My Kind of Town

In Miami, it was perfect football weather.

As I stare up at Sun Life Stadium, my exhaustion melts into excitement. It reminded me why I’ve made this journey for the past three years. They’re here, I thought.

I begin to walk and already hear the snickering. I roll my eyes, I was used to it –I’ve played this game a long time.

Security scans my ticket and I enter the gate. I get my first glimpse of red, white and blue jerseys and my heart rate picks up. They’re here.

“You’re wearing the wrong colors” someone strategically points out to me. It must have been the millionth time I had heard this, but somehow, each person is convinced of their originality.

I grab a beer and locate my seat. I desperately scan the surrounding rows hoping to find anyone I could relate to. No luck. I knew it was a long shot.

I settle into my seat just as images begin flashing on the big screen. An announcer’s voice begins to boom and I hear those familiar sounds. My heart rate quickens again. They’re here.

A grand opening for the home team takes place as the players make their debut on the field. Everyone cheers, stomping their feet and slapping their chairs. I lean forward as it dies down. I knew it was coming. The moment not all, but very few, had been waiting for: The visiting team.

A small voice announces them and the stadium erupts with boos that far surpasses the cheering just moments before.

Surrounded by sneering and ridicule in every direction, I get to my feet. I begin to clap and cheer passionately. Nothing else around me mattered. My team, they were here.

* * *

Out of state fans have vastly different sports experience’s than their local counterparts. A local fans allegiance is rarely questioned. They have multiple opportunities to attend games throughout the season, and when they can’t, it is on at every sports bar. They are challenged to defend their team once every 100 happy hours or so.

It is so much easier for them, but for the distant fans, the devotion lies above the convenience. Our teams, they mean more.

When we attend a game, it usually involves a well-planned, expensive trip that ends up being more exciting than Christmas morning.

That’s the big difference. For local fans, it is just another Sunday, but for us, it is the Sunday.

This was certainly the case in Miami at Sun Life Stadium. It was just another Sunday.

Local fans got up during plays, and not just any plays, huge plays. It was baffling. I got up at halftime. I got up when the game ended. I refused to miss anything.

Here I was, incredibly happy while surrounded by opposing fans, opposing colors and opposing chants. And here they were, in their city, in their stadium, acting as if the beach would have been the better choice.

As my team started winning, I noticed more empty seats. Though the outcome looked grim for the Dolphins by the fourth quarter, the amount of fans leaving early was shocking.

I thought to myself, If I had the opportunity to watch a home game, I would never leave early. Winning or not, no way. I knew. I was sure.

Then it happened.

I overheard a couple as they were leaving, “They’re going to lose, there is no point in staying,” the man said. “Besides, we have tickets for next weeks game.”

Besides, we have tickets for next weeks game

It felt like being hit in the head with a brick.

Of course. Next weeks game. They can just go to next weeks game, and probably more throughout the season.

At first I was angry. They had no idea what it was like for someone like me, someone who has to bend over backward just to see their team visit. It wasn’t fair how ungrateful they were.

But then I questioned myself: Would I be the same way if I lived near my team?

Attempting to put myself in their shoes, I imagined a possible scenario: A friend offers me an extra ticket to an upcoming game. I decide to go, my lunch date can be rescheduled. Our team starts losing. By the fourth quarter, the loss is inevitable and we are hungry. Sick of overpriced stadium food, we decide to leave early. We can always go to next weeks game.

That is what it’s all about. Things that are always around get taken for granted the most.

They become less noticeable, less spectacular, less glamorous.

Romantic, long-distance relationships. We all know about them, whether it’s from someone else’s experience or our own.

Devotion doesn’t stop at one person. It goes far beyond that. Whether you support a distant team, or love a person far away, the dedication remains the same.

Both test your commitment. There are suitable spouses nearby. Just as there are suitable teams nearby. But that doesn’t matter — they aren’t that person, it isn’t that team. Both were chosen for a reason. They rise above convenience. They mean more.

Take couple A: They see each other twice a year. Three or four times if they are lucky. When he gets off that plane, when she knocks on that door — their hearts beat faster, their stomachs’ are in knots. They embrace for what seems like an eternity.

It’s special. They have been waiting for this. This day is not like every other day.

Then, there’s couple B: They are just as in love and happy as the first couple, but with one major difference. They live together. They share a couch, a dog, a zip code. Happy as they are to see each other for a coffee break, or after a long day at work, it’s still nothing compared to the happiness and excitement of couple A.

It is a normal occurrence. It is expected. It is like every other day.

* * *

It’s October 2004. I’m 13 years old. I sit in my Aunt and Uncles’ Brooklyn home during a family get together. The Yankees and Red Sox playoff series starts. I never paid much attention to sports, especially baseball. Baseball was boring.

My family huddles around the TV in the living room to watch the first game of the series. I hear both of my uncle’s yelling…loudly.

I walk in the room where they’re all cheering. The Yankees were winning. I never met a Red Sox fan growing up, everyone I knew always loved the Yankees. I didn’t think they even existed.

“Why doesn’t anyone like them?” I asked my uncle, truly not understanding.

“Cause’ they suck.” Everyone laughed.

This made me angry. Well, of course they sucked. With no fans, why would they even try? I felt so bad that I decided to watch and silently cheer them on.

The Red Sox lost the game but I continued watching. I slowly started to understand how the game worked. Maybe baseball wasn’t so boring after all.

I began rooting aloud, hoping it might help them win. My newfound allegiance horrified my family. They yelled at me, asking why in the hell I would root for the ghastly Boston Red Sox. When I explained my reasoning, they laughed.

The Sox lost the second game and then the third. The team had one last shot and it didn’t look good. The whole world said it was the end. No one comes back from three consecutive losses to win. No one, especially the cursed Boston Red Sox.

Still, I watched game four. Though it looked hopeless, I wasn’t going to give up on them at the last second. I would see them through until the end.

But then the craziest thing happened. They won.

I twirled around, clapping and screaming. No one really cared. They were sure they would not, could not, win another three. Impossible.

Regardless of the statistics, that win hypnotized me. A sliver of hope appeared.

I was front and center for the following game, more excited than the adults in the room. The Red Sox were becoming my team.

Red Sox win.

I could almost taste the tension in the house that night.

Game six: Red Sox win. Again.

This was when everyone went completely nuts. The already angry New Yorkers turned into full-blown monsters.

Game seven: A cinderella story.

The Boston Red Sox came back to beat the New York Yankees to go on to win their first World Series in 86 years.

That was my first fan experience and it was love at first sight.

* * *

It’s October 1995. Chas is 11 years old. He sits on the couch with his father in their St. Petersburg, Florida home. Though he always considered himself a Yankees fan, like his father, this was the first time he got to see them play in the postseason. It was the first year of the wild card in baseball, and the Yankees snagged it. On top of that, it was famous first baseman Don Mattingly’s last year before retirement.

He sits down as his dad yells “This is Don Mattingly!”

11 year old Chas was struck. This is important.

Unfortunately, they didn’t get to see Mattingly go on to win a World Series, “It was the first time I had heartbreak as a fan,” Chas remembered.

His suffering didn’t last long as the Yankees redeemed themselves by winning the Series the very next year.

When Chas turned 13, his father took him to his first game at Yankee Stadium.

It was the most important experience of his life, and it wasn’t from the magic of old Yankee Stadium. No, that was only part of it. It was who he was with, the person who introduced him to it all. His hero. His dad.

He memorized every little detail. “We scalped the tickets, $80 dollars, first base side. The Yankees came back in the seventh to lead and then won the game. We stayed all nine innings,” he said, his eyes distant yet warm. “I ate a hot dog. He had a beer.”

It was the first time they cheered on their team together, in that historic stadium. It would also be their last.

In April 2013, Chas returned to New York, this time for work. 16 years had passed. Everything was different.

He hadn’t been to the new Yankee stadium yet and a few colleagues invite him to a game. And not just any game, opening day against the Red Sox.

They took the 4 train, the same one he took with his father all those years before. The train was filled with people in Yankees gear, with fathers and sons.

For most the average train ride means nothing, but it isn’t always that way for everyone. It wasn’t for Chas. “I felt at ease, I didn’t need my guard up the whole time.”

When they arrived, the outside air felt warm and familiar. The little that remained of the old stadium stood across the street. Chas looked over at it. He spotted Gate 6, the same one he and his father walked through all those years before. He could still picture him standing there, perfectly.

The new stadium was modern and commercialized. Regardless of the building’s foreign nature, Chas’ senses began to recover the nostalgia that seemed lost. The vibrant Yankee colors were in every direction, the smell of peanuts, hot dogs, even the stale beer — it was all there. Both times, at 13 and at 28, it was there. The new building ceased to matter, it wasn’t about that. The legacy was alive. There, with him, his father was alive.

Chas went up to the counter.

“I’ll take a hotdog,” he said smiling. “And a beer.”

* * *

Many view sports as trivial or emotionless, but once we look past the field and behind the scenes, it’s quite the opposite.

For the players, this is their life. Their job. Their dream. This is everything they have ever worked for. It’s not just a game, not to them. Winning is everything, it’s their job security. Fans play an integral role in every sport. Just as retail stores would close down without any customers, so would sports organizations. They need us.

For the fans, it may be the one passion that keeps them going. It may be the thing the bonds their family together. The thing that connects them to a loved one who is now gone. It may connect them to an area, to a culture. It may remind them of where they are from or somewhere they want to be.

It’s the things right in front of us that surprise us the most.

We just have to look hard enough.

* * *

It was December 2014 in Foxborough, and I forget how to breathe. My elation and anxiety were blurring into one enormous, thumping emotion.

I walk toward Gillette Stadium, trying not to break out into a run. I keep reminding myself to stay calm. My heart pounds. I’m here, I thought.

I slow down to try to take in my surroundings properly. There were red, white and blue jerseys everywhere. I scream with excitement.

I hear a loud “HEY!” behind me.

I defensively wheel around to find a broad man smiling goofily at me. “Wicked nice jersey!” he bellows in a thick Boston accent, and holds up his hand for a high five.

I froze for a few seconds, acting like an abused creature unsure of what was happening. Snapping out of it, I jump and slap his hand. I’m here.

I could get used to this distant, magical sports world that smiled back at me.

I enter the gates and the place is electric. Everyone cheers, giving me high fives as I walk by.

The place where I always wanted to be, the place where everything feels right, the place where everything fits. Somewhere I belong.

My place, I’m finally here.