A Fan[atic]'s Opinion
Issue   |   Tue, 04/16/2013 - 22:57

I have pet-peeves. I admit that most are a result of my cynicism, but I believe there are a few justifiable ones, too — beyond any disenchantment or negativity, that is.

A girl asked me a couple days ago whether I was excited that baseball had begun. “Oh, definitely — I’ve been playing since I could walk and I love the game,” I said. She nodded, “Nice.”

I expected — hoped for, even, despite my cynicism — a fantastic conversation to follow about the nuances of the game. Heck, maybe even a discussion about the politics of contracts in the MLB would ensue, or we’d even arrive at naming our professional baseball heroes. Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese were on the tip of my tongue.

Then the clouds rolled in: “So who’s your team?” she asked.

My team? My team? I wanted to ask her: who’s your team? Better yet: which do you own? Are you out there on the field with the players, fielding one ground ball after another or diving for line drives? Are you even close enough in the bleachers to have the audacity to say it’s your team?

I refrained from asking these, afraid of revealing my distaste for ostensible baseball “fans” — those who jeer from behind the left field wall, or even pound the mats adjacent to the first base line. Instead, the most I could muster was, “Well, they’re not ‘my’ team, but I’ve always been a Yankees fan. My family’s roots are in New York, so I grew up loving them. What team do you like?”

No offense to my peer, but her answer isn’t important. She framed a fact of greater significance. Nowadays, fans uphold the root word of their name: fanatic. Thinking one team is her own, the fan is obsessed without understanding the object of her infatuation — without being a true constituent. The fan jeers from beyond, a perspective so transparent a bit of lunacy almost necessarily emerges: the feeling of a connection with the team and players that really isn’t present.

Then I found myself in a bind: I, too, despite hating her question, am a fan of the Yankees. I follow them from “beyond,” if you will, and have developed enough of a relative obsession to hope to read some account of their recent play or dealings when I open the Sports Section each morning.

I griped for a week when I learned Curtis Granderson, their star outfielder, would be out until May with a broken arm; I called my Dad — from a pay phone in France, no less, having abandoned my seat at a café just to convey my disappointment — the moment the A-Rod’s connection surfaced with the anti-aging clinic in Miami; I tumbled into Spring depression when Teixiera, too, landed on the Disabled List with a hurt wrist.

Now you know I’m a fan; you can call me a fanatic if you like (you’ll certainly be inclined, should you continue to read). On, then, as a fan, to the state of the current state of the Yankees.

As my Dad said in a recent email: “They made their bed — they have to lie in it.”

I mulled over his sentence for a good week, and I considered it alongside the many recent articles in The New York Times about the Yankees. How, I wondered, had they made their bed?

Alex Rodriguez? Certainly one possibility — a hospital corner that can’t be untucked, even by the patient who kicks most. I was always told never to put all my eggs in one basket — I didn’t always listen, I learned that it was difficult to take even a a few eggs out and change a situation to which I had fully committed myself. By signing Rodriguez to a 10-year, multi-million dollar contract, the Yankees had to know they were restricting themselves.

And if they didn’t, they’re certainly feeling the consequences of the decision now: he’s not playing — though still making piles of money per year — and as a result Brian Cashman, the semi-disabled-himself General Manager, has had to scrounge up a rag-tag bunch of players to fill his spot (as well as those of the injured Teixiera and Granderson).

Yet because he committed so much money to keeping Rodriguez when the contract extension was signed six years ago, the Yankees are finding themselves under tremendous financial burdens. That is, while they attempt to do fill gaps in the field, they can’t actually find any player who’s cheap enough while also as potentially promising as their injured stars.

But they’re the Yankees, aren’t they?

Well, sort of. The Yankees of old are the let’s-get-anyone-we-can-at-any-price team, but the new Yankees are working to lower their salary cap in order to make a little money — a complicated system of sub-luxury tax refunds I won’t delve into here.

Though I own a Rodriguez jersey, I’m not willing to extend the problem too far beyond his contract. I won’t blame him, either, or his hip injuries, as ailments are a part of any sport. It’s for similar reasons that I’m leaving Granderson and Teixiera off the list of wrinkles in the bedsheets — injuries happen.

Sure, you could blame any inconsistencies in Rodriguez’s play over the years, but they won a World Series in a large part because of him (add steroids to the equation wherever you want — I still maintain that it’s the player’s mind and skill that enables him to hit a baseball; any number of muscle-juices won’t make him any more likely to actually make contact).

Yes, Derek Jeter is recovering from ankle surgery, but that doesn’t make the Yankees any worse (holistically — that is, beyond the sheer stats and wins). Blame the new players, if you want, or the old ones.

Either way, they made the Major Leagues — they’re good enough to be there, at the very least. It comes down to the root of my Dad’s sage comment: how they went about it — the bed-making itself — not the sheets, blankets, pillows or mattress. Maybe, if I may be so bold, it’s the bed-makers.

Any person who goes tumbling out of an airplane or belaying down buildings, like General Manager Brian Cashman, hopefully understands the risks that come with such activities. I’m not judging him for his decisions in his personal life: what you do on your own time is, well, all yours. I’ve done plenty of risky (rather, stupid) things in my life, and I do it with the hope that a big reward awaits.

I can only believe that was a part of Cashman’s philosophy — a bit of the motivation for aspiring to find the thrill that comes from skydiving in that which might arise from paying more than 200 million for baseball’s biggest name. High-risk bonds, after all, are typically high yield. But what he’s missing is that this isn’t always the case; everything, even baseball, has exceptions.

From a fan, then, to Bronx Bomber bed-makers: take pride in the beauty of baseball — that any prospect can rise to become a star. Don’t take from other teams as though they’re your farm league, but take from your own. Trust that money isn’t everything, even in modern baseball. Give the Ruth-like orphans of baseball, the wanderers of the minors, some chances to develop.

Next time you have a Russell Martin or even a rowdy Nick Swisher, don’t lose him because of a prestigious Alex Rodriguez — make him into one. Ruffle up the sheets a little; let your patients move around a little in their bed; maybe even loosen it enough to allow some new possibilities to enter and acclimate.