Thursday, November 5, 2009

Back Where It All Begins

Shortly before Christmas last year - on December 23rd to be exact - I was sitting down for lunch/dinner at my company's holiday party at the 21 Club, cutting into a piece of prime rib when I felt my phone vibrate. I didn't want to be rude but I fished my phone out of my pocket with my non-fork hand and stole a glance at the incoming text message. It was from my friend Joe: "Yankees close to signing Teixeira".

My face must have betrayed something when I read the message because my co-worker Greg nodded his head towards me and went, "What's up?".

I replied, "Holy shit, I think the Yankees are going to sign Mark Teixeira".

I put down my knife and fork and stared at the middle of the table shaking my head. I honestly couldn't believe it. Maybe it was just a rumor. They had already locked up CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Did Brian Cashman and the Yanks really have the balls to orchestrate an eleventh hour coup for the most coveted position player on the market? Over the next hour or so, the texts kept flowing in from friends and cousins and college roommates, each one more certain than the last.

After the party, the other big Yankees fans from my office and I huddled up at the bar downstairs, having drinks on the company tab as groups of people would stand up and take turns belting out Christmas carols printed on a Salvation Army pamphlet they must have been handing out in exchange for donations outside. Between the renditions of Frosty the Snowman and sips of Macallan 18, we tried to get our heads around the fact that, amidst the faltering economy, the Yankees had just sent a message to their fans and to the rest of baseball: "We want to win a World Series that badly"

I got up early the next morning to head back upstate for Christmas with the family. I loaded up my car in the near-freezing rain, drove up the Westside Highway and crossed the George Washington Bridge, thinking I was going to beat the traffic upstate. I turned onto the Palisades Parkway and was met with a sea of taillights which bluntly informed me that this wasn't going to be a smooth getaway I had envisioned. The highway was a sheet of ice.

After 15 minutes of not moving one inch, I put the car in park, unbuckled my seatbelt and took out my iPhone to thumb through my Google Reader. At that point I needed something - anything - to keep my mind off the fact that I was hungover and stuck in standstill traffic in New Jersey to which there was no end in sight.

One of the first posts I came across this one from Shysterball and suffice it to say, it sort of blew my mind. An incredibly poignant blockquote from Will Leitch about Dock Ellis' no-hitter on acid and two beautifully dovetailed paragraphs from Craig summing up what writing about sports should really be about. It couldn't have been more up my alley.

And that's when I decided that I was going to start a blog. Well, I had technically already started one. I reserved a domain name wrote one post about trying to decide who to root for when the Red Sox played the Rays in the ALCS a little while back but that was the only thing on there.

Then on Christmas Day, after our visiting relatives had departed, I sat down and pounded out 1000 words on the Yankees most recent acquisition on my laptop. I drafted an email entitled "The Fack Youk Manifesto" to five or six of my friends informing them of my intentions, and said:
I realize that there is like an 85% chance that this never really goes anywhere, then dies a slow death from neglect, but there's that 15% that we can carve out this little space for our thoughts, all contribute and make it interesting/entertaining enough for some other people to check it out. I talk enough sports with you guys and hear interesting stuff worthy of a blog post and it makes me think that we could put that stuff to use and concentrate it here.
A lot has changed since then. Joe and Will don't really contribute much anymore because of the demands of studying for the bar exam and fascist corporate internet policies. I got unimaginably lucky to find Matt in the comments section, who, is not only a talented writer with a great sense of the history of the Yankees, but a great dude with similar musical tastes.

On the shortest of notice, I handed him the reigns to the blog for almost a full week back in May when I left for a road trip, which coincided nicely with a 9 game winning steak by the Yanks. He didn't miss a beat - which was far more than I had any right to expect - and the site has been markedly better ever since.

In the months since then, we've previewed and recapped every game (except for the three against the Blue Jays 4th of July weekend) and churned out almost 800 posts between us, which is very nearly 5 per day, including weekends.

I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a huge sense of personal validation involved in the Yankees winning the World Series for me. Since the playoffs began, our work has been recognized by a lot of people and we've more than doubled our average daily traffic. We've received even more kind emails and insightful comments from you guys than usual, which makes this all seem worthwhile. We've got some other recognition from well-respected baseball writers that I really couldn't have imagined when I wrote that first post on the signing of Mark Teixeira.

I've devoted what can only be described as an unhealthy and perhaps inadvisable amount of time reading about baseball in order to make my writing for this site as good as possible.

Unfortunately, that not-so-indirectly led to me getting laid off from my last job - the one that brought me to that company party in the beginning of this post. I wasn't going to regret the decision either way because I've spent the last six months doing something that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning as opposed to smothering myself to death with my pillow like my last job.

I highly doubt I have a career ahead of me as a writer, but seeing someone like Craig, whose work I have a lot of respect for, make that jump just two days ago is quite inspiring. Regardless of where it goes from here, I'm incredibly proud of what we've managed to do with this site in terms of traffic and recognition but mostly in terms of content. 105,000+ unique visitors and 270,000+ pageviews later (and counting), here we are.

When I first moved down to New York City, I didn't have a real job. I played online poker compulsively until the point that I was consistently profitable at it; enough so that I could afford to live in a sick apartment on the Upper West Side with my lifelong best friend. Eventually the slimy legislative tactics involved with the SAFE Port Act dried up the new money flowing into the online poker sites and the games got harder. A lot harder. Eventually I had to get a real job.

Now I'm back in Albany, not far from where I grew up, living with two of my good friends from high school, doing something that's barely profitable at all which in no way shape or form is a real job, despite the fact that I treat it like one. In some ways, it has come full circle.

Tomorrow, Matt, a few of my buddies and I are going down to the parade, so if you are going to be there and want to meet up, use my email address on the left side of the site.

After that, I don't know. This blog isn't going to disappear regardless of what happens, but we're going to have to scale back the content here if I ever want to get my shit together. There will be still be posts - probably much more off-topic material - but they won't be going up at 9:00, 11:00, 1:00, 3:00 & 5:00 all offseason, obviously.

If you've made it this far, I'd suggest you subscribe to our RSS Feed via Google Reader (164 people can't be wrong!). It will tell you when there is a new post so you don't have to come to the site to check. It will hurt our pageviews but help your sanity.

So thanks for reading this year. Thanks for your great comments and signed baseballs and for filling in the gaps where our knowledge is lacking. Thanks to those other bloggers who were kind enough to link, especially Joe from River Ave. Blues, Craig, Jason from IIATMS, Kevin Kaduk from Big League Stew, Ross from New Stadium Insider, Pete Abe, Rob Neyer (once), and even A.J. Daulerio, you know, back when Deadspin used to link to other blogs. A big thanks to Cliff who helped me a lot behind the scenes and Boston Bren who is mostly responsible for the site layout. There are others I'm forgetting, so I apologize for the omissions.

So, before we all disperse, there of course has to be a song. And it's only fitting that what is probably the de facto band of Fack Youk provides the soundtrack to this post.

See you around.


Say you want to be a rolling stone,
Get your sail out in the wind,
Get out on the highway and let 'er roll on,
Roll on back to someplace you ain't never been.

When I was younger I was hard to hold,
Seem like I was always goin',
Whichever way the wind would blow,
Now that travelin' spirit calls me again.

Callin' me back to where it all begins.

The Coronation

The Yankees had been tortured by the own high expectations for 9 long years. Not by the supposed "Championship or Bust" mantra that for the most part is wildly overplayed, as much as their actions as a franchise. Even if they had pretended like they didn't care that much about winning, it would have been painfully apparent that they did.

Since 2000, the Yankees have spent over $1.5B on player's salaries, let alone the amount paid to coaches, training staff, front office personnel, scouts, minor league operations and countless other employees singularly dedicated to assembling the best baseball team possible. And last night, it's seemed like it was all worth it.

If the last nine years have taught us anything, it's that you can't buy championships (despite the common Yankee-hater refrain). You can certainly try. You can buy extended streaks of regular season success. You can come pretty close to buying a playoff berth. But you still have to run the gauntlet of a three-tiered playoff system which was a lot harder than it seemed back when Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Bernie Williams & Co. were still wearing Pinstripes.

This year, it seemed easy again.

The Yankees cruised through the second half of the season, didn't face elimination once in the playoffs, and the Phillies didn't have the tying run on base at any point after the third inning last night. After Damaso Marte impossibly mowed down Chase Utley to end the 7th inning and Ryan Howard to begin the 8th with 2 strikeouts six pitches, we could relax and savor the moment.

Last night was a coronation of the a team who, despite what Jimmy Rollins wants you to think, was the best team in baseball for most of this year by a considerable margin. It was validation of the last 9 years of aggressive free agent spending and high-upside drafting.

It was a celebration for Hideki Matsui and A-Rod and Sabathia and Burnett and Cano who will never have the fact that they haven't won a World Series held against them again. And probably just as sweet for the guys who played supplemental roles and ended up in the right place at the right time. It was a culmination for Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera who amazingly won a 5th title together 9 years after their last. This is as good as it gets.

We were all in vastly different places in our lives 9 years ago. I was a 16 year old kid who was a Yankee fan but didn't really know that much about baseball. I couldn't have told you what OPS meant or who Bill James was. The Yankees had just won 4 out of 5 years and if you had listed the players the Yanks were going to acquire and told me it would take until now to win again, I would have thought you were batshit insane.

But it did take that long. Which makes it that much sweeter.

Checking In With Our Friend Gino

You guys remember Gino Castignoli, don't you?

He's the construction worker who thought he cursed the Yankees by burying a David Ortiz jersey in the New Stadium? How'd that work out for you?

Nothing Left To Do But Smile, Smile, Smile

Hey there Fackers. Well, this might be the most expensive post I've ever authored here. As I mentioned last week, I've been in Chicago since Saturday. Since my swanky hotel charges $15 a day for internet and I've been trying to keep expenses down, I've been off line since writing the Game Three recap (thanks for carrying the weight Jay - great job this week). But in the euphoria of winning tonight I decided the company can spare an extra $15 and get me online - it's cheaper than having to pay for a superstitious flight reschedule and extra hotel night had the Yankees lost tonight.

I want to share a quick story that bends a bit from the logical, rational type of thing we've tried to do all season long. As I mentioned last week, the Yankees have never won the World Series with me being at home. In the story I told earlier this year, the first time the Yankees won the World Series in my lifetime, 16 year old Matt was on a field trip to Washington, D.C., being held hostage at some lame ass dance in Washington, D.C. After courageously escaping several times to watch Game Six over the course of the night, the chaperones finally held me hostage where I was supposed to be. With no hope of escaping, I was left to find out that the Yankees won the World Series when the DJ cut in to Billy Idol's "Mony Mony" to make the announcement.

Flash forward 13+ years to tonight. Instead of a high school leadership conference dance I'm trapped in a sales meeting when the first pitch is thrown. As I anxiously await for it to end, I follow the first two innings on my phone with GameCast. As the meeting wraps and I begin walking to the hotel bar, I get notification of Hideki Matsui's home run. By the time I settle in with a few Fat Tire Ales, the Yankees are up 4-1. As Robinson Cano stepped into the box to lead off the bottom of the fourth, a familiar tune came on as the bar music. Billy Idol's "Mony Mony". The same song from 13 years earlier. No joke.

I'm not a superstitious man, but I do believe that sometimes life taps you on the shoulder as it tries to get your attention. At that point the cautious optimism I had as I finally got watch Game Five starting with the top of the ninth, the same optimism I've felt the past two days knowing my favorite and most-trusted starting pitcher from my years as a fan was taking the mound tonight, turned to a cool confidence. Stupid, I know. The very idea of which is something I'll surely scoff at in the years to come. But at that moment, short of the Almighty Himself offering me a glimpse to the future, I don't think there's anything that could have assured me of the future more than that.

I suppose it's only appropriate that after combining music and Yankee baseball here all season long that the final night of the longest baseball season ever would end with a bit of throwaway music enveloping me in a sense of assurance. I'm not sure what more to say at this point. I just have a dumb smile across my face that won't seem to go away, and for lack of the YES Network out here in the Windy City, I'm stuck watching ESPN over and over again.

Thank you to Jay for extending the offer to me to join this little party back in May. Thanks to all our blogofriends all across the internets for all the links and the help in growing our readership here. Most of all, thanks to all of you Fackers for reading and commenting and giving us a reason to keep doing this day after day. If it weren't for you, there wouldn't be much point to this. Thank you, and we promise to do what we can to keep stoking the hot stove until we can utter the second sweetest sentence I know: "Pitchers and catchers report".

I can't hope to top Jay's choice of Old Blue Eyes as the final out was recorded. I suppose I could go with Billy Idol given my above stories, but that wouldn't quite fit our tastes here. Instead, me and my goofy smile will once again turn to the band that I leaned on so many times over the course of the year. As we all say the sweetest sentence I know - "Yankees win the World Series", and the team dog piles in the clubhouse, and the nine year World Series "drought" is gone - there's nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile. See you at the parade Fackers.