It’s just past dinnertime on January 13, 2012, and I’m sitting on a set of pull-out bleachers in a local church gymnasium in Staten Island, NY, watching my 13-year old sister play basketball. On one side of me sits my other sister. On the other side, my best friend. My parents are scattered around the gym, talking to other parents and doing the scorebook. I’m moving across the country tomorrow, and this is the last time I’ll see these people for months. When I woke up that morning, I really thought that was why I’d remember January 13, 2012.
Then the Yankees traded for Michael Pineda. Then they signed Hiroki Kuroda. In fifteen minutes my quiet, final night home transformed into a maelstrom of calls, tweets and text messages from Evil Empire fans both celebrating and crucifying the deals. It was my night. And then suddenly it was theirs. My final hours in New York would prove to be a microcosm of the twenty years I spent in the city rooting for the wrong team.
After spending most of my life in the Concrete Jungle, I like to think I know how Yankee fans operate. Because they’re different, they really are. First of all, they’re spoiled. Secondly, they’re relentless (even if you don’t read another word of this column, click that link). And finally, they take their team’s win-above-all-else mentality to greater extremes than the Captain or Boss ever did. They need to win everything. I get the concept of rivals; you like to beat your rivals. And they do. On the field, it’s Boston, Boston, Boston. And that’s fine. But with everything else, it’s the Mets. People outside of New York don’t realize the pounding Met fans take from Yankee fans, or the embarrassment that results from sharing a city with them. Yankee fans are O’Doyles , the bullies who always need someone to assert their dominance over. That’s why when winter rolls around, and there’s no Roll Calls to be read or Red Sox fans to sexually harass, they turn their attention towards us Amazins’.
Yankee fans always win, and they never let us forget it. They’ve won more World Series then we have players on our roster. They won the last time we even got close. They win in finances, free agency, tradition and swagger. And that night, with the Mets toiling in an offseason where they shrunk their payroll by $52 million and lost their best player, the Yankees got Michael Pineda, the 22-year old fireballer, thereby winning the winter.
Everyone was pretty happy about the Kuroda signing. After Scott Boras had asked for an AJ Burnett-sized deal for Edwin Jackson earlier in the offseason, getting a guy who out-pitched Jackson in 2011 for four years and about $75 million less seemed like something pretty tough to argue with, even in New York.
But the Pineda reactions were mixed. To get the big righty from Seattle, Yankees GM Brian Cashman had to part ways with farm-system poster boy Jesus Montero, a power-hitting catcher widely regarded as the Bombers’ top prospect. After mashing in the minors for five years, Montero hit .328 in 18 games with the big club last September, showing such an impressive combination of power and plate discipline that by the time of the trade he’d won his way into the projected lineup as the starting DH and sparked same-breath comparisons to the likes of Manny Ramirez and Mike Piazza. Jorge Posada was about to retire. Derek Jeter wouldn’t hit .297 forever. The idea that Alex Rodriguez’s will live up to the remaining $143 million on his contract is a bigger punch line than his eating habits . Yankees fans knew one day these guys would be gone, and when they were, it would Montero who would usher in a new era of Yankee greatness. But not anymore.
The resistance against the deal was moderate (About one-third of the reactions I received expressed some doubt) and rational (“We’ll never hear John Sterling say ‘Jesus is loose!’ ever again”) but in the end was deafened by a cackling chorus of pinstripe victory.
“PINEDAAAAAAAA!!!” read a text from my cousin, who I barely heard from last October. He sent another two minutes later: “What’s better – CC, Pineda, Kurodi (his spelling), and Nova or PELFREY AND DICKEY HAHAHAHAHA”
“Now we have the best lineup AND staff in the league!” read another message, this one from an old friend.
Even my former boss chimed in, who during our time as co-workers took every chance he got to harness his inner Vince Vaughn and insist that the Yankee organization was, above all else, “class, class, class.”
When I started writing this post, I had meant for it to be a piece about what Pineda would be going through now that he is having shoulder surgery and is out for the season. His labrum is torn, just as mine was twice last year, so I have a pretty good idea of what life’s going to be like for Pineda for the next six months. I figured I’d write about that. But now its almost 3 a.m., and somehow, my informative and slightly remorseful column has turned into an 1,000-word barrage on my former neighbors, friends and loved ones, the Yankee fans that have surrounded me my entire life. For this I’m only fractionally apologetic. To the readers, I’m sorry for abandoning all journalistic etiquette and for leaving with you a piece more fit for the outskirts of Citi Field. I’m sorry for losing my cool, which I pride myself on only rarely doing. But I’m not sorry to all you who inspired this piece, the pinstripers who grew up in a tradition so chocked full of winning that it would make Charlie Sheen jealous, and who never let me forget it. That includes you, Mani. Just know that this rant was twenty years in the making. I guess I’ll write that shoulder surgery story tomorrow.
Oh, and that text from my former boss?
“Now we have the pitching too! Nobody F#$%! WITH THE YANKEES BABY!!”