How Do You Choose?

It doesn’t matter if it’s the MLB Network, ESPN, ESPN 2, or hell, ESPN 8 (the Ocho).  There’s only one rivalry that matters, and that’s the Boston Red Sox vs the New York Yankees.  You say you don’t care, but you do.

As a fan of the game, it’s hard.  I’ve spent most of my life in Seattle.  Sure, I root, root, root for the home team, but the Mariners have been largely irrelevant for the entirety of their existence.  1995 was unbelievable, and 2001 was emotional, but it’s been nearly 15 years since “my team” has touched the postseason.  I sometimes wonder if that isn’t part of why I like traveling to other parks so much – Because the Mariners have been brutal.

Traveling to ballparks has been a big part of my life for close to 15 years.  I’ve been to over 70 ballparks across the US (and Canada), and loved every stop along the way.  The most common question I get?  “What’s your favorite ballpark?”  And without hesitation I answer:  Fenway Park

There is not a more intimate ballpark in baseball than Fenway Park.  Yes, the wood seats are horribly cramped (especially when you’re 6 feet tall), yes the sightlines in a number of seats are not great, but there is true magic in Fenway Park.  So easy pick, right?  Red Sox all the way…  Slow down.

There are few things in the US that rival New York City.  Walking through Manhattan after midnight, on really any night, is walking through a buzz of never-ending activity.  I’ve been to New York 3 times in the last 2 years (and a few times before,) including in October to watch the Mets in the World Series.  But World Series or not, the city still belongs to the New York Yankees.

So how do you choose?  When I started this whole crusade to travel the US watching baseball, New York and Boston were immediate targets.  It came down to history.  The first baseball player I met in person was Jimmy Piersall, the former Red Sox outfielder best known for having a mental breakdown on the field and being committed to an asylum, before returning to baseball to finish out a solid career.  Piersall ignited my interest in the Sox, and before long, I was reading books and watching old interviews about Ted Williams.  Ted Williams… and his rivalry with Joe DiMaggio.

Part of my love for Major League Baseball comes down to the history of the game.  I think that’s why I have so much fun traveling to the older parks, or in most cases, their replacements.  But there was something pure about Boston.  The oldest park in baseball, a storied past, and a flawed star in Ted Williams who was known more for his volatility than for his immense contribution to children.  An almost antithesis of Williams was Joe DiMaggio.  Recognized during a period as the “Greatest Living Ballplayer” (even if that was a tag that DiMaggio required at events,) DiMaggio was a fierce competitor on the field, but was largely cold, generic, or even aloof with the media.  He was also, by all accounts, incredibly selfish and greedy.

The more I read about DiMaggio and Williams specifically, the more I became entranced by the rivalry.  By the time I’d been able to visit Boston, I was fully entrenched in what the rivalry could be.   I loved the experience in Boston, I loved the park, and loved the fact that I had watched Pedro strike out a dozen on a sunny Saturday afternoon.  Calls of “Yankees Suck” filled the concourses on the way out… even though they’d just beaten the Twins.  My favorite souvenirs of the trip were three large photos I had framed.  One of Ted Williams, one of Joe DiMaggio, and one of Ted, Joe, and Joe’s brother Dominic.  Not only a rivalry for the ages, but one that crossed family lines?!  It couldn’t get any better than that.

That cemented my rooting interest (for the time) for the Boston Red Sox.  By the time they’d closed the books on their 2004 World Series Championship, I think I was more of a Boston fan than my “own” team, the Seattle Mariners.  And then the tide began to turn.

Something happened in 2005 and 2006.  The bandwagon hit.  Sure, you could consider me part of that bandwagon too, but I think there are a few key differences.  There’s very much a pre-2004 fandom, and post-2004 fandom.  Mine fell in the Pre.  It was weird to see such a big shift in sports fandom.  The Red Sox had always drawn at Safeco Field (where I made a point to see the Red Sox and Yankees ever year, and still do for the most part, unless I’m in Boston or New York that year,) but in 2005 it was packed.  The Red Sox caps outnumbered Mariners hats at every game, which is easy to understand since the Mariners were awful.  But there was something else that outnumbered Mariners fans too.  Assholes.

I know, that’s a pretty broad brush there.  I get it.  But let’s be honest, there are a bunch of asshole fans out there, and for some reason, the bandwagon fans are the worst about it.  Re: The Dallas Cowboy fans during their heyday, or Chicago Bulls fans when Jordan (was getting rejected by Shawn Kemp in the finals – Suck it NBA) was winning championships.  It’s brutal.  We’re seeing some of that with Cubs fans now, but they’re still trapped in the “Hey we’re losing, isn’t this great?  What’s the score?” phase, but it will happen to them someday too.  So as 2005 and 2006 hit, more assholes came to the park, and my interest in the Boston Red Sox waned.

“Start spreading the newwwwwsss.”  Have you ever sat in Yankee Stadium and heard that played after Mariano Rivera closes out a ballgame?  I have.  It’s magic.  I’ve been a Derek Jeter fan since he made his mark in the late 90’s until the end of his career.  Remember how I mentioned seeing the Yankees every year at Safeco?  It was to see Jeter.  I knew that if I stood along the 3rd baseline, I’d be able to watch him warm-up up close.  He did it every game.  It was the same way that I knew if I followed the first baseline at Yankee Stadium, I’d see it there too, but the difference was he’d be wearing pinstripes.

Love him or hate him, and many people hate him, Derek Jeter was the closest thing I would ever see to Joe DiMaggio in a Yankees uniform.   There wasn’t a player that would say less during an interview than Jeter.  He avoided controversy at every turn (even while enjoying a bevy of women, which the NY media avoided talking about, the same way they did with DiMaggio), and he treated losing the same way too.  So while the Red Sox were enjoying a new found fame and glory with an ever-expanding fanbase, the New York Yankees became Public Enemy #1, and once A-Rod joined the team, you had a show that couldn’t have been scripted any better.  Is it any wonder it was ratings gold?

Yankee Stadium was different.  The Old Yankee Stadium was a dump, worsened by years of neglect.  But through the peeling paint and cracked seats, nestled in the outfield, was Monument Park.  It was the closest I could get to former Yankees outside of the Hall of Fame.  There was DiMaggio, and Mantle, and Ruth, and…  And you wonder how allegiances can shift when you aren’t directly part of a fanbase.  New Yankee Stadium is cold, empty, and impersonal… But it’s still New York.

So how do you choose?  I thought about that again last year, when I was sitting in the front row on the Green Monster, watching the New York Yankees play the Boston Red Sox.  I was wearing a Red Sox hat.  At the end of the day, there is no place like Fenway.  But then it was October, and I was in New York to watch the World Series.  I wasn’t there to watch the Yankees, I was there to watch the Mets, but as I was sitting there on the Subway I’d look left, and I’d look right, and there were Yankees caps.  And I could swear I could hear, even faintly… “Start spreading the newwwwss…”

How do you choose?

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