2004-10-28 - 10:14 a.m.
Since I’ve come to New York, I’ve ranked my three most enthralling evenings. The first was spent on a rooftop in Midtown. The second running slobbery drunk in absolute darkness as the eastern seaboard was dug deep into darkness during the blackout.
Number Three? Aaron Boone.
When people asked me “Are you a Yankee fan?” “Are you a Red Sox fan?” I always said the same thing. I’m a baseball fan. Growing up in New England, almost perfectly equidistant from New York and Boston, my town, my friends, my family all straddled the line between those Mother Fucking Yankees, and the Red Sox Nation.
My father’s always been more of a football fan, but my grandfather revered Yankee Stadium with the same level of respect and awe as a church. Being the geek that I was, and still am, I wanted nothing to do with sports, at one point trying to change the channel from the Super Bowl to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood when I was six. Pop was the one who finally sat me down and made me watch a game of Baseball.
So began the itch.
Sitting in the backseat as my parents drove into the city to catch a flight a few weeks ago, I made them put on the Yankee/Red Sox game.
“You’re actually listening? You’ve never had any interest.”
My head dipped as Kevin Brown got shelled to the point of humiliation, and my mother turned in her seat, shocked that I cared.
I’ve never been a sports fan, avoiding the TV when someone in my house, my dorm room, my apartment would put it on. Through twenty-two years, I acknowledged sports as mildly interesting, but not worth really putting your heart into.
Still, there was something about baseball. Of any sport that I would waste my time with, this was the one that was the most dramatic. The best stories, the best theater in sports, is played on the diamond. And the best story in baseball, possibly the best story in sports, is the Red Sox versus the Yankees.
For years, the rivalry and the curse held one singular purpose for me. Torturing John Delia. A devote fan of the Sox, I gave him the Yankees stat book from their 1998 run at the world series, just to seem him steam. I called him when the Yanks took the pennant off the Sox back in 1999, saying, “Remember that thirteen to one win, don’t you wish you could just spread those runs out over the other games?” I called him during and after the Grady Little game last year. And I called him last night.
It’s not that I loved the Yankees, and it’s not that I disliked the Red Sox. It was just a lovely device to make the man sweat and swear. But somewhere in all the Chinese water torture, I started watching.
In college, where all my friends were Cubs fans, and the East Coast Armageddon that is the Sox and Yanks running for the pennant means nothing, I stood stunned when they both made the ALCS, finally playing the series I’d been waiting for, and no one in Iowa seemed to care.
Sitting on the couch in the common room, watching every pitch, I tried to figure out why I wasn’t popping out of seat, going back to my room and watching the South Park Movie again.
I took five years to get the answer. It’s a duel. Pitcher against batter. Manager against manager. It comes down, so many times, to a one on one, and any moment can change the course of the game. One swing of the bat, one pitch, one diving catch, or one call to the bullpen, all in a moment can change the entire game. There is no rest for a baseball fan. As soon as they finish with the national anthem, your stomach churns incessantly until the fifty-four outs are registered.
I watched Maguire battle Sosa, watched the Cubs not make it, again, and watched the Yankees…well…be the Yankees. I watched from the Midwest in 2001, ninth inning of game seven of the World Series, hoping a little bit.
Before I left Iowa, I had to admit. I was a baseball fan.
I refused to pick a team. Refused to pick a side. I had more fun watching the Sox fans and the Yankee fans, the Braves fans and the Met fans, the Cubbies, and those who bear some odd affinity for the White Sox, all of them scrap at each other while I chuckled, taking in the scene. Just as fun as watching the game, was watching the people staring at the television.
Then there was Aaron Boone.
Academicly speaking, for the story, I prayed for a Red Sox/Cubs World Series last year. It would have been beautifully poetic. I heard the ESPN commentators in the back of my head:
"Boston. Chicago. World Series. Someone has to lose."
During game seven of the ALCS the bar was racked with Yankee fans, so I kept my opinion to myself. I even managed to hide my sigh as the Sox relinquished their lead and the visions of the perfect World Series started to crumble.
But as I saw the story slip, something else was brimming. Every day I’d read names like Williams, Jeter, and Petite. Every game they played I was squatted by the bar. Every morning at work, I was ready to spout out the stats from the Yankee game the night before. I knew their batting averages, errors on the year, their numbers, since the Yanks don’t believe in putting names on their uniforms. I knew the team. I knew the team better than any other, ever.
And they were coming back.
Boone steps to the plate, and I hear groans beside me.
“I know he hasn’t been hitting, but I’ve seen the guy go clutch before, and…”
For nine innings, something inside me gained momentum. When the ball left the park, it was set in stone.
I’m a Yankee fan.
On a trip to Miami I became a regular at the only sports bar on the club addled strip. Night after night sharing my woes with the bartender, the only other Yankee fan in a bar called “Finnegan’s Way.” The name of Mariano Rivera has rarely passed my lips without the word “Fucking” before it. I appreciate all he’s done for the team, I do. But right now?
“Fucking Mariano Rivera!”
I did my best to give respect to the Boston fans lining the pine. They are a great team this year, and that cannot, certainly now, be denied. After game six I shook their hands, and managed a smile. As I left the bar, I spotted a droopy-faced man in a Yankee jersey.
“Hey, man, what would it be if the Sox didn’t lose in seven? Don’t you dare loose faith.”
I couldn’t help myself. Still, the words might have been an accidental curse, using the term most often applied to Beantown’s Ballers. Faith.
Last night, eighty-six years of faith were cashed in. Boston had the team, the only possible team that could have done it. Amish looking beards and midget toting pitchers; only a team that could get Kevin Millar to memorize a eighteen part handshake could party their way through the series. The Idiots shoved a bat up Babe’s ass, and the collective of New York is now walking funny. We’re trying to patch the wounds with descriptions of Manny Ramirez digging up a pothole in the outfield on a failed catch, but it’s not working. There’s no controversy, no single man, even Mo, that we can blame. Boston had the team. Flat out, they had the team. And, more importantly, they had the reason. You have to respect that.
So I called John last night.
“They did it! Holy shit, they did it!”
“Yeah, it’s the first horseman of the apocalypse.”
Holding up a shot glass in a bar off Union Square, we toasted John Delia and everyone in the Red Sox Nation. You deserved it. You earned it, about eighty six times over. Five glasses of whiskey went up.
Five glasses came down.
Then we played Frank.
And sang, very, very loudly.
We’ll see you next year.
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