You’ve gotta have heart
All you really need is heart
When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win
That’s when the grin should start
You’ve gotta have hope
Mustn’t sit around and mope
Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear
Wait’ll next year and hope
When your luck is battin’ zero
Get your chin up off the floor
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door, there’s nothin’ to it but to do it
You’ve gotta have heart
Miles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart
Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart
First you’ve gotta have heart
–“Heart,” from Damn Yankees
The last time any team was as far behind as the Yankees are now, and still managed to get into the playoffs, was in 1904—one of those arcane statistics major league baseball is so fond of keeping around for occasions precisely such as this. Despite having one of the best batting lineups in the league, despite the money George Steinbrenner’s put into developing the team, despite a raft of ace pitchers—half of whom are, admittedly, on the disabled list—the team that always wins is in fourth place and sinking. Yankee haters are having a blast. As for me, it’s painful to watch them lose game after game, and even more painful to watch interviews with individual players: the other day Derek Jeter’s face, for the first time in his life most likely, lacked all confidence as he told reporters “I don’t know what to say anymore.” He’s right: there’s not much to say anymore. (But you know I’ll find something!)
I don’t get it: I don’t understand how or why these men can be playing beautifully one day and horribly the next. I wonder if they understand it? Some commentators chalk it up to age. Just this morning I heard that the peak years for a basketball player—and how different can it be for baseball?—are from 28 to 32. Alex Rodriguez is 31, Derek Jeter’s 33 . The youngest guy in the lineup, at 23, is Melky Cabrera; the oldest are Giambi and Posada, both 36, and the latter has the best hitting average in Major League Baseball this year. So what’s this crap about age?
Besides, I have a bit of experience in the aging department, and I know it doesn’t happen all at once. You don’t wake up one day and suddenly find all your teeth on the pillow: first your gums recede, then you get cavities, then root canals and caps, and then one or two have to go…etcetera. It’s a gradual process. Surely it’s the same for athletes: Jason Giambi’s feet didn’t go from being fine to plantar faschitis overnight. Johnny Damon’s muscular legs didn’t just buckle one morning and leave him unable to run.
Whatever its cause, the losing streak has me in a funk. It’s no fun to watch your team be humiliated and embarrassed day after day. One of the reasons I’m into baseball is for the fun of it—it’s a light and bright spot in my life, which is not always so bright in other areas. Being a Yankee fan has meant that I get to revel in victory most of the time. Now things have changed, and, as spoiled brat Suzanne Sugarbaker of Designing Women would say, I do not care for it. I feel like turning my attention to another team, to the Oakland A’s, who’re my second favorites anyway. In fact, I was all set to jump ship, when I had a moral re-awakening: it would be entirely unethical to abandon the Yankees when they’re losing. Like most people, I’ve had some experience with “fair weather friends” who abandoned me when I was sick or unhappy, and that just is not the kind of person I want to be.
You’d think I would have learned this already from my son, the consummate Mets fan. Year after year, season after season, day after day and week after week he’s hung in with his team, who’ve spent a majority of their playing years in the league’s basement. I kept trying to lure him over to the winning side, but it was inconceivable to him: there’s just no way he’d ever stop loving those Mets. When they do win, even in the midst of an otherwise dismal season, it makes his day. This year, as you might imagine, he’s in a state of constant ecstasy. I was watching with him last night when Carlos Delgado scored the walk-off run in the 12th inning against the SF Giants. It was exciting not just because it was unexpected, or even because it happened with two outs. It was exciting because the fans were going wild, and the team members not on base were in the dugout jumping up and down, clapping their hands, and shouting with glee. The whole game–the whole season so far–has been like that: Mets fans are among baseball’s most enthusiastic. The Mets’ climb to first place actually began last season, when Willie Randolph came over to manage the team. Randolph was previously a coach for the Yankees, Joe Torre’s protégée, something I’m always reminding Daryl; the Mets are directly benefiting from Yankee know-how.
Regardless of the reason for their success, Daryl and all Mets fans are finally being paid back for years of loyalty to a team that in some years resembled the Keystone Cops out on the field. That kind of fan loyalty has nothing to do with coaches, managers, or the amount of money an owner throws at them. That kind of loyalty is what the New York Yankees deserve now, as payback for the joy they’ve provided fans during the course of the past century. And that’s the kind of loyalty I ‘m going to give them.