NEW YORK — I feel like I owe Sean Purce, a 32-year-old who lives in the Bronx, an apology.
I had just asked him whether the New York Yankees’ recent struggles — cherry-pick your most damning stat, but for the past month, a team that started the season on a historic pace has been among the worst in baseball — in contrast to the New York Mets’ seemingly charmed season had provided him an opportunity to finally avenge all the s***-talking he suffered at the hands of his own brethren as a kid. He didn’t even have a chance to answer before anything he would have said was drowned out by the roar of Yankee Stadium as Aaron Judge launched his 47th home run into a crowd divided.
Sorry Sean, might’ve jinxed that one.
A Yankee Stadium season-high 48,760 fans of New York baseball cheered and jeered from alongside one another on a muggy Monday night. And for Sean, the injury of a 4-2 Yankees victory likely just compounded the insult of having grown up in Yonkers in a family where Yankee loyalists outnumbered Mets fans.
“We wouldn’t talk s*** to my mother. And we wouldn’t talk s*** to my grandfather because he was a very mild-mannered guy,” Sean’s brother Kevin, a Yankees fan, said of the few other Mets fans in the extended Purce family. “So then that left Sean, so we all talked s*** to Sean.”
High expectations and fear shared this season
When the Mets and Yankees faced off at Citi Field last month, it was the first Subway Series since 2015 in which both teams led their division. The Mets won both those games, an electrifying punctuation on the campaign to make it back to the postseason for the first time in six seasons. As they prepared to face off again in the Bronx this week, that distinction remained true. Yes, both New York teams are gearing up for October. But from that series at Citi through Sunday, the Mets had gone 19-7 while the Yankees had limped through an 8-16 stretch.
It’s almost enough to make a Yankees fan feel like a Mets fan.
The crosstown rivals define and distinguish themselves not only by borough, but also by the collective psyche of their supporters. The experience of ascribing to one exists not only in opposition to the other — but having such a stark foil so close at hand does emphasize certain things. You need only solicit thoughts from Mets fans who have had to live amongst the pinstripes to understand.
“What do you want to know about a Mets fan from the Bronx who roots against his father, grandparents, every aunt and uncle, so many friends, and even strangers on the street?” 40-year-old Nick Masciotti wrote in an email. He shares a name with his father, 76-year-old Nick Masciotti also from the Bronx, but not a fandom.
“Are you here to rub it in my face, too? Want to hear that I could have made my life more happy and my sports-watching experiences more fulfilling by cheering on the team that’s won five times in my lifetime instead of once when I was too small to remember or care?”
There might be a sensitive nerve somewhere in there.
The well-worn dynamic of hapless Mets and high-spending Yankees has been upended this year. It’s not that the two teams have switched places, rather the bragging rights have become complicated to parse. Both teams are good and interesting, there’s expectations and angst on both sides. Only when they meet, can you really know which team is better. And the identities of their fanbases, forged through vastly different histories, are made all the more evident by the similarity of the current circumstances. Nowhere is that more strong than in New York families divided.
Consider the Silfin sisters from Westchester — 30-year-old Natalie sided with their mom, a Manhattanite, in rooting for the Yankees, while 28-year-old Helen was swayed by a “SportsCenter” highlight of David Wright making a barehanded catch to root for the Mets like their Long Island father.
“I quickly realized once you let the Mets into your heart it’s impossible to let them go, no matter how much they torture you,” Helen said in an email. “The Yankees’ success feels like such an inevitability that it’s almost like an annoying buzzing I learned how to tune out years ago.”
“I think growing up in a house of Mets fans has made me more pessimistic as a Yankee fan,” Natalie wrote. “I never actually assume they’re going to win no matter how many times I see them do it.”
They’ve been to both Mets and Yankees games together this season, but both claim to barely care about the other team — except, of course, when they’re playing each other. Ironically, in a testament to the universal fatalism of sports fandom, each went against their favorite team when asked for a World Series pick — because Mets fans are cautious about hope, and Yankees fans are frustrated by the lack of offense lately.
“I think the rivalry is just starting to heat up,” wrote 34-year-old Mets fan Dan DiZenzo, whose father Phil DiZenzo and stepfather John McAlley are both Yankees fans. As a kid, his family initially thought he was just going through a phase, until Matt Franco’s walk-off single off Mariano Rivera sealed the deal and pretty soon he was gifting McAlley with a Mets jersey for Christmas.
“And his reaction to it, even to this day, is like ‘I have to put that on my body!'” DiZenzo said Monday night at the game. “I assume he took a hot shower right after.”
His Mets fandom has always existed in juxtaposition with the Yankees’ success. Back in 2000, before the two teams would, in fact, meet in the Fall Classic, DiZenzo brought a sign — the only time he brought a sign, even — to a late-regular-season game, hoping to encourage his Mets.
“It said ‘Lets Go Mets, We Want a Subway World Series!’ Looking back, I find it interesting that I was already just expecting the Yankees would be there.”
Perhaps because they feel secure in their municipal superiority, Yankees fans were more willing to grant magnanimous respect to the Mets this season.
“Don’t get me wrong, the last few years when they met everything up, it’s hilarious,” wrote David Berger, a 30-year-old who just moved away from North Jersey after growing up there as a Yankees fan, despite a dad who rooted for the Mets since 1962.
“But it’s nice to finally see them turn the ship around. I’m actually a little jealous of them to be honest. They hired the manager I wanted and their starting pitching is out of this world.”
“Every game the Mets play that aren’t against the Yankees, I want them to win. Why would I want them to not win?” Kevin Purce said. “But they do loose in humorous ways.”
“’Humorous’ or ‘numerous?’” his brother clarified.
Is it any wonder the Mets fans were the ones to mention how sweet just a little schadenfreude would taste?
At least there’s one thing the Purce brothers, and perhaps all New York families with a rift in their baseball allegiances, can agree on: If the Mets and Yankees meet again two months from now in the World Series, they’ll want to go to the games with the people who will root for the right outcome.
“I don’t think I would go with you,” Kevin said.
“I don’t want to go with you either,” Sean countered.
“There’s too much riding on it,” Kevin said.