Confessions of a lapsed Yankee FanPosted: Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Like my upbringing in the Catholic Church, my Yankee fandom runs deep.
My first visit to the Stadium was on Catfish Hunter Day in 1979 (when the Yankees brought an elephant onto the field). I remember seeing games several times with my departed and beloved grandfather, once getting doused with mustard from a girl smirking devilishly from the upper deck (and fellow fans yelling, “Go get her, Dick Tracy” to the stadium cops).
I once appeared shirtless from behind (no, it’s not pretty, but you can’t miss me) in the bleachers in a photo spread in Esquire magazine. In June 2001, my father and I watched a game from the loge seats (and, I should add, the Stadium’s Burns Security denied us pre-game access to an overcrowded Monument Park).
And my wife and I were engaged, on July 1, 2001, before a game in that very same Monument Park, with me dropping to my knee next to the small garden the grounds crew tended at the edge of the park (yes, I also paid to have a message appear on the scoreboard in the middle of the fifth inning, with my sauced friends, secreted in another part of the Stadium, nearly forgetting to snap a photo before the message disappeared). The future Mrs. Icepick and I arrived at 10 a.m. for a 1 p.m. game, my experience with my father two weeks earlier giving me the necessary knowledge to arrive extra early if we were to gain access to the retired numbers beyond left-center field. Needless to say, my nerves that morning led her to suspect something was up. She accepted (twice), despite my mother’s half-hearted tongue-in-cheek (I think) “warnings” to her.
So that is why it pains me, in a young season of an ugly, overbuilt new Yankee Stadium run by tone-deaf Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost, a Stadium that bulldozed a neighborhood park (h/t George Vecsey) for the benefit of those that can afford $2,500-seats and be surrounded by a moat (h/t Deadspin, and no, my opinion has not changed because the Yankees relented ever-so-slightly and let fans come down into the front row in the outfield for batting practice), a season of steroid admissions and allegations, a season with bombastic television and radio announcers, that I am prepared to renounce my Yankee fandom, at least for a year’s exile, or a year’s self-flagellating penance (there’s that Catholic guilt influence) or whatever you want to call it.
You can’t call me a traitor or a deserter. Truth is, the Yankees have deserted the likes of me.
The Yankees of this generation engender equal parts fierce loyalty (sadly, of sometimes over-muscled meathead variety) and exasperation, and that’s not even counting banning beer sales in the bleachers at the “old” Stadium under the watchful eyes of the Stadium’s toughs.
What I hereby publicly announce is nothing novel. My 70-something neighbor gave up a lifetime of rooting for the Yankees 16 games into the 1985 season when George Steinbrenner unceremoniously fired Yogi Berra through an intermediary. My neighbor switched his allegiance right then and there to the dreaded Red Sox, and has been a fiery supporter of Boston ever since. Nearly 14 years later, Yogi came back into the Yankee fold. My neighbor never has.
My father is on the verge of a similar defection. Also a lifetime Yankee fan, who adored Mickey Mantle as a boy and whose TV room is adorned with black-and-white photos and memorabilia dedicated to No. 7 (much to my mother’s dismay), my father has all but renounced his lifelong Yankee fandom and turned himself over to the Bosox.
This does not negate either man’s memories or remove them as fans of the Yankees before their conversions — they still retain the right to cherish and proclaim their love of Yogi, Whitey and the Mick, much like I am still retaining my fond memories of Thurman, Nettles, Reggie, Gator, Goose, Sparky, Mattingly and David Wells, and I am still clinging to my scorn for Carlton Fisk, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice and Bill “Spaceman” Lee.
I am not taking down the framed photo hanging near Icepick Junior’s bedroom of a young Thurman Munson cradling his infant daughter inside his catcher’s mitt (much to my wife’s dismay), and I recently came across (and wanted to find a new wall for) a framed Sporting News cover of one-handed Jim Abbott triumphantly celebrating his no-hitter in 1993.
I see Paul O’Neil and David Cone slinging propaganda on the YES channel, but I prefer to remember them as the heart and soul, respectively, of those late Nineties teams, just like I prefer to remember Derek Jeter as the brash young shortstop he once was and not the master of corporate-speak mixed with an undertone of bitterness that he has become.
I was watching a game on a recent Sunday night and ESPN interviewed San Francisco’s pitching coach, Dave Righetti. All I could think of was Rags in pinstripes in 1983 no-hitting Wade Boggs and the Red Sox on the Fourth of July.
So no, you can’t take the Yankees Past out of this boy, only the Yankees Present.
I feel just like the Yankee fan quoted recently in the Daily News who said he “long felt that living in the Steinbrenner era is a bit like being a French patriot under the Vichy government.” But unlike my father and neighbor, I cannot move over to the Bosox, no matter how celebrated Fenway is or no matter how much I enjoy watching Kevin Youkilis hit with his wildly unorthodox, elbows-up, pseudo-Samurai batting stance.
No, for me, the answer for this season, at the least, lies on the other side of the Whitestone Bridge.
For this season, and maybe for more, I’ll follow, if not outright root for, the Mets of Flushing, with their new stadium paying homage to Jackie Robinson and their bumbling play of late paying homage to Marvelous Marvin Throneberry, as the Times’ George Vecsey reminded us. Paradoxically, the Mets bumbling makes them easier to root for.
Carlos Delgaldo has the weak hips of a German shepherd, David Wright may be missing both an “edge” and leadership qualities, and Jose Reyes may infuriate with his annual September choking, his irresponsible running and his choreographed celebrations that would be more appropriate to Dancing with the Stars. Doesn’t matter. They’re not A-Fraud with his “fairytale swing” and his annual choking in October, and I’m not even getting to the steroids.
And yes, the Mets can often seem to try their best to rival the faceless corporation the Yankees became. Their new stadium is named for a bank rolling in bailout money. And for all the celebration surrounding their new home, the sightlines from large sections of fans’ seats have been reported as terrible — even the TV broadcasters lose the ball in the deepest corners.
Doesn’t matter. The Mets have not inflamed me as the Yankees have. The Yankees have left me, not the other way around. For this year, at least, let’s go Mets.