Yankees and Mets: Play Ball!

It is spring, and there is hope: Hope that 2008 will bring championships to the Bronx and Queens; hope that young players like Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain of the Yankees will blossom into stars; hope that stars like Johan Santana, Jose Reyes and David Wright of the Mets will light up our summer evenings.

New York’s two teams open their 2008 seasons on March 31, and none too soon, for it has been a dreary two months since the Giants finished off their memorable playoff run by winning the Super Bowl. The Knicks, New York’s signature winter-sport team, have been an embarrassment, and the area’s best hockey is being played across the Hudson River. Baseball will provide New York with a needed fix of excellence and perhaps some welcome respite from the ongoing political beanball season.

Of course, opening day at the city’s two ballparks will be no ordinary event, and not just because the Mets and Yankees have inspired high expectations this year. The House That Ruth Built will soon be but a memory, along with the Shanty Named for Shea. Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium will host their final opening-day ceremonies this year before their respective teams move to glittering new parks in 2009. Notoriously nostalgic New York baseball fans will get a chance to reminisce about the ghosts of championships past all season long (and perhaps own a piece of memorabilia from the old stadiums).

Would it be asking too much of the baseball gods to wish for a Subway Series? Surely not. In fact, it seems fair to say that any result short of a Yankee-Met Fall Classic will be disappointing. Both teams have a blend of young talent and veteran leadership. And both teams would love to open their new ballparks next year by raising championship banners on the center-field flagpole.

While last year was a disappointment for New York baseball, the Mets’ collapse and the Yankees’ playoff elimination shouldn’t distract us from the long run of excellence we’ve enjoyed since the mid-1990’s. Last year, the Museum of the City of New York put on an exhibit about the golden age of New York baseball, from 1947 to 1957, when all three New York teams—the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants—were fixtures in the World Series. The Giants and Dodgers both won a World Series title in that span. The Yankees, well, they were the Yankees. They won seven.

That said, who would deny that we are in the midst of a mini golden age right now? Both the Mets and Yankees have been consistent winners (and they played each other in the 2000 World Series) and fan attendance is at record levels. Forget all the nostalgia about the 1950’s and Ebbets Field—today, baseball owns this town as never before.