Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lets Talk About Sports Baby - Volume 13

Everything happens quicker and more dazzling in New York. I have lived on the fringe of metro north east my whole life, and my loyalties have changed numerous times, but it was generally based on my location during the season. I was born in New Hampshire very close to the Massachusetts border, and a quick 40 minute trip south would put me in downtown Boston. On the other hand my mother left when I was very young and ended up living in Manhattan, so I spent my summers in New York City. As a typical boy, I liked sports and was a homer with a twist.

Football season was spent with my father and my grandfather who taught me all about football. As Patriots fans they taught me all about “losing football” and how to take the bad and find some good in it. Since the Patriots were always dreadful, you would take pride in the rivalries and how you could interfere with other team’s chances of success. It didn’t happen very often, but was like a fine wine if the Dolphins lost a critical game to the Patriots, or they kept the Jets out of the playoffs with a gritty win at the end of the year. It was fandom at its best really, and later on when the patriots started having success it just felt better.

Winters I was treated to the Bruins. Always good enough to be there, but never really good enough throughout my adolescence to be “the best” but like most Bruins fans, we simply acted like they were. They always had great players though. Cam Neely, Ray Bourque, and many other legendary players, played on “my” team every winter, and the lack of a championship never really made the world end. On the opposite days the Boston Garden held the Celtics which the last 10 years haven’t looked that great but when I was younger was the center of the basketball universe. If it weren’t for the Shaq – Colby mini dynasty that happened in the last decade getting the Lakers closer, no team really even came close to the amount of championship banners that you see hanging about the Celtics. The fact remains though even at this point where they finally reloaded for another run at more banners; it never felt like a funeral procession or reduced everyone to being classless.
Summers on the other hand was where it was all different, as I was trapped in the land of the enemy and taught baseball from my uncle {my mother’s second husband’s brother} and that meant that we hung out in Queens. He took me to Mets games whenever he could get away from work, and taught me a valuable lesson about baseball that was only humorous until recently, and that was “Stay away from the Yankees.”

Now don’t get me wrong. The Mets were either really good or really bad. They never managed to maintain a good season and pissed away anything they did foolishly, but the games were always entertaining. Baseball is a sport that you can enjoy for the players, and for the memories, and my Uncle Jim brought me to a Yankees game to show me the difference. It wasn’t a wasted trip, and we had much better seats at the Yankees game then we ever had at the Mets games. A guy out front sold us expensive seats for cheap money, which Jim pointed out to me was common as Yankees fans are extremely “fair weathered” so most of the tickets were being scalped cheap. The actual fans of the Yankees that had shown up were drunk, obnoxious, arrogant, and made the game miserable. Reggie Jackson was still playing at the time, and fans were booing him and throwing things at the outfielders on their own team! It was all I needed to see and we went back to our Mets games to cheer Doc Gooden and Daryl Strawberry and see some great baseball, even if the team lost.

When I was no longer going to New York, I switched my loyalty to the Red Sox, and was treated to watching the Red Sox blow the World Series to the Mets. I often joke about how I knew what it was like to be a Red Sox fan almost instantly. 86 years without a championship made red Sox fans a bit grim, but they were for the most part hopeful each year, and took it in stride like it was simply a good joke. The Grady Little experiment in 2002 ended in such diabolical tragedy that it actually was the first time that I had seen the Red Sox fans get rabid and angry to the point that most of the fans in New York liked to point out, and there was actually good reason for that. It was insulting to Red Sox fans in general to lose the ALCS the way they did, and it made the Yankees fans {as hard as it sounds} far worse.

Life went on, and the management of the Red Sox took that loss to heart every bit as bad as the fans did, and made all of the moves necessary to win the World Series. As much heart failure it gave to the Red Sox fans they probably did it in the greatest way possible by humiliating the Yankees, and becoming the first and only team to win a playoff series being down 3-0 and even better making the Yankees the only team to lose a series being up 3-0. I will say that most of the Yankees fans leaving Yankees stadium were far more gracious then what I expected, and a good number of them even hoped that the Red Sox won the series. I am man enough to admit that I have never wished that the Yankees would win a World Series.

Here’s the rub on all of this though as I look back and remember the treatment that the Red Sox used to always get about being “losers” and all of the chants of “1918” or “86 Years” or the myriad of other things they endured, and that was that it actually was a tragedy. 86 Years without a championship and constantly having your nose rubbed in it, and having the meat of every comment from the announcers remind you of that would get on anyone’s nerves. It became a self fulfilled prophecy that the Red Sox would have to be driven to win just one. When they did it was like a huge weight being taken off of their shoulders, but it still took 86 years to get there. We still enjoyed baseball for the game, and enjoyed our wins and were there for the losses. We cried about the payroll of the Yankees like everyone else does, and we considered ourselves underdogs based on that, and despite the fact that the Red Sox are successful now and the Yankees are not, they still are the underdog to the Yankees based on that factor.

Over the last ten years it has been hard to hate the Yankees believe it or not. They had great character guys like Jeeter and Posada, and most of the team that had won its last string of championships were brought up from their own farm system. Then there was the Joe Torre factor that came into account. You couldn’t hate him. I defy anyone to come up with bad words about him who isn’t a current Yankees fan. I also happen to be a George Steinbrenner fan. The guy did what he could to win championships and any fan of baseball would have loved to have him as their owner. I am a bit jaded too because he calls the Boston sports station every year on their “Jimmy Fund” telethon day, donates 100,000 dollars and then answers phone calls from Red Sox fans for an hour. Seriously, the guy has class, and he usually gets complete respect from the fans in Boston that get to talk to him each year. I will actually miss him, but on the other hand, as a fan of the Red Sox, I am glad he retired, Torre is gone, and the Yankees look bad.

I am also happy that Hank Steinbrenner is an uncharismatic moron, Joe Girardi is an immature, overly emotional hothead with far less baseball knowledge than he gets credit for, and A-Rod made himself and the Yankees look bad all off season. Now that the Yankees are 9 years removed from a World Series Championship they make the Red Sox fans who were 86 years without look like they won every one. The infantile complaining coming from the New York fan base coupled with the ignorant comments coming from the new owner is refreshing, and makes hating the Yankees a lot more refreshing. Their behavior throughout this Spring Training is almost hilarious, and the fact that they no longer have a good manager makes it like a never ending shower of lemonade. The only thing that the Yankees fans having going for them in all of this, is that I finally think that the new “us against the world” mentality that the team is displaying has finally caught up with the times. Most baseball fans have two favorite teams, and one of them is usually “anybody playing the Yankees” but that doesn’t mean that crying about everything makes up for it. Girardi’s behavior already has made me laugh out loud at times because he must seriously think that players on other teams fighting for a job are only supposed to do so against other teams.

I am not just going to pile on here {although it is tempting} because I am a man of solutions. I want to help out where I can, and I have some advice for Hank and Joe, even though I plan to enjoy the collapse of the Yankees until they both actually get it. First for Hank I would just like to say that admitting reality is easier than making it up. Yes “Red Sox Nation” is an anomaly and it will go away sooner or later, but bringing it up and making it look like less than it is just gives it more life. Even though at one time there were more Yankees fans than any other team there were always more Yankees haters than fans. That’s what success does, and nothing put more people in Red Sox caps then demonstrating like you did that it bothers you. Since you own the YES network take a few minutes to watch some of the Yankees home games and see how many of the “Non Yankee” but not exactly “Red Sox” fans are buying the cheap scalped tickets out front and walking in with Red Sox hats just to make a statement. It might open your eyes a bit.

Secondly for the new “Joe” in town, you better get a thick skin buddy, and you better start watching some old tape yourself. As a catcher, you weren’t a bad player, but you seem to have forgotten what it was like to play on a team that doesn’t get everything it needs to choke in the playoffs from the opening of Spring Training. You may want to take your catcher aside and teach him how NOT to completely block the plate during a Spring Training game against a team full of people that may NEVER play in the major Leagues. Pitching a fit because YOUR catcher blocked the plate completely while a kid from the Tampa Bay Rays who is DESPERATE to get noticed by somebody is suicide! That kid has to get to the plate, and there is only one way to do it and GOOD players will do anything to get there. He crushed your catcher and it was YOUR catcher’s fault. While you’re at it teach your short stop to stay off second base and not on top of it. All of the good managers in baseball {meaning those that weren’t fired for killing a great pitching staff despite winning an award} are taking notes on how to get under your skin and you made it too easy.

Thirdly {and most importantly} it is great to have intensity, and get into a brawl once in a while to remind the other team that you aren’t their bitch, but the operative word here is bitch. Stop getting into brawls every other game and then having everyone from the ball boy to the owner of the team whine about how it is jealousy that everyone hates you. It is jealousy that everyone hates you, but to maintain that you need to be above it, or else you become everyone’s bitch. I saw this last year when Jaba Chamberlain was trying to hit Red Sox players in a game that was already lost by the Red Sox. The correct response from Terry Francona was to state clearly “Chamberlain doesn’t have to worry if we know who he is now,” and then go on to win the World Series. Now if the Bronx Brawlers can get that type of intensity that they have in the scrum, or in the media they might just make a season out of it, but as they are currently constituted they may find themselves in third this year within their own division. I learned these things watching the bad teams, but Hank and Joe might have that opportunity soon enough ;8o)