Monday, April 27, 2009

The Right One In

In 90 feet, Jacoby Ellsbury made the entire week of baseball a footnote. A week that found Pujols hitting so well that superlatives have become as effective as a broken condom when trying to describe him. LaRussa looks worn out just trying to compare him to great hitters, it's like being in the company of such Greatness is exhausting. We're still early enough in the season where things like the Blue Jays and the Mariners at the top of their divisions aren't worth noting or focusing on, where the Natinals' abysmalness isn't yet historical. Besides, all evidence tells us that the Marlins will win it all this year, anyway.

Back to Ellsbury: It's not the first time someone has stolen home, hell, Pettitte had the same thing happen to him two years ago in Toronto. But this felt bigger. This feels important, in the way that the indefinable and subtle shifts of momentum and capital-D Dynasties are known to have occured. Because we know the Yankees will probably lose the division and maybe miss the playoffs again and they don't have a cohesive team and Teixeira looks vaguely inbred and so on and so forth. This three game set in Boston showed us how truly bad they are compared to a high standard. The Indians humiliated them in their new house, but the Sox took the floor right out from under them; those brooms waving in Fenway portend something awful if you're a Yanks fan. And when the player taking that floor away is Jacoby Ellsbury... let me just say that this is the type of play that in 15 years could lead off the Ellsbury appreciation clip packages on ESPN after a long and storied career.

What I have been thinking about watching the Yanks-Sox series is the nature of fandom. In the WBC, Pedroia and Jeter spent time together and exchanged through the media the sort of "He's a good guy!" inanities you'd expect. Now this isn't noteworthy in any major sports; basketball's All Star weekend ends up a circle jerk of love amongst the games' elite. In any walk of life, the two dozen or so greatest talents in any field are probably so alike in so many ways that when the veneer of competition is off they got along swimmingly. Of course, various grumblings were heard in Yankee and Red Sox fanbases, the usual "They should HATE EACH OTHER!" complaints. So what I wonder is: from the players' perspective, what does that Rivalry mean? As fans, we get to pick our side and affix the versions of Love and Hate we use for sports to our respective team and really invest ourselves in the outcome. It's very easy. But if you're a millionaire athlete; if you're Damon, if you're Lowell, what makes these games special? This isn't basketball, where a Wade can trascend teams and impose his dominance, there is a reliance in baseball on ones' teammates that only soccer comes closest to paralleling. (Football and Hockey both technically qualify, but the former has half the team sitting for half the game and the latter is more a niche sport than anything) And the only thing I can come up with is the pressure. The type of "playoff atmosphere" stuff you always hear about when the crowds are really into it, pushing their team to win.

Basically, it seems to me that the reason that rivalries like this are so intense, so hard fought and so enduring is that the fans will that into existence. Players can find enemies on the field, and undoubtedly some squads will come to dislike others over the course of seasons, but that's the flip side to a passing fancy, lost quickly and certainly not sustained over generations. It doesn't matter, really, what the players think of one another. It matters that the fans demand the other team's blood.

1 comment:

The Backwards K said...

My favorite part about that clip is just the complete and utter lack of excitement in Joe Morgan's voice. The crowd gets a curtain call for a stolen base, and Morgan sounds like he's admonishing his kid for spilling cheese on the floor.