"Are we Yankees or Mets?" enquired five-year-old Ollie as I settled down in my armchair for Game Two. "Yankees!" we all yelled. "Why?" he wanted to know. I took him on one side and patiently gave him the necessary facts. We are Yankees because the Mets are women. They hang out at those places where coffee costs three dollars a cup and has names, and they stick out their pinkies when holding the cup. They say "Oh, shoot!" when they have to go back in the house for their car keys. They laugh at Friends and cry at Robin Williams movies. They vote Democrat. They are women. Ollie looked a bit puzzled, but I think he got the main point. It is so important to set them on the right path while they're young.
I myself was at the impressionable age of 29 when I encountered baseball. The first American friend I made was a keen Red Sox fan. That is, of course, a very melancholy thing to be; but Boston being too far to go, we did take in a few American league games at Yankee stadium, he of course rooting enthusiastically for whichever team the Yankees were up against. Determined never to find myself in the same cul-de-sac of despair and ignominy as my friend, I attached my rather feeble allegiance to the Yankees, and there it has remained through thick and thin. Mainly through thick, of course, since — as I told my kids while watching Roger Clemens make yet another Met hitter bend over and squeal like a pig: The Yankees know how to win!
Though normally, as I have explained before in this space, an athletic non-supporter, I make a modest exception for baseball, as bookish types generally seem to do. At any rate, I always watch the World Series. At some point in the past I must have paid enough attention to pick up the rules; they are there waiting, every October, to be taken out and flashed around the living-room, to the bedazzlement of my wife and kids. "Ground-rule double? Oh, sure. That's when …"
Probably some of this derives from the bookish quality in baseball itself, often noted: the wads of statistics, the intricate rules, the psychology, the sociology, the history. In my case, though, I think it's mainly just that old immigrant thrusting — the yearning to be more American than the Americans. The New York Yankees fit in very well here. Their image as a ball team is very much like the image of the United States that I grew up with: big, rich, arrogant, victorious, belligerent, yet somehow hard to dislike.
The first Americans I ever saw were servicemen from a USAF base near the small English country town I spent my childhood in. They were large and loud and wore clothes in strange bright colors. Their cars were so big you could stuff an English car in the boot (which they called a "trunk"). T–h–e–y s–p–o–k–e v–e–r–y s—l—o—w—l—y. Their onomastic practices were bizarre: the daughter of one of them ended up in my school somehow, among all us Johns, Davids, Susans and Marys, bearing the name "Melody"! Adults — especially single male adults — grumbled about them, because they had so much money, monopolized the town's somewhat limited supply of loose women, and tended to fight with knives when drunk (the local men used only fists and bottles).
They were always popular with us kids, though. Large and intimidating they might be, yet they always seemed to be good-natured when approached, and would give you a piece of gum for the asking. I think what I'm describing here is the process psychologists call "imprinting." Catch 'em young — like little Ollie, now a dedicated Yankee fan — and you can mould their souls. I was an intellectual for a while, and went through the whole wretched left-wing college-student phase, but I can never remember a time when I was anti-American. The Yankees are American the way I learned American, and I love them for it. Ch-a-a-a-rge!