My love of New England sports is, if anything, hereditary—I wouldn’t give half of a damn about the Sox, the B’s or the Pats if it weren’t for a storied family history of devotion to the home teams. The coarse Boston accents commentating on games on WEEI have long been the soundtrack to my summer, and there’s something about the Bruins goal horn or the post-game “victory song” at Fenway that brings joy to my bleak Bostonian heart.
Coupled with this love is an unnatural hatred for New York sports teams, particularly the demons in pinstripes known as the Yankees. As a childhood friend puts it, “My mom taught me the only thing I could ‘hate’ was the Yankees.” My own dad taught me well: we’d purposefully cover up Yankees paraphernalia with Red Sox T-shirts while shopping at Sports Authority, and we’d celebrate a New York loss just as wholeheartedly as a Boston win.
From the hatred of the team stemmed a whole host of preconceived notions about New York and its people. My visits to the Big Apple always left me yearning to return to Massachusetts—it was too big, too loud, too tough for me. And the supporters of the Yankees always struck me as braggarts, arrogantly waving their 27 championships around. To this day, I’ve sworn off dating Yankees fans. It just…ugh, it would never work out. Think about the children.
Anyway, I’ve been dying to see the Sox and the Yanks go head-to-head since I was old enough to say “Yankees suck”. A trip to Fenway is a vaguely spiritual experience in itself—the Green Monster our wailing wall, the bleachers ordering reverence like the halls of a church. For years I could only imagine the sheer energy igniting the century-old ballpark when its greatest rivals were in attendance.
In April, I managed to score standing-room tickets for the Yankees’ last appearance of the season in Boston. At the time—being somewhat oblivious to the goings-on of the sporting universe—I wasn’t aware of this game’s importance. Not only was this a Red Sox vs. Yankees game. Not only was it the last game of the season. It was the last game for Derek Jeter, New York’s team captain and a modern baseball legend.
Now, I won’t pretend like I know much about Jeter (beyond his cameo appearance in The Other Guys), but even a sports illiterate like myself knew that this season was a Big Deal for baseball. All year long we’ve seen the tribute videos, the TV commercials, the “RE2PECT” slogan. On Thursday night, as Jeter closed out his tenure in the Bronx with a walkoff and a W for the Yankees, social media was flooded with posts honoring #2 after 20 seasons.
And then there was yesterday. The atmosphere at Fenway Park was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Both Sox fans and Yankees fans shed their animosity for a day to honor a worthy competitor’s lifetime of achievement. Legends of the Boston athletic franchises arrived on the field to congratulate Jeter as only true sportsmen can. In the third inning, Bostonians and New Yorkers alike stood to applaud Jeter in his final appearance at home plate.
I don’t know anything about Derek Jeter. I can’t tell you his stats or his history as a player without consulting Wikipedia. But I do know there is something about watching a legend unfold that makes you feel like a part of something greater, like you’ve been born into a tradition, like one day you’ll pass on stories like they were passed on to you. At the end of the day, it’s not about numbers or scores or the team name you wear—it’s about the legacy you leave behind. You can hate the team, but you have to respect (or RE2PECT) the man for the way he played the game and, moreover, the content of his character.
And the truth is, in spite of a rivalry to rival them all, that Boston and New York aren’t too different. We’re a pair of cities who have seen history and adversity, and we’re all a little tougher for it. We protect our own. There’s a bit of a loudmouth braggart in all of us, brimming with pride in our hometown and everything that represents it. I’ll hate the Yanks till my dying day, but I’ll always remember that sunny September Sunday when I watched Jeter step off the field for the last time, when we all rose to our feet to applaud.