Anyone who has known me for a good bit of time can tell you that all of my life I have been a certified sports bigot. I never saw much point to team competition for goals that essentially mean nothing and was constantly irritated by the inordinate amount of time and energy that most people invested in professional sporting events and the near-deification of overpaid anti-intellectuals. These events seemed to bring out the worst in their booze-driven audience and televised sports were given vast amounts of air time which was truly torturous to those of us who it foisted upon us against our will. Hence I became the "weird kid" who had no interest in such societally enforced frivolities, the failure-as-all-American-boy who preferred to draw, work with clay or immerse himself in books. It further rankled that my interest in more creative endeavors was frowned upon in favor of memorizing pointless team statistics and chanting "Defense! Defense!" so my deep hatred of sports, the sports industry and its fans festered for nearly four decades. Yet having lived in the New York City area for the past fourteen years, much of that time in Brooklyn, I have spent a great deal of time observing the fascinating dynamic of the New York sports fan's psyche, specifically that of the Yankees fan.
Holding responsible two of the people whom I hold most dear — brother- since-college Steve Hughes, and relatively recent pal Gemma Barriteau, both natives of the Five Boroughs — I have not only grasped an understanding of the intricacies, nuances and artistry of the game of baseball, but I have also embraced the tribal mindset that defines this great city. Native New Yorkers are a uniquely tough and spirited breed who excel at many things, but nothing exceeds their sense of pride in where they come from and their limitless ability to bitch and moan about everything under the sun. Those traits when coupled with their blood-level support of their chosen baseball team —the Yankees or the Mets, of whom I will no longer bother to speak — form a primal and powerful group mind that is simply impossible to describe to an outsider, and must be experienced to be both understood and appreciated. Having grown up in the boring confines of Connecticut I never felt pride in where I came from, but I take great pride in being a Brooklynite since I actually feel for the ethnically and culturally diverse inhabitants of NYC. That sense of belonging has allowed me to become more open to many things in the past fourteen years and in the process I have seen many of my deep-seated prejudices kicked to the curb.
My interest in the Yankees began to kindle during my too-brief time living with Patrick Canavan on Manhattan's Upper West Side during the early 1990's. Patrick grew up in the wilds of the Bronx with Steve Hughes and the two shared a fervent reverence for the Yankees since they were barely weaned from their mothers' bosoms, but I didn't notice Patrick's Yankees jones as much as I got to witness his doomed infatuation with the New York Knicks basketball team. What little Yankees chest-thumping I witnessed in our apartment amused me greatly and I stealthily paid attention as Patrick and Hughes bounced off the walls and cursed rampantly, never once letting anyone see through my facade of the disinterested scholar who felt that he was above such things. Here were two highly intelligent human beings who by that point I had known for nearly ten years whooping and hollering like utter lunatics, and they were having the time of their lives enjoying a spectacle that I equated with a stiff dose of syrup of ipecac. Surely this bore further observation...
As the years passed and my living situation changed a few times I casually observed the Yankees phenomenon via the news media rather than firsthand in-the-field study of the wild Canavan and Hughes. The immediacy of fan involvement was gone, but now I could approach my study from a more clinical angle, a standpoint with which I was much more comfortable and able to wrap my head around. The names of the players and administrators took on meaning outside of the bread-and-circuses entertainment, and the lore of the team began to seep into my mind with the same resonance of tales of ancient warriors and the campaigns that they waged against implacable foes. If I could find myself as emotionally invested in the minutia of sixty-some-odd years of the rich tapestry that is the mythology of American super-heroes then why not try and immerse myself into one of the cornerstones of my adoptive city's culture?
The next step in my journey was facilitated by the influence of Gemma Barriteau, the high priestess of Yankees goons; when I first got to know her I was firmly convinced that if she caught you looking the wrong way at a Yankees emblem she would put her fist through your face, and as a result I thought that she was borderline insane. She entered my life when she started dating my friend Lanei and we took an instant liking to each other, despite my intention to get in her face if I deemed her unworthy of Lanei’s heart. During her time living near me in Brooklyn I was caught up in her force-of-nature devotion to the Yankees and willingly watched games with her and some of our other friends, but none of the other watchers’ enthusiasm and outright bloodlust rubbed off on me like Gemma’s. When riled up by the proceedings of any given game, Gemma’s Queens accent lets fly in all of its profane glory, crafting epic poetry from venomous epithets and keeping alive the classic New York character that is the ready-to-explode baseball believer. The experience of the fervent waves of energy emanating from this crazed, green-eyed black woman is simply not capturable in writing, and it was this Force-like quasi-religious devotion that passed the spirit of the Yankees on to me.
Yet important though Gemma’s influence was and continues to be, my true baseball sensei is Steve Hughes. His contribution to my sway toward the Dark Side is beyond calculation, and during many shared hours of our mutual unemployment I watched many, many Yankees set-tos with him, and when he wasn’t doing the St. Vitas Dance of team loyalty he explained the Byzantine rules and history of the game to me in a far more personal and effective way than any self-started researching ever could. He patiently listened to my many questions on the vagaries of what constitutes a “walk” and how to distinguish what “RBI’s” and such things are, points that are obvious to those bred into this stuff but as obscure as a Noh play performed in Sanskrit to those attempting to grasp it after years of blind hatred and bigotry. Now I am able to hold my own when discussing these things with long-time aficionados, and I am genuinely shocked on a daily basis by how into this rigmarole an egghead such as I have found myself.
Every group of heroes is measured by their opposing villains, and the Yankees have a downright mythological feud with the Boston Red Sox — originally playing under the ultra-pussified name of the Boston Red Stockings from what I'm told —, a hatred between cities and their people which is akin to that held by Sparta for Troy. When discussing this legendary rivalry the word feud is woefully inadequate since seeing the extremes of emotion elicited on both sides can be truly frightening, stirring the embers of a conflagration that has burned since 1918 and the curse upon the Red Sox.
Having lived in New England for most of my life and having experienced many of its historic cities, I can honestly say that I loathe Boston. The place reeks of effete snobbery, has an obvious wish to be as cool as New York City, and somehow manages to have a native accent that is a hundred times more annoying than those found in the Rotten Apple. Red Sox fans jealously refer to the Yankees as “the Evil Empire” and “the Dark Side,” proving that they don’t even have the simple creativity to create original insults and have to resort to cadging from the most popular film series of all time so that they can have some sort of frame of reference. Pitifully, their STAR WARS-related insults fail spectacularly since anyone who ever saw those films knows that not only is Darth Vader cool as fuck, but he and the Empire are a juggernaut of balls-out badassitude, so these alleged pejoratives bear no weight as such and end up as compliments. Where’s Don Rickles when you need him, eh? And need I mention the inescapable fact that the Red Sox are some of the most visually offensive specimens of Homo Sapiens ever to violate your TV screen? They all have hideous hairdos that range from the Sideshow Bob look to the white guy with dreads, and worst of all is that horrid pseudo-Conan kinda-mullet worn by that escapee from the Museum of Natural History Johnny Damon (who also resembles the star of the now forgotten ‘70’s kids show KORG-70, 000 BC).
During the just-ended American League Championship Series between the Yanks and the Sucks, er, Sox both Boston and New York endured seven games of cruel duration that culminated in the Red Socks winning against an inexcusable showing from the Yankees, coming back from a three-games- to-none deficit as much drunkenness and cussing ensued. This unimpressive win ensures the Sox entry into the World Series, which gives them the chance to “reverse the Curse” that began in 1918 and engenders hope in the fans that their team will finally be able to face their friends and loved ones while not wearing paper sacks over their heads in a vain attempt to hide their leper-like state of shame.
In Boston there were many arrests due to the fans’ high spirits, some involving quelling the crowds with gas grenades, yet here in the Apple the fans of the local boys hung their heads in disappointment and disgust and pondered who will be on the Yankees roster next season. The fans that I know felt that it would have been no big deal if the Yankees had won since that would have been business as usual, but the jailhouse-style assfucking that the Yankees got last night for no adequately explainable reason was so off-putting that even a staunch booster like Hughes has voiced the need to remove himself from all contact with baseball for the foreseeable future and possibly never watch baseball again; clearly a statement made out of pain and disappointment, but hard to dismiss when uttered by one of the faithful. All I have to say is that next season the majority of the Yankees had better get off of their overpaid asses and earn their keep. Last night’s game was a disgrace even to a relative newcomer like me and when I am able to tell you without any uncertainty that the Yankees choked on a big Bostonian cock, things are pretty fucking sad indeed. The final insult came with today's edition of the Daily News, the front page of which featured a full color shot of Yankees captain Derek Jeter with his hand over his mouth in what appears to be an attempt at preventing vomit from spewing out all over the field, crowned with the enormous headline which read "THE CHOKE'S ON US." Cue the funeral march...