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Bird at Play: Hate the team, respect the player

I hate the Yankees.

I know hate's such a strong word, but if there is such a thing as hating a sports team, I'm pretty darn close to hating the Yankees.

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As a Notre Dame football fan, there's really no opponent that I hate.

I appreciate the challenge that each team brings to the field against Notre Dame, regardless of where either team is in the title hunt. I've been treated to some awesome football games over the years.

As a Baltimore Ravens fan, it would be easy to hate the Steelers, but their ownership is first class and the coaches they've had are quality men. Some of their players I could do without, but I don't hate the franchise.

I can say I almost hate the Red Sox but they were such a sad sack for so long, I cheered for them when they finally won their World Series.

But the Yankees are a different story. I was raised to hate the Yankees by my grandfather and it's stuck with me ever since.

I hate their arrogance. I hate their fans. Actually I hate that their fans for so many years filled the seats at Camden Yards every time they came in town. I hate their pinstripes and their stupid NY symbol on their hats. I hate their 18 division titles, their 40 pennants, and their 27 World Series titles. I hate their success. And I'm still mad at Mike Mussina for going to the dark side in search of the title that he never won.

So why was I cheering for those same dreaded Yankees on Thursday night to win their game? Especially since they were playing against our Orioles who are fighting for home field advantage throughout the post season.

When the game was tied at 2 and Jeter came up, I was cheering for a ground ball double play to end the inning with bases loaded but he dribbled one to shortstop that ended up being thrown into right field. But when the situation changed and each team gave up three runs to get the game to a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the ninth with a man on first and Jeter coming to the plate, I found myself rooting for No. 2 to drive in the game-winning run. After all, it was Derek Jeter night, as we were reminded by the 50,000 Yankees fans cheering his name throughout the game.

My son, Ryan, and I had the great fortune of going to Cal Ripken's last home game at Camden Yards when a similar situation played out. In the bottom of the ninth in a close game, Cal sat on deck while his friend Brady Anderson was at the plate in front of him. The Orioles fans were going equally as crazy as the Yankees fans as they waited for Cal to take his place at the plate and deliver the game-winning run to end his phenomenal career. Things were different that night. Anderson struck out for the final out of the game and Cal's career ended in the on-deck circle.

So when the same thing came up the other night, I couldn't help but root for Jeter.

I'm not going to say that he's better than Cal Ripken (mostly because I'm a bit biased), but he's definitely in the same class both on and off the field. In a history filled with names like Ruth, Gehrig, Jackson, Mantle, and Berra, Jeter means as much to the organization as any of them. Unlike another great Yankee, Dave Winfield, Jeter delivered big time when he was on the game's biggest stage. He was, truly, Mr. October.

More important, to me anyway, was how he handled himself throughout his career, with total class, with limited, if any, off field antics, and as one of the premier competitors and shortstops the game has ever seen, brought his talent every night and gave it his all whenever he physically could do it. I wrote my column about how athletes are role models whether or not they believe they are and whether you agree with me or not, Derek Jeter is one of the rare athletes that embraced his celebrity and his role model status and represented himself and the Yankees organization in everything he did both on and off the field.

I'm sure there were many times over Jeter's 20 year career that I gave him the Baltimore version of the Bronx cheer, but you have to respect his abilities and tip your hat to him. As Jackie Robinson once said, "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me…All I ask is that you respect me as a human being." Derek Jeter has earned it.

Re2pect.

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Reach Robert "Bird" Brown at 410-857-8552 or robert.brown@carrollcountytimes.com.

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