Seventeen milesfrom Lexington, Mass., is the town of Dracut, cradle of another Americanrevolution, in which the defiant act of a single citizen has threatened anoppressive empire.
Karen Vergakes, ayouth softball coach in Dracut, told officials of her league last April thatshe and her team of 10- to 13-year-old girls no longer wished to be called theYankees. "One of the mothers said to me, 'It's about time someone had thecourage to do this,'" recalls Vergakes. "Players had been telling me,'Coach Karen, we can't have that name.'"
Because theleague already had a Red Sox, the Yankees were allowed to become the Spinners,in homage to the nearby Lowell Spinners, a Class A affiliate of the Boston RedSox. If not exactly a Shot Heard Round the World, Vergakes's stand was a callto arms in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where trembling Little Leaguershave dreaded drawing the black bean of the Yankees nickname for more than halfa century. "We've heard of kids crying when they're told they'll be playingfor the Yankees," says Tim Bawmann, general manager of the Lowell Spinners,who hatched a program this winter to provide uniforms for any youth team in thestate that changes its name from Yankees to Spinners, in much the way that sometroubled cities provide cash to people who turn in their handguns.
In New England,youth teams often hold Opening Day ceremonies that include a parade. "Whenthe Yankees are announced," says Bawmann, "they get booed."
"It's true,and it's kind of sad," says Lou Cobuccio, who has sat on the board of theTewksbury (Mass.) Youth Baseball League for seven years. "We've been seeingit for some time now. We have a T-ball team called the Yankees--these are 41/2- to 6-year-old kids--and they have to hear it, marching in the parade intheir Yankees' stuff." It takes a village to raze a child.
And so TewksburyYouth Baseball has eliminated six Yankees teams, and Highland Little League hasburied two more in a growing necropolis of Mass. graves.
Highland hasretained a squad of Yankees T-ballers who get to keep their T-shirts when theseason ends, a Pyrrhic perk in Massachusetts, where Yankees of every pinstripeare Posada non grata. "Boys on the baseball Yankees have told my daughterthey burn their shirts after the season," says Vergakes, whose 10-year-oldgirl, Nikki, will play for Mom's Spinners team this season.
The LowellSpinners didn't formally announce their Yankees Elimination Program until lastweek, but already 30 teams have abandoned the Yankees name, including even onefrom a youth bowling league. "We called nearly every [baseball] league inthe state and found that close to half of them had already eliminated theYankees name," says Jon Goode, communications director of the LowellSpinners.
Now the Spinnersare working on the other half and hoping that YEP spreads, like an antivirus,to the whole of New England. "We heard from the coach of a Yankees team whowould walk his kids to an ice cream stand after games and they'd getharassed," says Bawmann. "At the ice cream stand!"
Bawmann stressesthat this Bronx cheer is "all in good fun" and that the Spinners arenot unaware of the program's inevitable dividend of publicity. This is, afterall, the franchise that held Birth Night, in which 30 very pregnant women wereseated behind home plate, eight ambulances at the ready, with the first lady togo into labor winning a year's supply of diapers. The team has honored Angel,the daughter of Michael Jackson's chimp, Bubbles. And in an entirely unrelatedpromotion, the Spinners held a Peter Gammons look-alike night. Their bobbleheadgiveaway in the likeness of Lowell native Jack Kerouac was so popular that thedoll is enshrined in Cooperstown.
But the primarymotivation in Greater Lexington and Concord is to thumb a nose at another KingGeorge. Eliminating the Yankees is at once a tribute to revolutionary PatrickHenry and Red Sox owner John Henry.
Bawmann says hiscounterparts in the front office of the Class A Staten Island Yankees--theSpinners' rivals in the New York--Penn League--have idly mentioned an interestin eliminating Red Sox teams from New York City youth leagues. If so, there isa coming standoff somewhere in the middle of Connecticut, along the invisibleMunson-Nixon line that divides Thurman Munson loyalists from devotees of TrotNixon.
Until then, RedSox fans will continue to be warmed by this hot stove story, with its unspokenpromise of springtime. As Vergakes, who fired the first shot, says, "It'salways better to eliminate the Yankees in April than to wait untilSeptember."
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Tewksbury Youth Baseball has eliminated six Yankeesteams, and Highland Little League has buried two more in a growing necropolisof Mass. graves.