What a perfect Pinch Hitter post for the day of Jorge Posada’s retirement.
Sarah Meira Rosenberg’s brother has been a LoHud pinch hitter in the past, and this year she jumped into act with a wonderfully written essay about fan loyalty to individual players. Born in the Bronx, she’s currently on full scholarship in the Macaulay Honors program at Brooklyn College, majoring in creative writing. At 17 she was published the anthology Nine Novels by Younger Americans, and she’s had a short story published in the December 2011 issue of eFiction Magazine.
At the end of this post, Sarah Meira asks a question. Perhaps one of the wonderful things about following Posada’s career was that he so rarely forced his fans to answer that question.
My little sister is what any self-respecting Yankee fan would call a poser. A wannabe. She barely follows the team, knows next to nothing about the history, but she claims to be a fan, and she loves, absolutely loves, Mark Teixeira. She bought his jersey, knows how many kids he has, and at one point, pictures of him — excised from the New York Times sports section, much to the dismay of those of us who wanted to read the articles on the other sides — wallpapered a significant chunk of her ceiling.
I’m not mocking this. We all do this, to varying degrees. We’re very attached to our players. We even get possessive. I mean, they’re our players. Rooting for a team isn’t always just about the uniform; it’s about the guys in the uniform. Our guys.
This can be crucial to our investment in the game, and to our enjoyment of it. Baseball is a game of tiny, isolated, individual battles — every time a player steps to the plate, every time a ball is hit his way, every time a pitcher toes the rubber — battles which inevitably draw each player into the harsh spotlight at some point or another. So the more wrapped up you are in rooting for individual players, the greater the drama of each confrontation. The more thrilling the victory. The more crushing the defeat.
How do we get ourselves invested in our players? Mostly by osmosis. We hear things, we read things, we see things, and over time we get a feel for a guy and his overall persona. We love the Paul O’Neills and the Jorge Posadas because they’re fiery and intense. We love Mariano Rivera because he’s effortlessly humble and classy. We love Dave Robertson and Curtis Granderson because of their devotion to community service. We love Nick Swisher because he freakin’ loves us, man! And I’m sure one of the reasons my little sister latched onto Mark Teixeira is because he’s an unabashedly dedicated family man, which in its own way is just as swoony as the eligible bachelor angle Derek Jeter works so well.
Plus, Teixeira has pretty good hair.
This is not to take away from any of their on-field accomplishments. Quite the contrary; all of these things add to and complement the statistics, increasing the satisfaction and pride that we feel when our guys do well.
But in recent years, I’ve been learning that this investment in the individual cuts both ways. Just as a charming off-field anecdote can win a player your allegiance, a scandal can lose it. And there have been a lot of scandals, especially since the Steroid Era. All across baseball, to be fair, not just in Yankeeland. But truth be told, every scandal that touches a player of ours leaves a dent in my loyalty to that player, and every erosion of player loyalty leaves a dent in my loyalty to the team, in my ability to root innocently and wholeheartedly for its success and the success of everyone on it. It’s a noxious feedback loop.
Some scandals are more easily weathered than others. Again, it depends — perhaps completely unjustly — on the individual player involved. In the case of an Andy Pettitte, or even a Jason Giambi, the initial reveal of use of performance-enhancing substances is, of course, devastating. Yet often because of all the osmosis, because of all the good vibes we got from these guys, and how well-liked they are by teammates, managers, reporters, etc. — because of all that, we’re sometimes able to demote the scandal to merely A Nice Guy Who Made A Mistake. And we root for nice guys who make mistakes, because who doesn’t love a comeback kid? Every at-bat becomes a step toward redemption, a chance to atone for past misdeeds.
Then we have other players. Ones whose vibes are just . . . not all that great. I don’t know what it is about Alex Rodriguez, and as a fan I obviously don’t know him and have no right to judge from this distance, but pretty much everything he does aside from hitting home runs rubs me the wrong way, whether it’s his demeanor, his family issues, or his steroid use. In a weirdly personal way, I just don’t like the guy, and it’s bizarre and a bit uncomfortable to root for a guy you don’t like simply because he’s on your team. I tell myself to leave the off-field stuff off the field, but that’s just not how the fan experience works for me.
We don’t want to hate on our players. We want to love them, because they’re our gateway drug to the larger world of baseball.
But what are we supposed to do when they make it too hard?
Associated Press photo