10.25.2004

now it can be told: a fan confesses

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.

11 comments:

James said...

Since you pointed me at this, I figured I'd offer my own comments to give you a feel of at least one Toronto baseball fan's opinion on the game as it stands here in Toronto.

A bit of background: baseball fandom runs in my family on the maternal side. My mother is a huge baseball fan, as was her mother. Mainly the Blue Jays, but thanks to a close family relationship with Boston, the Red Sox are dear to us as well.

"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."

We get the "make some noise" and TV trivia in SkyDome, but I've never found it distracting. The Jumbotron dominates the outfield, of course, but for the most part I ignore the thing.

After Sept. 11, we did have a period during which "God Bless America" would be played for the US team... That hasn't happened for a while, though.

"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."

We went through the same thing after the Blue Jays' World Series wins in 92 and 93. The owners of the team went through a big round of buying players to keep the team strong, but ended up destroying the actual team relationships that had gotten the Jays the Series. In recent years I've been much more of a casual fan than I was in the early 90s, because the team just hasn't seemed as cohesive as it used to be.

"The fans. The ignorant, arrogant, egocentric, pigheaded fans who think that the Yankees are preordained to win and the Red Sox preordained to lose."

Yankees fans aren't very popular at SkyDome -- but then, they aren't very popular anywhere much outside Yankee stadium. :) The Toronto fans are pretty quiet, in part because Toronto hasn't been particularly outstanding for the past few years but also, I think, because they don't have that "we derseve to win because we're us" attitude.

"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."

You know, that argument bugs me enough when applied to bisexuality -- it's just silly when applied to a game. :)

When I go to a Jays game, I'd *like* to see the Jays win, but even more, I'd like to see a good ballgame. I enjoy good plays by the opposing team almost as much as good plays by the Jays (though I enjoy bad plays by the opposing team *far* more than bad plays by the Jays). Watching the Jays loose a hotly contested 5-4 game is much more enjoyable than watching them win a 19-2 blowout.

"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."

Like I said, Yankee fans aren't held in high esteem up here; but I think you'll find that the assumption runs more "if you're being obnoxious, you must be a Yankees fan" than "if you're a Yankees fan, you must be obnoxious", if you know what I mean. :)

L-girl said...

Thanks for your comments on this!

Although I was never an obnoxious fan, I did so enjoy seeing games all over the country with my Yankees cap on, drawing the ire of people everywhere. I used to love being hated.

On the other hand, there are also tons of pseudo Yankee fans all over the US, of the bandwagon variety. Yuck.

I love the bisexuality parallel. Why choose? :)

The noise level wasn't too bad when we were at Skydome. With any luck that was a typical night. You can't ignore it at Yankee Stadium. It is simply overpowering. Baltimore is the same way. If they could just turn down the volume a few clicks, it would make a big difference.

Anyway, thanks for this feedback. Maybe we'll all take in a game together next season. (We'll be at Skydome in mid-September.)

James said...

"Although I was never an obnoxious fan, I did so enjoy seeing games all over the country with my Yankees cap on, drawing the ire of people everywhere. I used to love being hated."

I dunno if you'd get "hated" up here. Maybe "quietly annoyed at". :)

"I love the bisexuality parallel. Why choose? :)"

I've had people tell me I have to choose. They never really know what to say when I tell them that, if that's true, then they need to choose between blondes and brunettes.

"The noise level wasn't too bad when we were at Skydome. With any luck that was a typical night."

Probably. I don't think there've been many atypical nights there since about mid-1995. :)

"You can't ignore it at Yankee Stadium. It is simply overpowering."

I've never been to Yankee Stadium -- actually, the only parks I've been to are SkyDome and Fenway. SkyDome's comfortable, but it's got pretty much nothing in the way of character.

Many years ago some friends from the US were looking for the Hard Rock Cafe, but when they asked for directions they got the wrong one (there are two here -- one at Yonge & Dundas and one just outside the SkyDome). They turned the wrong way at one point in the directions and ended up inside the SkyDome, walking along those concrete-lined ramps and saying, "This is the weirdest mall I've ever seen!" Kinda sad that the park is so un-parklike that people could mistake it for a mall.

"Anyway, thanks for this feedback. Maybe we'll all take in a game together next season. (We'll be at Skydome in mid-September.)"

Sounds like a good idea. :)

L-girl said...

Here our perspectives are slightly different, though I appreciate yours completely.

I am very into team loyalty. I would rather see my team win any kind of game than see a well-played game in which they lose (even though low-scoring pitching duels are my favorite).

What I objected to in that person's "You have to choose!!!" was the implication that I couldn't criticize my own team - that being a fan meant blindly supporting anything anyone on my team does. The "with us or against us" neocon mentality.

I also objected to the vehemence of his hatred towards the other team. Wanting to win is one thing. Believing yourself locked in some kind of battle between good and evil is just plain stupid.

James said...

"I am very into team loyalty. I would rather see my team win any kind of game than see a well-played game in which they lose (even though low-scoring pitching duels are my favorite)."

I suppose it's a little hard for me to put too much into the Jays being my "home team", given that there are generally no Torontonians -- and very few, if any, Canadians -- on the team.

My mother always referred to the Blue Jays World Series games as "Our Dominicans vs. Their Dominicans". :)

"What I objected to in that person's "You have to choose!!!" was the implication that I couldn't criticize my own team - that being a fan meant blindly supporting anything anyone on my team does. The "with us or against us" neocon mentality."

Yup. The notion that it is impossible to support something and find fault with it at the same time seems beyond some people.

"I also objected to the vehemence of his hatred towards the other team. Wanting to win is one thing. Believing yourself locked in some kind of battle between good and evil is just plain stupid."

At least it's not as bad as soccer hoodlums. :P

L-girl said...

"I suppose it's a little hard for me to put too much into the Jays being my "home team", given that there are generally no Torontonians -- and very few, if any, Canadians -- on the team."

That's a funny concept to me. Team loyalty isn't about where the players are from. It's about the city (or region) they play for.

It's not like in "the old days" (whenever that was) players came from the city whose uniform they wore. Joe DiMaggio was from San Francisco, Babe Ruth was from Baltimore, Mickey Mantle from Oklahoma...

Btw, there is one Canadian on the current Blue Jays roster, Corey Koskie. The team wants to get more - they are purposely courting Canadian players. Watch out they don't get Paul Quantrill. ;-)

James said...

"That's a funny concept to me. Team loyalty isn't about where the players are from. It's about the city (or region) they play for."

It's the difference between a homeguard and hired mercenaries. It's always easier to root for the guy defending his home turf.

"It's not like in "the old days" (whenever that was) players came from the city whose uniform they wore. Joe DiMaggio was from San Francisco, Babe Ruth was from Baltimore, Mickey Mantle from Oklahoma..."

It's not like the old days, no. When almost none of them are from the same country as you, and many of them aren't even from the same landmass, it doesn't have the immediacy of a bunch of home-town boys.

None of this is to say I don't root for the Jays, but I'm more of a fan of *baseball* as a game than of the Jays in and of themselves. Hence prefering a well-played game to an easy win.

"Btw, there is one Canadian on the current Blue Jays roster, Corey Koskie. The team wants to get more - they are purposely courting Canadian players. Watch out they don't get Paul Quantrill. ;-)"

The problem is getting them to take the fields in cleats instead of skates. And hitting a baseball with a hockey stick is *really* hard.

L-girl said...

"It's not like in "the old days" (whenever that was) players came from the city whose uniform they wore. Joe DiMaggio was from San Francisco, Babe Ruth was from Baltimore, Mickey Mantle from Oklahoma..."

"It's not like the old days, no. When almost none of them are from the same country as you, and many of them aren't even from the same landmass, it doesn't have the immediacy of a bunch of home-town boys."

You misread this. I said in the old days players were not from the home town. There were no "good old days" like that. The players I named above all played for the Yankees.

Professional athletes were never predominantly from the town they played for.

As far as being from the same country or land mass, fortunately baseball has moved beyond the bias that all players have to be white Americans. Your comment smacks of racism, which seems incongruous with your other posts.

James said...

"You misread this. I said in the old days players were not from the home town."

Sorry, I should have repeated the quotation marks; I knew that you meant fictional "old days", as did I.

"As far as being from the same country or land mass, fortunately baseball has moved beyond the bias that all players have to be white Americans. Your comment smacks of racism, which seems incongruous with your other posts."

No racism meant or implied; I'm probably just expressing myself badly.

I meant that when there is no substantial local representation on the team, I don't feel like it's really a "home team" as such. Maybe it's because I grew up in a smaller town with a regional-league teams made up of local players, so that's more what I'm used to. (Of course, London Ontario's MLB team of choise is the Tigers, not the Jays, so that's kinda messed up too.)

The only thing that makes the Jays more "my team" than, say, the Red Sox is who pays the bills (and I'm not that fond of Ted Rogers, for non-baseball-related reasons) and where the ballpark is located. This is why I don't put as much weight on "my home team" winning as on just getting to see good baseball.

All that said, I still go to the SkyDome hoping to see the Jays win a well-played game. :)

I'm completely delighted at the increasingly global nature of baseball. I've always been bothered that the "World Series" involves so little of the world. The more of the world that gets involved -- both in teams overseas and players coming and joining teams here -- the better! I had a grand time following Ichiro Suzuki when he joined the Mariners. The Jays were particularly dull that year, if I remember rightly, so he livened things up.

(By the way, "now it can be told" wouldn't be a DEVO reference, would it?)

L-girl said...

Thanks James, it's all good. I certainly thought a racist view of baseball would be odd coming from you! I never had a small-town or regional league, so I never think of it that way.

I also love the increasingly global nature of the sport. The more, the merrier!

By the way, "now it can be told" wouldn't be a DEVO reference, would it?

Probably DEVO and I got it from the same place, an old Irving Berlin song. (And no, I'm not that old, but I know some old music. ;-) )

James said...

I'm on a mailing list with a couple of very vocal Australians, and they love ragging on baseball as being a quaint, regional sport compared to the True International Sport of cricket. So it's nice seeing baseball spread.

Of course, once you're up here we'll have to introduce you to some Canadian quaint regional sports, like curling, or our national (summer) sport, lacrosse. :)