Opening Day, Subic Bay, 1971 Yankees; Yes that's me!
My Yankees experience is a tale of passion, conviction, and a few tears shed for deciding the new name of our little league baseball team. In 1971, my family lived in Subic Bay, Philippines, during my dad's naval assignment there. In the attached phote, my dad is wearing the sunglasses and dark (blue) shirt. With a large thriving community, we enjoyed a robust baseball organization for all ages. That year, our team got a new sponsor, the Chief Petty Officers Club & brand new uniforms along with it. We were told that the uniforms would be white with medium blue lettering. Although only 11, I was a three year baseball veteran, and lived baseball every day. I knew exactly what teams wore which colors on their uniforms, and immediately decided that our team would be called the Dodgers. It was a perfect match, and I knew even then that most little leaguers rarely, if ever get the opportunity to have matching Major League colors and team name. They're almost always called something like the Wrens or Devil Pups. This was going to be great.
We got right to the naming business during our team's first practice. I was already envisioning glory as the '71 champion Dodgers. We had solid talent, including a few other all-stars. I was older than most of my team and one of those kids who already had all-star/post league experience.
Being one of the older boys, I 'logically' assumed the role of team captain, and also took charge of the team naming process. Deep down, I was over-joyed! I had that Christmas morning exctement, and it was spilling over. With lots of energy & a big smile, I began to extoll the virtuous blessing bestowed on us by the sports gods; giving us a chance to be called a real MLB name with matching team colors! How often does that ever really happen?
My effort to convey the rarity of this confluence of the streams of baseball, little league life, and divine providence probably didn't sound like that then. But it was good, at first. And I was building genuine agreement among the team using sensibility and reasoning. Afterall, what else could we be?
With only a little more convincing to prevail, it seemed that everything I was working for just stopped, like people in a photograph. An invisible tide of change just pushed back washed over everyone but me without any warning or notice. The brief ominous quiet in our conversation was suddenly interrupted like the sound of a twig snapping under the massive paws of a bear.
Someone from the back, a little guy, and probably a second-stringer at that, quietly muttered, "How 'bout the Yankees?" The Yankees?! I answered. I was insulted at his ignorance! Why, we can't be the Yankees; they wear dark blue lettering and pin stripes! Prisoners and umpires wear pinstripes. We can't be called the Yankees. It's not right! It's not baseball! Then, like a political rally, everyone echoed the name, and in no time, my dream was gone, my alliance of voters evaporated, and a growing chant of yes! and Yankees! spread like chicken pox in a third grade elementary playground.
I didn't give up that easily, but desparation creeped into my voice. I even tried to look at it from their side... if we had pinstripes, if the blue was darker, we'd all cheer for the Yankees...my desparate stabs began to fade toward a quiet sob of defeat. I begged; We don't have pinstripes! Koufax, Drysdale! The Dodgers! Not the Yankees!
Then the coach (my dad) said, "Okay, time to vote. Who wants the Yankees?" Every hand on the team except mine went up, and I suddenly realized that something deeper moved the other players to choose the Yankees as our team name. You see, at that time and in that place, I believe that the kids on that team held a subconscious knowledge of deeper meaning and significance. Our team name more appropriately reflected a greater American symbol of identity, trumping my baseball uniform logic. It turns out that the other kids unknowingly attached the sacrifices of their parents to a name Americans are known by and called in foreign lands. Yankees. They voted to be called the Yankees because in fact we actually were Yankees; right there & right then. Our military parents served as defenders of our freedom and American ideals in a far corner of the world. It didn't even matter to me about the shade of blue after a little while. I agreed. We wore those uniforms with great pride (me as Willie's number 24), and even took first place at the end of a glorious, dramatic season, including winning our first six games in a row. Sure, we were in the Philippines and not New York. But that's okay. We were the Yankees.