Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Third Commandment of the Rivalry

Sports announcers are linked to their events more tightly than the voices for anything else. Political shows, news broadcasts, human interest shows -- if you don't like one, you have options to suit your viewing and listening needs. This is not the case with sports.

If you watch your team, or listen to the game on the radio, the announcers are part of the package. There's no avoiding them.

The voices behind the Red Sox and Yankees lead you through the action, educate you on the game, and mold your memories (unless those voices belong to Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan, which add no value to any game, and may God have mercy on your soul.)

If you're lucky, you'll hear a phrase that will resonate for all time ("I don't believe what I just saw!"; "Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!").

If you're unlucky, then you'll end up like me -- cut off from my beloved Michael Kay and Ken Singleton of the Yankees without paying extra to listen in. Watching the Sox' announcers just feels wrong -- like I'm cheating on my team somehow. Nothing is more abhorrent than tuning into the other team's station, especially as they announce a game involving my team. I'd liken watching the Yankees on the Sox' station to nails on a blackboard -- only if the nails were ice picks and the blackboard was my forehead.

The announcers are the ultimate connection between fan and team -- they talk to both sides and they provide inside jokes and information. (The rivalry even extends to these networks, as reported by the Sports Business Journal.) After all, the Yankees Universe and Red Sox Nation are made accessible to the masses by the men and women in the booth, after all. The bond a fan base shares with its announcers strengthens with each game out of necessity -- it's the only way the average fan connects to the events as they happen.
No matter where you sit, you keep the opponent's broadcast team at arm's length, while embracing your own. Nothing sums this up more than the situation in Connecticut, where both NESN (Sox) and YES (Yankees) are part of the normal cable package. When the two teams meet, each fan base recedes to their respective stations, to the comfort of their team, their announcers, and their own personal windows into this rivalry.

Looking for more?
Here's a rundown of baseball's best and worst announcers. The author gives a special shout to those putrid pundits, McCarver and Morgan, at the bottom.

Speaking of announcing, an iconic Sox/Yanks rivalry participant announced his retirement today, as well as his move to an analyst position with ESPN. 

Yankees/Red Sox Rivalry Commandments
1. Thou shalt choose a side. Forever.
2. Thou shalt not accept bandwagon fans.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Happy Spring Training!

Taking a break from the rundown of the Sox/Yankees rivalry's laws, I'd like to wish everyone a happy Spring Training. In order of American-ness (Americanity?), this falls just behind Independence Day and Thanksgiving as the top holiday for our country.

A coworker of mine and a staunch Sox fan put it perfectly for all those in New York and New England: "Spring Training not only means the arrival of baseball, but it means that pretty soon, I'll be watching a warm weather sport while it's warm here."

With Spring Training here, and all that comes with it, life just feels good.

Here's a smattering of goodness:
And finally, few movies can echo the emotion, passion and joy that Spring Training brings to players and fans better than these two:

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Second Commandment of the Rivalry

No matter your allegiance in this rivalry, Sox and Yankees fans alike are intelligent fans. They know the game, they understand the nuances of being good fans and cheering at games, and they follow their sport on a broader level.

But because of the popularity of both sports markets, there's a type of fan prevalent in Boston and New York (and indeed across the country) which both sides avidly despise and avoid: the bandwagon fan.

Let's take a step back to address the obvious: Yes, I just admitted that Sox fans, while deeply misguided in their preferences, are intelligent baseball minds.

Before you send Satan a sweater, let me explain. This in no way increases my affinity for Boston sports bars or anyone who can actually cheer for Kevin Youkilis. I'm thoroughly annoyed by Sox fans -- but I understand that most of us in this rivalry are baseball aficionados on the highest level. I hold a begrudging respect for the Fenway faithful, and I know that respect is mutual.

What neither side can respect, however, is the casual onlooker who jumps on the bandwagon. These fans dwell in retail stores, buying hoards of "their" team's gear -- but never in the proper, official team colors. The more it varies from the original, the better. 

Bandwagon fans are also bred by success - Kansas City and Pittsburgh do not suffer from this epidemic.

This Boston Magazine article discusses both of these criteria, and points to the spike in pink Sox hats following 2004 as a growing problem.

Why are these fans to be avoided at all costs? Because any Yankees or Red Sox fan worth his or her weight in sunflower seeds knows the current roster, the history of the rivalry, and the general baseball landscape at the pro level.

What do bandwagon fans know? To answer that, I offer this true story of my September ride home on the T (which is towards Fenway Park, incidentally).

As I squeezed into a packed train around 6:30pm, I was unlucky enough to stand next to not one, not two, but three Papelbon shirts, all worn by rotund college-aged co-eds who reeked of booze.

Gross Girl #1: "What time does the game start?" (A fact any true fan knows. A weekday game? 7:05. Next question.)
GG #2: "Don't worry, we'll make it in time to see Papelbon."
GG #3: "Whoooo, Papelbooooon! He's so good!"
GG #1: "I know! Why don't they just put him in to start every game? I don't get it..."

Switch the shirts and the city and the moral stays the same -- thou shalt not accept bandwagon fans. Disagree? Then I've got a pink hat with your name on it.

For more despicable fans, visit this list by Bill Simmons.

Rivalry Commandments:

Friday, February 12, 2010

The First Commandment of the Rivalry

The Big Umpire Upstairs made a call at the beginning of time (which for our purposes means 1903). As the New York Highlanders and Boston Pilgrims launched their rivalry, that call was for fans to choose a side and remain there, for all time.

As a Christian, I believe in Heaven and Hell. As a Yankees fan, I believe that in Hell, Sox and Yanks fans must co-exist, but in Heaven, you're with your side for all eternity.

You might say living in Boston can be hell for a Yankees fan, but I grew up in the only place in the world that attempts to straddle the border between Red Sox Nation and the Yankees Universe (thus breaking the First Commandment) - Connecticut. John Branch of the New York Times tries to define a Yankees/Red Sox border in this video.

As he says, "You can't be exactly on the border - [you] need to be on one side or the other." And the line he defines is fairly accurate based on my 22 years in the Nutmeg State.

As the Commandment dictates: you choose your team, you love your team, and you never waver from that stance. It may sound obvious, but it sets the tone for the sports life of fans from New York or Boston forever.

It also sets the tone for the next nine Commandments...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Yankees Fan Displaced

If extending an olive branch symbolizes the hope for peace, then what's the opposite gesture? I like to think that when I decided to move to Boston in August 2008 as a staunch Yankees fan, I lit that branch on fire and stuck it right into Beantown's hair. 

Look, what would be the alternative? More importantly, what would any alternative have done to change anything?

The Sox and Yankees have a rivalry so deep and so hostile that any attempt on my part to be civil would have been meaningless. I'll be the first to admit - individual fans don't add or subtract much. We each throw no log on the fire. We're splinters tossed into a blaze the size of New York and New England. The perceptions are in place, the stories are written, and the sides are taken - regardless of the actions of one Yankees fan. But we're a part of something bigger, and so we fall into line: Yankees fans and Sox fans - roles that last longer than your marriage, your job or (as I discovered) your time living anywhere.

These two teams (and their fans) have clashed since 1903, when they were the Boston Pilgrims and New York Highlanders. (*See below for more details.)

So in the fall of 2008, I followed the Bombers on their roadtrip to Boston, several weeks before I was scheduled to move into Back Bay, and the questions started coming:

How do I convince Sox fans to let me live in peace? Do I buy pepper spray? A flak jacket? A Nationals hat?

Are there enough Manny jokes in the world to earn me a few friends in the area?

Should I keep Yankees fans strong in Boston by dating only my own kind, like some sort of Jewish system for baseball?

Will Sox fans let me pronounce my R's without stealing them for the words "idear" and "soder"? (Seriously??? It blows me away that it's "Fah to go to the bah for a beeah", but then they get a good "idear". It's wicked retahded.)

Despite the existential and grammatical hurdles I needed to get past, I marched into Boston with my Yankees cap and made no apologies. That weekend, as I searched for an apartment and begged God to have mercy on me, the Big Umpire Upstairs did me one better: He showed me the way to be a Yankees fan in Boston. In short, He gave me the Cranky Yankee Fan 10 Commandments - rules I've lived (in Boston) by ever since.

[For more, check back later this week. You can also follow CYF's RSS, Tweets (@jay_zo) or Facebook page. In the meantime, check out WFAN's Yankees Commandments. And I'll show some love to Sox fans with these rules for Yankees fans.]

* During the cities' second match-up ever, Dave Fultz, an outfielder for the Highlanders, grounded to first and barreled through Pilgrims' pitcher George Winter as he ran to cover the bag. With a crack of bodies colliding, Winter sprawled to the ground, and Fultz, no worse off, shouted towards the Boston dugout to get the pitcher back to the mound or get him the hell off the field.

New York won 6-1 that day, and, as Mike Vaccaro writes in one of the best rivalry books, Emperors and Idiots, "The rivalry's first blood had been drawn, and it had been bad, and it would stay that way" (xiv).

You can read about the teams' histories: Yankees. Red Sox.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Welcome to CrankyYankeeFan.com

Said Derek Jeter, "My heroes, my dreams, and my future lie in Yankee Stadium, and they can't take that from me."

For me, my enemies, my nightmares, and my present life lie just outside my door at Fenway Park. I'm a Yankees fan living in Boston. I'm a steak in the lions' den. A diver in the shark tank. A snake on the plane.

I'm a pinstripe-wearing, Jeter Fathead-owning Yankees fan.

And I will not apologize to my neighbors.

So how does one end up with an address in Back Bay and an allegiance to the Bronx? More importantly, how does one survive? These are the questions I've been addressing for the last 16 months. They are the backbone of my survival each day and the inspiration for this site.

So email, text, Facebook, Tweet and candygram your friends with the news  - there's a Cranky Yankee Fan in Boston, and they can't take that from me.