Of all the people and things I’ve cheated on in the first 23 years of my life, cheating on the New York Mets might be the 16th most unforgivable, right before those two weeks I cheated on Sarah Mclachlan with Alanis or Obi-Wan Kenobi with Jean Luc Picard. The Mets just aren’t great baseball organization. Moreover, they don’t lose in an endearing or pitifiably satisfying way, like, say, the Bad News Bears or the Red Sox (pre 2004). The only surprising thing about how much the Mets lose is that fans somehow feel surprise when this team continues to lose. Which isn’t to say that they don’t deserve the loyalty of their fans. They do. It’s just that cheating on them is the equivalent of ordering a Whopper Jr. instead of Burger King’s chicken stars.
This summer, I cheated on the Mets. Which by itself isn’t a problem. Sports fans regularly pick up two or three teams to cheer for beside their main team. That’s normal. But I wasn’t jumping on the Baltimore Orioles bandwagon or Moneyball 2.0 in Oakland. I was cheating on the Mets with the evil empire. The Yankees. That doesn’t happen. I’m not proud of it. But it felt damn good.
My emotional affair began where plenty of affairs begin in the 21st century: Craigslist. The job posting was by a Marketing company. I would represent their client every home game for the New York Yankees. They asked for three requirements: experience working events, a pleasant personality, and that applicants be Yankees fans. I fit 1.5 of those requirements. The last one, however, could be faked. As a baseball fan, I wasn’t turning it down.
Here are the details. I’d work 30 or so games. 20 dollars an hour. $500 bonus if I worked all the games. Plus bonuses every game. Yo, I don’t care if I had to pretend to be a fan of the cricket, water polo, or curling. In this economy, I’d wear a pair of Speedos outside Grand Central Station every night with Ryan Lochte’s face on them. But no such swimwear was needed. I’d be behind home plate, watching the most historic franchise in the history of my favorite sport. That’s ballin.
But it became more than about the money. Being at Yankee stadium is a reminder of everything I’d forgotten I loved about baseball. Yankee Stadium doesn’t fall into the trap of many other new stadiums, where more attention is given to the quality of its culinary options than the game on the field. Citifield might boast a better selection of gluten free, multicultural, locally sourced cuisine. But that stadium is empty. Yankee stadium has 50,000 fans with a Bud Light and a footlong (and gluten free pizza). It might house the richest team in baseball, but the crowd still looks like the Bronx.
For two months, I got to see the greats. Ichiro giving curtain calls. A-Rod throwing a football to Tony Pena during pre-game workouts. Jeter blasting opposite field homers in batting practice just because he can. Walking underneath the stadium, passing Bobby Valentine or getting a nod from David Cone. It’s a cliche. But I’ll tell my kids about this experience.
I met all sorts of fans. Fans who’d been coming since their childhood. Fans who were visiting from Tokyo or Sweden. Fans who’d been Yankees fans their whole lives and were just visiting for the first time. It’s easy to judge Yankees fans based on the knuckleheads who call into sports radio shows or . Was Yankee stadium always full? No. Do fans rush in later innings to try to avoid traffic? Of course. But this is a fanbase expecting something good to happen. They expect it that way. That’s not a bad way to approach your favorite team. It’s not a bad way to approach life.
I walked around this city in my uniform, a blue polo with Yankees logo on the left-breast pocket. Never has my posture when so good. Never has the swag flowed from step to step. The Yankees don’t force swag. They don’t force mattering. They simply do. This attitude follows this entire organization, from staff to vendors to the fans. That’s what hit me the most.
Which left the question: Was I becoming a Yankees fan? If I did, would anyone ever take my fanship seriously? I’d never be a “true” fan. I’d never have credibility in a conversation. I’d never have the total satisfaction of watching my favorite teams succeed. But then I realized, I was approaching fanship the wrong way.
America can rationalize cheating on anything. Your diet. Your marriage. Your final exam. But your sports team? Heaven forbid. The loyalties formed before we were five dictate the next 70 years of our lives as sports fans, otherwise lose our credibility as being “real”. What nonsense. Being a fan isn’t a test of endurance. It’s a choice to honor talent, competition, and teamwork.
Enjoying watching great teams isn’t about jumping on a bandwagon, for being fan shouldn’t enhance or diminish one’s sense of their own value. Watching the best celebrates the sport. Baseball is a brilliant game. If I can witness its brilliance in the Bronx, I will. If I can see it in St. Louis, I will.
One day, the Mets might become the team I’ve always wanted them to be: where their level of sportsmanship matches their level of talent. Being a sports fan isn’t at experienced at its best when we follow a martyr’s mentality. There’s no honor in showing up to PNC Park and watching the Pittsburgh Pirates complete their 20th straight losing season. There’s nothing lovable about an organization that finds its own ineptitude endearing. Sports are at their best when they celebrate the game at its best. Don’t define your sportsfandome exclusively through the lens of one team. Watch the Yankees. Learn to love them.