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My first Yankees game

Jumping on a bandwagon I’ve been on for 24 years.

Mariano Rivera

One of the things about growing up in Canada is going to an MLB game is usually a well-planned event. This goes double when you’re parents of two kids under the age of eight, and live a good hour’s drive from the nearest stadium. It meant that the cost of the game, gas, and headaches that abound with children not because there is anything wrong with them but simply because they are children, dictates you get one, maybe two MLB games in a year.

April 23, 2000 was my very first game, the first time the payoff of live baseball was worth more than those above challenges for my parents. Into a deep green 1994 Caravan and down the 401 eastbound to Toronto we went, for a 1 o’clock first pitch between the Toronto Blue Jays, still in the doldrums of a brewery owner and Gord Ash heading the administration, and the Yankees. The Yankees were, of course, THE Yankees, off three World Series titles in four years, and though then-five-year-old Josh didn’t know it, en route to another.

One of the things about being five is your brain isn’t really developed enough to store memories in a clean, linear order. It gets stored in flashes — the handheld pinball game my mom kept in the van for trips like this, the seemingly endless walk up Front St., The Audience.

That’s one of the things that stands out the most from the afternoon, that titanic collection of steel-cast fans and hecklers that greet every fan coming from the north side of the park.

Memories of what happened on the field are less tangible than the simple sensory overload — the sounds, the smells, the mass of colors that was early 2000s baseball. I’m not saying you’re lying if you can crisply remember every detail of your first MLB game, I’m simply saying I remember less things and more feelings. In retrospect this is pretty funny, since I remember the Yankees winning, but I don’t remember seeing a bit of history.

That sleepy spring Sunday was the first time in MLB history two teammates both homered from both sides of the plate, with Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada driving in eight of the team’s ten runs on the day. By the time I was really into baseball, Williams was trailing off from his 140 wRC+, 4.5ish win baseline, but at least I had as perfect an introduction to the center fielder as you could get.

The game was very much a microcosm of the 2000 regular season, one where the Yankees did end up on the top of the division table but everything seemed to take just a little more work than in previous campaigns. The Yankees scored in the top half of the first — Bernie’s first dinger, a two-run shot — but Orlando Hernández struggled to put up a shutout first frame.

José Cruz took El Duque deep to open the bottom of the first, before the Jays put up two more runs to take the lead. Posada knotted things back up leading off the second, and a huge fourth inning saw five Yankees come home off big hits from the two switch-hitters as well as Derek Jeter and Paul O’Neill.

In 2000s style, the club hit a speedbump in the sixth, with Hernández giving up three home runs in five batters to close the gap to just three runs. In one of those funny ways baseball plays out, not only did I get good introductions to the likes of Bernie, Posada and Jeter, but that Sunday was the first time I got to see the guy who would go on to be maybe my favorite player of all time.

Sports Contributor Archive 2019 Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

I don’t know what it is about closers that fascinated me so much as a kid. I didn’t even really get into Mo until 2005 or 2006, when I was old enough to watch or follow games on my own. This was sort of the era of Peak Closer, with Éric Gagné winning the Cy Young and BJ Ryan getting one of the biggest contracts in Toronto’s history. Maybe my love of Mo started on that Sunday though — he threw just nine pitches in a clean ninth, his sixth save of the year.

What I remember most, though, is wondering why my parents would cheer for a team that lost. Winning just seemed more fun, it seemed like a much better idea to high five all your friends after a game, rather than just walk off with your head down. That was the catalyst to paying attention to the Yankees, albeit at that point simply through box scores and TV highlights, if I could sneak them in to my parents’ 30 allotted minutes of screen time a day.

The Yankees winning it all that year just solidified my then-six-year-old logic that winning is more fun, and therefore, you should cheer for the team that wins. The Yankees get a lot of grief for having fair weather or bandwagon fans, and I suppose you could count me in that group, but as I’ve said before, I’ve been bandwagoning for 20 years.

2023 was a tough year for my personal relationship with baseball — there was a stretch over the summer where I just completely dropped it from my life. Nothing is ever linear; your interests will deviate, grow, shrink over time. For the Yankees, perhaps the way to keep me on the level I was as a kid is to BE what you were when I was a kid: be loud, be fun, be good.

Ain’t nostalgia a problem?