As a native New Yorker living in the Boston area, I’ll admit to having a complicated relationship with the Yankees. Not as complicated as the relationship between A-Rod, his wife and Madonna, but still …
See? Even I can’t resist the easy A-Rod joke, even though by all accounts I should hold each and every Yankee in the highest regard. After all, both my parents were born in the Bronx and my New York family is still full of diehards — I have a new nephew who at 6 months old has never, to my knowledge, been out of pinstripes.
But even as a child I tended to buck the family trend. I went through a period during elementary school when I rooted for the Mets, for a very logical reason: They had a mascot whose head was a giant baseball. While other mascots had at best a tangential relationship to baseball (c’mon, a chicken?), Mr. Met literally was a baseball. If somebody walked up and hit him in the head with a bat, I imagine no jury in the land could convict.
But beyond that, I always seemed to have an innate need to root for the underdog, which the Mets of the mid-’70s most definitely were; like my Little League team, and unlike the Yankees, they were terrible — meaning I could relate. Sometimes too much.
So it wasn’t until the ’80s, when the Yankees started losing on a consistent basis, that my baseball interests turned in their direction; now, this was a team I could get behind. My favorite Yankee of that period was, of course, Don Mattingly, who never got to a World Series but showed up every day and played his heart out anyway. He’d have fit right in on my Little League team, except for the moustache.
So by the time the Yankees finally got back to the World Series in 1996, even though I was living in Boston by then, I had no problem rooting for them unabashedly. When Jeter & Co. won that one, it felt like they were doing it for Donnie Baseball — it was a perfect victory, except for Wade Boggs riding that horse around Yankee Stadium, like he was just asking to be attacked by Apaches.
But before long the Yankees were no longer underdogs, being widely acknowledged as one of the best teams ever. Meanwhile, I had married a lifelong Sox fan (and former Fred Lynn stalker), and was starting to see what a Red Sox series win would mean. So much so that in 2003, I couldn’t help but feel bad when Aaron Boone’s home run finished off the Sox in the ALCS — and not just because as the token New Yorker there was a very good chance that when I got into the office the next day, I would be stapled to death.
Then a few things happened: The Sox did win, and I saw the joy that came with it for my wife and her family and friends. And my son Tim came of baseball appreciation age, and immediately took after his mother as a member of Red Sox Nation. Baseball is currently his favorite thing in the world, and watching it is our favorite thing to do together — which, since we’re in Boston, means watching the Red Sox.
So what that’s meant for this New Yorker is a sort of cognitive dissonance —– if the Yanks and the Sox are playing separately, I can root for either, and if they’re playing each other, there’s a danger of my head exploding like in a David Cronenberg movie. It doesn’t help the Yankees’ case that they’ve employed some truly unlikable characters (sorry, A-Rod), but on the other hand, how can you not like a Jeter, Matsui or CC Sabathia? Even my son can agree with that, as much as he may want them to lose in humiliating disgrace — he’s still a Sox fan, after all.
So if I’m going to root for the Yankees around my house this week — as I write this on Nov. 3, they’re ahead of the Phillies three games to two — I’ll do it quietly. I know when it’s over, no matter who wins, my son and I will be out in the backyard, pushing aside the leaves to try to get one more game in before the snow comes. That won’t be about the Red Sox or the Yankees — it will be about baseball, and how if the stars align properly, there are ways to love everything about it.
Well, except maybe for A-Rod. He just irks me.
This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to email@example.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”