Thursday, August 28, 2008
Outside the Aviary: "Everything You Must Love You Must Love Now"
I had a column all set up for how the Yankees were shot and how the Red Sox were becoming a less polished version of those 1996-2001 teams that just won at any costs (sprinkling the pickups of Kotsay and Byrd in as evidence), but really, I don't feel like talking about all that. Perhaps it's the whimsical instrumental music I am listening to, the fact that i have cheered on championship teams a lot lately or the fact that I read way more on sports than I write about it these days, but the article bores me. It really does.
The liberation of a two-sport championship is daunting. Ask Bill Simmons, Dan Shaughnessy or the cavalcade of "Boston Bloggers" nationwide. It's not a small task to write about things when they are going well. There's little to criticize-- the Red Sox are on their way to another playoffs and took two out of three from the Yanks in September. The Celtics are taking a gamble here and there (although a non-guaranteed contract to Darius Miles is not a gamble-- more on this in a later column) after securing a championship that got more press than Lady Di's death rattles. The Redskins have made improbable playoff runs and are, at least, intersting every year. My sports life is good.
Still, the Sox letting a sweep slip through their brittle fingers, I noticed something-- the Yankee fans are comatose right now. I went to the game last night, and most of the meatheads were expectant. They expected Papi or Varitek to come through against the Veras and Ponson types. When Jeter came up, they looked ahead to the next batters and knew A-Rod had no chance against relievers. Whereas my friend and I just stared ahead and waited. We talked about insurance runs and how funny 'Tek's swing looks. We talked about how cool it was to see Yankee Stadium one last time and how we couldn't wait for it to be razed. We talked about all kinds of things, waiting for the bottom to drop out against a terrible set of pitchers.
Meanwhile, the Yankee fans got more and more hopeful. You could hear fingers crossing and heads nodding. You could hear frustration. When the Sox went up 5-2, some people left. 5-2? At 6-2, more scampered away. 6-2? This is a team that leads the world in bullshit hits-- infield choppers, dying quails, etc. There is no other team blessed like this one. Granted, the place deadened after the Pedroia grand slam, but even then, where was the swagger, the bravado? The "Well, we still got twenty-six rings" assholery?
It was lost in Goose Gossage pulling a fake lever to remind the fans that they had two weeks left to enjoy the old stadium. It was lost in a lackluster "YMCA" chant as the grounds crew came out in the seventh. It was lost in the anti-clutchness of the middle of the order. It was lost in walks, doubles, a grand slam and the overall disillusonment of their reality: they don't field good teams right now. They just don't.
There's a new Steinbrenner, a new stadium and new motto: win with what is out there. Gone is the hope of a saviour for this season, and soon the invented mystique of the ideal playing field will be gone too. For someone with a dog in the hunt like me, it's not a moment too soon. Bury that hole as soon as possible and make sure Michael Kaye is in it. But for the casual fan-- like the Californian father and son in front of us, it was a moment bereft of rivalry. Yankee Stadium, with its statue park, its die-hard/vulgar fan base and its ancient lore meant something different entirely. It meant the end of an era that was long past, not the one of recent memory.
Now, nearly every dog is in the hunt. Then, it was the Yankees and whomever challenged them. There was little to no real rivalry. Fans are better off believing that their team can win now. Fans are better off wondering if their new young rookie sensation can be the next Josh Beckett or Mariano Rivera rather than the next Cy Young. The year-to-year, station-to-station idealism is better for the mystery of the game. The casual fan has really never had it better: there is no dominant force in many major sports anymore. Rivalries exist out of biterness, sure, but moreso becuase each team has a real stake again. The Red Sox, White Sox, Rangers, Cubs (as of this year)-- invented curses or not-- have a chance. This hurts the dynasty and leaves the monumental fans pride-hurt and with new stadiums? Pride hurt and priced out.
Such is life, I suppose. I won't miss the mystique or the builing. I won't. I will miss the old fans like my Uncle George-- recalling the past-- a little, maybe. I might miss the way there is no bad seat in Yankee Stadium, just a touch. But, I won't miss how the casual fan came in with reverence and fear. Price 'em out, Yanks. The die-hards are dying with the titles. The Sox's are winning, the Rays are running away with it this year and the Stadium is done. And so, the new era is upon us.