Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Why I Bleed Bronx Blue

I grew up in upstate New York, around 3 hours north of the city. When I was young I was infinitely more active than I am now. Our activity of choice wasn't TV, radio, video games or books. Certainly we watched TV on Saturday mornings and in the evening. We loved music and listened to it often (PYX 106 was the best radio station of all time!). We played video games, handheld and console. Most kids had an Atari 3600 or 2600 and a few even had Colecovision. We also were encouraged to do a fair share of reading both at the library and with the 5 books we were allowed to bring home with us. However, what we really loved doing more than anything was play sports. Year round. It didn't really matter what we played, as long as we were active. But, a few rose to the top. Here was the schedule:

Winter: Football, snowball fights, and sledding
Spring: Baseball
Summer: Baseball, bicycling, and tennis
Fall: Baseball and football

That's what we did every single day after school, all day on the weekends, and throughout the summer. From our age group there was myself, my brother, our next door neighbors (Miki and Sonny Singh), our other next door neighbor (Doug Williams), the family from down the street (John and Scott Stevens) and two other kids who we didn't really like but let them play with us anyway (The Bendalls). On top of that, there were around 8 other kids that would come and go as they pleased (or as their parents let them). In our neck of the woods, there were only two teams to root for: The Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees. If you think about it, it makes sense. Our town was equidistant between Boston and New York City. Pennant races galore. Trash talk. Rivalries. It was all laid out for us to choose. And, choose we did. Here's how it happened for me...

There was a neighbor who had a large piece of land and his son, who was older than us, decided to build a baseball field on it. Well, it wasn't a huge piece of land, but big enough. In order to make it harder to hit a home run, he decided to make a very large wall in left field. Well, since he and all his friends were Red Sox fans, he named it, appropriately enough, the Green Monster. Not very clever, but still very cool. The problem was this: He was a bully. And most of his older neighborhood friends were as well. When we had snowball fights, they would capture us and make us stand against a wall so they could whip icy snowballs at us like a firing squad. They used to knock us silly when were playing tackle football. They used to throw chin music. They belittled us and made fun of us. All of which is fine. I mean, that's part of the initiation of growing up, right? The older kids do that to the younger ones and it toughens you up for the rest of your life. That's why, to this day, I don't back down from fights. That's why I have such a quick temper. That's why I always have something smart to say when someone insults me. It's because they made me grow up and defend myself.

A side effect of all this, however, was team allegience. Do you choose to root for the same team as them or do you choose the one that they hate? Which will get you more friends? Which will get you made fun of? Well, we chose to put our allegience in the team that was the opposite of their favorite. After all, this was war. Since they loved the Sox, we chose the Yankees. When we played baseball against them, they always chose to be Sox players (Yaz, Fisk, Rice, and Lynn were the most popular) and we always chose to be Yankees players (Nettles, Gossage, Guidry, and Mickey Rivers were the most popular while no one wanted to be Reggie). Naturally, it extended beyond the field to baseball card collections. Those older kids were always eager to unload their Yankees cards to us if we would trade them Sox players in return, and vice versa. To this day, I still have those cards and there are a massive number of Yankees and almost zero Red Sox.

It's funny to sit back and figure out why you like the teams that you do. What I find remarkable is that when I was only 6 years old I chose to become a Yankee fan just because a couple of neighborhood douchebags were Sox fans. Just think, if they had liked the Yankees, I would be writing this weblog in red... Oh, the irony.

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