An Agent of ChangeOctober 9, 2012
The Old WaysNovember 26, 2012
Why would a Queens girl root for the Bronx Bombers? It’s a question I’ve been asked many times, and it’s usually accompanied by a look of utter disgust on the face of the questioner, as if I’ve betrayed my tribe or peddled state secrets on the black market.
Baseball fandom is a curious thing. There are all sorts of reasons we latch onto teams, and geography is probably first among them, but thankfully the sport has always allowed for spiritual kinships that transcend those lines on a map. In my defense, I come by my choice of team sincerely, and my commitment to them has never wavered.
For this fan, it was always the Yankees and it will always be the Yankees, because of Dad. When he first arrived in New York City from Spain over 60 years ago, he briefly made his home just north of the Bronx—in the same town where his parents had first met (and where he was born) before they returned to Spain under doctor’s orders to allow my grandfather to breathe the clearer mountain air of his home village in hopes that it would alleviate the symptoms of the lung disease that went on to kill him at the age of 42.
Given my father’s initial proximity to Yankee Stadium, you could argue that his decision to cheer for the Bombers was itself geographically driven, but I know that the roots of his allegiance were far deeper than that. As an immigrant, nothing was more American to him than the Yankees. The team name was what expats from Spanish-speaking lands were often called when they returned to visit their countries of origin. “Aqui viene el yanqui.” (“Here comes the yankee”—aka “the American.”) For a man separated from his family, working ridiculously long hours, struggling with a new language and culture—rooting for the Yankees was a badge of identity, a way to weave himself into the fabric of his new home.
That’s why I always find it jarring when someone tries to throw the whole Yankees/Steinbrenner/”evil empire” thing in my face. I mean, I get it, up to a point—with all of their money and success, the Yankees are an easy team to resent. And I too have been embarrassed by the many idiotic actions of the front office (signing malcontents like Danny Tartabull and Rickey Henderson; telling Don Mattingly that his hair was too long; the whole on-again, off-again Billy Martin saga). Nor does the behavior of our rowdy, obnoxious fans thrill me to the core (not that we have a monopoly on obnoxiousness, but we do have our share). But baseball has always been about drama as much as it’s been about sport, even as far back as the Babe allegedly calling his home run. Love ’em or hate ’em, the Yankees can never be accused of being boring.
We all have our reasons for the fan choices we make, but what irks me most about the question is the assumption that I root for the Yankees because of their track record. Though I know that there are folks out there whose sports allegiances drift with the merest of breezes, I don’t happen to be one of them. Though I grew up rooting for Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Bucky Dent, and Thurman Munson during those hallowed 1970s championship seasons, I also endured Stump Merrill’s less-than-storied managerial reign. All those long, tired summers, from the 1980s until the mid-1990s, when in addition to watching my team find creative new ways to lose, I had to hold my nose as I was forced to be on the same side of the fence as Deion Sanders, Steve Howe, and the ever-classy Luis Polonia.
But through it all, I have always remained a Yankee fan, and this year is no different. Through Jeter being injured. Through the very real possibility that they may lose the ALCS to the Tigers because they’ve suddenly and collectively forgotten how to hit the ball. Through the fact that A-Rod still puts on the pinstripes and trots around with that vacant look in his eyes. Through it all—and in some cases, in spite of it all—Dad and I will always be Yankee fans.