I was talking to my dad the other night about how the conclusion of this Yankees season can only be described using the cliché "the end of an era." Mo's gone. Pettitte's retiring again, but this time for good. Jeter's on his last legs (leg?). End of an era, for sure.
Then, I thought about it a little more. My dad grew up during the Mantle era, partied through his mid-twenties watching the Bronx Zoo Yanks, and suffered with Mattingly's Quadruple-A teams. For him, this is absoultely the end of an era. The completion of another epoch in his baseball life.
But for me? These are the Yankees I've watched since I first discovered the game. It's the end of the only era of baseball I've ever known.
I went to my first game at the old Stadium in 1993, began vigorously following the team in '94, and sat in the car listening as they clinched a playoff spot in '95. I kept score of almost every home game from my couch in '96, and cried when Sandy Alomar ended the season in '97. I was more infatuated with the team than Noah was with Allie at the beginning of The Notebook. Pettitte, Mo, Jeter, Bernie, Paulie, and Jorge were my buddies, if you could have a platonic crush on all your buddies at once.
Bill Simmons once said that of the top 25 moments of his life, Larry Bird was involved in seven of them. Simmons sounds like a dorky loser at first, but some of the best moments of my life have similarly included my favorite Yankees.
The first time I ever witnessed Yankee Stadium turn into an insane asylum was Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS, when Jim Leyritz smashed a homer in the bottom of the 15th inning to put the Yanks up 2-0 in the series. I was eight years old, rocking my signature Coke-bottle glasses as I screamed my lungs out for over five hours. It was the first of many times that I'd come home soaked in beer, but the only time none of the beer belonged to me. The winning pitcher in that game? The young Mariano Rivera.
Mentions of the 1996 World Series immediately cause me to think about Joe Girardi's triple in Game 6; I jumped off the top bunk of my bed and twisted my ankle as he slid headfirst into third. I was hurt, but I recovered in time to see my boy Derek Jeter score Girardi with a single.
And then there's the 2001 World Series. You know the story. It was right after 9/11, nights of Mystique and Aura, all of that. I have never felt a collective euphoria like I did at the Stadium when Scott Brosius homered to tie Game 5. For the second game in a row, the Yankees tied the game against Byung-Hyun Kim in the ninth then won in extra innings. The game-winning hit of Game 5 was delivered by Alfonso Soriano (one of these Yankees, albeit a lesser one), who fittingly returned to the Bronx for the end of this era with an MVP-level second half this season.
All of these Yankee moments are signposts in my own life. I remember the magical run in 2009 not just for all the game-winning rallies, but also because that was the summer my family renovated our house, not to mention the (presumably depressing) summer after I graduated college. Every day after working on the house, my family would convene in the living room with a case of beer to watch the game. Often, there was literally not even a roof over our heads, but at least the Yanks were winning. It was the exact opposite of depressing.
Just like in any baseball fan's life, there were also the less-pleasant times.* That '96 season was great, but I missed Doc Gooden's no-hitter because my mom wouldn't let my dad keep us out so late on a school night.** The aforementioned Sandy Alomar homer nearly drove me to depression. And that 2001 Series...well, we all know how it ended. Mo took the loss in Game 7, just as he did in some of those horrible losses to Boston in 2004. Still, I look back fondly on the entire era, sort of like when you laugh with your friend about a heated argument you once had.
*Yup, even for the Yankees.
**I guess she learned her lesson after the 15-inning Leyritz game in '95.
The good times have heavily outweighed the bad for these Yankees, and of course I appreciate that. But even moreso, I'm grateful that this team was such an integral part of my young life. This particular group --which, for almost two decades, consistently featured some of my boyhood idols -- is done. It's not weird at all that I care so deeply about them, and I'm going to miss them so much.