. (I complain to the team every year, by the way. Not that I expect it to do anything, but they should at least know that many fans feel this way.) Yankee Stadium, where I have experienced so much joy and happiness... and now I hated it there. It made me feel awful.
The 2003 and 2004 Yankees. The Yankees don’t feel like a team to me anymore; they feel like a collection of individuals wearing the same uniform. The 1998 Yankees, team of my heart, were a core group of home-grown players plus a few judicious acquisitions. The 2003 Yankees, and even more so, the 2004 model, is a bunch of name-brand acquisitions doing the job they are paid to do, going about their business, seemingly without bringing any heart or spirit or enjoyment to the task.
The irony of this, of course, is that I used to love Alex Rodriguez. We're talking major crush. When Seattle, and then Texas, would come to town, I'd go to the Stadium with my binoculars: Alex Cam! Thank goodness he doesn't look so good with that receding hairline. Plus he's turned out to be a jerk. Ah well.
The fans. The ignorant, arrogant, egocentric, pigheaded fans who think that the Yankees are preordained to win and the Red Sox preordained to lose. This is horseshit. Also horseshit: that only the Yankees have history, or only Yankees history is worth recounting, that the baseball season ends when the Yankees stop playing. It's not unlike the people chanting "U-S-A" and blindly, stupidly believing the hype called "this is the greatest country on earth".
All fans are, to some extent, hypocritical. Allan can't stand the pro-Yankee announcers on YES, but the NESN announcers refer to the Red Sox as "we" and blatantly root for the team, and that doesn't bother him. Mets fans were up in arms over Clemens beaning Pizza Boy, but they'd give anything to have Clemens pitch for their team. (Not that Roger wants to pitch for a minor league team.) (As you can see, not every shred of my Yankee soul has been expurgated.) Most Yankee fans didn't mind Alex slapping the ball out of Arroyo's glove, but oh my god, if Varitek had done it...!
But even given this, Yankee fans take the hypocritical cake. If the universe doesn't move in their favor 100% of the time, they are howling "it's not fair" and trotting out lame excuses. The last straw, for me, was the hype on the "classy" Yankees fans and the "classless" Red Sox fans. That was just too much. I've seen more games of both teams in more parks than any Yankee fan I personally know. Let me tell you: the fans are the same. There are good and bad of both. Red Sox fans can get ugly, sure – I'm not crazy about the "Ro-ger, Ro-ger"-style pitching taunts – but if you don't know that Yankee fans can get ugly, too, you've never been to Yankee Stadium. If it came down to a tie, I'd give Red Sox fans the edge for sheer loyalty, and Yankee fans the thumbs-down for arrogance.
After the Pedro-Zimmer incident – which I thought was hilarious (as did some other fans I know) - a supposed friend, a former Yankee buddy, railed at me for not being sufficiently outraged. In a rabid email, he ranted: "You can't be on both sides, you have to choose!!!" He said this was a "highly emotional" time and if I had any shred of sympathy for the Red Sox I had better not tell him.
That did it.
That kind of talk should be saved for things like a stolen election, a senseless war, or the death penalty – all of which this guy supports. But THIS – THIS was an outrage! And I had better watch what I say.
Actually, I never really understood Yankee fans' hatred of the Red Sox. I never hated them. (Well, maybe in the late '70s, but I was a kid, what did I know.) Why hate a team that always finishes second to you? I understand Red Sox fans' bitterness towards the Yankees, that makes perfect sense, but why all the anger and bitterness from Yankees fans, if the team is supposedly blessed and will always finish in first place? I hated Seattle (1995), Cleveland (97), ARIZONA!!! (2001) and the Mets (always). But the Red Sox? Why bother?
And then there are the Red Sox. Late in the 2003 season, the team just started to win my heart. The crazy late-inning comebacks, the loose, happy feel, the hugging (as contrasted with Yankee fist-touching), the heart. I love Pedro. What can I say? I just do. Even more amazing to me, considering he was on that evil 1997 Cleveland team, I love Manny. The list goes on. They just grew on me, and I got attached. By the time the playoffs rolled around, I was blatantly – though secretly – rooting for them.
I wanted the Red Sox to win the 2003 pennant as much as I've ever wanted a team to win anything in my life. I wanted Allan to be happy. I wanted all the Yankee fans to SHUT UP. I won't say the Boone home run crushed me as much it did Allan, that's obviously not possible, but it hurt.
But I continued faking it. Along with my long-time Yankees buddy, Matt, I went to the first game of the 2003 World Series, but my heart wasn't in it. When they showed the Boone home run on the scoreboard, I felt sick. I mean literally. I almost started to cry. I hate Grady Little. I hate him for breaking Allan's heart.
But that was last year. I thought it was a short-term illness. When the 2004 season rolled around, I fully expected to return to my normal pinstriped state. I read my Yankee spring-training stories, and settled in on the couch to watch YES while Allan watched NESN in the other room.
I was bored.
I started zoning out during my games, wandering in to where Allan was watching, asking about the score. Before long, we no longer needed a second TV. Yes, after living together nearly 18 years, we are now cheering for the same team! It's been weird, but man, has it been fun.
When the Red Sox were down by three games in the ALCS, I thought, if any team can come back to beat those odds, it's these Red Sox. I took to saying that just because something has never happened before, doesn't it mean it can't happen, or never will. "Never happened before" is an observation about history, not a predictor of the future. My team gave me so much joy for so long. I wanted Allan to have that joy, too.
The only thing really difficult about cheering for the Red Sox in this post-season? Curt Schilling. Or, as I call him, Blabbermouth. A pitcher beats my team in the World Series, I hold a grudge for life. This is a bit confusing.
I don't feel as if I truly deserve to share in the joy when the Red Sox win the World Series this year. I feel a little peculiar, cheering along with fans who have suffered so much for so long. But there I am. I don't know how long this will last. Maybe after we move to Canada, I'll wear my NY cap with pride. Maybe I'll be a fan without a team for the foreseeable future. But for now, "we" (we???) are two wins away.
* * *
Oh, one more thing. Matt: I apologize. I lied to you. I was so confused. I didn't know what else to do. I'm such a nut about this team loyalty thing, I was denying my true feelings even to good friends. If you're reading this, now you know.
If a certain former co-worker is reading this, jumping up and down screaming, "I knew it! I knew it!"... don't burst a blood vessel. Perhaps you can take some comfort in knowing you're part of what pushed me over the edge.