I’ve never been this ready for baseball season. Maybe it’s two years of Denver Bronco mediocrity, the sting of the Yankees losing to Houston in the 2017 American League Championship Series, and the fact that I’ve been taking in quite a bit of PAC-12 college ball these days, but I’m way more amped up than usual about Opening Day. It’s comforting: as the world unravels and anxiety spikes we emerge anyway from the cold, looking forward to the warmer months of the year always knowing we’re going to be playing baseball. It might be the only constant in America I not just reliably depend on but welcome.
Having never lived in New York and never written a lot about baseball, I realize I have a bit of explaining to do. Or maybe I don’t. This is the inferiority complex I’ve developed as an all-too-common out-of-state fan. In Colorado, a typical baseball season ends sometime around June. After a brief period of optimism that runs itself dry around mid-May, the Rockies (usually) putter out and the town begins fantasizing about summer football workouts. Maintaining enthusiasm for baseball on the other side of the country in the face of such consistently disappointed fans ends up requiring a bit of biographical backstory.
When I was born in 1990 in California, it didn’t take long to get me to an Angel’s game. My dad, who grew up on the East Coast, loved baseball and he’d put me in his glove at “The Big A” where we watched those middling early-90s Yankees teams when they came to town. Somewhere, there exists a VHS tape of me at about 2 watching a tape of the Minnesota Twins winning the 91 World Series, which I watched on a loop that winter because even as a baby, I was irritated there was no baseball to watch. Several of my first sentences were attempts to start a discussion about Kirby Puckett and Chili Davis.
When you’re little, seeing your parents lose their shit has quite a novelty to it. Gene Michael comes in as General Manager, turns the Yankee franchise around, and by 1996 my house had gone stark-raving mad for Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte , Mariano Rivera, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neil, and Derek Jeter. At the same time, my mother, who grew up in Colorado, was attempting to match the Yankee fever with her elation for back-to-back Bronco Superbowl wins and the anointment of John Elway as Saint of All Quarterbacks. As a very young child, I was completely spoiled by watching longstanding familial sports allegiances rewarded with what seemed like championship contending teams year after year.
Now, while the Broncos weren’t anything to write home about for fifteen years, the Yankees stayed competitive. You could almost always count on them to make the post-season and maybe fuck around and win the World Series when I was growing up. As I got older and more rebellious, I still refused to drop my “Evil Empire” big-money team that made its players cut their hair and beards and wear suits in public. I hate the New England Patriots and I quit rooting for the Golden State Warriors after Don Nelson was replaced. An instinct to get behind the scrappy underdog or root for the downtrodden in every other aspect of my life is overruled when I think about how much I love the New York Yankees.
That isn’t to say I’m not critical. The Yankees really pioneered that theme park stadium concept that I hate in baseball and when my family took a trip to New York in 2008, it was so cost-prohibitive to go to a weekday home game that I’ve never quite gotten the sour, blue-blood taste out of my mouth. Gigantic contracts for older, asses-in-the-seats players like Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemons struck as cynical and drove me up the wall as a teenager and into my early 20s. The 90’s renaissance was so dependent on a strategy of a strong farm system; and idolizing Jeter through my formulative years meant my loyalties were with Yankees, not some guy from Seattle or Oakland we’ll nurse through steroid accusations and repeated trips to the disabled list. I never wanted some other team’s marquee players, I wanted New York to create its own.
So when present GM Brian Cashman executes his sell-off strategy during the All-Star Break in 2016, it felt a little like some of my prayers had been answered. Had he been getting my letters? My fantasy was to do it a few years earlier, to give new, younger players from the farm system some time with longest-serving Yankee captain Derek Jeter, but alas, the 2017 season gave me a whole new enthusiasm after not being quite as engaged since bitterly losing to the Tigers in the 2012 ALCS and watching the team struggle ever since.
The Baby Bombers squad was so young, goofy, and fun to watch. It felt like a rebuild team until basically the postseason, Judge’s numbers notwithstanding, which is why it was that much sweeter when they dispatched the Indians after going down two games in the ALDS. It was hard to keep expectations tempered and there was a sense that they weren’t supposed to make it as far as they did. For once, my beloved New York Yankees weren’t an oppressive dynasty or the antique veteran roadshow, they were the young underdogs! It felt like ’96 all over again.
This winter during the off-season I’ve spent a lot of time punching a gift horse in the teeth. I’m still a little unsure about Joe Girardi’s departure and the circumstances surrounding it, but I’m excited about Aaron Boone as the new manager. Maybe because I have a nostalgic romanticism about the game, I put a lot of stock into “clubhouse guys” and was upset to lose Starlin Castro and wonderful walking New Jersey stereotype Todd Frazier. Grabbing Giancarlo Stanton, who although by no means fits the over-the-hill profile of Yankee pick-ups from the mid-to-late-aughts, feels like a hearkening back to old “Evil Empire” buy-out-the-league strategy, especially since Jeter bought the goddamn Marlins in his retirement. Not to be overlooked, Golden Boy Aaron Judge was recently in trouble for attempting to solicit Manny Machado from Baltimore. One of the reasons I just outright don’t bother following basketball anymore is competitive league vitality has been ruined by superteams and ring chasing.
It’s not that I don’t care about winning or want the best shot at it, but when I think about how swelled with pride, like a little kid, that I was when I got to see them play against the Rangers last September in Texas, I liked that it felt like a ballclub rather than a Frankstein monster held together by money and corporate synergy. Perhaps I’m nostalgic for a different era of sports that I probably wasn’t even alive for, but I’ve got high hopes for the Yankees this year and if they reach them, it’s cheapened a little bit by fears of having to handwave “bought championship” arguments to bitter Rockies fans and that the longtime second baseman lives in Miami now. I liked being upstarts and I wanted to see that team develop more, not get used to rebuild momentum and fan enthusiasm to be perpetuated by an All-Star team of hired guns.
By no means do I believe my feelings and attachments to certain players and chemistry should dictate how a sports franchise should run. Teams change around every year. Full disclosure: I was perfectly willing to let Trevor goddamn Siemian start in 2018 until I saw no-neck Case Keenum as a child in an Elway jersey. Trevor was ours and I’ll bet most of my problems in life are because I’m bad at navigating sunken cost fallacies. I’m still so excited for Yankee baseball in 2018, there has just been a pit in my stomach that it won’t be as scrappy and experimental as it was last year. I’m going to miss Girardi, and I know many players will too. Cashman gets a TON of goodwill from me that won’t run out for quite a while barring any catastrophes.
You know a Yankee fan is spoiled when they’re complaining about possibly winning too much, right?