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May 8, 2005

Why the Yankee travails are good for YOU
by TVerik

Most of sportswriting deals with the performance of the team in question. That's fine, and much of it is very good.

But today I'm going to be very selfish and write about me, and about you - the fans. If people directly involved with the Yankees happen to read this, skip this entry; it's not for you.

I want my team to win every time they take the field. I want the Yankees to bludgeon the other team with great hitting and wonderful pitching.

That isn't realistic. It came close in 1998.

But more than not being realistic, it dulls my appreciation for the events on the field.

If you eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, does it taste as good as the occasional chocolatey snack? Of course not.

Different Yankee fans are in different stages of denial about it, and we all as a group take guff from fans of other teams because we think we're special. We feel entitled to all of the great players around the league, and we expect to win every time out.

This has an element of truth to it, although I might quibble with the language. Good or great teams on the field most of the last decade have "spoiled" me, to an extent. I've come to the point where the regular season doesn't matter all that much; the only thing is winning the World Series.

That's fine. But focusing on a goal like that as a fan isn't good for me. I want my team to expect to win every day. I want my team to set a championship as a goal. But I want to be surprised when they win and happy when they play well. In 1998, when everything was going well, I admit to being bored with August matchups with the Devil Rays. If the Yankees beat them, it was expected. If the Rays won, it was the end of the world.

The expectations of the fan base for the 2005 Yankees was intense, and may have been unrealistic. We'll know more about the realism of that later.

But the team on the field got off to an undeniably rough start. Virtually every player has underperformed the fan expectations, and the record is putrid.

Given that (we can't change it, so accept it), an early-season matchup with a team that can't hit took on much added meaning to us, the fans. A series like this against a weak team two years ago might only be notable for the way in which the Yankees beat them. But this year, with the hole our team has dug for themselves, Mike Mussina's game the other day takes on significance not experienced often. Kevin Brown's effective start and the Yankee win on Sunday was a complete surprise, at least to me.

Being a Yankee fan has been very rewarding to me, and I'd imagine the same for most of the people reading this. I look at being a fan as a series of moments, which we must earn by living with the ebb and flow of every game.

An example that comes easily is Aaron Boone's 2003 blast to end the ALCS. It was a stunning moment, one that I won't soon forget. Making it all the more stunning was the fact that I completely didn't expect it to happen.

Perhaps the greatest moment of my fan-life was in 1996, when a Yankee team went down 0-2 at the Stadium to the World Champion Braves. I thought my team had had a great year and would have been happy to have the Series play out as it had been. But completely out of the blue (for me; I can't speak for other fans), the Yankees came back and won the Series, not dropping another game. I was ecstatic.

In the early seasons of this century, I've felt a certain burden, a certain expectation that my team would find a way to win each game. When it didn't happen, I was disappointed each time.

This is a very long way of saying that because of the last month, every game the Yankees play this year is meaningful. Every win has the element of the unexpected (again, to me). I believe that my team is going to win, but my certainty about that has been shaken.

And if/when my team overcomes all of the obstacles in front of it today and wins the World Series, I'll leap out of my chair in jubilation. Because while I hope for this outcome, the realist inside of me tells me that it won't happen. That voice has been pretty quiet since after the 1996 World Series.