AWKWARD NEW YORK is a weekly column about the uncomfortable experiences of Chris Vespoli in and around NYC. Every Tuesday is another cringe-worthy account, from being fat shamed by a Dunkin’ Donuts employee to crashing Fashion Week.
The grainy photo below is one of the most embarrassing photos of me in existence, which is hard to believe because I went through a terrible nü metal phase in high school.
Yes, that’s me as a child, sitting in the DeLorean from the Back to the Future movies at the New York International Auto Show circa 1990. No, that’s not the embarrassing part; that’s actually pretty badass. The embarrassing part is on my head. It’s very hard to make out, but I’m wearing a Mets hat. That’s a very big problem, because I’m a Yankees fan now.
Before the Internet commenter-cretin contingent crucifies me for being “a frontrunner,” “a traitor,” or “an idiot, because the Yankees and Mets both suck, you fucking dumb, spoiled New Yorker,” let me explain.
My parents divorced when I was only about 4 years old (no, I’m not telling you this to win your sympathy, but I’ll gladly accept it if you’re offering). My mom and I lived above my grandparents in a two-family home on Long Island, and when I first started watching baseball, I’d watch it with my maternal grandfather, who was a Mets fan.
It being the early ‘90s, memories of the Metropolitans’ thrilling 1986 World Series win was still fresh in people’s minds, and although the team was starting its slip into the doldrums of the league, where it would remain for much of the decade, fans were still energized by stars like John Franco, David Cone, and Howard Johnson. I was one of those fans…until my dad stepped in.
The Vespoli side of my family was, in part, from the South Bronx — New York Yankees turf. My dad was a die-hard Bombers fan from birth who saw the Yankees appear in so many World Series during the Mickey Mantle dynasties of the 1950s and ‘60s, he grew up thinking there was a Major League rule stipulating the team always played in the Fall Classic. But those glory days — and even the team’s successes of the late ‘70s — seemed like eons ago around the time I started watching the Yankees with my dad, when I began visiting him on the weekends.
What I saw was a team in transition. The Yankees were digging themselves out of their first last-place finish in over two decades. Things were grim, except for one magnificent man with the most beautiful mustache I’d ever seen (besides the glorious jet black guido ‘stache my dad used to rock). He was a man who propped up the team throughout the ‘80s. A man who had won the American League MVP, and who set the record for most grand slams in a single season. That man, of course, was Don Mattingly. And I had a full-on baseball man boner for him.
It was love at first sight. Not long after my dad remarried, a framed Mattingly poster proudly graced the wall in my room of my stepmother’s house (framed, because I wasn’t allowed to tack, tape, or affix posters to the wall in any manner that might fuck up the paint — an important early footnote in the development of my neurosis). The Mattingly era had begun in my heart; I’d never wear a Mets hat again.
“Frontrunner”? No. “Traitor”? Maybe. In love with Don Mattingly’s rugged face pubes? Hell yes. Becoming a Yankees fan was secondary.
The 1994 season was my first real season rocking the pinstripes — and what a season it was. Bolstered by Mattingly, starting pitcher Jimmy Key, and future great Paul O’Neill, the Yankees were on their way to a 100-win season, and perhaps even the pennant. An infamous player’s strike dashed those dreams, cutting the season short. The Yankees wouldn’t be in the playoffs that year, because there would be none. They made it in the following season, but lost to the Mariners in the 1995 Divisional Series, prompting Mattingly’s heartbreaking exit from the game. But I don’t need to tell you what happened in 1996. And 1998. And 1999. And 2000 and 2009.
Yes, I’ve seen the Yankees win five World Series titles in my lifetime, one as recently as six short years ago. If I were still a Mets fan, I’d still be waiting to see my first (I was only 2 years old in 1986). I don’t say that to brag; I’m grateful.
I didn’t become a Yankees fan in the early ‘90s because it was the popular thing to do then — it wasn’t. And now, more than 20 years later, with a depleted roster, a money-grubbing front office, and a disgraced star player in A-Rod, it isn’t once more. Why I became a Yankees fan is the same reason I still am one. I follow my heart no matter what my brain (and sometimes, my conscience) tells me.
And my heart belongs to Don Mattingly.
For more AWKWARD NEW YORK, click here.