My interest in Baseball began in my childhood like most fans.
I can remember NFL Football as the first sport I discovered but my passion and love for Major League Baseball started a few years later and quickly rose to favored status.
I consider 1972 as the year I started following Football with close interest. That’s the year I became a fan of Fran Tarkenton and the Minnesota Vikings. I was aware of Football in the immediate preceding years, but my father died in early 1972 at the age of 42. I found the Vikings gave me something to focus on as I processed my grief.
Along this same time period, I started following the Oakland A’s. In the 1970’s, they were a very colorful team with a unique owner and a collective cast of characters that were routinely championship caliber. But the one player that stood out to me was A’s starting pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter. As a North Carolina farmer, fisherman, and general outdoor enthusiast, Catfish had a very easy and engaging personality to go with the fantastic arm.
During the 1974 season, Catfish finished 25-12, with a 2.49 ERA, while winning the AL Cy Young Award. Meanwhile, the A’s were winning their third consecutive World Series championship.
I had been aware of the perfect game that Catfish had thrown during the 1968 season and it was easy to identify with him as my favorite active player.
One of the very first books that I read was a biography about Yankees legend Lou Gehrig so I naturally carried positive feelings about the Pinstripers and their rich, legendary history.
This set the stage for December 31, 1974. After aggressive pursuit by the majority of the MLB teams, Catfish, a free agent, signed a five-year contract with the New York Yankees.
I remember feelings of disappointment that the A’s had allowed Catfish to become a free agent and could not envision myself as an A’s fan without him on the mound despite their recent history of success.
So, on the day Catfish signed with New York, I officially decided to become a Yankees fan. The team had struggled during the preceding decade but my preference was to follow Catfish, even with a potentially losing team, over continuing to root for the A’s.
From that day forward, I have never looked back as the Yankees have been my team ever since.
After a couple of years, catcher Thurman Munson replaced Catfish as my favorite baseball player but the love of the Yankees deepened with each passing year.
I will always credit Lou Gehrig for creating my positive perception of the Pinstripes, and Catfish Hunter for bringing it all together.
42 has multiple meanings for me. It is the number of years I’ve been a Yankees fan, it was the number of years my father walked the Earth, it is the symbol of one of Baseball’s greatest players (Jackie Robinson), and the number of one of my all-time favorite Yankees (Mariano Rivera).
Today, December 31, 2016, I look back on the many great memories (the tremendous victories and the heartbreaking losses) the Yankees have provided, and look forward to the the bright future and continuation of the success of Baseball’s most storied franchise.
I am grateful to be a Yankees fan…