In my neighborhood there is a man who won't talk to me anymore. Our children used to play together and our wives were friends. Yet, one day, about four years ago, he decided he didn't need to speak to me again. My crime? I'm a Yankees fan and he's a Mets fan. I am not exaggerating any of this. It didn't help matters that he's a Democrat and I'm a Republican. To him, those attributes were damning enough and were fuel for rivalry; yet our most heated (and ultimately one sided) debates were focused on baseball.
I'm one of those people who is a baseball fan first, and a Yankee fan second. My former "friend" considers him a Mets fan first and last. It didn't matter to him that my father is a Mets fan; many of the folks I work with and socialize with are Mets fans. No, to him I was an enemy agent, a person who should be treated with contempt every time the Yankees made one of their questionable and costly free agent signings. In his mind, I was just as guilty as George Steinbrenner for "ruining the game" as he put often put it. How could I sleep at night being a fan of such greed and largess?
When it comes to baseball (or for any topic for that matter) I prefer objective and calm discourse. Reasonable folks can disagree on just about anything and still behave themselves. At my place of employment, we are staffed with individuals who can rant about the failings of their favorite team, and then boast of their accomplishments without having to insult fans of rival teams. A bit of friendly ribbing here and there is accepted as part of the fun of rivalry; but, no one goes too far. The discussions aren't loud, insults aren't exchanged, and ultimately, there is an acceptance of the other person's point of view, no matter how much it hurts. Does this make us unique? No, I don't think so. I've met married couples where the wife is a Yankee fan and the husband a Mets fan, and vice-versa. What sticks in my craw, and what becomes emblematic of team rivalries is ugly fan behavior. The "former friend" in the opening paragraph of this piece reflects such bad attitudes to the extreme.
My allegiance to the Yankees is my prerogative. It says nothing about my political or social beliefs. George Steinbrenner does not pay me to go to Yankee games, buy their paraphernalia, or watch the YES network. I choose to root for the Bronx Bombers because my affection for the Yankees comes from an appreciation for their organization's dedication to winning, warts and all. With that said, I shouldn't be punished for it by deranged fans of other ball clubs. Nor should any Yankee fan do the same to other fans as well. The way sports are headed these days, with bad fan behavior at sports venues around the country becoming more prevalent, we're not too far removed from European soccer. In a few years, everyone will be bringing helmets to the game even though they are not on the team.
My disgust reaches its peak when rude fan behavior is carried away from the stadium and reaches its way into employment and social settings. Too many times I've found myself cornered at a party having to fend off guys with scant knowledge of the game spouting off about how the "Yankees are trying to buy the World Series." It's boring already. Just as many times I've witnessed Yankee fans gloating in the faces of glum Red Sox and Mets fans without so much as having been to Yankee stadium, or being able to name even two pitchers in the Yankees starting rotation. This makes me cringe.
I've written in the past of the importance of baseball, and sports in general, to society for a whole host of reasons, up to and including bringing us away from the turmoil in our lives and escaping into a world where on any day, any team can beat any team. Trouble, I've observed, comes when fans take their devotion for their team so seriously, they see the success or failure of their favorite sports franchise as a direct reflection on them. It’s as if their favorite team loses, they must be a loser too.
My former friend stopped socializing with me around the same time the Mets weren't doing so well. I saw him a few times this past October when the Yankees were ejected from the playoffs by the Tigers and the Mets moved on to the NLCS. He still wouldn't talk to me, but I know that deep down he wanted to slam on the brakes in front of my house and yell "Yankees suck!" at the tops of his lungs. Such is his own undoing.
In the words of an infamous criminal and victim of police brutality: "Can't we all just get along?"