When it comes to September 11th, I’m kind of like Forest Gump. “That’s all I have to say about that.” Today, I’m positing an essay that I wrote about September 11th—and how I became a Yankees fan. The two are intertwined.
THE UNLIKELY YANKEES FAN
M. B. Weston
Most people say I don't seem like a typical New York Yankees fan. I have to admit they're right. I've only spent twelve hours of my life in New York City. I don't know where the Holland Tunnel goes, and I don't know the difference between the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, or Brooklyn--except that Brooklyn used to be the home of Ebbets Field, Jackie Robinson, and the Dodgers (before they were kidnapped by L.A., but I digress). It's true I don't have much in common with people from New York, but if you put me inside Yankee Stadium, I'll feel right at home. Inside the famed House That Ruth Built, we all share the same passion: a love for the team that wears the pinstripes.
I haven't always adored the Yankees or their fans. I grew up in Naples, Florida, a quiet beach side community trying desperately to be the town time forgot. Naples took great pains to fight against such hideous evils as unsightly billboards, tall buildings, public transportation, and spring training baseball. Its balmy weather and sandy, white beaches made it a winter haven for northerners. Every January, February, and March, people from the big cities up North--especially from New York--flooded our quiet town, clogged our roads, and filled our favorite restaurants. They also bought our products and kept our economy running, so we didn't mind the inconvenience--much. It was during these winter months that I began to sense an almost unbreachable chasm that stood between me and New Yorkers--between our lifestyles, our cultures, our fashions, and especially our baseball teams.
Baseball, the great American pastime, may be the only thing able to simultaneously pull Americans together and tear us apart. My father, and therefore I, loved the Atlanta Braves, and we despised the New York Yankees more than any other Major League Baseball team. The Yankees always got the best players because they had the most money; they thought they truly were the greatest thing in Cooperstown; and they always managed to beat the Braves in the World Series. Watching a late 1990's World Series was like watching a rerun of Gone With the Wind, with the damn Yankees destroying Atlanta and thousands of southern baseball fans shaking their fists yelling, "With God as my witness, I'll never watch baseball again!" I viewed the New York Yankees with the same disdain I usually reserved for politicians and divorce attorneys.
Everything changed in 2001, the year I decided to spread my wings of individuality and choose my own baseball team based on something other than my father's personal preferences. That was the year right after the presidential election that went awry and almost tore our nation apart. The recounts, protests, courtroom battles, and arguments over dimpled chads, hanging chads, and pregnant chads pitted American against American in ways many of us had never before witnessed. Hatred and mistrust spread deep from the floor of our divided Senate to our homes, our churches, and our classrooms. That political battle for the presidency left America's spirit of unity in seemingly irreparable ruins.
Something else happened in 2001 that changed the hearts and minds of Americans forever. That something was September 11, the day that not only went down in infamy, but also passed it by. That was the day the impossible happened. I remember it all too well. I remember my disbelief when mother called me at work telling me the World Trade Center had been attacked. I remember huddling around the television with my coworkers wondering how New York's firemen would ever stop the flames and how those poor people on the top floors would ever get down. I can still feel that horrible, hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach when all hope of rescue came crashing down in a heap of dust, smoke, and rubble.
For a brief moment, it seemed hopelessness had won. But out of that dust, that smoke, and that rubble emerged a new America with a new sense of unity. Blacks, whites, liberals, conservatives, northerners, southerners, males, females--after September 11, we all became Americans again. We supported each other; we cried with each other; we gave blood for each other.
We emerged from that tragedy to find the fight for our freedoms far from over. Each passing day, radio commentators and news programs over-saturated both the airwaves and our minds with new death statistics, new high alerts, and new details of every aspect of our impending counter attack. Suddenly, the umpire's pre-game "Play ball!" took on a brand new meaning. "Play ball!" and forget about the dust floating around Ground Zero and the air strikes overseas. "Play ball!" and enjoy peanuts and cracker jacks, and don't worry how you'll ever get back without using an airplane. "Play ball!" and for a moment, just a moment, pretend that everything is normal again.
That year the New York Yankees played ball with more heart than they ever had before, and they made it to the World Series playoffs. It was during those playoff games that I discovered my small town prejudices had disappeared. I began turning off my father's Braves in order to watch New York's Yankees, and I found myself cheering for very team I used to despise--more than I had ever cheered for a team in my life. In my mind, if the Yankees could make it to the World Series, they could bring money to New York's collapsing economy, and somehow poetic justice would be served. Questions such as "How on earth can Andy Petitte see with his hat pulled so low?" or "Can Jorge Posada catch with that new glove?" and "Who's on first--next year?" offered temporary, blissful escape from other more somber ones that tormented my mind. "Have they found any survivors?" "Will our economy make it?" "Have you seen my husband? He worked on the hundred fifth floor of Tower Two." It made so much more sense to pray, "Dear God, please let the Yankees get a double play to stop this rally," than "Please, God, please don't let my little sister at Princeton get anthrax, please." Horrifying images of advancing dust clouds and burning people jumping out of buildings were erased that glorious moment Derek Jeter hit a home run out of the park, ending game four and keeping the Yankees' hopes alive. The Yankees battled through that World Series all the way to game seven. By the eighth inning, they were up by one, and on their shoulders rested the hopes of ten million New Yorkers and New York's newest illegitimate child.
Those hopes came crashing down in the ninth inning. That was the inning the impossible happened. The other team managed to score against Mariano Rivera, and the Yankees lost the World Series that year. However, instead of going to bed angry, I fell asleep with a new sense of excitement. A new season lay just around the corner, and I could hardly wait for the fine April day when the umpire would again yell those magical words, "Play ball!" giving the Yankees--my Yankees--another chance at the world championship.
America lost a lot that year, too. We lost three thousand of our men and women. We lost our innocence and our sense of security, but instead of letting those losses pin us down, we stepped up to the plate and began our own new season with a new set of priorities and a new love for each other. In a way, the year 2001 really was the year the impossible happened. That was the year our divided nation became the United States again. That was the year a small town girl from heart of Naples, Florida fell in love with the New York Yankees.
© M. B. Weston, 2001
Tags: September 11th, 9-11, New York Yankees, Baseball, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Petitte, Atlanta Braves, Jorge Posada, Princeton