Sports will always bridge the Generational Gap
Yesterday, sometime around 3:30, my roommate Pat Pitts dropped me off at New Haven Union Station for what I thought would be the longest train ride of my life.
Destination: Yankee Stadium.
Reason: The AL Wild Card Game.
I was nervous. Not like talking to a crush "nervous", or taking a prayer of a guess on test "nervous", but a calming type of "nervous" that you could feel coursing throughout the relatively silent train station.
Everyone there seemingly had a travel companion to the Bronx... everyone except for me. My travel companion was my cracked iPhone 6, my headphones and about two hours worth of Bruce Springsteen music.
As I reached in my bag for my earbuds, a raspy voice around me broke the near silence.
"How do you feel about tonight?"
I looked across the way to see a man with white hair that looked like cotton balls matted down to his head. He was wearing a Yankees quarter zip, and holding a Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee that was sweating like C.C. Sabathia in a Golden Corral.
I said, "I feel good. We gotta run our best horse in this derby, and Severino is the guy."
My new acquaintance replied with a snicker and a shrug, "Well, I'm glad you feel good."
We talked for another five minutes, playfully arguing who should be taking the bump for the Yankees in t-minus four hours, when his friend arrived. Dressed in an old school Yankees batting practice jersey, with slicked back salt and pepper hair and rectangular glasses, he immediately weighed in on the conversation.
"It shoulda been Happ. No question." In an incredibly thick Boston accent.
After meeting and living with so many people from up north, I immediately asked where the two guys were from.
"We're from Springfield, Mass," My friend in the tattered batting practice jersey remarked. "We've been die hard Yankees guys since the Mickey Mantle days. I can still remember how pure his swing was."
Before I could even ask what it was like to watch Mick, "All-Aboard" appeared on the screen next to our train. We ran down, each of us as excited as a kid on Christmas, and boarded the train on track 12 to Yankee Stadium. We talked the whole way down about what we thought of the team, how they compared to teams of the past, and what the train ride back would be if, God forbid, they lost.
No names were exchanged for the first two hours of knowing these guys, just sports talk.
Finally there was a lull in conversation in which I took the time to take a long swig of a apple cider topped off with Jameson and Fireball, and introduced myself.
"I'm Joe, it's a pleasure," the gentleman with the raspy voice said.
"And I'm Richie," said the other man in his thick Boston draw.
We exchanged thought after thought, and in the process, learned more and more about each other as the ride wore on. Joe was a restaurant owner for years at one of Springfield's best Italian restaurants, Lido's. It was a family venture, that he and his brother took over until its closing six years ago. Richie used to be part time in the packaging industry, and has driven limousines for the last 33 years.
We sat, mindlessly shooting the shit, until our train made its final stop at Yankee Stadium. We walked towards the towering Mecca of baseball, and as we parted ways, Richie gave me his phone number in case I needed help getting back home after the game.
The Yankees went on to win the game, ending my nervousness for the night, and I met Joe and Richie outside the stadium to walk back to the train. We walked to the station, talking like old friends all the way from the Bronx back to New Haven, and it made me realize something.
There is no generational gap when it comes to sports.
Here I was, talking to two people I had never met before, that have been Yankee fans long before I was born, and it seemed like complete normalcy. Talking about fandom creates a feeling of family, and a sense that there's belief in the good of people.
As we exited the train, and parted ways, Joe and Richie each shook my hand and gave me a hug.
"You have my number, let's stay in touch," Richie said in our last exchange.
I got picked up by a friend of mine, and recounted this exact story. On a day where I thought I'd be going through five hours of travel completely alone, I ended up leaving with two friends that I would've never made if not for baseball. Last night will be a night I remember the rest of my life because of how incredible the experience of the game was, and every time I tell the story of that night, the names Joe and Richie will always be in it.
Three fans, nearly fifty years apart in age, became friends over the love for one team, and that's a beautiful thing. Never underestimate the power of people, and especially never underestimate the value of sports.