When the Yankees finished off a 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night, I stood and cheered with many of the other 38,369 people in attendance. I smiled when Frank Sinatra started singing for the 10,000th time at the end of a Yankees victory and made my way out into the New York City night, happy with another triumph by the local nine.
Am I really a Minnesota boy?
When the Yankees started their latest dynasty in 1996 and ushered in a new era where every October included never-ending games with Jeter and Bernie and O’Neill and Rivera and Posada and other “true Yankees” and whatever free agent they had signed the previous winter, I suffered and complained with all of the other small-market fans in the world, our fates sealed before the season even started. The arrogant Yankees with their bully owner and insufferable fans who monopolized the TV screen because producers would rather show chubby guys in fake baseball jerseys in the stands instead of the players wearing the real ones on the field.
As a kid I didn’t dislike the Yankees growing up because in the 1980s and early ’90s it was an organization to be pitied instead of feared. The Yankees were a punch line on Seinfeld and nothing else. Then they started getting good, and then they became great and as the fan of a small market team in flyover country the only reason was their payroll. Good farm system, great manager, solid scouts, owner committed to winning, superb players, dominant pitchers?
Can’t give credit to those things, not when we can blame baseball’s financial structure.
And then I moved to New York in 2004. And the Yankees kept beating the Twins, year after year after year after year — I think that covers 2004-2010. But since becoming a tax-paying resident of Manhattan, I inevitably found myself cheering for the Yankees whenever they ended the Twins season. They were no longer the enemy. These days, the Twins are eliminated in late May instead of early October so the Yankees become the second team I cheer for much earlier in the year. Part of it has to do with just enjoying the energy in the city that forms during a Yankees run. Those annoying Yankees fans I previously only saw on my television are now my friends, neighbors and co-workers. Wednesday night I went to the game with two Yankees fans and a Mets fan. I felt like part of the club, even though my small-town brethren might consider me a traitor.
During the playoffs I can hear the people in nearby apartments cheering when the Yankees do well. I also hear the cheers seconds before I see the big plays, as their televisions are slightly ahead of mine. When the Yankees eliminated the Twins in — oh, which year was this particular incident? When they beat them in ’04, ’09 or ’10? – the first round a few years back, I heard the screams and knew a Twins blunder was coming soon, to be narrated by Joe Buck and mocked by Tim McCarver.
I get caught up in all kinds of New York excitement these days. Having grown up hating the Celtics, I didn’t need much motivation to dislike the other Boston teams, but being surrounded by people who consider the city its mortal enemy has made me feel at home. The Giants’ two victories in the Super Bowl would have meant basically nothing to me except it meant misery for Patriots fans. When the Yankees and Red Sox meet up for their two dozen games each season, I try to catch at least the last hour of the six-hour contests and always enjoy it when Boston loses. The Red Sox’s miraculous comeback in 2004 annoyed me because it made Boston fans happy, not necessarily because it made Yankees fans sad.
Last Friday, I watched the final few innings of Johan Santana’s no-hitter and let out a scream when he recorded his final strikeout. Give credit to Johan’s past with the Twins for most of that reaction, along with the natural thrill that comes with seeing any pitcher toss a no-hitter. But I was also happy as, yes, a New Yorker, as someone who knows a lot of Mets fans and watched them collapse in recent years, on the field and off it. It was a great night for baseball and for a former Twin but it was also a great night for New York, for the big city boys.
Other New York teams have earned my loyalty, which might disappear if I ever do leave the city. Since moving to Inwood I’ve become a supporter of Columbia University athletics and make the one-block walk to the school’s football stadium during the fall for all of their home games. During the spring I catch a few baseball games at the same facility and actually find myself checking Ivy League basketball standings during the winter.
The Knicks? The Knicks? Sure, I suppose I cheer for them on occasion, perhaps on a boring evening, when the Lakers and Timberwolves aren’t playing, being that they’ve been such a lovable, scrappy bunch under Isiah Thomas and Larry Brown and James Dolan. I would like to see the Knicks become relevant again, simply because it is fun to watch big games in the Garden. But if they ever faced the Lakers in the Finals I’d have to denigrate Spike Lee’s films and Willis Reed’s courage and Bill Bradley’s brains and Walt Frazier’s clothes and rhymes. For now they’re harmless.
I’m always surprised with how many of my New York friends support one of the city’s franchises and loathe another. Many of my Mets fans friends hate the Yankees while the Yankees fans simply mock their rivals, when they’re not ignoring them. Same thing with Jets and Giants fans. I can’t imagine Minnesota having two professional baseball or football teams and having half the state support one franchise and the other half cheer for the other. We’d all come together and support both teams! We’d be…nice to all the franchises. Ya know?
New York teams — and their fans — still have the ability to annoy. Two years ago, during a trip home, I went to a Twins-Yankees game at Target Field and some loudmouth Yankee fans sat near us. They were practically caricatures of Yankees fans, who would have been more at home on a Saturday Night Live skit than at a real ballpark. They had it all: the arrogance, the condescending tone, the over-the-top mannerisms, the expectation that their team was better than every other team and victory was inevitable. At that moment, I was again a small-market boy, pulling for the underdogs.
But a few days later I flew back to New York, to my new home, and I was again a big-market guy.