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Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankees

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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 resonate 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

English: Photograph of Joe Torre taken by Goog...

Photograph of Joe Torre taken by Googie Man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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Season Opener at Fenway

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The Yankees and Red Sox opened the 2010 Baseball Season last night at Fenway Park, where my Bronx babes were welcomed with a round of boo’s by those rude Bostonians. No wonder they lost! Just kidding…the Sox do occasionally beat the boys from Da Bronx, but hopefully not enough to come out ahead in October.

The absence of Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui was acutely felt here in my house, though Curtis Granderson (see photo!) promises to be a great addition to the team. In fact, he hit the second home run of the game.

Who hit the first? you might well ask. As a matter of fact, the first home run by a Yankee in the 2010 season was magnificently hit by none other than their long-time 38-year-old catcher, Jorge Posada. You know, that guy who’s going to have his worst season ever, according to Scott White? That guy whose been so beat up by the catcher’s position he can hardly hold a bat? Yes, that very same guy! Put that in your pretentious pipe and smoke it, Mr. White!

Yankee Trivia: Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera have been playing together longer than any trio in the MLB, NFL or NBA–sixteen years of loyal–and excellent–teamwork.

I’m elated to be back in front of the television watching  games, and to be blogging my heart out with my biased opinions. Opening Day should be declared a national holiday!

PS: During the 7th inning stretch, Neil Diamond showed up to lead the faithful in singing Sweet Caroline, which has become some sort of perverse ritual at Fenway. Diamond seems to have lost his singing mojo, and mostly spoke the words…far worse, however, was Steve Tyler of Aerosmith, looking like he’d just rolled out of a sleeping bag, croaked out the worst version of God Bless America (a capella yet!) to ever be heard on land or on sea. Ah, Red Sox Nation: you consistently amaze me with your strange customs.

Game Four

Yankees

Dirty Play

Three nights, three games, three pitchers: it was all the same story. Philadelphia pitchers pummeled A-Rod on every one of his first at-bats. The first time, you figure,  maybe it was intentional, maybe not. Second time, you strongly suspect something’s going on. Third time, it’s obvious their pitchers agreed beforehand to hit A-Rod at the start of every game. Even the umpires–who haven’t been all that sharp lately–knew it, and they met for a huddle in the middle of the field. When they broke, they issued a warning to BOTH teams: another hit-by-pitch to anyone, and whoever lobbed the ball will be O-U-T of the game.

If you ask me, Joe Blanton, last night’s vicious pitcher, should’ve been tossed right away. Everyone knew the hit was intentional. The umpires added insult to injury, as the Yankees were the ones who really got punished. They couldn’t retaliate, or they’d lose their ace pitcher, CC Sabathia. I was pissed off all through the game, and could hardly stand the sight of a player in red.

amd_phillies_celebratingWhich brings me to this coincidence of colors: while Yankee uniforms are blue-and-white, the teams I most dislike all seem to wear red-and-white. Boston Red Sox. Angels. Cleveland Indians. And now, Philadelphia. At games played in a red team’s  stadium, the park is a sea of bright red; in New York it’s all blue. The funny part of this is…well, I’m sure I don’t have to spell it out. Blue States, Red States: Conservative/Republican, Liberal/Democrat. Coincidence?alg_yankee-fans

Winning Is The Best Revenge

But the Phillies got their punishment, and in the most productive way possible. Here they were, giving their fans a thrill, keeping up with the Yankees–until the ninth inning, when in a two-out rally Johnny Damon made a play sure to go down in history: after a nine-pitch at-bat that came this close to an out at least twice, he got a base hit, then stole second base…and when he saw nobody was covering third, he ran like hell, and made it. When A-Rod came to bat and got a base hit, Damon scored the go-ahead run. It was one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in baseball; I was screaming and jumping around my living room.

The Phillies didn’t score in the ninth, of course, with Mariano Rivera pitching, and besides, I suspect they were too demoralized. The Yankees won the game, 7-4; the series now stands at 3-1. If the blue team wins tonight, it’s all over but the partying. With Cliff Lee coming back to the pitcher’s mound for Philadelphia, there’s a possibility that won’t happen. But even if it doesn’t, then the Yankees will finish things off the next night–which might be better anyway, since they’ll be back in New York.

What a game! What a team!

amd_yankees_celebrating

Schilling as a Senator? {Shudder}

Curt Schilling a Senator? I shudder to think of it. See  my post on Schilling from awhile back–it reveals something about the man.

On Baseball Commentators

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The other night, during a Red Sox/Oakland A’s game at Fenway Park, commentator Ray Fosse said something that made me positively livid. It’s not that unusual for sports commentators to get me crazy–they make idiotic statements all the time. Worse, they hog the mike and camera at the expense of the game. I mean, aren’t these guys supposed to call the game? Instead they yak, yak, yak, and most of it is pure drivel. The worst offenders are Joe Morgan and Jon Miller, who grandstand nonstop through nine or more innings.

Daryl @ A's game
But back to Fosse. The camera panned in on an A’s fan, a guy wearing the green and gold cap right there in the middle of Bosox Nation. Fosse and his sidekick laughed heartily, and Fosse said, “These Red Sox fans are so knowledgeable, they understand. It doesn’t bother them at all.” He paused, then added, “Of course, you couldn’t wear a Red Sox cap to Yankee Stadium.”

Hello? WTF are you talking about, Fosse? Red Sox fans have been known to bash in Yankee heads, beneath a cap or not. And what’s this “knowledgeable” crap? Everyone knows that New York baseball fans are the most knowledgeable fans on the planet. And I have seen Red Sox fans behave like two-year-olds. Personally, I wouldn’t go to Fenway in Yankee gear: I’d be taking my life in my hands.

Most of these commentators got the job by dint of being ex-ball players with pleasant voices. They’re playing journalism, without even attempting an appearance of objectivity.

I sent Fosse an email stating these sentiments. I’ll let you know if he responds.

Joe Morgan and Jon Miller

Joe Morgan and Jon Miller

Jon Miller and Joe Morgan