Wednesday, October 20, 2004 was the day I lost my innocence.
And no- it didn’t happen in some bedroom, or park, or a night at a police station. It happened right on East 161st in the Bronx at the Yankee Tavern.
At the time I was going to school at The University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and the night prior Curt Schilling took the mound with a bloody sock and made himself a baseball deity for eternity. The Red Sox, who had been trailing 3-0 to the Yankees in an ALCS that seemed to have all the importance of a battle to prevent Armageddon, had over the course of 3 sleepless nights drawn the series to 3-3. And suddenly it became painfully obvious that whatever Svengali or voodoo the Yankees had hanging over the Red Sox for the last 86-years was on the brink of being over.
So hours before Game 7 I decided to leave my cozy home in Amherst because I didn’t want to be around for the carnage of a campus full of Red Sox fans dancing at your team’s funeral. I didn’t want to hear the noise, the clapping and the ‘wooo’s’ from a fan base that had been held down by one team for so long. I didn’t want to be told “I suck” and “The Yankees suck”, so I got in the car. Accompanied with my poor girlfriend at the time we went to the Bronx. The poor girl didn’t care much about baseball, nor did she understand exactly what was going on, but she could see how this was particularly a traumatic sports experience for me, and probably felt she should be there for me (very sweet girl).
After a 3 1/2 hour trek back to my old stomping ground, there we sat in the Yankee Tavern right in the shadow of the Old Stadium, and from that distance you could hear the groaning from a capacity crowd of a first inning home run from David Ortiz, and then a second inning grand-slam that inked Johnny Damon’s legacy, and suddenly it was over. “The (old) Curse of the Bambino” was finished, and for the first time since 1918, the Red Sox were on par with the Yankees.
That night as we left the stadium I stopped by a souvenir table and picked up a fitted, casual Yankees hat. As we left that night I remarked to my girlfriend, “I’m going to wear this hat till they win another championship”. At the time it just seemed like the right thing to say. Little did I know what that hat would become.
The following months after that 2004 ALCS I would have reoccurring dreams where some how the series wasn’t over. Dreams where there was still innings to play- still games to finish in that series. Those dreams lingered until the next season started, but the feelings of disappointment in the Yanks lingered on and on. And year after year, as the Yankees entered October, I truly felt they were the team to beat. And year after year it was a disappointing first round loss.
Lose to Ervin Santana in a Game 5? Impossible. Lose to the Tigers? Unlikely. Get crushed by the Indians, a team who didn’t even beat us during the 2007 regular season? No way. Not make the playoffs in the final year of the stadium? How? And almost every time the Yankees suffered defeat, that hat was there to be worn the day after the season was over. The day that everyone calls, texts, and emails you to tell you that the, “Yankees Suck” or remind you that your bold predictions of a championship were WRONG. That’s the day the true fan wears his hat, since…well, win-lose or draw, that’s your team and if you’re serious about them, you stick with them. You face the music.
Through the past 5 years that hat has been a staple mark in my wardrobe, and without me realizing, became a reminder of that tough October of ’04 where the baseball world seemed like it had been turned upside down.
Whether it was to go to a game, to keep me dry, or just something to throw on as I ran out the door, that hat was there. And every season that passed, the color of midnight blue faded to a lighter shade of blue, then deepened into a darker smokey blue, then morphed with marks of white that showed its wear and tear. And in the past year-plus it has begun to fall apart. It’s become a tattered rag, and in some ways has validated my fanaticism for the Yankees to strangers. Many times I’ve heard, “I know you’re a real Yankee fan cause you’re wearing that old/ugly/torn up hat/gross/beat-up hat”. Perhaps a compliment to me? Perhaps an insult to how tattered and gross my hat has become? And every time I would respond, “You know what, I bought this on the night the Yankees lost in 2004…and I said I would wear it till they win it all.”
As this 2009 season went from bad play, to good play, to the seemingly invincible level of play that the Yankees attacked each game with from July on, I remembered that I had uttered those words 5+ years ago. I began to think about where exactly I would get rid of this lid if, god-forbid, the Yankees should win the World Series. Perhaps burn it? Perhaps just throw it in the garbage somewhere? Burial in my Mother’s backyard? Throw it on top a telephone poll in the neighborhood? Why would I continue to need a hat that I bought on such a stressful night of my life?
But as this playoff stretch went on and on, I realized there’s no getting rid of this hat till the brim separates from the top part. And even then I probably won’t be able to dump it. Maybe it will make a good party hat? Perhaps something to wear on Jewish Holidays to sub for a yamaka? Perhaps add a propeller to the top of it?
It’s made stops in 15 major league stadiums with me, been dropped in the mud, has had beer spilled on it, and has been downright drenched in storms. It’s been to parties, social events, Europe, Hawaii, made three big moves with me and been to many-many-many Yankee games. And tonight I finally feel as if I have the choice to say goodbye to that hat and perhaps give it a proper well needed rest, because the New York Yankees are finally back on top of the baseball world and they have finally avenged those awful memories from the worst collapse in sports history in 2004.
As for the future of the hat I think, like a popular old musician or actor who becomes secluded in their later years , I’ll just break her out into public every once in a while for an encore performance. Just to remind her that she’s still important, still alive, and still out there on the scene. Maybe she’s not as pretty as she once was and maybe it’s slightly embarrassing to wear a $17 article of clothing that is in such awful condition- but she still has all the sentimental value that any belonging could ever have.
As for tomorrow it’s time to get a new hat, break that one in and wear it out until we can share the excitement of another baseball championship in the Bronx. Because FINALLY 2004 is distant history.
It’s 2009 that is right now.
And after a very short winter in which Yankee fans can take solace that their team is the World Champions of Baseball, it will be the brand new 2010 season.