Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Being a Yankees fan, especially living outside of New York, I’ve heard it all.

Everywhere I go, I get razzed about how the billion dollar Bombers haven’t won a championship in the last five years and how “Pay-Rod” chokes in the postseason and that Randy Johnson’s older than most of these clichéd criticisms.

It’s particularly bad at the new gig. Our head editor’s from Chicago and repeatedly taunts me that the White Sox will be back-to-back champions. But he doesn’t understand -- the Yankees were just giving a few other teams a chance at a World Series ring. Now Chi-town will have to go to the back of the line, wait another several decades, just like Arizona, the Angels, and of course, the Red Sox.

I have to make this amply clear to Gene, the post producer. Only because he spent this whole week relishing the fact that Johnny Damon went hitless in the Yankees’ first game against the Red Sox.

Typical Bostonian. Once they lose a player, they turn on him.

Gene accused New Yorkers of being just as nasty, and he may be right, but we don’t hate former players. If they don’t get re-signed… well, NYers just pity them. No one leaves the Yanks for greener pastures. So-and-so got traded ‘cause the poor guy couldn’t hack it. Big city pressure was too much for him.

Moving south from Boston, on the other hand, is a step up. Just ask the Babe, Clemens, Damon… And say, when does Big Papi become a free agent?

This trash-talk is often off-set by a mutual understanding of the frustrations we American League East fans suffer. With Gene, it segues into a where-were-you-when comparison. That’s my favorite part of talking baseball -- not so much recalling the games, but how it affected you as a fan. And unlike the hackneyed rivalry-rants, these anecdotes are always unique.

I acknowledged that after Game 5 of the ’04 American League Championship Series, it was over for the Yankees… I didn’t want to admit at the time that I knew Boston would win it all after that.

But I fondly recall the final game of the ’03 ALCS. I didn’t want to watch the game. My friend thought I was nuts. I explained that if the Yanks won, they’d go to the World Series and we’d have at least 4 more games to view. But if they lost -- to Boston! -- well, I just couldn’t handle it. Somehow he convinced me to watch the game at Barney’s Beanery… and over several drinks, as the game went into extra innings, I thanked him for dragging me out. “Win or lose,” I said, “this is a great game!” The icing on the cake is that the Red Sox manager Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in too long, the pitcher gave up runs to let the Yanks tie it up, and then Aaron Boone hit the winning home run.

Gene had a better story about that game. He was teaching English as a Second Language at the time, but had happily given notice because he had landed a TV writing gig (I understood his excitement).

Normally, he said, he would’ve called in sick at work during the finale of a Yanks-Sox pennant race, but that wouldn’t be cool on his last day ever at the job. So he made up some bullshit lesson plan that involved identifying and speaking baseball terms as an excuse to bring in a TV and watch the game. (“Who can say, ‘strikeout’?” “Who can say, ‘Strike Jeter the hell out!’?”)

Gene pointed out that while baseball is extremely popular in many Latin American countries -- Caribbean, Central- and South-America -- it’s not really that well-known among the soccer-crazed Mexicans. No wonder Fernando Venezuela was such a phenomenon; there haven’t been too many superstars from south of the border since. So maybe this would be a good lesson for the largely-Mexican members of his ESL class. And they seemed to learn quickly.

One student raised his hand. “Escuse me, Meester Es-Steinberg? You know the blue team?”

“The Yankees,” Gene said.

“Yes. Before, when they throw the ball… they change the man who throw the ball. Why not the red team do that too?”

“Excellent question,” Gene said, shaking his head. “If only Grady Little asked the same thing.”


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