For years, baseball was a pleasant diversion for Jan Bottone, who liked to consider herself a devoted yet casual fan of the game. For years, basketball was her thing. She’d gone to high school with the great Calvin Murphy in Norwalk, Conn., so hoops fed most of her sporting interests.
It wasn’t until around 2000, when she moved to Wellesley, Mass., and found herself embedded among Red Sox Nation that the embers of an old flame, the Yankees, began to burn ever so sharply. She became a frequent caller to WEEI in Boston (though she kept her pinstriped allegiance to herself, probably a wise choice).
She read the sports sections of the newspapers voraciously, and when Twitter became a thing she regularly lent her voice to social media, as well. Before she knew it, she had unwittingly taken the leap beyond casual. The Yankees were a part of her daily life, for the first time since they were a large part of the conversations she’d have as a girl with her father, who’d played briefly in the Yankees’ organization.
“Even if I had left it behind consciously for many years, Yankees baseball would always be in my blood,” Jan says, though she insists: “I’m really no die-hard fan. I’ve always been much more the observer type, though my affection for the Yankees is always there, too.”
Earlier this summer, things changed. First came a terrible diagnosis: Stage IV metastatic cancer. She would need to undergo chemotherapy, and grind through weeks of dealing with, and learning to live with, the disease. Though she is a private person, she decided to share her daily fight with her 1,500 or so Twitter followers.
And every night, she started taking solace in the Yankees.
“I’m finding comfort in what has always been a part of my being: Yankees’ baseball,” she says. “Watching the Yankees does provide a distraction, even when they absolutely stink. Their games give structure to my days, and of course give me something to talk about — and I do love to talk.
“That’s why it doesn’t really matter to me if the Yankees win or lose at this point; they’re just there, a part of my life. And that part is so much more fun than thinking about cancer.”
Her daily grind is substantial. She tweets often about her visits to Newton-Wellesley Hospital and Massachusetts General Cancer Center. She shares her fears and frustrations, the terrifying difficulties so many cancer patients face as they begin this fight of, and for, their lives. She leans, always, on her husband, Ross Sharp, who for many years played high-minor-league cricket in England as a wicket-keeper.
She has fought the temptation to not eat because she often lacks the energy to cook for herself and has lately discovered the unpleasant side effect of “metal mouth,” a common companion to chemo treatments that makes everything that passes through your lips taste like a silver dollar. She discusses all of this with a remarkable clarity and detachment.
And then each night, she clicks on the YES Network. And in many ways, despite all the powerful drugs the doctors pump through her system, this is the very best medicine, the most soothing antidote. Listening to Michael Kay, Paul O’Neill and David Cone describe the successes — and, recently, slapstick — of these Yankees offers a sense of comfort and normalcy that has lately been so elusive.
“I actually enjoy the games without fans in the stands because it allows me to hear the real sounds of the game much more clearly,” Jan says. “But as far as the broadcasts go, I feel Coney and Paul have really stepped up their analyst games, and I’m enjoying their insights much more now.”
One thing cancer patients learn early on: You can’t fool the enemy. You can’t ignore him. But you most certainly can treat him the way he treats you: like it’s an unfair fight. Things that didn’t seem to matter much before matter in profound ways. Hobbies are more meaningful, distractions essential.
Baseball becomes essential. Even bad baseball.
“Today I resolved to think about my cancer as little as possible — at least as long as it doesn’t make its presence felt too much — until I have to return to the cancer center for chemotherapy, again,” she says. “Thanks to the Yankees, I have lots more vital, life-affirming, and fun things to fill my mind with.”
And there is this:
“Cancer doesn’t rule me,” she says. “It shall not rule me. This is still my life, and the Yankees are surely one of the good parts of the time I have left.”
If we can ask for one thing out of this football season for the locals, let’s go with this: 16 games and 17 weeks of health for Saquon Barkley’s ankles, knees and hamstrings.
Lest we forget that there really is such a thing as championship DNA, the Raptors grim, stubborn performance against the Celtics in Game 6 was a master class on the subject.
That catch Michael Conforto made the other night was probably the best catch I’ve ever seen made in Citi Field, percentage points ahead of the Spider-man stick-to-the-wall spectacular that Pittsburgh’s Travis Snider made to rob Mike Baxter of a home run on Sept. 28, 2012, the day R.A. Dickey won his 20th game.
Since you didn’t ask: Jets 6-10, Giants 5-11.
Whack Back At Vac
Mike Keneski: Let’s just hand out the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award to Washington quarterback Alex Smith and be done with it. Can it really be anybody else this season?
Vac: As someone who suffered a similar broken leg three years ago and still finds it challenging to play a round of golf with a cart … I think they should name the trophy after him.
John Cobert: A-Rod: “Don’t worry, Mets fans. J-Lo will be in charge!” Mets fan: “That’s your good news?”
Vac: Some people just never get the hint, you know?
@MikeVacc: The Mets’ pitching rotation: “Lugo and Jake/And pray …” That’s it. No clever rhyme. Just pray.
@FLYINGTARPON: “Lugo & Jake/Then pray they rake!”
@Fantomah18: “Jake & Lugo/And two days of snow.”
@THENATUREBOY: “Lugo and deGrom/And pray with Mom.”
@drschnipp: “Lugo and Jake/Brodie’s a snake.”
@kranepool: “Lugo and Jake/The rest are fake.”
@bronxmatthew: “If it ain’t Lugo & Jake/ No need to stay awake.”
@Robderbs: “Jake & Seth/And do some meth.”
@CoreyNYC: “Seth & Jake/Then which drugs do I take?”
@NYPost_Mets: “Jake and Seth/And then instant death.”