Role Reversal

Evan BrunellFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2008

This year’s version of the All-Star game was a sight to behold: 15 innings of drama-filled baseball, squandered opportunities on both ends, bone-head Uggla errors, blown calls at home plate, and the final hurrah of J.D. Drew taking home the MVP trophy at Yankee Stadium’s grand celebration.

The opening ceremonies were memorable even as a Red Sox fan, the game itself star-studded and intense in its meaning, and the pure drama of “when will they run out of players?” kept my attention.

Even saying that, the one moment I’ll take away from this year’s version of the Midsummer Classic was the treatment Yankee fans gave Red Sox closer and resident mouth-runner Jonathan Papelbon.

No, I’m not angry about it, nor did I think the booing was completely classless and uncalled for. He’s practically the face of the Red Sox pitching in Yankee Stadium, this comes with the territory.

What I took away from that entire situation was not only the IQ of Yankees fans stooping to a new low (don’t they want the American League to win the game or have they given up on the Yankees this soon?), but how much they’ve changed since, say, 2004, correlating with how much Red Sox fans have changed since, oh I dunno, 2004.

Since the Red Sox have captured two world titles in the last four years, establishing themselves as the model organization in the majors with their well-calculated veteran transactions and constant influx of young talent from the minors.

The Yankees have been mired in their own mini-funk with seven full seasons of millions to billions spent, and zero World Series championships.

Earlier, the Yankees would whip on the Red Sox in what really wasn’t considered a rivalry to many Yankees fans. It was more like a hammer and a nail. Yankee fans would routinely laugh off the Red Sox as irrelevant and as no threat.

Go back to a pretend All-Star Game in 2003 at Fenway Park. If Mariano Rivera enters the game in the ninth inning for the save, he is booed mercifully, nobody holding back, a shower of epithets and “Yankees suck!” chants bursting out in random spots in the ballpark.

An All-Star game in 2008 at Fenway with Rivera entering? Probably a few mild scattered boos, mostly polite applause for fans would like to see the AL close out a winner.

Bring this pretend All-Star game to Yankee Stadium and you have the same switch in 2003 and 2008 with Jonathan Papelbon.

Why is this? Because Red Sox fans and Yankees fans have completely switched roles since 2004.

Now, it’s the Yankees fans who are obsessed with Boston. They’re set on booing Jonathan Papelbon like there’s no tomorrow, trashing David Ortiz and pushing for a cancellation of a “call your shot” event he was going to participate in at the Derby prior to his injury, complaining about Manny, hating Josh Beckett, thinking and thinking some more about the Red Sox.

Prior to 2004, Red Sox fans behaved in this manner: "Yankees suck" chants at every game, not just Yankees games, but Royals, Tigers and Patriots-Jets games. We were always looking up at them. Times have changed.

Red Sox fans are still checking the Yankees score every night, still flip over to the YES network at times to root against them, hope that the franchise suffers another year.

The intense hatred of Sox fans against the Yankees team and their fans have surely died down with the recent success, mostly because we finally have a response to their taunts “two in the last four years!”, and much like the rivalry on the field has died down between the players.

In 2008, we’re much more concerned with Tampa, who just leaped back into first place and cannot lose at home, than the Yankees at this point.

Hell, even some Red Sox fans rooted for the Bronx Bombers in their series against the upstart Rays.

It’s not like the Yankees are mired in mediocrity and completely irrelevant: they’ve made the playoffs every year since 1995 and look to make another second half run.

But in the last half decade, it’s been the Red Sox with World Series triumphs and the Yankees with frustrating, heart-breaking conclusions to their season in early October.

Another year with a $200 million payroll, another year losing in the Division Series.

With this new trend, the fans have effectively switched roles and it was never more personified than the ugly treatment that Jonathan Papelbon received in the All-Star game.