East coast envy
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

Despite the Schwarzenslide the other night, I'm still a California kid through and through. I've taken shots at the east and extolled the virtues of the west coast swing many a time on Page 2. So, it's with some trepidation that I admit the following: I envy the east this week.

More precisely, I envy the people of Boston and New York (and all their displaced brothers and sisters) who've got a rooting interest in the ALCS. Instead of watching the series from afar, I wish I was all twisted up in every sweaty-palmed pitch. I wish I had a dog in the fight, I wish ...

Yankees-Red Sox fans
The real curse may be on divided couples.
1. ... the curse (even though I know it isn't really a curse but a history) was squeezing my rooting heart and pounding in my loyal brain this week. It's bad to be under a bad sign, no doubt, and it hurts to live through year upon year of frustration. But there's a kind of nobility in bearing up under pain inflicted by the gods. The fates have scorned Sox fans, they've mocked them, they've shown them the promised land and then withdrawn it. And the fans, knowing deep in their bones that contempt is better than indifference, have withstood the onslaught and rallied themselves to hope and pray again and again, to say "Thank you, sir, may I have another." It's heroic, is what it is. (Only Anaheim fans out west ever had an inkling of what it takes, and their case, short-lived by comparison, has been cured now anyway.)

2. ... I felt the Yankee confidence. Outside Yankee nation, it looks cocky and it's everything we hate. So smug they are, so spoiled. But what must it be like to know you have 26 World Series titles in your back pocket? What must it be like to know Ruth, Gehrig, and Mantle aren't abstractions or comic-book heroes, but the flesh-and-blood links in your team's chain from past to present? What must it be like to know, crazy as he is, that Steinbrenner's thirst for winning knows no bounds? It's got to feel good. It's got to give you a deep-breathed, deep-water sort of calm.

3. ... Fenway's musty odor and the Stadium's grime weren't tourist attractions to me but smells and touches I knew in my skin and my soul.

4. ... Pedro wasn't just the best pitcher in baseball but my guy, and that his wicked mechanics weren't just dazzling but moving, and that they weren't something to be admired but emulated, with throws at a fence out behind the house, mock wind-ups in line at the market, and follow-throughs in games of catch on the Commons grass.

5. ... Bucky Dent was a name I said in breathless tones, like parishioners whisper the names of saints and shamans sing the names of spirits.

6. ... I'd been through what it takes to forgive Buckner, Stanley and Schiraldi for their failings in October, '86. First comes the pain, right, and the pain is deep and searing, and you wander the streets like Lear out in the rain, rending garments and cursing the heavens. Then comes the living with it, the moving on, and you carry the hurt around like a lump of lard in your belly. It slows you, makes you feel queasy and dull. Finally, maybe years later, if your heart is true and your spirit willing, you find your way to forgiveness. You know they wanted what you wanted, you know they never meant to hurt you, and so you soften your hard heart to welcome them in and when you do it's a kind of release, a freedom that strengthens you and makes you ready, makes you hungry for the next shot at glory.

Yankees-Red Sox fans
One man's pain is another man's rejoicing.
7. ... I felt loathing the way Red Sox and Yankees fans do for each other. I'm a Dodgers fan, and I've got plenty of venom for the Giants, and the Yanks, too, but the Boston-New York thing is of another, more concentrated order. If the Yankees were playing the A's right now, the locals would bring plenty of noise, I'm sure. And if the Sox were going heads-up with Minnesota, Fenway would no doubt be rockin'. But when they go toe-to-toe, a deep, nasty traditional bile bubbles up for Yanks and Sox fans. Guys are shouting and shouting each other down with an angry edge. They're fandom isn't a diffuse thing, it isn't a random energy, it's a white-hot beam of light looking to burn a hole straight through the opposition.

8. ... the series and the rivalry were a part of my family history, a thing handed down from one generation to the next. The Dodgers go way back, but their line is severed and shifted, from Brooklyn to L.A. There's a kind of rootlessness about rooting for them. In Boston and NYC, the bloodlines run 100 years straight and true.

9. ... I had a legit claim to wear one of either team's jerseys around the house on game night.

And 10. ... while I'd like to be a part of any of the eastern baseball buzz this week, in the end, I most wish I were a member of Red Sox Nation right now. Part of it is that I was on the losing end of the Reggie Jackson Yankee blitz in the late '70s and I'm still bitter, and part of it is that New York is always an overdog and I always lean more toward the speed-of-lightning-roar-of-thunder thing. But mostly, it's just this: Some year, maybe even this year, it's going to break. They're going to win the championship series and then the World Series, and the rush of feeling that'll go along with that, the flood of it, that's gonna be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Maybe if you're on the inside, it's not like any of this. Maybe it's too organic to spell out, too old to untangle and enumerate.

Watching this series unfold (and with my California teams all dead and buried out west), I sure wish I knew what it was like.

Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.



Eric Neel Archive

Boston vs. New Y ork

The Sports Guy: To hell and back in six days

Sportoon: Peace in the AL East

Keown: Boston public

Farrey: Baseball's border wars

Neel: Worn out

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