SPORTS

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October 17, 2004

Living with the Evil Empire

There are always challenges at the beginning of a new year. Everyone's got a class that's a step above what they've done before, everyone's looking for a job to pay the bills, and everyone's met a first-year they'd like to see again. No one's very happy about it, either.

This fall, though, none of that is bothering me very much. I've got bigger problems. I'm adjusting to living with a Yankees fan.

Now, all true Red Sox Nation members have a pretty good idea of what it takes to follow the fortunes of those Damn Yankees. You have to be pompous, conceited, overpaid, corporate, a shameless frontrunner, and most of all, a detriment to the game of baseball. And for sure you'd better be from no more than ten miles outside of New York City.

My roommate qualifies on all seven counts.

He's the sort of fan who will occasionally, apropos of nothing, say things like "Hey, wouldn't it be great if the Red Sox lost Game 7 by a score of 6-5 again?" He gets very upset about the fact that Mike Mussina doesn't have a World Series ring—and always manages to work the word ‘yet' into that sentence. He has a special home run dance for Ruben Sierra and loudly chants "Bern, baby, Bern! Disco inferno!" every time Bernie Williams gets a hit.

Now, I'm a fanatic for my own team as well. It took weeks after Aaron [expletive] Boone's homer in last year's ALCS to stop seeing that ball travel over the wall time after time. I can say "Nomah" without irony and convincingly argue that Jason Varitek is the best catcher in the majors since Carlton Fisk. Quite naturally, I thought this was going to be a hellish postseason between my roommate and me.

Yet there's something strange going on in our apartment. Maybe it has to do with the fact that there's one TV, and neither of us will miss a game. Maybe it's just my concern that a homicide conviction would be a bit of a black mark on my resume, and there's only one other option if murder isn't it. Maybe it's just our fate to grow together.

Whatever the case, after a long night of bonding over Kevin Millar's unfortunate facial hair, Jorge Posada's enormous ears, and arguing over whether you deserve to win a game in which you blow an eight-run lead (you don't), I awoke yesterday to a horrifying feeling.

I may be developing (gulp) a tolerance for the Yankees.

It's hard for me to believe, but apparently it is possible for a Yankees fan to know something about baseball, and my roommate has been working hard to convince me that his team does actually have some value.

Be honest with yourselves for a second. If you consider yourself a fan, you have to have some admiration for the way that Mariano Rivera plays the game. When you absolutely, positively need to hold a lead, he just gets it done, every single time. It's really a beautiful thing to watch.

And is there really a player harder to root against than Derek Jeter? Red Sox fans have Varitek—we know what a smart, gritty player brings to the team. Jeter never gives up, and he always handles himself with dignity and class.

Nomar may be more talented, but Jeter nearly hit .300 this season after a horrific slump during the first two months. How many of your typically overpaid, ungrateful big leaguers would have come out of that situation with Jeter's professionalism?

Fortunately for my bruised Sox fan's ego, this crisis is going both ways. When David Ortiz launched a double to the wall in center in ALCS Game 1, driving in two runs and bringing the Sox within one, I caught my roommate muttering that "there's just no getting around that guy. He's too good. He's going to make things happen, no matter what you do."

Though he denies it, when Kevin Foulke got the last out against Anaheim in the second game of the ALDS, he let out a little cheer. It was only a quick one before he caught himself, but one of the most loyal Yankee fans I know actually celebrated "The Idiots" going up 2-0.

This all has me thinking—it's one thing to root for your team against a rival that's jerked you around for nine decades. But we can go too far, as this past baseball season showed us. One thing that the Frank Francisco incident showed us is that fans are taking their passion for the game to a dangerous level. Keep in mind it was only, with all due respect, Texas-Oakland.

It seems like everyone I know in Boston has a friend who's been jumped at Yankee Stadium for wearing a Sox hat, and I can personally attest to seeing anti-Yankee T-shirts on Landsdowne Street that I would not repeat to a young child. "Yankees Suck" is part of a proud tradition, but making light of the AIDS epidemic is far too much.

Fandom doesn't need to be this way. You can accept that 26 championships does prove the Yankees to be a proud franchise and still want to send the Yankees back to the Bronx as stone-faced losers. You're also not going to lose your status as an arrogant title-buyer just because you admit that there's no better story in baseball than that of the Sox.

There's no need for love between Bostonians and New Yorkers, but there's room for a little respect. We're all bound by the ties of the game. Maybe, with that as common ground, we really can all get along.

Yeah, right. Sox in seven.