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What Jayson Nix accidentally taught me about fandom

And how one fluke swing of the bat helped my wife understand my rabid obsession with the Yankees.

Texas Rangers v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

My wife, Dorothy, does not like sports. She played a bit of tennis growing up, but any sort of interest in sport, whether amateur or professional, played or watched, has eluded her for the most part.

We’ve been together for nearly 12 years. When we were dating I played baseball, and even though she finds baseball painfully boring to watch, she would come out to cheer me on at every game. Now that my playing days are over, she cheers for the same teams I do because she’s a nice person. Well, that, and because she knows watching one game of any sport with me means that I will watch one episode of Real Housewives of [insert whatever city is on TV here] with her. Fair is fair, after all.

On Sunday evening, we watched as my favorite football team, the Cincinnati Bengals, punched their ticket to their first Super Bowl appearance in my lifetime. I spent the entirety of the first half sulking and the majority of the second half pacing back-and-forth in front of the TV. When the Bengals finally hit the game-winning field goal, I crumpled to the ground in a heap of emotions, trying to process the fact that what I had once thought was impossible had just occurred. After taking more than a few minutes to collect myself, I looked up from the floor of our living room to see my wife, wearing my old Carson Palmer jersey, laughing at me and imitating my hysterical, herky-jerk movements from my celebration.

In that moment, or at least the moment after I finally caught my breath, I was reminded of why I have a personal vendetta against Jayson Nix and how he inadvertently set my wife and I on this trajectory.

About a year and a half into our relationship, I was at Dorothy’s parents’ house for dinner. I was hopelessly addicted to my phone, but I was still relatively new to the family and wanted to make a good impression so I would turn it on silent and ignore it while I was around her parents to prove to them that I was polite or something. After dinner and dessert and multiple coffees, we left her parents’ company to watch some television. As any reasonable 20-year-old would do, the first thing I did when I sat down was check Twitter. This was the first thing I saw:

As a person with anxiety I always fear the worst, so I certainly didn’t need Jon Morosi to spell it out for me: Mo’s playing days were over. I immediately went into mourning for the career of my favorite player of all-time. Details were scants at first, but as the day progressed, a clearer picture emerged: Mo had torn his ACL while shagging flyballs in the outfield during batting practice.

For the first time in front of my then-girlfriend, my emotions got the best of me as I explained that the career of my favorite athlete of all-time—the man I grew up imitating on the baseball field—was likely over because of a fluke injury, and that meant he’d never get a farewell tour, and I’d never get to see him again, and and and... Because my wife has always represented the very best humanity has to offer, she listened to me ramble on about a guy she had never heard of until a few minutes earlier when she looked over to see her boyfriend crying into his phone on her parents’ couch and helped me collect myself and calm down a little bit.

Later that evening, after I returned home, I read the ESPN write-up about the details of Rivera’s injury where it was revealed, at least to me, that Jayson Nix hit the ball that put Rivera’s career in jeopardy. I swore that I would never forgive Jayson Nix for the pain he had caused (through no fault of his own) and I still haven’t done so.

The next day I went to Dorothy’s parents’ house, wearing my Mariano Rivera jersey as a tribute, of course, and caught her up to speed on who Jayson Nix was, why I now held a personal grudge against him, and what “shagging flyballs” meant. Her response was something along the lines of, “That’s a dumb term, but okay we hate Jayson Nix now. Got it.”

I’m sure she has no recollection of this happening or, at least, has no idea who Jayson Nix is and why I still hold a grudge against him, but I just couldn’t help remembering this moment from the puddle of emotions I found myself in on Sunday night. Rivera’s injury was the first time I was openly emotional about sports in front of her, and here we were, a decade later as a married couple, in a similarly emotional situation. I have to say, though, I think I handled myself a little bit better this time around.

Though I still won’t forgive Jayson Nix, it’s bizarre to think that my wife and I actually somehow understood each other better from that day forward. Baseball wasn’t just an interest for me but was intricately tied into who I was as a person, and fandom was my way of expressing that. All these years later, Dorothy still doesn’t particularly enjoy watching sports, but she will always happily throw on an old jersey and cheer for my favorite teams with me because of how much it means to me. (And because she gets to subject me to the torture of an episode of Real Housewives afterwards.)

So, in a way, I guess I owe Jayson Nix a little bit of thanks. After all, if it weren’t for this fluke injury, I may have been too scared to show the vulnerable side of fandom to my then-still-relatively-new girlfriend. But I’ll never admit that, of course.