NEW YORK -- As he boarded a No. 4 train bound for Yankee Stadium on Thursday, Danny Manzo adjusted the bill of his Yankee cap and spoke lyrically about the war ahead: "See those jerks wearing Mets caps in the back of this car?" he snapped. "Their team is gonna be history. Yanks in five."
Across town, on a No. 7 train rumbling toward Shea Stadium, Randy Sullivan buttoned his Mets wind breaker and smirked at the mere thought of Yankee fans. "These people are full of themselves," he sniffed. "Mets in four."
While many here are sharply divided in their baseball loyalties, the city is thriving on a family feud that gets noisier -- and nastier -- by the day.
In the hours leading up to Saturday's opening pitch, the Big Apple has gone bonkers over the first Subway Series in 44 years: Streets and subways are filled with people wearing Mets and Yankees caps. The Mets and Yankee clubhouse stores on Fifth Avenue had to be closed three times by fire marshals because too many people jammed inside, scooping up $100 jerseys and other pricey mementos.
As the anticipation grows, the city's tabloids have cranked out one World Series special section after another, with more to come; talk radio is crackling with Big Apple baseball chatter.
"This city will go crazy," Yankee Manager Joe Torre predicted when his team won the American League pennant Tuesday.
Mets and Yankee partisans are itching for the fight to begin, and some find it odd that city officials are sponsoring a ''unity" rally Friday in Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library. "Are they nuts?" asked Manzo. "Like, I'm going to stand in a park with a bunch of Mets fans?"
He and other Yankee fans would probably outnumber them. According to a Quinnipiac Poll released Thursday, state voters back the Yankees over the Mets 47 percent to 34 percent, with women backing the Bombers by an even bigger margin than men. There is a telling generational split, said pollster Maurice Carroll: Fans over 65 who rooted for the old Brooklyn Dodgers or New York Giants in their youth split evenly in their support for the Yankees and Mets, while younger voters overwhelmingly favor the Yankees.
"This doesn't surprise me," said retiree Albert DiLauro, who grew up rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers and only gradually switched his loyalty to the Yankees. "I think the Mets are a fraud they invented to make up for the departures of the old Dodgers and Giants. But I can see how other people my age would support the Mets, because it's a link to the past."
Forget the pious statements from some civic cheerleaders that New Yorkers will be happy no matter who triumphs. This is war, pal, and if anything unites New Yorkers it's that their bragging rights to be the center of everything are louder than ever. The Subway Series, said Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, "will give New York an opportunity to be even more arrogant."
Not to mention outrageous. No wonder New York is the city that never sleeps: It can't stop talking about itself.
"New York, New York, New York," mused Francine Ziff, as she stood in line with an armful of Derek Jeter jerseys in the Yankee team store. "It's like we're the center of the world now. We all love baseball -- that's the bottom line."
The level of intensity is surprising, given that the Yankees and Mets have not had a long history of competition. Apart from recent midseason Subway Series and spring training games, they existed in different worlds.
"It's not fair to compare them, really, because the Yankees have been such a superior team, and the Mets only came into being in 1962," said Phil Dwan, a Wall Street broker. "A true Yankee fan probably didn't even know they were around until they started winning games years later."
Spoken like a true Yankee fan, countered Sylvia Graubard . "I hate the Yankees, my goodness, I do hate the Yankees," she said. "They think they're so superior. They need to be taught a lesson."
Graubard would love to see it happen in person, but like most New Yorkers she'll have to watch the games on television.
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