I just finished reading and enjoying Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankeesby Jane Heller. You don’t have to be a Yankees fan to enjoy this book. In fact, we Angels fans can savor knowing that our team is now just below the Red Sox in the list of the teams that Yankee fans despise (especially after Game 5).
In this book, Jane, a lifelong Yankees fan, becomes so disgusted with the performance of the 2007 team that she publically divorces them in a column in the New York Times. After being accused of being a “bandwagon fan,” she puts together a book proposal to go to every remaining Yankees game that season. She hopes to get into the press box and interview one of the players, but she learns far more from being in the nosebleed seats with the other fans. In the end, she reconnects with her beloved team, gets an interview with Yankee (now Dodger) Doug Mientkiewicz, and shows all of us what it really means to be a baseball fan.
The book has valuable lessons for all of us who love this game.
The first is that baseball is not all about winning. In fact, the teams with the happiest and most loyal of fans are the ones that do the poorest in the standings. The then hapless Tampa Bay Devil Rays were the most helpful in Jane’s quest. She writes, “The Rays are worthy of affection, because look at how well they treat people.” She describes how the families of the players came out to support their kids. “There’s something refreshing about the way the relatives of the Devil Rays supported their boys…It was like a high school games where all the parents show up. I really enjoyed myself.”
One of the more moving sections of the book was when she went to Kauffman Stadium to watch the cellar dwelling Kansas City Royals. (There must be something about the Royals, because my son, who has never been to Kansas City, is a fan.) She describes one man who had tumors on his face and neck. “If you have seen The Elephant Man,” she writes, “you get the idea.” He tells her that he had been a Royals fan for a long time. She asked if he minds if they lose. He bristles, “We won the World Series in ’85. I go to see ’em for better or worse.” She concludes:
I am sure there are people with his disease who confine themselves to their house, never risking ridicule. And yet this guy not only ventures out in public, but goes to a baseball stadium, just so that he can see his team play in person — and probably lose. If he is not a true fan, I do not know who is.
By making baseball more about winning and losing, Jane learned something valuable about being part of a team:
I flash back to the first half of the season when I was so angry — angry at the Yankees for being so flawed and angry at the New York Times readers for branding me a bad fan. I was a bad fan. I had lost the joy, the magic, the faith. But now here I am at the last real game of the last home stand, and I feel a shift in way I love the Yankees. I still want them to win every game…But in the meantime, I have spent 2 months watching them…I know this team in a way I didn’t know them before…And I love them still.
The joy and magic of the game is reflected in her interview with Doug Mientkiewicz. These particular quotes from him describes these sentiments best:
What’s the best thing about being a Yankee? It’s hard to put into words. It’s everything built into one: the fans, the stadium, the pride. You become a better player just by putting that jersey on…Technically, I’m a Yankee until the end of the World Series. But who know if I’ll be coming back? I hope I do. I just want a chance to earn my job. That’s all a player can ask for.
And every Little Leaguer should remember this quote from Doug about what it takes to be a baseball player:
[Former Yankee manager Joe Torre] grabbed and hugged me and said something I’ll never forget: “You’re a true professional. You forced yourself into the lineup, and you kept yourself in it. You handled the situation with class, and I’m very proud of you.”
Jane shows that a relationship with a baseball team is like any other relationship. There are ups and downs, and there are times when our beloved disappoints us. But we realize how painful it is to be without the one we love and how happy we are when we’re together. Our memories and those moments of joy reconnect us. We remember that we’re together for the long haul, for better or worse. Whether you’re a she-fan, a he-fan, or a player, these are important things for us to remember.
Update: The Yankees’ recent American League championship adds to the message of her book. Two years after all the disappointment and upheaval of the 2007 season, the Yankees are going back to the World Series. This shows that baseball is a game of patience and endurance. It’s a game for the long haul. You can’t just react to every setback that pops upalong the way, since they often prove to be short-term. This is why I like being involved in Little League. Baseball can teach children values that can benefit them in all aspects of their lives.