Thursday, April 4, 2019

What it Means to Be a Yankees Fan: Bryan Van Dusen

Yesterday evening before the game with the Blue Jays I personally tried to answer maybe one of the hardest questions I have ever been asked not only as a writer, but as a Yankees fan as well. What does being a Yankees fan mean to me? I mentioned in the article the fact that if you asked 100 different Yankees fans that same question that it was entirely possible that you would receive 100 different answers back, and I also stated that I sought out to prove that to be true leading to this post this morning. There’s one person I trust more than anyone when it comes to Yankees fandom, someone I have known for many years and someone who I started this blog with back in January of 2012. Bryan Van Dusen. What does Yankees fandom mean to Bryan? Keep reading.

What makes you a fan of the New York Yankees?

I don't remember a time in my life when I wasn't a Yankees fan. 

When I was 7 years old I was able to play organized baseball in my towns Pee Wee Baseball league. We were put on random teams, each named after various Major League teams. You're probably thinking "he was placed on the Yankees." Nope... I was on the Red Sox, and I was devastated. I wasn't devastated because I was on the team named after the Yankees hated rival. I didn't know the history of the Yankees and Red Sox at that point in my life. All I knew was that I wanted to be on the Yankees, but I wasn't. 

The fact is I don't remember how I became a Yankees fan. I don't remember the first game I saw. Perhaps it was because my father would watch Yankees games when I was an infant. Maybe it was the baby-size Yankees hat my dad got me. Or since I lived in New York (central... not the city), and really only had access to the Yankees and Mets, the chances were 50/50 that I would grow up a Yankees fan. On that note... thank God I'm not a Mets fan... yuck.

It may sound ridiculous and make you roll your eyes, but I honestly believe I was born into Yankee fandom. 

See, I was born shortly after 12:00am on October 19th, 1977. In case you don't know, hours before I was born the Yankees defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the World Series to win the championship. That was the same game in which Reggie Jackson hit three home runs, off of three pitches, and off of three different pitchers (Reggie walked in his first at bat of Game 6 but note that he hit a home run in his last at bat in Game 5 on the first pitch... also from a different pitcher).

In fact, simply calling me a Yankees "fan" is downplaying things. "Bryan Van Dusen" and "Yankees" go hand-in-hand. You can call me an Ohio State fan, you can call me Syracuse University fan, you can call me a San Francisco 49ers fan, etc. But when it comes to how I feel about the Yankees, and how they are a part of my life, simply calling me a "fan" is not enough. 

What is your earliest memory of the New York Yankees?

My first baseball glove. I don't mean the little ones I had, which were made of some type of plastic. You know, the ones no real player would ever think of using in a game. But my first real baseball glove made of leather (well, synthetic leather, but still...). 

While I saw the Yankees before that point, that glove is my clear memory involving the team. I'm sure you're wondering what they had to do with one another but remember that many pieces of sports equipment were signature models. Not necessarily what a player actually used, but something that an athlete allowed his name to be on. 

And whose name was on that baseball glove? Don Mattingly.

I don't remember exactly when I got it. Perhaps it was before joining that Pee Wee baseball team I mentioned earlier. But I was so proud of that glove. If only the greatness that was Donnie Baseball translated to me through that mitt. 

What is your fondest memory of the New York Yankees?

While I was born shortly after the Yankees won the World Series in 1977, I was 363 days old when they won the 1978 World Series, I was three years old when they lost the 1980 World Series, and I was four years old when they lost the World Series the following season, how many people truly remember things before they were five years old? 

By the time I really understood the game I only knew sadness. The Yankees would miss the playoffs year in and year out, even finishing under .500 a handful of times. My beloved Don Mattingly would garner American League Most Valuable Player votes, All Star game selections, Gold Gloves, but he didn't come close to winning a title. 

Hell, one of my earliest memories about Major League Baseball in general was watching the Mets win the World Series in 1986. I mean, at least they beat the Red Sox, but seeing the Mets celebrate a World Series championship wasn't a whole lot better.

I would read and hear about the great history of my beloved Yankees, but personally I was not able to feel it. Even in 1994, when the team looked like they would battle for a World Series title, the league went on strike. The following season was, up to that point, the best of my life, yet they lost to the Mariners in the AL Division series. But finally... on October 26th, 1996, it happened.

Mark Lemke popped a pitch from John Wetteland in foul territory down the third base line, where Charlie Hayes caught the final out of the World Series. I was in my sophomore year at the University of Dayton, and I remember running outside of my apartment screaming "WE'RE BACK, BABY!"

Strange, but I didn't scream "WE WON" or something like that. I screamed "WE'RE BACK". I guess I knew that that title was the start of what would be a dynasty, as the Yankees went on to win three more championships between 1998 and 2000. Not to mention going to the World Series in 2001 and 2003. And the Yankees would go on to be a powerhouse in Major League Baseball. Not necessarily championship material year in and year out, but they would always be there among the top. 

And here we sit today, quite possibly on the verge of another Yankees dynasty.

What do you think of when you see the interlocking NY of the Yankees?

My heart skips a beat. Seriously. I don't have kids, so I can't say for sure how it feels to watch them as a father, but I have a feeling it's sort of the same. A sense of pride, along with happiness and genuine love. Like I said... I'm not just a Yankees fan. The Yankees are a part of my life. That interlocking logo is a part of me. 

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