"He's one of our boys".
It's a sentence commonly thrown around by sports fans all over the world, often used interchangeably with "Hometown Hero" and other monikers that indicate a term of endearment.
It's what Chicagoans said when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, what (some) Detroiters said when Eminem made it big on the national rap scene, and what Austin and Dallasites alike proclaimed after each of Lance's Armstrong seven Tour De France titles... before all the allegations came out.
"He's one of our boys" is also a sentence used by many sports information officials when making the case for you to vote certain players from your hometown team on an All-Star game. "This is his first year, but he's doing awesome! Vote him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, anything you can," they state in mass mailings, trying to find ways to create more press releases for you to read on the team website during the season, even if you feel no connection to the particular player.
In the era of mass player trades, free agency and little loyalty amongst players to the cities they live in and the teams they play for, the term "one of our boys" is used in an ever-lessening heartfelt way. This statement bodes even truer for those sports teams residing in the New York area.
Think about New York sports history from 1950 till now: who counts as "one of our boys?" First, the obvious: Dimaggio, Mantle, Munson, Gary Carter, Earl the Peal, Clyde, Ewing, Jeter, Posada, Paul O'Neill, Rivera, Broadway Joe just to name a few. I even throw John Starks and Charles Oakley in the mix, because they embody the grittiness and toughness of New Yorkers and played a major role in the success of the mid-1990s Knicks teams. Of the team now, who is "one of our boys?"
But let's go back to the Yankees. Pat Jordan wrote a column awhile back on how the Yankees of now bear a stark contrast to the ones he grew up with, with their Italian, blue-collar roots similar to his, making it easier to relate even though they were professional athletes, and he was a writer. Do Yankees fans as a whole feel similar? Who are "one of our boys" besides Jeter and Rivera?
Do you feel the same way for Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, guys who came up through the Yankee farm system, but maybe haven't had the same success bestowed upon Jeter? Is it the way he plays, and the way he carries himself, with not the larger-than-life prima donna feel you get from A-Rod, but with a calm, collected manner, and that toughness evident in New York sports stars past?
Better yet, what allows a fan to make that personal connection with an athlete? Is that personal connection only there if that athlete wins a bunch? Would Chad Curtis or Scott Brosius be as revered if the Yanks didn't win those three titles from 1998-2001?
New York sports fans are fascinating. "Linsanity" took over New York in early 2012, as the little point guard from Harvard, who slept on his brother's couch and was an early YouTube sensation, slashed his way into New Yorker's hearts.
Jeter, with his play, his looks, his ever-flailing bachelor status, and his winning ways, etched a permanent place in every Yankee fan's heart. The same goes for Posada, Rivera, and others who play with that similar style.
The question is, who is next? Who is that Yankee, one who plays ever so smoothly, who might be as big as Jeter, Joe D, Mantle or Rivera, who carries himself with that championship cool? Who will be that next Yankee that fans sit together on a Tuesday morning in July on the subway into the city nodding in agreement when someone says "Yeah, he's one of our boys?"