BALTIMORE -- It's hard to feel the pain of being a Yankee.
"You mean that everybody hates us?" pitcher Carl Pavano asks with a laugh.
Of course Pavano is the embodiment of what many baseball fans detest about the Yankees -- a fabulously wealthy free agent who is here because he was the best pitcher available and the Yankees signed him because, well, they could. All around there is a clubhouse full of Carl Pavanos. In one corner, Randy Johnson pulls on his uniform. A couple of lockers away, Kevin Brown is walking around in a sleeveless T-shirt. Gary Sheffield walks in from the dugout. Alex Rodriguez sits at a table watching replays of his swing on a laptop computer.
But there is a price for George Steinbrenner's luxury. The pinstripes might send Yankee hearts fluttering with memories of Ruth and Gehrig and Joe Dimaggio, yet they also elicit a fury among fans all over baseball. With the prestige comes the hate.
"I think there is definitely a bull's-eye on the back of the Yankee tag," says relief pitcher Steve Karsay.
This came up again late last week when Sheffield chased a ball into the right field corner at Fenway Park and wound up with the hand of a Red Sox fan on his chin. Sheffield shoved the fan with his glove and later cocked his fist and recoiled to strike the man before appearing to hold back. Still, even without a punch, another blow was struck. Maybe it's because of the payroll that has screamed past $200 million, or the four World Championships since 1996 or perhaps this New York-Boston rivalry that simmers more than the edge of the Gaza Strip, but the Yankees have become targets in the places they play.
"You're public enemy No. 1," Karsay says. "The first time I went into Boston with the Yankees I heard the nastiest things coming out of people's mouths, there were little kids all around. I couldn't believe it. You couldn't write any of this stuff in your newspaper.
"The way it's progressed these days in general the fans going into different stadiums are going to be against you."
Karsay has perspective too. He grew up in New York so he had some idea of how the Yankees were perceived. He also had a good notion of how profane fans could be. Growing up in New York gives you this sense. But he also pitched in Oakland and Cleveland and visited all the same American League Stadiums with those teams as he has with the Yankees. And while fans would always be fans and heckle the pitchers in the bullpen, it was nothing like walking into the same bullpen as a Yankee. He was shocked.
"It's so vulgar and disgusting," Karsay says. "It can get personal too. A lot of it gets real personal. They talk about your family, they talk about your wife and kids. It gets to a point where if you weren't in a baseball stadium and instead were on the street you would wind up scrapping with them."
Newspaper accounts after the Sheffield incident say he had been taunted mercilessly by the fans in the right field corner that night. Much of it related to his role in the BALCO case.
But the Gary Sheffields of baseball are accustomed to such treatment. Heck, opposing right fielders face welcomes just as vicious from the right field bleachers in Yankee Stadium. What makes this interesting is that players like Karsay, who would slip under the radar as the member of another team, face the same treatment as the Yankee stars.
It's interesting to watch the way even the most gentle of fans react to New York. In cities where fights never break out in the stands, extra police are added, vile chants fill the air and T-shirts suddenly pop up with lewd references to the Yankees as embarrassed team officials try to control the sudden carnage. It's as if perfectly normal people suddenly transform.
Even the Yankees minor leaguers feel the hate. Andy Phillips, a player who made the opening day roster simply because Brown was injured and has already been sent back to the minors, says he faced the fury all the way through the system. Even in the lowest of minors, fans came to his team's games simply to heckle players who would never even see the Bronx.
"Regardless of where you were you would always be associated with them," Phillips says. "They like to see you fail. For a guy like me they would try to find a way to tell me how I would never make it on a team with all those players. If you make an error you're compared to a guy in the big leagues. You're always playing in the shadows of the guys up here."
"It's crazy," he says.
It's also part of being a Yankee.