The big squeeze

You tried to get into those shorts lately?

The ones over there, laying atop the pile of laundry you haven’t bothered to sift through since last fall. Think they still fit?

We understand it’s been a long winter. You had a few too many at the end of a celebratory October. You couldn’t get enough of those peanut butter cookies that kept coming in as the calendar turned. We won’t remind you about the time you attempted to eat yourself out of a deep depression muttering, “David Tyree” even as you slept.

No, they’re definitely not going to fit.

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Yet, there you are, trying to force your wider thighs into a pair of shorts that you, in all honesty, felt tightening around your waist the last time you wore them in October. Now there are at least two inches between button and hole. You’re standing there, looking ridiculous and indignantly telling me that the shorts fit, even as I notice the faint hint of the cuff straining to keep itself stitched intact against your bulging leg.

It’s OK to succumb to that fact. Really, it is.

Lots of things don’t seem as big as they used to. Take yesterday in Tampa, where the Red Sox and Yankees met for the first and only time this spring, trying to fit back into their historic rivalry, opened wide earlier this month by Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner and his weekly addresses on how things should be in this great country we call, “Yankeeland.” The Red Sox lost, 8-4, in what was yet another mind-numbing spring training game.

And yet, if you bought into the hype, this was still YANKEES-RED SOX, or in other words, a reason to sucker fans into paying $150 for a meaningless contest.


Steinbrenner’s seemingly daily putdowns of the Red Sox, their closer, and now, everyone with a payroll structure beneath that of the behemoths of the game, have prompted some to proclaim the rivalry at its healthiest, despite Boston’s recent dominance when it comes to World Series titles, 2-0 over the past seven seasons. The Red Sox responded to Hank’s missives by signing him up for their fan club, and utilizing his words as motivation for a new Red Sox Nation campaign commercial, which is about as embarrassing as the proud Yankee patriarch could have hoped for.
Yet, for all the bluster coming out of the mouths of the owners (and Jonathan Papelbon), the “rivalry” had yet to be tested on the field as of yet.
Then Julian Tavarez lets one get away, Andy Pettitte comes a little up and in on David Ortiz, and suddenly everything is seemingly reborn. I guess.
“You could say this was just another typical meaningless spring training game, except whenever and wherever the Yankees and Red Sox get together, there is always meaning,” writes the New York Daily News’ Bill Madden, who could have had this lede ready two days in advance, seeing as no matter what happens, we’ll make some sort of big deal out of a New York-Boston contest. Even in Tampa on St. Patrick’s Day.
“It felt more like your typical, meaningful game in September with the attention that comes with it,” writes the Providence Journal’s Joe McDonald, apparently with no intended hyperbole.
“Don’t Tell Fans This Game Doesn’t Count,” shouts the headline in today’s Tampa Tribune. Even though it, you know, doesn’t count.
In case you haven’t noticed, we’re a long way from 2004, when this rivalry hit its apex. Between the Jason Varitek-Alex Rodriguez dustup and the remarkable ALCS comeback, the storied antagonism between the two teams was at an all-time high. It wasn’t fueled in the front offices (although the offseason A-Rod chase might have initiated things), but on the field, where a certain distaste between the teams festered. Since then, it’s stayed afloat, with moments like Johnny Damon’s jumping ship at the forefront. But it’s never been as good. It’s difficult to imagine how it possibly can be.
And that’s fine. Some things are better remembered than attempted to recreate. But when it comes to the bottom line, promoting this rivalry just for a monetary benefit, it all seems equivalent to being hammered on the head with the reminder that “Frank TV” is coming to TBS. No matter how much you try to force it, it’s just not going to fit unless the proper ingredients are in place.
With these two particular rosters, it’s far too early to determine that.
“For the players and coaches on both sides — those who understand full well that sometimes an exhibition game is just an exhibition game — talking about the rivalry Monday at Legends Field felt like a bothersome chore,” writes the Hartford Courant’s Jeff Goldberg. “Despite the recent best efforts of Hank Steinbrenner, there were far simpler things for both teams to concern themselves with than the fate of the universe.”
Go figure.
The players often do right by the nature of it all, espousing the company line about the fierce competitiveness of the rivalry, but one has to wonder if it’s leaning more toward hibernation for the time being. Yes, as long as there are fans, ESPN, boisterous owners, and anyone else who wants to promote the myth, the rivalry will be healthy. Anyone else who feels it doesn’t live up to its billing will inevitably be swayed when he or she becomes enthralled by any one of the handful of tight contests these two teams will play this season.
But it seems more difficult for rivalries to exist in baseball these days, the complete opposite of what the league aimed for with the advent of the unbalanced schedule. The Yankees, Rays, Orioles, Blue Jays, and Red Sox are in each others’ cities so often that they might as well start looking at leases. By the time Game 15 comes around, you’re tired of hearing about this great rivalry, how special it is to watch these teams go up against each other, even as one has an 11-game season series advantage on the other or you have the sudden recollection that so many games against the Yankees means just as many you’re forced to watch against the Orioles. There’s a reason why Michigan-Ohio State and Duke-North Carolina remain at the forefront of our rivalry admission: They meet but once to a few times each year.
The Red Sox and Yankees will meet 19 times this season, baseball looking to suck every dime out of its most prevalent hardball passion. Enter Hank Steinbrenner, and it already seems like the two teams – as he hinted might happen some day – are doing business together, with the Red Sox reacting by using his words to sell more memberships.
This is what the rivalry has become four years later, more corporate, less athletic.
Today the Yankees will play an exhibition at Virginia Tech, site of last spring’s mass murder. New York donated $1 million to the school last year in the wake of the tragedy, the only team in Major League Baseball to do so.
One of those students killed that day was Ross Alameddine, a sophomore and a Red Sox fan from Saugus. Ed Weathers, an English professor – and Yankee fan – at Virginia Tech had Alameddine as one of his students, and he writes today in The Collegian: “Today, as my Yankees honor Virginia Tech, I plan to spend a few hours remembering a Red Sox fan.”
Hokies baseball coach Pete Hughes, former skipper of Boston College, and a Brockton native said of the scrimmage, “It’s going to be hard to root against the Yankees ever again.”
People will find a way, of course, and one day the Sox-Yankees rivalry may be back to what it once was. But the force-feeding has to stop, otherwise the backlash becomes a manufactured by-product of TV dollars and inflated ticket prices, with little-to-no on-field semblance of hostility. It becomes a myth, a once-great tale now nothing more than a shell of itself.
It’s not just hard to hate the Yankees today. It’s sort of hard to hate them at all these days.
But the rivalry is a money-maker, so you can surely expect more square pegs in round holes. But know that there was nothing special about yesterday, no matter what somebody wants to try and compel you to believe.
Come summertime that will likely change based on these teams’ histories. Plenty of time to work out, plenty of time to let feeling settle in before proclaiming the greatness of an afternoon.
Maybe you can even wear your shorts to the game.

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