I’ve been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember. Parents have a lot to say about how a child will be raised — religion, politics, geography, food preferences, and schools are all common knowledge and well-thought through in regards to a child’s development. On a joke usually, parents may dress up their babies in sports team colors, perhaps due a college alumnus in the family. Whether you realize it at the time or not, you have selected a child’s predisposition towards a particular sport and the team they will be bonded to for life, at least for the first decade and a half of that life.
I grew up in Florida with a Northeast Ohio mother. Florida is really a college football state, and by kindergarten, I had made my selection because all of my friends loved Florida State. Fast-forward 25 years and I’m still toting Seminole memorabilia, like that window decal on my car.
Northeast Ohio is solid baseball and thus Indians territory. My grandfather was one of those people who knew everything about everything, especially baseball. He could rattle off statistics from the start of the sport and compare them to what was going on in the clubhouse currently. For the first decade and a half of my life, this (following the logic above) then made me a Cleveland Indians fan.
In 1994, MLB players launched the biggest strike in their history against team owners over labor disputes. Cancelling 900+ games and nearly destroying all but the absolute loyal fan base, the 1995 season resumed and attempted to win back their fans. 1995 was also one of the 2 years in the last 20 that the Cleveland Indians have been anywhere near the World Series. The team they usually had to hurdle? The New York Yankees. And though it was the Indians I was rooting for in the World Series that year, I remember watching the playoff games of New York losing to Seattle in the Division Series and being in awe at such a team of history and legends (Mattingly, for example, retired following the ’95 season, and they quickly retired his number in Monument Park).
By April 1996, I was a secret Yankees fan, and they were ready to embark on a whirlwind dynasty, comparative to so many decades past (Ruth-Gehrig and the Mantle-Maris eras come immediately to mind). In 5 years, they won 4 World Championships (except for 1997, which was coincidentally an Indians-Florida match-up). It was a secret because I thought “once an Indians fan, always an Indians fan”, and a main rival for them is, who else, the New York Yankees.
It wasn’t until I moved out on my own that I began bravely waving my Yankee pride. By then, they were on top of the world with 4 championships and the “Core Four” (Pettitte, Posada, Rivera, and Jeter) leading the way.
Growing up in Florida, we saw so many minor league and Spring Training games. We didn’t even get our own MLB team until 1998 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and like many expansion teams in their first few years, they weren’t good. And being in the AL East (arguably the toughest division in the league) didn’t help that fact. There was not much of a fan base in the beginning. And then they started winning… isn’t that always the case?
My first official Yankees game, I’m sorry to say, wasn’t until 2009 in the new Yankee Stadium. On my list of regrets is that I never got to see one in the “House that Ruth Built”, but a Yankees game is a Yankees game. I was surrounded by people who knew the game and the history and the players and everything I loved about the sport and the team. It was like finding a home and being with my grandfather (who had passed away the previous year) all over again.
I’ve always loved New York as a city, but the Yankees cemented their place in my heart. I got to see a world championship team that year and converted my mother to a Yankees fan as we celebrated in my living room their World Series victory that year. I should clarify (because she would want me to): my mother will always be an Indians fan first (it’s her foundation), Yankees second, and then the Rays (due to hometown loyalties). Even my brother became a Yankees fan (they rank 3rd, I think, behind the Rays and Indians) — further proof that a child is set on their loyalties because a parent is.
I think the Yankees are one of the few teams that you don’t have to be from that particular city to love the team. Much like the city they represent, you don’t have to be a New Yorker to love the City. And as 9/11 proved, New York is “America’s City”. The Yankees are “America’s Team”. And love them or despise them (depending on your childhood loyalties and subsequent rivalries), the Yankees are here to stay, in history and tradition, in the celebrating and making of legends, and in championships once won and yet to be won.