I'm a Yankees fan living in Phillies territory. Let me explain why. I think real baseball fans will understand.
I grew up in a baseball-crazed family in North Jersey. My mother and her parents, who lived with us, were the biggest fans. I still remember sitting on my grandfather's lap in our living room, watching games on WPIX-TV (Channel 11), on a 15-inch screen. I remember sitting with my parents and grandparents in the downstairs den in 1977, where the big TV was, when the Yankees played the Dodgers in the World Series, my first. I said I liked the Dodgers' blue uniforms. It was as if I'd said something pro-genocide. They all turned on me angrily. I was 7 years old. I never strayed again.
Baseball was part of our family history. My grandfather told me how he'd been part of the crew that built the original Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. I believed him for years until I checked the dates and figured out he was a toddler at the time. My mother was a Mickey Mantle fan and relished descriptions of his play. Decades later, my father gave her a Mickey Mantle card for Christmas. It's a family heirloom now, not because of its value, but because she died last summer and won't have a chance to enjoy the baseball seasons to come.
Baseball was a bond for all of us. We talked about the game over dinner, in the car, at family gatherings. When my sister and I played house, our "husbands" were Yankees players. Mine was Bucky Dent. (Because I'm the oldest and I picked the best-looking guy for myself. Didn't matter that he wasn't a very good player.) My sister's husband was Thurman Munson, much-beloved Yankees captain and a great catcher, but not up to Bucky's level in the looks department. Plus, his name sounded funny to me. In 1979, when I heard that Munson had been killed, I knew I had to tell my sister. I led her into our backyard, took a deep breath, and used a softer voice when I said, "Thurman's dead. He died in a plane crash."
She immediately started to cry, so loudly that my mother came running outside, shouting at me, "What did you do to her?!" I was puzzled by Mom's anger. "I just told her her husband died." Mom seemed stunned, but then she nodded and went back inside the house.
We weren't - and still aren't - stats people. We always knew batting averages and pitching records during the season, who was in a slump and who was on a streak, but we didn't spend a lot of time on numbers. It was just passion. My grandmother had us convinced she was dating Billy Martin. (We had no problems with this, even though our grandfather would watch the games with us.) When a pitcher started to do poorly, Gram would say, "That's it. I'm calling Billy." Then she'd pick up the phone. And I swear every time she did that, the camera would cut to Martin in the dugout, making a call to the bullpen. We were enraptured by Gram's power.
A Yankee win meant good moods all around. A Yankee loss could be crushing. I recently found a card my mother sent to me during my freshman year of college. It begins, "Hi, Hon, Sorry I didn't call you back last night after the game, but I didn't want to make you disgusted, too. Here's the way it went: Yankees losing 8-1 coming to bat in the ninth. With one out, Don singles." It goes on from there, a play-by-play of an almost-Yankee win, ending the description with "strikeout! The inning made [your sister] and I nervous wrecks. [She] had her head buried in the pillow."
On Sept. 14, 2007, the night my husband planned to propose, I was suspicious of his motives during a dinner out, then forgot all about love and marriage when we got home and turned on the radio to find the Yankees were losing 7-2 to the much-hated Boston Red Sox. I was in such a dark fog that when he did propose, I was like, "Wait? What? What are you doing?" In the end, I said yes and the Yankees came back to win, 8-7. It was a sign.
This is why I'm a Yankees fan. Whether I live in Philadelphia or on the moon, my fandom won't change. You don't have to like it. I just ask that you respect it. Just as I respect my friend who grew up in Philadelphia and will die a Phillies fan. We've shared stories about our crazy baseball-obsessed families. She's told me about her aunt who shouted, "Love ya, honey!" at certain players. I told her how my grandmother would angrily yell, "Into the hands!" when a Yankee hit a pop-up. We both find ourselves repeating that behavior.
I don't particularly like her team. She doesn't particularly like mine. But we respect each other's fandom. We both love the game. That matters more.