Tag Archives: Yankees

Clash of the titans

When it comes to sport, there’s no place for people who sit on the fence. I can understand people who don’t particularly like sport at all, but it’s the sports fans that can’t quite bring themselves to pick a team that are weirder to me. Yes, I know that in a ideal chocolate box utopia where the world is governed by cute little puppies, sport should be about the Olympic ideals and the dignity of sportsmanship. But this ain’t no utopia, and when it comes to sport, tribalism and the desire to win lead the way.

The thing is, I love a sporting rivalry; the above-and-beyond enmity and loathing that exists between two teams, sometimes than for a reason that was forgotten decades ago. The kind of competition between two fierce rivals that has fans of both teams thinking of little else for the week before they clash, and which causes the losers to slink off with their tails between their legs resolving not to read the sports pages for at least a month.

Britain does sporting rivalries particularly well. In cricket, there can be little more exciting than a clash between England and Australia, even if the only thing at stake is a tiny urn containing a bit of burnt wood. Infact, so strong is the rivalry that the avid English supporters known as the Barmy Army (or, as I prefer to call them, the ‘Public School Oiks With Too Much Time On Their Hands After Daddy Died And Left Them A Castle’) have landed themselves in deep water for attempting to put the Aussie captain Ricky Ponting off his game with booing and some polite inquiries into the exact nature of his parentage.

Then there’s England vs Scotland (or indeed England vs Wales) in the rugby – a rivalry more explained by England’s political domination of its two smaller mainland United Kingdom territories. After all, when it’s still effectively legal in my native Chester to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow after nidnight, it’s not hard to understand why the Welsh and Scottish might get a little hot under the collar about a sporting chance to redress the balance.

It’s football (or, as I have to insist on calling it in the US, football) where the fiercest rivalries exist. Up and down the land, local rivalries such as Portsmouth & Southampton, Norwich & Ipswich, Chester & Wrexham, Sheffield United & Sheffield Wednesday, and Newcastle United & Sunderland all exist to fill newspaper column inches and the minds of those who support one or the other.

For me though, the fiercest rivalry is that between Manchester United and Liverpool. I mean, I would say that, given that the pain of being a sixteen year old in the away end at Anfield watching my beloved United taking a 4-0 beating at the hands of Liverpool still hurts to this day twenty years later. I’ve sung more songs about my inner contempt for Liverpool supporters (mostly people I’ve never met, let’s remember) than I’ve eaten bags of fish and chips. And let me tell you, I’ve eaten a lot of fish and chips.

Put simply, United fans and Liverpool fans hate each other, and never the twain shall meet. Apart from in the home of my (Liverpool supporting) sister and her (much more sensible and United supporting) husband, obviously.

And to be fair, I’d never have it any other way.

Here in the United States, the level of rivalry in sports just isn’t there. Sure, there are college sports rivalries, and occasional local tensions, but nothing that would inspire more than a vague “Rangers suck” cry in a crowded bar; presumably a reference to the quality of New York’s ice hockey team rather than the sexual proclivities of the state’s country park guardians.

Part of that comes from the fact that there’s really no such thing as ‘away support’ in American sport. Sure, people expatriated from their home city might put in an appearance when their team swings into their new town, but there’s no away section and fans of both teams sit together in relative harmony. Apart from when one or other has had a few Bud Lights too many, obviously. Fortunately the New York Knicks haven’t hosted a game against the Chester Jets yet, so I haven’t seen a need to test the theory out too closely.

There is, however, one rivalry that seems pretty deep rooted – the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. So, feeling the need for some sporting tension this week – and, more importantly, acutely aware that impending fatherhood means that there will soon be more chance of me being invited to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world than spend a night drinking beer and watching sport – I grabbed a ticket for the Red Sox trip to the new Yankee Stadium to witness the battle for myself.

The sad thing was, the rivalry was muted at best. Sure, there was the occasional t-shirt alluding to the fact that there was never a curse of Babe Ruth and that the Red Sox had actually just sucked for 86 years. But apart from the occasional boo for a Boston player, or a jeer directed at a Red Sox-hatted fan, it could barely have been more harmonious. Of course, it helped that the Yankees battered the Red Sox, although that merely seemed to empty out the stadium way before the end of the game.

Thankfully though, order was restored an innings before the end of the game. A young guy mistakenly walked up the wrong staircase after a visit to the bathroom, and looked around confusedly for his friends who were actually a whole section away. Enjoying his mistake, a crowd of Yankees fans roundly booed and jeered him, and sent him scuttling back to his own seat with his tail between his legs.

Some people would say it was the baseball cap with Boston’s logo on it that caused the heated treatment. But I know that it was actually his t-shirt.

After all, you can’t expect to wear a Liverpool football shirt in public and get away with it.

Losing my voice

It’s probably fair to say that my greatest fear as an expat is losing my accent. Not that my accent is anything to get excited about, or a strange dialect that only three people in the world speak. But the idea of waking up one morning with a strange mid-Atlantic twang is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat.

A Brit Out Of Water Sr was in the city last week, and fortunately it appears that my distinctive Britishness is still firmly intact. I say ‘fortunately’ as otherwise he would probably have spent four days shaking his head and muttering something along the lines of “I used to have a son” under his breath. Being able to explain the nuances of baseball while sitting in a bar watching the Yankees play the Mets is a healthy sign of assimilation; using words such as ‘geez’ or ‘awesome’ without the faintest sense of tongue in cheek irony is a step too far.

As I may have mentioned before though, my ability to spot the American accent is fading, as I slowly get used to a new sense of normality. A couple of times in the last few weeks, I’ve had to ask The Special One whether a particular actor on screen is American. In retrospect, the fact that they were wearing a big stars and stripes T-shirt, carrying a rolled-up copy of the constitution, and sitting underneath a pink neon sign that said “For the avoidance of doubt, I am an American” should have been a bit of a giveaway. But now the American accent is the norm, and it’s the exceptions I’m more reaily able to identify.

After yesterday though, I’m worried that my British friends and family may be humouring me about my accent. Perhaps I’m turning to the dark side after all, and everybody’s too polite to say anything?

Sitting in training in the office, I realiszed that the trainer was British, and while we waited for the rest of the attendees to turn up, I engaged her in conversation for a few minutes about various things. Not quite able to place her accent exactly, I asked where she was from.

“I’m from a place called Nottingham,” she said. “You know, Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood and Maid Marian? It’s in the centre of England.”

I managed to stem my tears, you’ll be pleased to know, although it was almost too much when she looked at me as she told delegates to let her know if any of her British-isms were confusing.

Maybe I am subconsciously a language chameleon, who takes on the speaking style of all those around him? An ability to blend in could admittedly be useful if I ever launch a new career as a conman.

That said, it doesn’t augur well for forthcoming trips to Tennessee and Newcastle…

Playing ball

Something strange has happened to me over the last six months. Something I always swore would never happen to me. Something vaguely shameful for a thoroughbred Brit whose very masculinity is defined by an overwhelming desire to eat pie, chips and gravy before watching a footballsoccer match.

Reader, I like baseball.

I have no idea how this happened. As far as I was concerned, the only game with a bat and a ball that was worth its salt was cricket. You know, the game that takes five days and generally ends in a draw. That doesn’t mean there’s no excitement in cricket though. As a kid, I once broke a school mate’s nose playing cricket, accidentally swinging my bat backwards into his honk in flamboyant search of a boundary as he stood too close as wicketkeepercatcher. I managed to turn around in time to see his nose explode with the explosive power of a November 5July 4 firework. Paul Connell, if you’re reading, I’m truly sorry.

Our closest thing to baseball was rounders. With a shorter bat, and generally a tennis ball instead of a hard ball, rounders is to baseball what Joey from Friends is to Laurence Olivier. The only real memory I have of the game is the fact that, on seeing a player hit the ball far enough to allow them to get around all bases, it seemed to be compulsory for all participants to chant “rounder, rounder, rounder, rounder.” Trust me, there’s no greater sound in the world.

I always thought that baseball was a ridiculous waste of time, with far too many games every season to be taken seriously. And to be fair, rarely can so many out of shape men been employed as professional sportsmen. My dog can run faster than most baseball players, and she’s been dead for ten years.

But strangely baseball got its claws into me. Maybe it’s the endless statistics, or maybe it’s the fact that the backpages of the New York tabloids constantly splash on baseball stories. But however it happened, I’m hooked and there seems to be no way back.

I’ve only ever been to one baseball game, at the very start of this season with Brit Out Of Water Sr and The Eldest. That titanic struggle was between one of the most famous names in international team sport, and the side that has finished last in its division for nine of the last ten years. And was the worst team in the whole of baseball last year.

Needless to say, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees 6-3 that day, went from strength to strength during the season, and are currently playing the first game of the “World” Series. If you need your rubbish side to become useful, my father, stepson and I are all available at the start of next season to attend a game and support the opposing side.

I hate to admit it, but I’m actually going to miss baseball for the next six months. I’ll be savouring the World Series for all I’m worth, and hoping that the Rays come through to win over the next seven games.

If it comes down to the last game next Thursday, and a Ray hits a winning home run in the bottom of the 9th inning, I want to hear the entire crowd on their feet shouting a lusty chant of “rounder, rounder, rounder, rounder,” OK?

We interrupt this game for a display of patriotism…

I wouldn’t call myself a baseball fan – in fact I’m not sure that I’ve even sat through a whole game in my life. But burning some calories at the gym tonight, I found myself strangely gripped by the Yankees vs Red Sox game on the TV above my head. So much so that I even turned it on when I reached home to catch the last three innings.

In the middle of the seventh innings – the seventh-inning stretch, I think it’s called – just before the Yankees were due to bat again, everything suddenly came to a halt to honour servicemen in action across the world, with a ‘rousing’ rendition of “God Bless America”. Apparently Major League Baseball directed teams to play the song before the bottom of the seventh inning at every game following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. They scaled back the request a year later, saying teams only needed to play the song on Sundays and holidays, which remains the case to this day.

Not for the Yankees though. They still bring everything to a halt two and a half innings before the end of every game, and even use ushers to prevent people moving during the performance with the help of the odd chain or two. It’s like Manchester United playing Liverpool, and the game being called to a halt for five minutes for a performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. And fans being stopped from making their way down to the concourse to buy a steak and kidney pie.

They say that the temporary break in proceedings can offer a competitive advantage to the Yankees, with the opposing pitcher unable to warm up while the performance takes place. It certainly didn’t harm them tonight – the Yankees won 4-3 in the ninth innings.

PS They say Americans will never properly ‘get’ football soccer because there are too few goals. But baseball is this country’s national sport, and yet so little ever happens. The Red Sox didn’t even score until the sixth innings, and there were only three home runs in about three hours of ‘action’. Maybe there’s a chance for Beckham and co after all?