Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Farewell, Mr. Jeter

  I was supposed to write the 3rd part of my baseball/guitar series on which classic guitarists would play what position if they were on a baseball team. It turns out, I don't know nine classic guitarists well enough to write that piece. It's true. Here are the ones I could think of: Hendrix, Harrison, Clapton, Page, EVH, and like, that's it (I thought of Brian May while I was writing this). I know the names of dudes like Jeff Beck and Randy Rhodes... but I don't really know their music well enough to say what position they'd play on a fictional baseball team. I guess it turns out that I know way more about baseball.

What rivalry? Jeter says goodbye at the 2014 ASG

  I watched pretty much every Red Sox game of the '04 and '05 season, and listened/watched 80% of games of the '06 and '07 seasons. It didn't really feel like an obsession; if you lived in Massachusetts during those years, it was pretty normal. Almost every blue collar job had a radio playing the game somewhere, NESN probably got better ratings than ESPN, even the random transplants who moved to the Valley for academic pursuits/careers got in on the action (spreading Sox nation like a virus when they all graduated and moved away).

  Most days for me began around noon with a cup of coffee and whatever stimulant I could get my hands on. I'd go to work for 4-6 hours cleaning office buildings in town, or washing dishes. I'd come home, make food, and watch the game. Me, my roommates, maybe a friend or two... we'd watch the game, drink a little, maybe smoke some pot. The game would end between 10:30 and 11, and I'd walk into town, have some drinks at Hugo's or the Watering Hole, try to talk to Smith girls, get too drunk, and wander home around 2. I had a band or two on and off, I had a girlfriend at one point, I was going to take the GRE... but nothing every really happened; it was just that same day on repeat more or less; from graduation till I woke up one day and realized most of my friends had moved to New York. I knew I needed to move on. I landed a pretty good warehouse job for the growing season in one of the farm towns north of Northampton. I saved money, even spending a month sleeping on friends couches and in my car. When the Sox swept the Rockies to win the '07 World Series, I watched from my new home in Williamsburg.

  Since then, my baseball life has been in steady decline. I don't equate baseball with laziness, just a way of life that I can't maintain in NYC. I moved here to be involved in music, and you just can't do that if you're sacrificing 7pm-11pm every night. I'm a sports fan, I make time for the big games if I can. Watching the one of 162 games which no one really cares about just didn't happen once I moved here, save catching the Mets if they happen to be on Pix 11 on a Saturday afternoon when I'm super hungover. The less you watch, the less you know, the less you need to watch. It really works the exact opposite of getting into the sport in the first place. It's like someone presses the rewind button on your level of interest. In addition to that, the PED thing is crazy, games are too friggin' long these days, the World Cup was excellent, and my team isn't any good... all these things add up to me having the least amount of interest in baseball since 1998.

  I flipped on Fox when I got home from band rehearsal, expecting to catch either the late news, or a rerun of 30 Rock (I've seen all the episodes in syndication, but I still enjoy watching them). The All Star Game was on. It was the ASG, but it was really all about Derek Jeter. It pulled at my heart strings in a weird way that I didn't really expect, and not just because I'm a Red Sox fan.

  Like a lot of little boys from small towns in New England, I was raised to like sports. I grew up playing baseball. I remember the made us our own baseball cards and all the kids listed their favorite ball player. There were 15 kids on the team. I think about 15 of us listed Jose Canseco as our favorite player. Sure, the Sox had Clemens and Wade Boggs, but the team wasn't any good. They made the Buckner World Series, but that was a couple of years before we were really aware of such things. We liked the A's and our parents didn't care. There was no Red Sox Nation and Fenway was almost always half empty (and considered a dump and a good place to get stabbed).

  I stopped playing sports in high school cause I wanted to hang out with my friends and play music, and fuck around in the wilderness where adults wouldn't bother us... and generally be a screwup. The Jock/Alterna-teen line was clear cut in high school, and I knew which side was mine. I had good friends though, we watched Clerks and The Year Punk Broke a million time over. We lived in a compact, simple, and friendly world of inside jokes, hand jobs, and $20 bags of schwag. When you really identify with people at that age, you kinda become them. We were our own stoner ethnicity. Things changed when I went to college.

Jeter as a kid, when they made him wear a suit and carry around Don Mattingly's spittoon

  I got into baseball, and really back into sports in general, slowly but surely. The beginning of this was the 1999 MLB playoffs. Long story short, the Sox looked to be to out of it against a strong Indians team, but improbably came back (Pedro's incredible relief appearance sealed the deal). It had been since the Celtics of the '80s that New England had a legitimately dominant team, a thirteen year drought. Now, we had our best pitcher ever, and our best hitter since Teddy Ballgame (Garciaparra) headed to a clash with the division rivals, The New York Yankees. However, it soon became apparent that the Sox weren't there yet. Except for a masterpiece performance by Martinez against Clemens, Boston was totally out gunned.

  I don't know how or why I caught those games. I went to a hippy school, we had a hall TV... I don't know, they were just on (or maybe I put them on, I can't remember). It was the birth of the modern rivalry that would carry the game's popularity to new heights, even as a major steroid scandal was about to engulf its biggest stars. A couple years later the world was treated to the 2003 ALCS, which was one of the most dramatic series in the history of any sport, ever. The 2004 series seemed like a movie. I'm still not sure it was real.

  More or less, sports fans are always going to like sports, at least when the local team is in the running. The Sox/Yanks rivalry in the early 2000's reached aspects of society that are generally untouched by popular sporting events. The game's focus shifted to two of it's oldest teams, just when the predominant counterculture became obsessed with authenticity as cultural capital. It isn't coincidence that Fenway and Pabst Blue Ribbon came back into style at the same time. I made the change as a 19 year old; from baggy clothes and long hair to tight tees and girls jeans. I remember the one bar that was cool because they had PBR and literally everywhere else had only Bud or Coors. Baseball seemed like a legit experience; not flashy corporate polished product. It seemed real. On top of that, the emergence of Sabermetrics pulled in a sector of society usually at odds with the popular sports fan; nerds. An entire generation of Dungeon Masters traded their 20 sided die for WHIP and VORP. I don't know the numbers, but I would reckon baseball was more culturally relevant in '03 and '04 then it had been since before movies were invented.

  Anyhow, I don't know who from the 1999 playoffs is still playing the game, let alone at a high enough level to still hold their own amongst all stars. After this year, when Jeter retires, everyone from that 1999 series will be gone. One of the weirdest things about getting older is remembering things that aren't there anymore. It starts with single things, your dog, your father, the original World Trade Center; things that can disappear in a second. That's weird, but it's not nearly as surreal as realizing that an entire generation of dudes are fucking gone forever. Serious time has passed.

To a sports fan there's three realizations between you and middle age:

#1. None of the guys you worshipped as a kid are still playing.

#2. None of the guys you rooted for/against as a college-aged drunkard are still playing.

#3. You're older than the oldest guy in the league.

My friends, at the end of this season we pass step #2.

You screwed my team a million times Jeter. I hated you more than anything... but fans like me, who were lucky enough to get back into the game in time to be very knowledgable for '03 and '04 series had a ride like no other sports fans in history. You lost that '04 series, but both the Yanks and Sox won a couple more, so we're all square in the end, right? To be clean and be successful in an era of rampant cheating makes you worthy of respect from event the most hardened Sox fan. Also, you stayed with one team your entire career. Granted it was a wealthy team who could afford to keep you, but still, that's incredibly special in this day and age.

There are few players who close the door on an entire generation of the game when they retire. You are one. For all of us 30ish-37ish, the not quite Gen X, not quite Millennials, (the C:\ generation), you're the last page of the book.

I'm sure that Jeter's retirement means something slightly different to every ball fan of my generation. For me, happening upon the ASG was a much needed reminder that your soul can get extremely tight if you don't allow yourself to be occasionally passionate about things that are inherently silly.

Go team.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post in sports books-thanks to Stephen for recommending Bruised; I want to check that one out too!
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