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Deep roots will not bend

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff October 29, 2009 08:53 AM

I rooted for the Yankees once.

Michael Wrobel was only 11 years old when he lost his battle with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 1996. His family struggled through the remainder of that summer, searching for meaning, grasping for reason in places that incessantly had few answers. The Wrobels, despite being ardent Yankee fans, have had significant influence on my life, and when the Yankees made the playoffs that year, I was comforted in the fact that baseball could serve as some tiny solace to a family in overwhelming grief.

So, yeah, I rooted for the Yankees that year. I rooted like heck for them.

That, my friends, is reason to toss your support toward a team you would normally get nauseated over the thought of it winning. Sometimes sports can be bigger than the game itself.

On the other hand, Tony Massarotti's assertion that Red Sox fans ought to root for the Yankees over the Phillies during this month's (nee, next month's) World Series seems to be percolated from the arguments of dwindling TV ratings and that a New York victory might make the 2010 Red Sox hungrier in their quest for a title. Because I imagine Sean McGrail and Kevin Youkilis are sitting at home every night watching these games and cheering for Derek Jeter and Co. because it will increase NESN's numbers and help fire up the troops for next season.

If things are indeed stagnant as far as the Red Sox are concerned, the reason is the front office's approach to distance itself from the Idiot culture of the early part of this decade and create a team of professionals that can sometimes teeter on the edge of boredom. If the Yankees win the World Series, I'm not sure we should expect Theo Epstein to slam his fist on the table, proclaiming, "Damn it. Get Millar back."

Part of the pleasure in sports isn't only devotion to your team, but the fun in loathing your enemy. It's why I would be extremely disappointed if Packers fans welcome Brett Favre back to Lambeau on Sunday with anything less than widespread disdain. It's why Red Sox fans, on the whole, are rooting against the Yankees.

Yankee fans, of course, will argue that such a hatred for their team comes out of Boston's inferiority complex for New York. Which is really only another way of defining the arrogance of the six burroughs (I'm officially nominating Southwestern Connecticut for instatement). Yankee fans, you see, don't hate anyone. They're too full of their own self-worth to recognize that there is even anyone else out there.

Imagine if they got a sniff of that though, that Red Sox fans were throwing their collective support their way. You would expect the reaction would be one of gratitude. Instead, you're more likely to receive an arrogant retort about Bostonians not having a real team to follow.

If the Yankees win the World Series, that doesn't do any good for the Red Sox or their fans. In fact, it would justify New York's right to brag about winning the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes. It would mean rooting for the girl that broke your heart because she found "love" in the arms of a tycoon. Not to mention, it would mean Alex Rodriguez's redemption. Who exactly do you think Cynthia is rooting for?

Red Sox fans rooting for the Yankees would be like Bill Belichick having Eric Mangini over for a friendly game of Twister. It would be like Deadspin and ESPN going into business together. Some battles are more worthy if you pick a side and stay on it. The wishy-washy among us can have their "alternative" hats, bandwagon passes, and Nutmeg State license plates. I'm rooting for the Phillies. I'm rooting against the Yankees, thank you.

As for the TV ratings, has anyone come to the conclusion that perhaps the reason the numbers are down so dramatically is that watching baseball on TV has become a tedious measure of aggravation? In between the endless promotions and guests in the booth, there's a baseball game, though it's become increasingly difficult to find. Mix in the fact that if you are indeed even able to secure tickets to a game, you'll sacrifice your child's first month of college to purchase them. It would be nice, for once, to not have to drop a few hundred dollars in December for a game in late August, something a bigger ballpark on the waterfront might cure, but this isn't the time of place for that argument.

Last night as we watched Game 1 at home, the only cheers for the Yankees were in the self-important comments of Yankee fan Facebook friends on the laptop nearby. As the evening wore on, and Cliff Lee continued to baffle the Yankee batters, the comments diminished, much like the stands at Yankee Stadium began to empty far before the final pitch.

Maybe you think there's something petty or immature about rooting against a team like the Yankees. But isn't that part of sports, the natural dislike of a rival? Without that intense aversion, wouldn't we all just be a bunch of vanilla, bandwagon yahoos? I don't want to know anyone that finds the satisfaction in that.

Pedro Martinez takes the hill for the Phillies tonight in Game 2. Any Red Sox fan cheering on the Yankees ought to have a good excuse.

You can, of course, argue that there is rationale in rooting for the enemy. When the game can serve a greater good, all bets are off.

TV and complacency aren't good enough reasons. Sorry.

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