Guesties: Not-so-evil empire

Posted: August 10, 2011 by terryvandrovec in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

By Shane Gerlach
Guest blogger

It’s 1977 and everyone around me, including my babysitters, seem to all be L.A. freaking Dodger fans.

The team was loaded with All-Americans such as Garvey and Yeager and Cey and Russel and, oh, how I hated them. The people around me that weren’t Dodger fans were Twins fans just because of the prevailing theory in this state that we live next to Minnesota so we owe it to them to root for their sports teams. Seriously, this epidemic (along with Cornhusker love which I won’t even touch upon here) seems like a requirement for citizenship in the state of South Dakota. Dare to speak against the mighty Minnesota teams in a South Dakota sports bar and you are taking your life – OK, maybe just your sanity – into your own hands.

Always one to forge my own way; I embraced the team that everyone hated. I embraced the team that was fighting with one another, firing their managers, partying all night, showing up on the news in trouble of some sort but yet winning games – the New York Yankees.

The roster was amazing Reggie, Chamblis, Dent, Nettles, Pinella, Catfish, Louisiana Lightning, Sparky and Thurman Munson, my hero at the time. The two most polarizing figures were in charge: Steinbrenner and Martin. I fell in love with these guys. They were everything that Flandreau – hell, all of South Dakota – wasn’t. They were these huge iconic ideas of baseball.

I couldn’t even wrap my head around the fact that they were real. I had their images on cardboard trading cards that smelled of stale bubble gum. I watched them play on Monday Night Baseball. I read everything about them I could get my hands on. I wrote the team offices and got pictures and autographs. The Yankees became “my” team. I didn’t know anyone else who liked them. They were uniquely mine. No little league team in the area even dared to have the name Yankees on their uniforms. The Yankees belonged to me.

Over the years I continued to watch the Yanks. I celebrated with them in 1977 and 1978. I still have the 1977 World Series program that the team sent to me. On our way to see the Twins and the Angels play at the old Met in 1979 – Rod Carew’s first game back after being traded – we heard that Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. This is the first person I can remember crying for when they passed that wasn’t a friend or family member.

As I grew older I truly began to appreciate the history of my adopted franchise. Baseball history was New York Yankee history. It was like they had created the Hall of Fame just so retired Yankees had a place to hang out. I had unknowingly picked the greatest sports franchise in history as my very own team. I suffered through the 80’s with only Donnie Baseball to lift my spirits, too often my hopes and dreams relying on men with the names of Sax, Barfield and Leyritz. There were way too many fifth-place finishes. But I never left the team. I never lost hope. They were the Yankees; things would turn around, right?

I was there as the new breed matured and had my heart broken again by the Seattle Mariners. Then, finally, my boys came through for me – and they came through big time winning 4 out of 5 World Series. They competed in 6 out of 8 World Series. They thrilled me, they frustrated me, they reminded me why I love the game of baseball.

I got into heated arguments with Twins fans who seemed to hate the Yankees even more than Red Sox Fans. I pointed out to those Twinkie lovers that it wasn’t the Yankees’ fault that Carl Pohlad (who ranked almost 100 spots higher than George Steinbrenner on the Forbes Fortune 500) wouldn’t spend money on his team. It wasn’t my fault that the Twins couldn’t finish the Yankees. It certainly wasn’t my fault that Justin Morneau had his greatest moment ever in the old Yankee Stadium in a home run derby. Evil Empire, indeed. If not for said Evil Empire and MLB’s profit sharing there is a good chance the Twins wouldn’t even be in Minnesota.

My son was born prematurely. We struggled so hard to have this little IVF miracle. He is the only surviving egg that was fertilized. His mother endured me shooting her up with hormones and God knows what else. He almost killed his mother in months 7 and 8. He was born a month early in a blizzard and immediately taken from me to the ICU. Two days following his birth his heart was so close to exploding that we couldn’t even touch him. He could have no tactile stimulus. I had to talk to him in whispered tones.

I went home that night and sat on my neighbors couch crying then called my parents crying. I sat at my computer reading the sports news numbly and decided to write my beloved New York Yankees. I told them I had named my boy after the current Captain. I told them everything that in this post. I let them know they didn’t owe Derek or I anything but we sure would appreciate something. A baseball card, a note, a team photo – just something to hang over his crib.

Fast forward Saturday, three days later, I came home for lunch with my bride and there was a package from Yankee Stadium. We tore into it and there were five magnets, five bumper stickers, a poster of the New Yankee Stadium, a purple stuffed Bear with the NY logo all over it that was bigger than Derek was at the time and a signed and numbered Derek Jeter Statue. The Yankees didn’t have to do this. Who am I to them? I can’t afford their tickets. Most of my Yankee décor are knockoffs. But they did this for me and my son.

I finally saw my beloved team live last year at Target Field. In fact, I got to see a game and a half as the previous days game was stopped short because of rain. As my friend Ben and I walked into Target Field, I leaned over the bullpen looking at Joba and Mo just as my current hero, Derek Jeter, hit a home run into the bullpen. The Baseball Gods rewarded me for my persistence, my loyalty and my devotion to not only the Yankees but America’s true game, baseball.

The Yankees went on to win both games that day, and as I sat in a sea of Twins fans proudly wearing my Yankees gear I was sure all this happened just for me. My son, now 3, recognizes Derek Jeter every time he sees him on TV. Since he could walk he has scurried to his toy box to get out his Yankee bat and ball every time they are on our television. My Twins-loving father accuses me of brainwashing his grandson. I counter with the statement that the boy just has better taste than his grandfather. So hate them all you want. Make fun of them and their payroll. Scream at the Evil Empire. They will forever have this fans love.

Note: Gerlach is a cook, er, chef, er, he makes food. He’s currently in the process of starting his own business – a food truck – in Yankton, S.D. You can find him on Google+.

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