I’m a huge Yankees fan, and a big NJ Devils fan as well, much as I hate the name (for those unaware it actually comes from a legend about a supernatural creature living in the Jersey Pine Barrens known as the Jersey Devil…but still). I did stop watching football, though, and never liked basketball.
Still, it’s a good thing to wonder, the why of it. What’s the point? Why sports?
Well, permit me to give an example.
Let’s go back to 2001. October. 9/11 has just occurred, pushing back the baseball season. The New York Yankees just won the fourth of their four World Series titles in five years, and are now an established dynasty team.
And yet, for the first time since perhaps the 70’s, the nation has rallied around the New York Yankees…because nobody needed a win right now more than New York. And everybody was on their side. Everyone.
This team was not a powerhouse team like the 98′ or 99′ Yankees, but closer to the 87 win Yankees of 2000 that managed to get hot at the right time to snag a World Series title. Perhaps it didn’t seem that way with 95 wins – a sizable number – but their offense was relatively below par compared to previous years. True to form, with the nation on their side, they went down 0-2 in the best of 5 series to the Oakland Athletics.
And then this happened.
That is a ridiculous play. It almost doesn’t make sense. Years later Jeter would swear he practiced for a play like this, which in some ways is even crazier, because that’s pretty much not a thing. But it happened.
Of course the Yankees won the series, and then beat the world record holding 116 win Mariners in six games to advance to the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks…where they promptly went down 0-2 again. Their offense was non-existent.
Games 3, 4, and 5 were held in New York City. Game three was a close game but more or less standard, a one run pitcher’s duel won by the Yankees.
Set the scene. If the Yankees go down 1-3, the series is pretty much over. They haven’t hit a lick all series. Bottom of the ninth. 2 outs. One man on. Down 2.
And this happens.
The Yankees won that game on a walk-off home run by – who else? – Derek Jeter, the famous “Mr. November” home run hit just after midnight.
Okay. Series tied. Thing is, the Yanks are still in hot water. They’re still not hitting, and if they go down a game they need to win not one but two games on the road against the D-Backs, who have been a monster at home. Game 5 was almost as pivotal as game 4…as well as the last game played that year in Yankee Stadium.
And it didn’t go well. Down 2. Bottom of the ninth. Two outs. The crowd is quiet. Brosius, the batter, has two strikes on him.
The crowd is on the edge of their seats, but the game is over. After all, once is amazing, but twice? Two nights in a row? In the world series? It had never happened. Ever. Surely it would be too much to expect something like that again.
To this day, this is the single most amazing thing I have ever seen, in any sport. Listen to the crowd. Never has a crowd ever been that loud before or since. Never.
And for this to happen in 2001? Of all years? In this ballpark? Twice?
It defies belief.
The Yankees won that game, but they were blown out in game 6. Game 7 in Arizona had one of the most dramatic ninth innings of all-time, when legendary closer Mariano Rivera – the greatest postseason pitcherever – blew the save thanks to his own error and some bloop hits to bad spots in the ballpark. After the game he sat for hours and answered every question, not making any excuses for his poor night. His reputation survived this game, and despite also blowing a famous game (2, technically) in 2004 he did go on to win one more World Series, and his reputation as greatest postseason pitcher of all time remains intact.
The Diamondbacks won the series. You can’t take that way from them.
But for two nights – two glorious nights – the Yankees shined as a beacon of hope not just for New York, but America. With one swing of the bat in game 5 everything – the tragedy, the horror, the fear – was all forgotten as Brosius’s ball landed two rows back in the left field seats of Yankee Stadium.
As Joe Buck said, it bordered on the surreal.
On that day, the Yankees were the heroes America needed.
And that, reader, is why I watch sports.