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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Yankee Fan

How and why did I become a Yankee fan? I watch almost every game on the YES network. I have gotten to know the players’ little routines when they come up to bat. Show me only a silhouette of a batter getting ready for a pitch, and I can tell you who it is in the Yankee lineup.

Jeter seems to signal a kind of “Stop” with one hand toward the umpire right before he settles into the batter’s box. Matsui looks at his bat up and down, his back becomes straight, and his shoulder muscles twitch right before he is primed for the pitch. Teixiera has the strangest stance: his neck juts forward, his back is rigid, and he seems almost off-balance. A-Rod reminds me of a coiled snake, his bat waving languorously behind his neck, ready to strike.

I used to be a more ambivalent Yankee fan. I had never been into baseball in Texas, where I grew up. Everything was football, and my team in El Paso, my brothers’ team, was and is the Dallas Cowboys. But I did go to dozens of games at Cohen Stadium to cheer the El Paso Diablos. But major league baseball? I didn’t care in El Paso as a kid; I didn’t care in Boston, even though I pulled all-nighters at Harvard College for four years and lived a jog away from Fenway Park for another year.

I moved to New York in 1990, and I still watched more football than baseball on television. The Giants were in the same division as the Cowboys. The Yankees were winning World Series then, in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Yet even during those glorious years, I can’t honestly say I was yet a Yankee fan. I would watch the important games; I saw snippets of the parades in the news when they won another championship. But I hadn’t bought into the team with my heart. I didn’t know every player. I had never been to a Yankee game in person.

Probably two or three years after the start of the millennium, I made it a point to see a game. I think I was walking my kids to a store, a play or a movie near or around Times Square, and I stumbled into the Yankee Clubhouse. You can buy tickets here? How do you get to Yankee Stadium anyway? I had stupid questions; but thankfully somebody answered them.

From the Upper Westside, holy mole, it was so easy to get to Yankee Stadium! Just a short subway ride to the Bronx. Why hadn’t I done this before? The kids cared more about the hot dogs and chicken fingers than about that first game, which I think was against the lowly Devil Rays. For a few years in a row, I bought tickets for three or four games during the summer, and I got hooked.

I began to know the players, their habits. I started watching the Yankees more religiously on TV. I have never gotten to the point of hating the Red Sox, but I do want to crush them in the playoffs. When the Red Sox won their first World Series in a gazillion years, the next day I gave a friend of mine, a transplanted Bostonian who dies for the Red Sox, a bottle of champagne. I knew what it meant to him. I was a fan too, and I knew what it would’ve meant for me and my team.

We’re playing the Toronto Blue Jays tonight, and losing in the seventh inning, 4-2. Last night, a nasty brawl begun by Jorge Posada and some bald-headed pitcher for the Blue Jays, I forget his name, emptied the benches. The Yankees have to keep playing well; they have the best record in baseball right now. But is this the beginning of a slide, or just a blip in a great season? My heart’s into it now. It matters if we lose now. I can’t imagine missing a single game now. (Don’t trade Matsui.)


(Matusi hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning to tie the game, and Cervelli slapped a single to center to score Gardner in the ninth: 5-4, Yankees win!)

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