Thank you for your first visit to this new blog. Blog posts in the future will not be nearly this long, but this first one is an exception. Enjoy.
The year is 2004, and I am sitting on my couch in Hell’s Kitchen, the Red Sox and the Yankees battling in the 12th Inning of Game Four. Before the night started, I had thrown my team allegiances out the window and said to myself, “Alright, Red Sox. Let’s see what you’re made of.” I am watching as a baseball fan, not the Die-hard Yankee fan I supposedly was and the Die-hard Yankee Fan so many people knew me to be. I am on the phone with my freshman roommate Ted, a Die-hard Phillies fan and one of the biggest baseball fans I know. We had been on the phone since the 9th inning, talking baseball and who knows what else. His Fox Baseball is eight seconds behind my Fox Baseball, and it has been established that I should not emote too much and let him find out what has happened on his own. The game is going deep into the night and we both would rather be sleeping, but sleep is not an option when you are a Die-hard Baseball Fan. I am rambling about something, when I come to a sudden halt. About two seconds later I say, “Alright, man, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He says, “Wait, what?” Then about 5 seconds later he goes, “Oh. Yeah. Yeah, we’ll talk tomorrow.” Ortiz had delivered Boston their first win of the series, and had delivered both Ted and I a sleep that was a couple hours coming.
The next night, as I was watching, something happened to me. The baseball event was so great and so grand that the idea of Boston actually doing what nobody in the history of sports had done sans Hockey, all the while taking down their arch-rival and taking the first step towards breaking the curse, was a much more exciting scenario to me than watching my Yankee team win their 27th championship. So, I traveled back to my college in Allentown, PA, decked out in a backwards Yankee hat and a navy blue Yankee T-Shirt with “Soriano #12” on my back. When I got there, I wrote on a post-it “A-ROD is a BITCH!!!” and taped it over the #12. While walking around campus, people passing me yelled, “Hey, you got something on your back!” and I would yell back with a smile, “I know!!” You can imagine people’s confusion at a house party during Game 6. This kid decked out in Yankee gear rooting hardcore for the Red Sox. I wanted to put a hex on the team I had rooted so hard for, for baseball’s sake. My heightened state of emotions were eminent when in the 7th or 8th inning, A-rod slapped the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove, perpetuating my point of his bitchdom.
The next evening, still decked out in my Yankee gear (which I had worn for three days straight) the Red Sox finally got past the Yankees, literally at the stroke of Midnight.
Meanwhile, there was a crazy series going on in the National League as well. In the end, it was only fitting that to finally break the curse, the Red Sox would have to get past the Cardinals, the team to whom they had lost twice to in seven games. After they duked it out in Game One, the Red Sox owned the rest of the series. On the night of Game Four with a red harvest moon above St. Louis (you can’t make this stuff up, folks), NUMBER 3 Edgar Rentaria grounded out to second base, and the Red Sox had finally broken the curse of the NUMBER 3 Bambino after 86 seasons.
My baseball history is all over the map, or more specifically, up and down the east coast. The first baseball game I ever went to was at The Diamond in Richmond, VA, to watch the AAA Richmond Braves take on....I have no idea. I was three years old and according to my father, we got there in the second inning and the kid diagnosed with ADD a year later only lasted till the seventh inning. Luckily, the time I spent at this baseball stadium with an American Indian sculpture on its outside was not remotely enough time to turn me into a Braves fan. Thank God.
In 1991, when I was six years old, we moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, and two years later the South Florida area got a Major League Baseball team, the first ever to wear the color Teal. Sometime in the summer of 1993, a place that I will never call anything but Joe Robbie Stadium hosted my inaugural Major League game.
Now, I had many obsessions in my first ten years of life, but baseball wasn’t really one of them. Although my dad had gotten Inaugural year Florida Marlins Memorabilia, I didn’t latch on to baseball the way other kids did. Of all the sports, it was the one I was most interested in, but with my dad being an actor I was much more interested in films and television (and Superman comics). I loved the classic baseball movies from the early nineties like The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year and Angels in the Outfield, but they didn’t open me up to investigating the sport. That changed when I moved to New York in 1995.
The city was the first time I truly felt at home somewhere. I fell in love with this place. I was a very hyperactive kid, and the city felt like the perfect playground. A year into my New York life, I was in sixth grade and my teacher was a huge Yankees fan. In the fall of 1996, she had a smile on her face every single day. She was the closest I had come to following the sport on a daily basis, with updates every one of those October days. I had yet to turn on a game, when one night my family and I came across what turned out to be the ninth inning of Game 6 of the World Series. I remember a pop-up to the third base dugout that Charlie Hayes couldn’t quite get. The next pitch was a pop-up that went to the exact same place, but this one stayed in just enough for Hayes to catch it. That’s when I got confused, for there was supposed to be another half-inning, but the pinstriped men were all celebrating, jumping on each other in jubilation. My mom explained that if the home team had a lead in the top half, there was no point for them to come to bat. This is the first memory I have of a baseball championship celebration, let alone in my hometown, and I was excited. Up until that moment, I hadn’t followed it outside of my teacher, so call it bandwagoning, but it was the first time sports had truly gotten me excited. We stuck our heads out of our second-floor, 12th Street and Seventh Avenue corner apartment, and started yelling, “The Yankees just won the World Series!!!” Cars were honking, people in the streets celebrated; I had never seen anything like it.
This did not immediately propel me to follow baseball on a daily basis the next season. Looking back, my brain jumps to Game Five of the ALDS between the Yanks and the Indians as my first baseball memory of that year. My dad and I watched, rooting for the Yanks, both disappointed when the Indians won the game to advance. My dad then told me, however, that the Marlins were still in it. Being two years removed from Florida, this intrigued me.
The 1997 World Series seems to be the most underrated Seven-game World Series in baseball history. This was the first time I had followed any playoff series game by game. Through Game 6, the Marlins had won the odd games, the Indians the even games, and with that pattern, it did not bode well for the team who had not won since 1948.
What a game that seventh game was. The Indians led most of the way 2-0, with the Marlins scoring 1 in the seventh to pull within 2-1. They tied it up in the ninth inning and in the eleventh Edgar Renteria won it with a single up the middle for the five-year-old team. My dad and I were delirious, sharing our first truly ecstatic baseball moment together. This series, and especially that game, was the first time I saw how ridiculously awesome baseball can be. The next day, I proudly wore my “Inaugural year 1993” Marlins cap to school. (Funny how the first two teams I rooted for in my life I now loath.)
The slow climb to full-fledged baseball fandom shifted into fifth gear in 1998. The Yankees were kicking ass, David Wells pitched a perfect game, the Mets got Mike Piazza, and the home run record was being chased. I was extremely caught up with what Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were doing just like the rest of America, but this was the year I discovered the history of the game and it became a full-out obsession, one that has not left me since. As a thirteen year old, I went to the library and picked up Ken Burns’ Baseball book companion, and if any of you have ever seen it, it is basically baseball’s text book, and I read the whole thing. I was hooked. For a kid who was told he can’t focus without a pill, paying attention to nothing but the intricate details of the game for three hours or more was very appealing.
I am a lucky human being for many reasons, one of them being that I have had parents that were and are very supportive of anything I set my mind on. And while my dad likes to say he has been a Yankee fan his whole life, because back in the Fifties the teachers in Fairfax, Virginia, would wheel in a television during the World Series, and Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra are some of his earliest memories of the game (notice how he doesn’t mention the Brooklyn Dodgers), baseball has never been his passion. His passion, among other things, was and is spending time with me, and when I showed interest in the Yankees and the game, he showed interest and bought season tickets, even if it was not financially prudent to a man whose main career at the time was acting (which meant Temping as well.) But regardless, some of my greatest baseball memories are with my Dad at Yankee Stadium in the upper deck right behind home plate. I saw Roger Clemens make his Pinstripe debut, a 8-inning 1-run gem before he stunk it up the rest of the ‘99 season. I saw center fielder Bernie Williams win it in the 12th with a single the day the Yankees celebrated another of their center fielders, Joe Dimaggio, who had recently died. I was at the first ever Mets-Yankees World Series Game (which is actually a very weird memory to have in my current state). When Scott Brosius had an 0-2 count in the ninth inning of Game Five (in 2001) with the Yankees down 2-0 with one on, I put my arms over my eyes ‘cause I couldn’t bear to watch. What sounded like 55,000 people silent as the pitch came in turned into a joyous exclamation, and I opened my eyes and saw Brosius with his arms up and the ball heading to that short left field porch. These are memories I hold very dear, but as I grew up something changed.
The Yankees are an anomaly. The fact they’ve won close to a quarter of the championships there have ever been is mind-boggling, and if you know anything about sports, outside of the Montreal Canadiens, it is a very rare statistic. Most teams don’t do what the Yankees have done, and as I grew older I felt more detached from the rest of baseball. What really was the red flag for me, however, was the lack of emotion I would have when the Yankees lost, especially when they lost big games. I want to feel disappointed when my team loses, I want to have an emotional reaction when they lose, and I just didn't anymore. While I used to feel this when I was younger and my fandom was in its infancy, it waned, and that is something you don't want going away as you grow older. There is that emotional reaction you should only have in sports that connects you to your childhood. And while you must be more professional and keep your emotional reactions to a minimum in basically all other facets of your grown up life, sports, and for me baseball in particular, should still be an outlet for that kind of happiness and frustration.
I hadn’t seriously considered switching allegiances until I had the reaction I did during the ALCS in 2004. My favorite team had been the Yankees, but my second favorite team was the Mets. There was no point to hating the Mets, because the baseball fan in me just viewed it as that much more awesome that I had that much more baseball to root for in my city. I would root for the Yankees over the Mets, but outside of those games, I wanted the Mets to win just as much as I wanted the Yankees to win. One of the greatest baseball memories I have is watching the 15-inning classic against the Mets and the Braves, the game everybody now knows as Robin Ventura’s Grand Slam Single. I remember being extremely pissed off at Kenny Rogers (a f%&in walk?) two nights later. In my study of baseball, I am extremely fascinated with the National League side of New York, even when I was a Die-hard Yankee fan. My cousin and uncle are Met fans, my grandfather was a Giants fan in Brooklyn, so when the transformation in 2004 happened in me, it only felt natural to join the die-hard Mets fandom mid-stream.
Nobody thought I was genuine. The Met fans I had grown up with said, “You can’t be a flip-flopper, so don’t think you can go back.” And I said, “Of course not.” I had stopped identifying with the Yankees, and while the Yankees are a large part of baseball history and my personal baseball history, I feel much more a part of baseball being a Mets fan than I did as a Yankee fan in the latter years of that fandom. At first, my dad thought it was about him, and while he called me a traitor at the beginning, he eventually realized it wasn’t about him and only calls me a traitor jokingly now. He says he’s just happy that I love baseball and that he was a part of building up that passion.
I jumped on the Mets train at what looked to be the right time. They were pretty good and nearly great in those first two years of my all-out Mets fandom. It looked like where ever I went I would bring the winning. HA!! Who was I kidding? The baseball Gods were not going to let me join just when the Mets had found the dynasty they’ve been searching for in their 50 years of existence. I had to know what it was like to be a Mets fan, and not only what it was like to be a Mets fan, but arguably in the most devastating era of Mets fandom. So, Met fans, don’t blame Minaya, don’t blame the Wilpons, don’t blame Madoff, and certainly don’t #BlameBeltran. Blame me. If it wasn’t for me, maybe Aaron Heilman’s slider actually slides; maybe Minaya makes astute day-to-day baseball operating decisions; maybe Madoff confesses and gives all the money back before it disappears into virtual thin-air; maybe the team-wide injuries aren’t used as an excuse for inept baseball play. We have to find somebody other than the collective to blame. Why not #BlameSamMaxwell?
I don’t understand the Met fans who say, “Boycott!! It’s the only way to force the Wilpons out!” “This team won’t do anything, so what’s the point of me showing up to watch?” I know that last year they were actually a lot of fun to watch outside of the bullpen, and what’s the point of fandom if you only want the good stuff? That’s not exactly how life works, and that sure isn’t how baseball works, with the Mets or with any team, even the Yankees. Some of the most memorable games I’ve been to have been losses. Losing is part of the baseball fan experience, especially since they play the most games out of any sport, and it only makes the wins that much sweeter. When Jose Reyes left, it only reaffirmed the passion I have for this team, and it sent me on a crazy Mets spending spree. (Was I trying to bail the Wilpons out in one fell swoop? No. But I understand how it could be perceived that way.)
And never forget what got you watching in the first place.
I feel bad for all the Met fans who are waiting for the Mets to be “great” again, because the ecstasy I will feel when they finally win what I will consider my first true championship will be a million times greater for me and all of you who have never stopped watching, who have never jumped out mid-stream. For all of you fans who want nothing to do with the Mets right now, just remember when you first fell in love with the team. Remember there are 162 games in a season.