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On the catharsis of emotional divestment from the Yankees

Taking a step back to gain a broader perspective.

Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Well, I picked a helluva time to depart Yankees universe and go camping in Utah for 12 days.

(Apologies to my editors and the highest of praise for my colleagues for their thoughtful coverage of what appeared to be a very painful week for Yankees fans.)

Choosing to leave at this particular time was a decision I was always going to be at peace with, regardless of the team’s performance in the postseason. If the Yankees played well, I had their first World Series appearance in 13 years to look forward to. If they played poorly... well, I suppose I can count myself lucky to have missed out on the misery.

While much of the Yankees fanbase was pulling their hair out in front of their TV sets, I was marveling over the sublime majesty of the Utah wilderness. It’s the first time that I missed a Yankees postseason run in my more that 20 years of fandom. This time away from the team that I’ve loved for the majority of my life, and their season overall, has taught me to be a healthier Yankees fan and sports fan in general.

Over the years, I’ve developed a rather unhealthy relationship with the teams that I support, none more so than the Yankees. I was finding that my overall mood was far too intimately tied to the performance of those clubs. Sure, if they won, my night was made, but if they lost, I often sunk into a hole of despair and self-pity. And as a naturally pessimistic person, those lows had greater amplitude and longer duration than the highs that came with winning.

Fan relationship with sports teams is a complicated affair. On the one hand, sport is one of the great gathering places in society. As Jemele Hill related in a recent appearance on Fresh Air, sport is one of the few things that dissolves differences, bringing together people from disparate backgrounds to cheer for a common goal.

On the other hand, the level of emotional investment in a team’s success can tip into the extreme. The difference between healthy support and unhealthy behavior is a fine line. Many of us live vicariously through the teams we support, sharing in their achievement by proxy. To that end, I was finding that a disproportionate amount of my happiness was directly derived from the success of the teams I follow.

Therefore, I made a conscious decision to incrementally disentangle my emotional state from the Yankees’ performance this season. This was particularly valuable in a season that roller-coastered more than any season I can remember. I tried not to get too excited and too sucked in by the historic pace set in the first half. By the same token, I strove to prevent the lackluster second half from filling me with distress, hopelessness, and resignation the way a similar poor stretch would have in previous seasons. Do Yankees wins still bring me joy and defeats still bring disappointment? Absolutely. However, the valence of these emotions is no longer as intense.

This emotional distancing of myself from the team culminated with actual physical disengagement by choosing to depart civilization right as their playoff run was beginning. I tweeted and recapped Game 1 of the ALDS, and then I was gone. I cannot begin to describe the catharsis of that decision.

Not being plugged into the internet and specifically the results of the Yankees’ games was a liberating experience. I felt unburdened from the heft of my (and many Yankees fans’) expectations, and the mindset of championship or bust. And though I returned to find they had been swept by the Astros, such a discovery brought me the least amount of discomfort I’ve felt over another season coming to an end without a ring since becoming a serious Yankees fan.

All this being said, it’s good to be back. I look forward to the thought-provoking content my colleagues will create in the coming months as we try to determine where the Yankees go from here. Only now, I feel I can approach writing about the team as clear-eyed and clear-minded as I’ve been since being brought on by PSA.