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In Sports

Flying your team's colors can bring undesired attention

It was 12:30 in the morning, and I was about ready to leave my sleeping wife at Mandalay Bay for one last round of late night blackjack downstairs.

Staring me in the face was what I thought to be a rather innocent decision.

Do I put on my generic white "Titleist" baseball cap, or do I sport my newly acquired Red Sox lid - with the proud looking, Old English style "B" right on the front?

Knowing that casinos are full of drunken strangers sitting or standing in close proximity, the Titleist hat was the safe play. Innocuous and unlikely to start any conversations or confrontations.

Not so, with the Sox lid. And deep down, I knew it.

What the hell, I thought. If I really am going to be a "Red Sox Fan" then real fans wear the cap. They "fly the colors," as my buddy and Red Sox "sponsor" Marc Sterne would say.

But first, I need to catch everyone up on how I have "become" a Red Sox "fan."

If you recall back in the spring, I wrote in this space how I had given up waiting for Cadillac Bud and his lying band of baseball owners to do the right thing and grant my hometown of Washington, D.C. a team after 33 years of waiting. Even though the Expos have (in theory) never been closer to actually coming here next season, I remain a firm skeptic. Too many broken promises to get really excited.

Besides, I argued, baseball had its chance. They blew it. I was moving on. So I chose the Red Sox, for a variety of reasons. First on that list, is that they are not the New York Yankees. Granted, you could say they have now become "Yankees Light." The Sox don't sport a bare bones payroll. They are not a "Cinderella." They are, in essence, just one of a handful of baseball's fully loaded aircraft carriers patrolling the big market waters.

But I signed on to be a fan because the passion of their fans is undeniable. The history, while tragic, is too compelling not to want to be a part of. I knew that deep down, if I was to choose a single baseball team to "throw in" with for the rest of my waking days, it had to be Red Sox.

After all, if I had worn a Cincinnati Reds cap on that casino floor, this column would not exist.

I pulled up to a blackjack table and plunked down at first base. Sitting to my left, was a woman about my age, with a female friend standing behind her. It didn't take more than 10 minutes before she started in with "So, you don't sound like you are from Boston."

I explained briefly my newfound fandom, and how I was indeed, not from Bawhstahn. That's when she proudly snarked that she and her friends (in town for a bachelorette party) were Yankee fans.

Uh, oh. Here we go.

We exchanged lighthearted banter as the dealer worked through several shoes of cards. At one point, she even confessed that she didn't like baseball that much (too boring) yet she insisted she was indeed a hard-core Yankee fan. This very chick-like contradiction in fandom started to bug me, and so I decided to start ragging her a little harder about being such a devotee of the "Evil Empire."

Several crummy hands left my newfound Yankee friend muttering and grumpy. Perfect opening, I thought. "Gee, I guess if you are a Yankee fan, you think it's your right to win all the time, every time, huh? Maybe you can ask the pit boss if you can buy that ace off the dealer for $50 and minor league prospects to help you win this hand."

Her laugh was only half sincere, the other half clearly annoyed, which gave me a sudden rush of satisfaction. Hey, this is fun, I thought. A helluva lot better than just saying: "Yeah, well we're supposed to get the Expos in Virginia next year."

Encouraged, I kept working whatever material I could find until she was getting ready to leave with her friend to go do more bachelorette party things, whatever that entailed. Finally, she was down to about $60 and change at our $10 table.

"Go ahead, put it all out there. What are you, scared? Big Stein would do it. Hell, if he can flush $10 million on Hideki Irabu, you can let a measly $63 bucks ride on one hand of blackjack."

She refused to take my taunts, but did play two more hands. The final one was a backdoor dealer "20" that clipped her natural "19." Nice. It felt like watching Curt Schilling blow three pitches by Derek Jeter in the bottom of the ninth.

A few pleasantries capped our brief encounter, but no handshakes from me as she disappeared with her friend. As far as verbal opponents go, I recognize that she was overmatched from the start. A halfhearted "Yankee fan" who probably couldn't get past "A-Rod and Jeter" on the roster without calling her brother.

In essence, for this rookie Red Sox fan, she was the Don Zimmer to my Pedro Martinez. My throw down, like Pedro's, while perhaps unsporting, sure did feel good.

On the ride back up the elevator around 2:30, a group of soused 20-somethings noticed the cap and decided to have a go with me. Something to the effect of "you know you can't beat us" was accompanied with various other non-threatening trash talk.

I made a rather lame comeback about Kevin Brown's arm falling off. To tell the truth, I really didn't leave the house with a bunch of prepared comebacks to belligerent Yankee fans. Like George Costanza, I came up with a great zinger by the time I was brushing my teeth, but by then it was far too late.

As this drunken punk was walking off the elevator, he chanted "1918 ... 1918."

Yeah, I suppose Yankee fans will always have that one, and there's not much you can say as a Sox fan. I might have explained to him that for me, at least, he should chant "2004 ... 2004" because I am new to this whole Red Sox-Yankees fan rivalry.

But I didn't sign on for that, I signed on for the whole thing. So I better get used to the reaction and attention that inevitably follows "flying the colors" in a public setting.

And next time, I'll pack better comebacks. Because I get the sense that this is going to be one long, painful baseball lifetime.


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