I’ve been living in New York long enough to begin to feel the desire pangs of sports bigamy kick in; my childhood baseball team is far away, never on television, and has been terrible (and I mean historically terrible) for a couple of years now. This year isn’t much different.
Naturally, when my eye started wandering, the first thing I saw was pinstripes. The New York Yankees are the New York Yankees. I didn’t grow up hating them like I was taught to hate the Mets for something that happened in 1986 (before I even started watching baseball). The Yankees have won 40 pennants, the Astros have won one. The Yankees have 27 World Series rings, the Astros got swept in their only World Series appearance. This season, one player on the Yankees–the ailing Alex Rodriguez–will be paid more than the entire Houston Astros team combined.
None of these are reasons to root for a team. But as Bernard Malamud wrote, “The whole history of baseball has the quality of mythology.”
If there is a spell or mythology for a fan to fall daintily victim to, the Yankees cast one of best. You go to Yankee Stadium–old or new–and you are immediately in thrall to the miracles of high expectations. Everything is hard work and excellence.
There is nothing easy about going to a Yankees game. You ride out on the packed 4 train with fans who are already singing and swaying from their pre-game happy hours. If you’re scalping a ticket as I did last night, you don’t amble up to someone for a casual chat and a business transaction like at Wrigley or Minute Maid. You go across the street to a plaza beside the McDonald’s under the elevated subway tracks and haggle with someone who chides you for not wanting to buy a better seat to a Wednesday night game against the last-place Astros (the Lastros, as we call them) that started an inning-and-a-half ago.
You enter the coliseum and pass by the $11 Coors Light, the kosher dogs, the Yankees kitsch. Even the careless indulgence of stadium food is leaden with reality. Did you know a large popcorn has 2,400 calories? These are things you find out at Yankee Stadium.
You also find out that even if you catch the injury-plagued Yankees on an off night, if the game’s still within reach, the quality of their mythology persists. Down by four runs early, a deficit that just grew incrementally like a boxer with a cut eye, the Astros surprisingly tied it up in one half-inning. But you knew it wouldn’t last. Soon enough, the Yankees scored the go-ahead run in the sixth and the bullpen slowly squeezed the life out of the Astros’ bats.
Down 5-4 in the 9th inning, the Astros hit lead-off single against the Yankees’ vaunted closer Mariano Rivera, who has (quite stunningly) recorded a save in each of his 18 seasons in the league. If there was hope–one one, no outs in the 9th–it lasted for less than a minute. With a loud crack, the next batter hit a sharp liner over second base that 95% of players wouldn’t have been able to catch. In that instant, I pictured the Astros with runners at the corners and no outs. I saw them tying the game and or even winning.
But then, like routine, Yankee star Robinson Cano leapt up and seized the ball out of the air, brought it back down to earth, and then walked over to tag out the other runner. Rivera struck out the last batter and the crowd sang Sinatra to celebrate. Goliath wins again.