The playoffs are a special time of year for any sports fan. Perhaps even more so when you’re a kid, first establishing your loyalties to any one team who’s played well enough to make it to October, maybe even November, ball. At that age, each game feels like it’s life or death, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll experience some truly magical events that will stick with you for the rest of your life.
I’m lucky enough to have spent my most formative years as a Yankee fan in the late 90s and early 2000s, where the Core Four led the franchise to legendary heights. During these years, I was spoiled enough to expect that the Yankees would make it to the playoffs, then the World Series, and eventually, win it all.
And they did. Most of the time. But win or lose, some of these memories have stuck with me and mark some of my favorite moments from my childhood.
2001 World Series
In 2001, I’m seven years old. I don’t remember going to sleep on November 4th, but I do remember my door opening, and my father urgently saying my name. “Wake up, wake up. They’re going to win.” I let him pull me out of bed and lead me downstairs, to find Mariano Rivera on the mound and a 2-1 lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the bottom of the 9th. It’s remarkable that even in such a close game, we had faith that the greatest closer of all time would have it in the bag. And then, as we all know, things began to quickly devolve. A missed throw by Mo to Derek Jeter at second, a base hit, a hit batter, and all of a sudden, the game is tied, and the bases are loaded with one out.
More than anything else, I remember Luis Gonzalez’s bloop hit into the shallow outfield to win the game for the Diamondbacks, and I remember how confused I was as I stood there, still half asleep. “That’s it?” I asked over and over, absolutely dumbfounded. “Yeah,” my father kept saying. “Sorry to wake you up for that.” I’m pretty sure I went to sleep after that, still not fully believing that was the end of the Yankees’ 2001 World Series hopes, but looking back (especially since they’ve struggled so much in recent years), I’m thankful even for the opportunity that we had, and the electricity that poured out from the TV that night for such an exciting game.
2003 American League Championship Series
Alright, I know you all saw 2003 and immediately knew where this was going. But even with Aaron Boone in the dog house over the most recent years, we can’t deny how magical this Game 7 was against the Boston Red Sox. Again, I was put to bed before the game was over, but found it impossible to sleep not knowing what was going on, so I turned on the clock radio on the lowest volume setting and tucked it under my pillow. I could barely hear John Sterling’s voice, but as the game stretched into extra innings I cared less and less about my parents finding out I was still awake, and more about catching the play-by-play. And then, as we all know, pinch-hitting Boone sent Tim Wakefield’s pitch into the night and sent the Yankees to the World Series.
Maybe I heard my father clapping downstairs, but I knew I couldn’t stand to miss out any longer. Feigning the inability to sleep, I went to my parents. “What’s going on?” I asked in a fake groggy voice, knowing full well what had just happened.
“Here,” my mother said. “Maybe this will make you feel better.” They replayed the home run for me, again and again. I did my best to pretend to be shocked. I hid a knowing smile the best I could. I remember seeing Bret Boone in the commentator’s box, speechless and tears in his eyes as the Yankees celebrated defeating the Red Sox in the most epic way possible.
It wasn’t until years later that I confessed I had listened to the whole thing live on the radio. I think my parents found it funny because hiding a radio under his pillow was exactly the kind of thing my dad would do when he was that age. But that’s the beauty about baseball, isn’t it? You might see something completely unique during a game that has never happened before, despite the long history of the sport. However, the culture and traditions surrounding the sport hold true across decades and generations, fueled even more so by the prestige surrounding the postseason. So, even though they didn’t make the playoffs this year (the real one where you play multiple games at least), I’m counting on plenty more opportunities in the future to create memories of both triumphs and epic defeats that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.