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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Red Sox-Yankees 2014:A kinder, gentler hatred

No cat fights yesterday -- just cuddles.

Growing up in the Fenway bleachers during the 1970s and early '80s, I got used to the smells of pot smoke, warm beer, and Yankees-Red Sox vitriol.

Brawls between Sox fans and visiting loudmouths from the Bronx were as common in the stands as they were on the field back then. Broad-shouldered "blue coat" ushers fresh off the BC football team would break up the fights, and we'd hoot, holler, and occasionally throw our wadded up Sports Bar wrappers at the pinstripped combatants as they were escorted from the premises.

Things were slightly less physical but no less intense during the 1999-2004 era, when the Sox and Yankees battled it out three times in the ALCS. The anger and passion was higher than ever, and while there were fewer fistfights -- higher ticket prices and tighter security played a role in this, no doubt  -- there was plenty of taunting and harsh words when the guys in their Jeter and A-Rod jerseys came to town.
The players felt it too in 1999-2004.

Now, with both teams in a rebuilding mode and the last playoff series between them a decade in the rear-view mirror, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has reached a new stage: a kinder, gentler hatred.

This atmosphere was in full display during yesterday's 6-4 New York win at Boston. Due to the trade deadline white-flag shakedown that sent Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jonny Gomes, and numerous other veterans out of town and brought the likes of Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, and Joe Kelly in, coupled with the Derek Jeter farewell tour, made it feel like nearly half the fans at Fenway were in Yankees regalia. Still, the only taunting or fighting I heard was of the G-rated variety (which was nice, since I had 9-year-old Rachel with me).
Equal opportunity art by Justyn Farano.

When Jeter sprinted onto the field during warmups, the crowd let out a roar, and his first at-bat was greeted with a standing ovation and a multitude of cell phone photo-snapping (your truly included). Rachel asked why everyone was cheering a Yankee, and I explained that Red Sox fans recognize class and excellence when they see it -- no matter the uniform. Still, this kind of reaction would have been unheard of in the old days.

There was booing for old friend Jacoby Ellsbury when he stepped in after Jeter, which dismayed Rachel (he was her favorite when with the Sox), but this seemed more good-natured than mean. Fans were going through the motions; it was if they felt booing him was the right thing to do, but their hearts and lungs were not really in it.  
Jeter -- class caught on camera

This went on all day. Sox and Yanks supporters laughed high-fived, and traded pictures throughout the game, and in many cases came to the ballpark together as spouses, friends, or siblings with divided loyalties. We were surrounded by examples of this emerging phenomenon, which may be growing in part because the scalding-hot hatred between the clubs is lessening. You didn't dare date a Yankees fan in the 1980s for fear of family scorn; now it's like having a vegan girlfriend. Your brother may raise his eyebrows, but nobody really cares.

Does this chumminess mark the end of the true rivalry? I don't think so. If the Red Sox and Yankees both contend again in 2015, I am pretty sure the old passions will reemerge. If free agent Lester signs with New York, that could play a big role as well. The fisticuffs may be gone for good -- three recent World Series championships for Boston have lessened the need for Sox fans to draw blood in defending their club -- but there is nothing wrong with having an arch-rival.

Just think of these days as less like Darth Vader versus The Rebel Alliance, and more like Cheers versus Gary's Olde Time Tavern. Play hard, and then share a beer after the game.  
My brother would have killed me.

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