Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankees, by Jane Heller
In 2007 the New York Yankees had a baaaaad season. They started badly, didn’t even make it to a .500 winning percentage until mid-season, barely slid into the postseason, and then went down to ignominious defeat against the Cleveland Indians in the first round of playoffs. Well before that point, Jane Heller, a writer and passionate fan, gave up on the team she’d loved for years: in a fit of disgusted rage, she served notice, in an op-ed piece for the New York Sunday Times, her intention to “divorce” the Yankees. In a city where people live and die by this team, reactions were intense and critical: a true fan is supposed to stand by her team in sickness and in health. Heller was vilified as a “bandwagon fan,” the equivalent of a fair-weather friend. The week her piece ran, it was the most emailed and talked about article in the Times.
Stunned by this response, Heller took a long look at her relationship with the Bronx Bombers, and, smelling a book contract on the road, decided to follow the team around the country for the rest of the season. Her husband Michael (your average fan as opposed to a rabid maniac) went along to lend his support. The result, Confessions of A She-Fan, is the best book I’ve ever read on the subject of baseball. I admit this is a totally biased, lopsided, and personal opinion, that I’m well aware She-Fan is far from The Best Book – but on a personal level, it is. More important, She-Fan is the first book that talks about the game from a female perspective. My perspective. The perspective of She-Fans.
As with most areas of life, there’s a difference in the way women participate as sports fans, specifically baseball, from the way in which men participate. This is something I’ve long suspected, but, conceding sports as the exclusive province of the male, I didn’t much talk about it. I’ve been afraid my POV is less valid than men’s, and stifled some of my observations. In baseball conversations with men, I’m insecure, afraid of sounding idiotic. I’ve written all my life about gender differences in attitude towards food,sex, movies…you name it. I’ve never been intimidated about expressing my opinions, and certainly never thought my perspective was inferior to men’s. But sports? It’s a whole other ball game (pun intended).
Men know and care about statistics, more important in baseball than in any other sport. Men remember plays in games that took place years or even decades ago. I envy this skill of instant recall. Women, on the other hand, watch interactions between teammates – not as mere celebrity gossip, but as to how it affects their game. Heller acknowledges these differences, and more, without self-judgment or apology. In doing so, she’s given women permission to speak our baseball minds. That crackling sound you hear is the shattering of another glass ceiling.
Heller’s relationship to the Yankees will resonates with other New York fans; at least, it did with this one. I was born and spent the first six years of my life in the Bronx. Rooting for the Yankees was in my blood and my bones, a given, something you just did. The world was smaller back then, and Yankees filled a big piece of mine.
The tone of the writing is intensely personal and insanely funny; at times Heller flips into a kind of Woody Allen-esque self-deprecation. Comparing herself to a friend who, she says, is shaped like “a normal woman,” she describes herself as looking like “a pencil.” Her pet names for various Red Sox players are laugh-out-loud funny: Jonathan Papelbon is Pap Smear; Big Papi is Big Sloppy. And she lives up to the “confessions” of her title, letting readers see her quirks and vulnerabilities.
She manages to turn the book’s major weakness – lack of access to the team; she wasn’t even allowed in the press box – into a strength, by creating an element of suspense, sprinkling in quotes from an unnamed Yankee player. Naturally, I kept trying to figure out who the mystery speaker was, guessing and un-guessing Jorge Posada, A-Rod, Joe Torre, or even Steinbrenner himself. The suspense built until I could stand it no longer, and if Heller hadn’t eventually revealed the truth I would’ve killed her. (I won’t spoil it by revealing it here.)
Speaking of Joe Torre, 2007 was, as every Yankee fan will remember, the year he left after 12 seasons as manager. It was also, in hindsight, the beginning of the end of King George’s rule, when his health began to fail and his sons stepped in to take over. For Heller, these transitions were emotionally difficult, and she holds nothing back, revealing without shame moments like her gut-wrenching crying jag in the stands, where she remains long after the last out of the final losing game.
What does it mean to love a baseball team like this? Why does Jane Heller – why do I, for that matter – love the Yankees with such passion? As a kid I simply accepted that I was a Yankee fan. As I got older, this unquestioned loyalty began to fade. I was disillusioned to learn that a team’s players don’t necessarily come from or live in the city they represent – and to tell the truth, I’ve never fully recovered from the shock of that. From it I deduced that loving a team is purely arbitrary, that you could simply choose a team ro love. When there was no choice in the matter, it was somehow easier to be loyal.
But it turns out that the Yankees are more like family than just a team: love em or hate em, you’re stuck with ‘em. I suspect that’s why so many New Yorkers were outraged when Heller announced she’d simply up and divorce them. It’s like divorcing your family, never mind just your spouse.
By the end of the book, though, Heller reaffirms her love for the Yankees; she’s grown, she’s moved to a whole other level of fandom. She’s been to hell and back, learned a few things about love, loyalty, patience, and commitment, and she’s in it for the long haul. Win or lose, in sickness or health, she’ll stick with pinstripes til the day she dies. There’s no choice when you’re to the Bronx team born.
Welcome to the family, Jane. We’re glad you decided to stay.