Before I start this column, it’s important to note that I’m a born and bred Red Sox fan.
I’ve been to Fenway Park more times than I can count. I can name every player on the 2004 World Series champions, as well as the five teams that proceeded them and the five that followed. I know that Clay Buchholz dated a Penthouse Pet of the Year (and you better believe I’m proud of him like a father for it). Hell, at this point I’ve basically put the Sausage King’s kids through college (every Sox fan knows exactly who I’m talking about).
I spent my youth rooting for guys like Brian Daubach, Heathcliff Slocumb and Shea Hillebrand just as much as Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. And I still remember where I was and who I was with when Martinez pitched the game of his life in the 1999 Division series against Cleveland, as well as the Aaron Boone game of 2003 and the two Red Sox championships in the four years that followed.
Yet, after all that, here I am, at 12:05 a.m. on Thursday morning, November 5, 2009, watching the New York Yankees- the evil empire of baseball- celebrate their 27th World Championship. And as I’m watching them jump on top of each other like a group of Little Leaguer’s with too much sugar in their systems, a strange thought came to me. I’m actually enjoying it. A little. I think.
Crazy I know, and embarrassing on some fronts. But I just don’t hate this Yankees team. At least not as much as the previous versions. They just seem different.
Sure they’re a group of high-priced All-Stars. But they’re a group of high-priced All-Stars that seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company, and more importantly enjoy playing baseball. There are no surly old guys like Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens killing clubhouse chemistry, and taking for granted a game that’s been great to them. Or overpriced underperformers like Jason Giambi, using cheesy gimmicks like gold thongs and porn mustaches to mask the fact that every ounce of their God given, and chemically enhanced skills left them years ago.
Instead, in their place are guys that were actually…gulp…likeable.
There was Mark Teixeira, the first baseman that none of us really knew much about, who’d played just one postseason series his entire career. From the beginning Teixeira was the anti-Giambi, switch-hitting and clean fielding, a guy who seemed more like a rookie trying to prove himself to his new teammates than someone who signed a $160 million contract six months ago. Teixeira’s act has never been contrived, he’s just a clean living, boring guy, whose only genuine interests are coming to the ballpark, playing baseball and going home to his wife. I even joked at one point this year that I saw him driving to the ballpark in a station wagon, something that if you watch the guy every day, doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
Then there’s C.C. Sabathia. Regardless of what uniform he wears, admit it Sabathia is everything we love about sports (admit it!). He takes the ball every fifth day (if not sooner), whether he’s feeling great or not and always gives his team a great effort. Off the field, he smiles more than Will Ferrell in Elf, and just seems like a fun guy to be around.
Maybe my favorite Sabathia moment from 2009 didn’t come from any game he pitched this season, or even the time that he set a Yankees team record by eating 11 ½ burritos in one sitting (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
Nope, my favorite Sabathia moment came during the Yankees biggest regular season game of the 2009 season, their 15 inning, 2-0 win against my Red Sox on August 7.
Sabathia was on the top step of the dugout for every one of the 89 outs recorded that night, cheering for his teammates like a kid who got to sit on the bench of his older brothers Little League team. What most of you don’t know is that Sabathia was actually instructed, and encouraged to go home before the end of that game, and rest up for his start the following afternoon. Instead he stayed until the end, and was the first one to greet Alex Rodriguez at home plate when A-Rod hit the game winning home run that night.
When I heard Sabathia being interviewed the following Monday on the Michael Kay Radio Show, he didn’t want to discuss his win on Saturday, so much as to talk about how cool it was for his team to get the win Friday night in extra innings. Like Teixeira none of it was contrived. That interview also doubled as the exact moment when I knew the rest of baseball was in trouble. Not only were the Yankees good, but they were pulling for each other too.
Beyond Sabathia and Teixeira, there were other stories. The guys I grew up loathing just didn’t seem as hate-able any more. I can admit it: Derek Jeter is a great shortstop, a great teammate and the ultimate winner in sports (And did I mention that smile? Oh…My…God!!! And yes I’m kidding). Mariano Rivera is one of the most freakishly consistent players in Major League history, at a position where players come and go faster than fashion trends. And Nick Swisher and A.J. Burnett (neither of which I’m particularly fond of), added a relaxed comedic element to this team. I’m still not sure exactly what Swisher does, but whatever it is, my Red Sox sure could use some of it.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Rodriguez. Did he really change? Honestly, I don’t know. But between February’s steroid controversy and his spring training hip surgery, I think for the first time in his life he looked in the mirror and realized that even he wasn’t invincible. For the first time ever this year, A-Rod’s sole concern was just to be the greatest baseball player in the world, rather than an international superstar. He’s already won two MVP’s in New York, but this was his most important performance in pinstripes.
So what does this all mean? I don’t know.
I’m still going to stress over my own team more than I should (Was David Ortiz’s April and May a fluke last year or the beginning stages of dementia? How in the world did we get to a point where Paul Byrd was pitching meaningful games for us in September?), and count down the days to spring training. Come April you better believe I’m going to be screaming at my TV for every out, and every fastball that’s a little too tight on Youk and Pedroia. I’m still going to hope the Red Sox go 162-0 in 2010, and the Yankees 0-162, although something tells me that’s unlikely to happen. To all my friends and family who are Red Sox fans, I promise you I haven’t gone over to the dark side.
But for now, the New York Yankees are the 2009 World Series champs, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
And for once, I’m ok with that.