I was raised to hate the Yankees, but it wasn’t my fault. The division of loyalties between the two NY baseball teams was absolute and unyielding as a kid growing up near Exit 13 off the Turnpike. If you loved the Mets, you hated the Yankees. I had to choose, and my older brother worshiped the Miracle Mets who won the 1969 World Series and captivated a nation. Life was much simpler then. Tom Seaver was a mythical hero. Reggie Jackson was evil incarnate. Some argue whether we are primarily shaped by our genetics or our environment (see Mortimer Duke v. Randolph Duke, 1983). When it came to my Yankee hating, I believed it was both factors.
The passage of time shifted priorities in my life, and hate for a team of athletes that I have never met seemed a bit extreme, and frankly immature. Life became more complicated, and relationships to sports teams more nuanced and tolerant. Free agency led to more players having a pedigree that included both rival NY teams. Cone was a great Met and Yankee; ditto for Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Jeter seemed like an OK guy. Paul O’Neill wasn’t a great player, but he worked hard. Bobby Bonilla and Ricky Henderson did not represent the Mets I grew up loving. The lines became less clear. Maybe I was growing up.
The innate and learned hate for all things Yankee is hard to completely deny, however. While on vacation this past summer, I took notice of all of the NYY merchandise on the beach – towels, hats, tote bags, tattoos – and I felt the bile rise in my throat. Met fan were loyal through the bad times and the worse times. These Yankee fans only knew success in their lifetimes. Their love of team had not been forged by the burden of being a national punch line, or by the heat of a late September collapse. While in my head, I can cheer a fine performance by the Yankees, in my heart, I still quietly cheer when they lose.
12 years ago this month, the Yankees defeated the Indians four games to two and went on to sweep the Padres in the World Series. New York won 114 games during the regular season, and they suffered their only two losses of the 1998 postseason in this series.
In Game 2, October 7, 1998, twenty-game winner and former Met David Cone went for the Yankees, hoping to go to Cleveland up two games in the series. They squandered many chances in the game to score, and the game moved to extra innings. Jim Thome led off the top of the twelfth with a single. Enrique Wilson was then called on the pinch run. Travis Fryman laid a sacrifice bunt down, and, as Jeff Nelson went to throw it to first, he hit Fryman and the ball rolled past Chuck Knoblauch covering. Knoblauch tried to argue the call as the ball continued to roll. Wilson and Fryman continued to run and Wilson would score as the ball was still not dead. An error by Tino Martinez put Fryman at third. The Indians now had the lead back and would score two more and tie the series at a game apiece.
12 years ago to the day, I was in a hospital room watching that game while coaching my wife through her contractions. My son was born under the shadow of the wall mounted television sharing the images of a tragic Yankee playoff loss. I watched both events with great interest and passion. Deep down inside, I must admit, both happenings that day made me smile, and still do.
Happy birthday, Thomas! Twins in 5!!!