Baseball

Gene Frenette: Fatherhood leads me to Red Sox, being a Yankees traitor

There's no point being in denial about my unanticipated baseball transformation, Benedict Arnold-ish as it may seem to a lot of people.

I blame being a father for the weird loyalty switch of going from the most diehard New York Yankees fan in my youth and most of my adulthood, to spending the last decade – forgive me, Mickey, Scooter and Reggie – doing the inexplicable and rooting for the Boston Red Sox.

Those emotions were reinforced last week while attending my first Yankees-Red Sox game at Yankee Stadium with my wife and 17-year-old son, Matthew, who became a BoSox loyalist a long time ago through the unopposed influence of his 26-year-old brother.

I'll get to that dynamic, as well as a memorable postgame scene on the New York subway, but let me first address what many would consider a breach of baseball fan etiquette. And I'm certain admonishment will be coming my way from Jaguars football coach Doug Marrone, a Bronx native and staunch Yankees fan,

Somehow, without any realization it was happening at the time, my pinstripe loyalties gradually crossed over to the dark side back in 2008 while taking the family's first Red Sox fan, son Joey, to a couple of games at Fenway Park against the Minnesota Twins for his 16th birthday.

For the first time, it didn't bother me watching Boston win because the joy on Joey's face behind home plate at Fenway superseded all those years of passionately cheering for the Yankees and against the Red Sox. In romance and fandom, you can't always control where your heart leads you.

Just four years earlier, it annoyed me to no end that the Red Sox curse was broken when they overcame an 0-3 playoff deficit against the Yankees in the ALCS and went on to win their first World Series since 1918.

Joey took great delight in my disgust. That should have sealed us permanently being on opposite sides of the Yankees-Red Sox feud.

After all, the team any fan grows up rooting for should be their team for life, right? Win or lose, you stand by that team, even if it means competitive strife in the family.

Growing up in Vermont, where Yankees and Red Sox fans were a pretty even split as both teams' games were regularly broadcast on cable television, everybody grew accustomed to this Hatfield-and-McCoys dynamic. It wasn't unusual for it to transpire under one roof. My next-door neighbors, both Red Sox fans, had eight kids and five of them became diehard Yankees. My father, a Minnesota Twins, Boston Bruins and Notre Dame football diehard, and I never rooted for the same teams.

But this Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is unlike any other in major pro sports. Fathers-sons, mothers-daughters, husbands-wives and boyfriends-girlfriends were often aligned, but sometimes not. You picked one and just learned to accept the differences without taking it too personally.

As we waited in Gate 6 to enter Yankee Stadium for last week's game, a 20-something couple in front of us didn't seem to mind their divided loyalties. The female Red Sox fan wore a Mookie Betts jersey, while her significant other proudly donned a Derek Jeter jersey with "Captain" stitched above the number 2.

That's what makes this rivalry so unusual. Anybody raised just outside the baseball hotbeds of Boston or New York understands it's just a matter of time before most kids have to choose sides.

For 50 years, it was unthinkable that I could cross enemy lines. My nerves watching any sporting event were never so frayed than in the 1978 winner-take-all playoff game, feverishly pleading for Yankees reliever Goose Gossage to close out that memorable 5-4 win over Boston at Fenway. Carl Yastrzemski popping out to Graig Nettles with two runners on for the final out still remains the most euphoric fan moment of my lifetime. So a final thank-you to Bucky Dent, the biggest Red Sox killer next to Babe Ruth.

Four decades later, the truth is fatherhood has altered my perspective on the Yankees-Red Sox divide. What mattered baseball-wise in my teens, 20s and 30s has changed. It's not that I suddenly hate the Yankees. It's more just enjoying the sight of my kids' rooting interest in the Red Sox being fulfilled.

From our Yankee Stadium nosebleed seats in section 428, the upper deck along the left field line, we watched the Red Sox salvage the finale of a three-game series with a nationally-televised 8-5 victory on Sunday Night Baseball.

A big factor, which ignited the wrath of Yankees fans, was the misadventures of right fielder Clint Frazier. He was lustily booed after allowing an Eduardo Nunez single to roll under his glove for a two-base error in the seventh inning, then failing to make a diving catch on an Andrew Benintendi line drive and his ensuing off-line throw home made matters worse.

The next inning, Frazier added to his woes by allowing a Michael Chavis hit to get by him for a run-scoring triple, which sent over half of the original crowd of 40,078 to the exits. That set the stage for my favorite memory of this baseball excursion.

After the game, we're riding in a standing-room-only subway heading from the Bronx to midtown Manhattan. There were a significant amount of Red Sox fans on board, but all the loud voices were coming from disgruntled New Yorkers still fuming about Frazier's fielding issues.

About five feet away from us, a boisterous Yankees supporter made sure the entire section of our subway car heard his Frazier rant, saying over and over again: "He's a (expletive) embarrassment."

From my seat, I caught sight of a wry smile forming on my son's face as this Yankees' fan kept venting. Matt loved coming to the enemy house, walking off with an unforgettable memory on his bucket list.

Call me a baseball traitor, but that moment was worth the price of admission.

  Comments