Because Mike Mussina was one of the main reasons why I became a baseball fan in the first place, it was only natural that I “follow” him to New York when he left Baltimore. Back in 1999, I set up a web site for Mike and his Oriole teammate Brady Anderson called “Birds of a Feather,” and the site also had a message board. When Mike signed with the Yankees, I split the site into two parts; I renamed Mike’s portion of the site and called it “Michael Cole Mussina.” (I shut down the Anderson portion of the site a year after that.) I changed the color scheme from black, orange and white to dark blue and white, and I replaced the bird logo with the interlocking NY logo. Needless to say, I caught all kinds of flak for doing so. I had been a member of an Orioles message board, and I was labeled a traitor there for “going to the dark side.” A couple of people from that board even came to my board to trash me for being a traitor.
I understood why most of those folks felt the way that they did. Longtime, diehard fans of a team don’t choose player loyalty over team loyalty; if you’re a longtime fan of a team, you remain a fan of that team even if your favorite player leaves. As a lifelong Washington Redskins fan, I would not have followed my all-time favorite Redskins player Darrell Green if he had left Washington to sign with a division rival. So I did understand why some people couldn’t fathom why I would even consider rooting for “the enemy.” But the people who knew me well understood that I wasn’t a longtime fan, and that I had no loyalty to the Baltimore Orioles. So…the Oriole bird was out and Yankee pinstripes were in.
Of course, those of us who rooted for Mike in Baltimore and then happily followed him to New York would have just as happily followed him to any other team that might have signed him. The Red Sox and Mets made contract offers to him; as the 2000 season drew to a close, many of us thought Mike might sign with the Indians. We’ve rooted hard for the Yankees during the last 8 years, but the reality is that we all would have rooted just as hard for the Red Sox, the Mets, the Indians, the Phillies, the Pirates, or anywhere else that Mike might have gone if he hadn’t signed with the Yankees. That’s how loyal we “mooseketeers” are!
After Mike became a Yankee, I joined a Yankees message board, made some new friends online, and took some trips to New York for games at Yankee Stadium. And I learned a lot about the Yankees…things I never realized, or didn’t want to know, when I was “on the other side.” There are so many misconceptions about the Yankees among the so-called Yankee-haters. Although I never actually hated the Yankees, pretty much every Oriole fan I knew did hate them. So all I ever heard was how obnoxious and arrogant the Yankees, and their fans, were. I discovered that not all Yankee fans act the same way as some of the drunken idiots I would see at Oriole Park when the Yankees came to town. I made some great friends during Mike’s first couple of years in New York…people I’m still friends with today. I really felt like the Yankees had become “my” team.
And then…along came the Washington Nationals.
In September of 2004, MLB announced that the Montreal Expos would relocate to Washington in 2005. In December of 2004, the owners of all other teams approved the move by a vote of 28-1 — to the surprise of no one, Orioles owner Peter Angelos was the only owner to vote against the move. Suddenly, I had a home team…a team that would wear “Washington” on its away jerseys. It would be my hometown team, not just a team I rooted for in another city. My team. I was thrilled!
I did have a bit of a dilemma in June of 2006, when the Yankees came to Washington for an interleague series vs. the Nationals. Who would I root for? How could I choose? Mike wasn’t scheduled to pitch in DC — that would have made the choice easy, because I couldn’t root against him, even against my home team. I wore a Yankees cap and a Nats t-shirt to the first game of the series, a Nats cap and a Yankees t-shirt to the second game…and a Redskins cap and t-shirt to the third game. LOL The Nationals won the first game, the Yankees won the second game, and the Nationals took the series by defeating the Yankees 3-2 in the third game, on a 2-run walk-off home run by Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals’ home plate celebration at the end of that game, with Ryan leaping into the crowd of teammates, has been immortalized as a mural behind the scoreboard at Nationals Park. I must admit that I still smile each time I look at it.
As Nationals Park was being built, I followed its progress by checking the construction web cam every few days. I didn’t expect to be swept up in the excitement of the new ballpark as much as I was, but watching it being built was so cool. I even splurged on a pair of season tickets. When I saw on the web cam that the first section of sod was placed in the infield early on the morning of November 1, 2007, I was beside myself with excitement. The first lines from the John Fogerty song “Centerfield” popped into my head:
“Well, beat the drum and hold the phone, the sun came out today!
We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.”
I attended the exhibition game vs. the Orioles on 3/29/2008, and my first glimpse of the completed ballpark was amazing.
And then there was Opening Night vs. the Braves, which was thrilling beyond belief. From the balloon arches and red carpet outside the ballpark
to the “Welcome Home” message on the scoreboard
to Ryan Zimmerman’s game winning walk-off home run
and everything in between, it was a night I’ll never forget!
The strength of my affection and loyalty to the Nationals has come as a bit of a surprise to me. I fully expected the Yankees to remain my number one team, even after Mike Mussina retired. I didn’t expect the Nats to creep into my heart and take hold of it the way they have. I’m still a Yankees fan, win or lose…and win or lose, I definitely love my Nats!
OK, so that’s my story of how I became a baseball fan. I’ll shut up about it now! :D