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Day 34: How I Knew We’d Be OK

September 11, 2010

I woke up this morning knowing this would be a day of reflection.

I was a tour guide at Northeastern University when we started hearing reports of an incident over the lite music morning show playing on the radio.  I began to worry about my closest connections in Manhattan: the mother of a good high school friend who worked in the buildings, an uncle with the FDNY who was a first responder, the then-girlfriend who worked midtown at Fisher Price, and the countless other family members who lived throughout the five boroughs and Tri-State Area.  Local hearts sank at the news that two of the planes departed from Logan Airport.  Worried hesitation set in as I heard and felt a distant rumbling only to identify two F-16s in the sky as the patrolled the Eastern Seaboard at Mach 1 and beyond.  Admissions attempted to continue campus tours the next day (WHO VISITS COLLEGES THE DAY AFTER???), and I had to explain to the prospective enrollee that the live footage of the raid on Boston’s Westin Hotel was taking place just a five-minute walk down the street.

The nation was told that the best thing we could collectively do was to continue on with normal life as an act of defiance.  For an undergrad studying broadcasting, that meant doing our regular Friday sports talk show at the student radio station.  We tried to make the connections to keep topics relevant, but all we could do was reflect on our own experiences and speculate on what the future held.  Sports was  unofficially off-limits; it didn’t seem like it mattered anymore.

After flipping through the channels and realizing I missed the Arsenal game this morning, I browsed the cable guide and saw that the wonderful MLB Network was airing HBO’s 2004 documentary on the role baseball  played in helping the nation return to normalcy.  My wife, Melissa’s interest in sports is tangently connected to my background, but she took an interest in how it played out.  Even though she didn’t have the personal connections to the event that I did, the experience was impactful for her in its own way.  We had passed by the site on a visit to Manhattan, I wasn’t aware that she had shed quiet tears once faced with the expanse of the location.  She had been aware of the Yankees’ role, but was surprised to learn of the roles the Mets played.

The two teams shook hands at the center of the diamond before the game, and as symbolic as it was meant to be, I didn’t buy it.  I still hated the Braves.  Their fans didn’t deserve their success, they’d screwed the Mets over so many different ways over the decade, and worst of all was they were often just good enough to kick the Mets in the “lower midsection” only to fall on their faces when it mattered most.  It’s proably best that they’re here though…if we’re going to put sports back into the collective awareness of New Yorkers, it can’t be against a team like Florida or Milwaukee.  If you’re going to tell me that it’s normal to use sports to forget about the ills of the world then I can’t someone to cheer for.  I need to have a rival despise.

I always connected closely with the Mets because their local personality matched more closely with the New York I grew up in.  They weren’t anonymous millionaires from Parts Unknown wearing loclaly-labelled apparel.  They were guys like John Franco from Queens, son of a sanitation worker, honing his craft by pitching into a spray-painted box against a schoolyard wall and getting a scholarship to a local university.  Like Rey Ordonez, who risked persecution in his homeland of Cuba for the hope of a better life in the U.S. and saw his best opportunity in the Melting Pot.  Guys like Mike Piazza, who came up through the area, made a name for himself then came back to the area financially secure and ready to make an impact closer to home.  Piazza’s home run in the 8th to give the Mets that 3-2 lead wasn’t legendary because of its impact in the standings or any historical relevance.  It’s because it knocked the Braves down a peg.  That felt good.  That felt normal.

But not everything about New York baseball felt normal yet.

The documentary reached its penultimate moments as Melissa tried to juggle eating breakfast with handling our excited pit bull/boxer, Braddock.  She was able to relax in time for the recap of Game Six of that World Series, a 15-2 drubbing of the Yankees.  “I forget,” Melissa asked, “Who ended up winning that Series?”

The first Yankees/Red Sox game at Fenway since the event was amazingly tame.  The aura of solidarity still floated over the nation and it was nearly impossible to cheer for anything New York.  If the pennant race was closer, it may have been different.  Discord had returned to the Sox pretty quickly, Jason Varitek broke his elbow, Nomar was his surly self and Carl Everett was sent beyond repair when he was booed at home for breaking up Mike Mussina’s perfect game.  Red Sox fans set animosity aside for the moment and were very classy about it…but they didn’t like it.  I felt the same way.  I understood that it was important to help the people I grew up with move forward, but that genetic disposition to pull for any Yankee opponent, that part that endeared me to the city of Boston in the first place, remained intact.  I still didn’t want the Yankees to succeed, but the sentiment couldn’t be expressed aloud.

I watched Game Seven of the Series at my girlfriend’s dorm (she was in midtown Manhattan during the attack and had to walk back to her home in Queens once all bridge and train traffic was restricted).  Her roommate, Jenna, was a perky pixie of a Jewish girl from Long Island who was on board the Yankee bandwagon amid the wave of emotion.  The rollercoaster ride continued through the game, reaching its apex at Alfonso Soriano’s go-ahead home run.  The lead, of course, didn’t last.

The tension leading up to the final pitch to Luis Gonzales build exponentially from the moment the ball left Mariano Rivera’s hand through Gonzales’ contact and peaking once the ball sailed over Derek Jeter’s glove into centerfield to bring home the championship-winning run home for Arizona.  Our reactions were simultaneous and spontaneous:

“NO!!!!!!”

“YEAAAH!!!!!!”

Was that a slip?  That was pretty enthusastic for a faux-pas.  But I couldn’t keep it in; the manner of that loss was so brutal, almost to the level of the numerous epic letdowns suffered by Red Sox and Mets fans.  “What’s the matter with you?” scolded Jenna.  “How can this make you happy?!”

With a smile and a realization, I replied, “Because I hate the Yankees.”  I desperately needed confirmation that this was acceptable, so I ran to open the window.

My senses were overloaded with relief.  A quick blast of cool November New England breeze entered the dorm above the roasting radiator.  Intermittent celebratory car horns were complimented with the exhuberant collegiate Bostonian chant of “YANKEES SUCK!”  Native students flowed down the stairwells and stoops onto the sidewalks like fresh blood flowing through veins, branching back together on the way bach to the heart and lungs for fresh nutrients and rejuvenation.  The instant realization swept through the city like a shockwave.  It’s perfectly fine to hate the Yankees.

THAT felt normal.

We were back.

DR

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