Saturday, October 20, 2012

How I Became a Made Man in the Bronx

The most corporate franchise in sports history isn’t going to the World Series this year. Hooray! Yes, I’m happy about that. Not quite ecstatic, like I would have been a quarter of a century ago, but more than mildly pleased. Why? To borrow a phrase from Facebook, “It’s complicated.” After all, Major League Baseball has become downright sacrilege to me, and I make every effort not to follow, or lose any sleep over, the antics of multi-millionaire muscle heads and crybabies (see my previous blog and others for more on that). But perhaps Charles Bukowski (Henry Chinaski as played by Mickey Rourke in Barfly) was on to something when he said, “Hatred, it’s the only thing that lasts.” Because, I still hate the Yankees. I don’t follow the game anymore, or have any vested interest in the cross-town rivalry like I did once upon a time. Still, I root against the whole pinstriped lot of them by osmosis. And I don’t burn sassafras root at Derek Jeter’s altar, either.

My father was the quintessential Yankee fan from way back until, almost literally, the day he died. The very first baseball games I attended were in the late-1960s alongside him—in the actual “House that Ruth Built” with the wooden seats and concrete poles that made unobstructed views of the game well nigh impossible. I seem to recall going to a “bat day” promotion against the Seattle Pilots. That had to be 1969 then—the expansion team’s only year in existence and chronicled in Jim Bouton’s then-controversial tell-all memoir Ball Four, one of my all-time favorite sports books. So, I was a not-as-yet seven-year-old boy when I received my “Jake Gibbs” inscribed bat on the way into the stadium—a quality piece of lumber. We used "bat day" bats with bona fide “hardballs”in the old neighborhood and they were up to the task.

Something, though, tells me that particular game against the Pilots got rained out, but we at least got to keep the bat. I believe, too, there was some bat mischief that "bat day" as well. Handing out thousands of rock-solid wooden bats to folks in the Bronx entering a crowded stadium was asking for trouble, I suppose, particularly when one added an extended rain delay and free-flowing beer to the soupy mix. I was on hand for yet another “bat day” a year or two later, when I took home a “Gene Michael” Louisville Slugger. This was the game that a serious mustard-packet splatter on the back of the seat in front of me held me spellbound for nine innings. Anyway, I was groomed to be a Yankee fan—why would I be anything else?

So, I can't really explain what happened. The 1969 “Miracle Mets,” maybe? Rebelling against an authority figure in the family and daring to be different? Tough to say. If I was rebelling, I was quasi-unaware I was doing it. Sure, I wholeheartedly embraced the Mets in 1970. My father even brought me a home the 1970 Mets’ yearbook—from Yankee Stadium no less. I’d like to think I was merely a wide-eyed seven-year-old boy switching on the black-and-white television at home and watching my favorite team—the Mets televised three-quarters of their games; the Yankees only a quarter back then. Still, I didn’t feel I had to root against the Yankees after declaring myself a Met fan—not in the least.

Very quickly, though, it became evident to little me that I couldn’t like the Mets—love them in fact—and still wish that other New York team well. I thus became a made man at the age of nine or ten. My chop-busting father and the majority of my peers in the old Bronx neighborhood I called home, who rooted for those damn Yankees, considered Met fans—and particularly “Mr. Met”—persona non grata. There was no two-timing permitted on this playing field—no mealy-mouthed bipartisan stuff. It was one or the other. You're either with us or against us. Against then. At the tender age of nine or ten, I became a full-fledged Yankee hater. I had no choice. Perhaps there’s a lesson here, I don’t know. I’ll leave that sort of thing to the New Age folks. But I can honestly say that for me: Hatred, it's is the only thing that lasts—at least so far as the Yankees are concerned. Ah, yes, made to hate on the streets of the Bronx a long time ago.

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