Tagged: Ballgames

Fear and Loathing in the Bronx

The Stadium is teetering, Mo’s bridge burning down, Torre’s magic touch dissolving. The boss blusters, Abreu is flustered… too many problems need solving. And while chaos ensued, and the denizens booed, there wasn’t a game left to save. We are left with the ghost of memory, and whoever else decides to stay.   

And I wonder:

What’s the point of worrying again?   

…………….

My brother and I sit upper deck, for the first of three games against the loathsome, despised,***** good Red Sox. They stand, in first place by 10 ½ games, without readily recognizable contributions from imports J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo, or Mr. Mercurial himself, Manny Ramirez. You had to give them credit, the jerks.

Josh Beckett rediscovered the precise location that had abandoned his curveball. 
Previously maligned General Manager Theo Epstein outplayed professional nemesis Brian Cashman in his acquisition of Daisuke Matsuzaka, wagering that an insane posting fee would be balanced by a bargain basement contractual agreement, staring down avenging agent Scott Boras in the process.
Hideki Okajima, an unheralded Japanese reliever, has been lights out his first trip around the American League, which isn’t entirely surprising, considering his beyond funky delivery.      

Over a year ago, impossible as it is for me to believe, I composed my favorite column, entitled "Until the End of Time." The article interprets my experience at an early season Yankee-Red Sox contest, and all its accompanied trappings: the standard, nauseating hype proliferated by deranged media entities such as ESPN, hostilities between different factions of fan, coordinated attacks involving flying beer, the basic experience was all there.

That is a documented day in my life, May 10th, 2006.

Flash forward.   

May 21st, 2007.

What changed?

………….

I’ve been here before. Ever faithful familiarity is always calling us back, Bob Shepard beckoning, along with stale beer and a dull sense of tradition. I count on the wearied expression overcoming underpaid vendors by the middle innings, the overzealous security guards, intoxicated with power, shoving offending members of the audience, drunk on something else entirely, down tunnels and out of sight, the roll call from bleacher creatures, the light din following first pitch, time to settle in for a long night.
…………

Situation dictates circumstance. Alarm is a peak priority, our team skidding, a disturbing malaise feeding mediocrity.

After salvaging a small slice of the Subway, we were praying for a positive carry over. The Ace took the hill, Chien-Ming Wang, opposing knuckleball specialist Tim Wakefield.

……….

Whack seats. We’re jammed, within the middle of packed section, miles from home plate, elevated in the atmosphere.

My bro and I share a disgusting cough, gained during an ill-fated late night barbecue doubling as a birthday celebration for one of his friends. I got drunk on a powerful combination: homemade margaritas and straight shots of cheap tequila. Greg joked that I appeared genuinely repulsed after the initial hit of 1800, face etched in red and eyes blinking erratically, which is fantastic really. I wish someone could have snapped a picture.   

The fallout was far worse than an amiable bitter beer face. The treacherous cough struck us both 24 hours later, and hadn’t departed by game time. There we were, locked in for a nine-inning Yankee-Red Sox throw down, intermittently expunging harrowing gasps and wadded saliva. Our exploits would have received ample attention if not for two reasons:

1.    This was Yankee Stadium, and dry heaving hardly counts as an occurrence worthy of disdainful recognition, except maybe for appalled tourists or frightened Long Islanders.
2.     Nefarious lynch pins had already been revealed, a disheartening twist of events that enraged my entire section. Looking back, they probably didn’t need the prompt, though, at the time, it was shocking to see two Red Sox fans, seated three or four rows away at best, preening and taunting with unmistakable glee in this, just the first inning. Usually the lynch pins, code for an individual or tag team duo who readily incite ill tempered hometown fans, wait at least an hour to work their magic, at the height of inebriation. But here were Lloyd and Harry, Dumb and Dumber without a doubt, doing a worthy imitation of early 90’s Wrestling heels. All that was missing was their manager, Mr. Fuji.

So, as Greg and I exchanged cough drops, at a baseball game for Christ’s Sake, Wang started encouragingly enough, escaping the first without allowing a run.

…………

The sun set, blazing a sky picturesque, hovering over the anxious souls of 50,000 plus.

The lynch pins are at the top of their game as Alex Rodriguez ambled to the plate, runner on second.

" Oh, A-Rod!" one of them crowed, attempting to sound feminine as possible. Heckling is a strange enterprise. In the testosterone fueled world of sports, here is an endeavor where it’s considered noble to sound extremely ***, so long the activity is undertaken to insult an opposing team’s players or fans. At a Subway Series game I happened to attend years ago, two fat, drunken Yankee devotees acted out dialogue between Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo that didn’t exactly earn points for subtly. You figure it out.

The second cog in the tag team, dubbed Sully and Sully by some wit one seat up, followed his friends’ ill fated lead, turning his back on the field to verbally spar with anyone willing.

The opening inning blitz left us truly stumped. Sure, a few people issued late return fire, class one f-you rockets, but the moment had passed. The Sullies had one over on us… or did they?

A-Rod demolished a hopelessly hanging Wakefield floater, and the Yanks suddenly took control, 2-0.

       ……………….

The counter assault was vicious. Our new friends from Boston were roundly lampooned, well after Alex had finished cruising the base paths.

Aye, revenge is a dish best served with cold cuts.

And yet… something was off.

I realized. The crowd was caught in a chant:

" Red Sox ****! Red Sox ****!"

It was venomous, tribal and theatrical at the same time. The change amazed me. It used to be that we were a constant in Boston’s consciousness, lurking, haunting. We were the dream destroyers, the bad guys worthy of Tony Montana’s vision, taking what was wanted, at the cost of anyone foolish enough to pose opposition.

They fought and fell, a parade of Indians and Mariners, Braves and Mets, until the ultimate triumph in 2003, against the nemesis, our superiority a supposed eternal lock.

We used to have an unshakeable confidence, the power of Yankee Stadium nearly a reckoning force in the 2001 World Series.

  Things change. Vibrant leaves crumble into dust, as do empires.

We’d look down on them, almost pitying, as they pathetically wailed tired sentiment at football celebrations.

" What do these ****** think? That the Patriots can play the Yankees?"

No, the Yankees didn’t ****, and I was entitled to laugh, as I was to victory.

And than, it vanished, in one inevitable moment in time.

2004 shouldn’t have robbed Yankee fans of class, if they ever had any, and arrogance, if they happened to even misplace it. The team’s weaknesses festered at the worst possible time, nary a break was found, and a better team rightfully won.

So why this bitterness? This endless ocean of success hasn’t endowed faith, hardly. It has emboldened the spoiled, legitimized the desperate, and burdened the rational.   

Boo Mariano Rivera in April.
Boo Derek Jeter in May.
Boo Jason Giambi in October.
Boo Alex Rodriguez all the **** time.

         I surveyed my surroundings, the two Sullies, still talking smack, their voices nullified by a wall of sound and fury, and realized, Yankee fans and Red Sox fans never hated each other for their difference, it was for the similarity, when they saw themselves in each other.

When they had to boo.

……….

  Wang wasn’t up to his usual tricks, unmercifully pouring in a ceaseless wave of scintillating sinkers against frustrated hitters unable to solidly connect. He was mixing in a bevy of sliders and change-ups, an artist switching palettes.

His performance turned Picasso, Wang running a maddeningly high pitch count, while maintaining a semblance of effectiveness. He’d been gifted a four run lead, after Jason Giambi’s bomb into the right field upper deck. I could see the sphere, careening peacefully on course, descending into a mess of sweaty palms.

The Sully aimed abuse was unrelenting.

Some kid, of similar age to mine, wouldn’t quit.

" Hey buddy", he incessantly chirped, " Hey buddy. Buddy. Buddy. Buddy. In the red hat. Sully buddy, look at me, look at me… look over here man!"   

Sully # 1, face ashen, appearing defeated, finally stared up.

The kid cleared his throat. I readied for a well thought out, impassioned put down, worthy enough to put the Sully situation to rest, for good.

<span style="COLOR: black; FONT-FAMILY: "Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-size: ***************** Boston!"   

And our section cheered, even joined in.

"Fuuuuaa-ck Boston! [Clap, clap, clap] Fuuuaaaa-ck Boston!"

On it went, as I sunk into my seat, trying to focus on the game.   

………

Somewhere around the seventh, as the Yankees seized complete control, those seeking perverse entertainment had ample avenues opened for amusement.

There was the insanely drunk chick, alone in her intoxication, but determined, nonetheless, to present a stand-alone show worthy of ticket admission.

As Wang danced around the Boston nine, she paraded on the concourses, shaking her assets in a vain attention grab.

It worked, of course.   

"Show your ****! [Clap, clap, clap] Show your ****!" [Clap, clap, clap]

She wouldn’t oblige, though her consideration was clear.

………….

Meanwhile, fight night had unexpectedly broken out. The under card boasted a battle between Sox fan and Yankee fan, right in the middle of a crowded aisle. The Sox fan, a southpaw, sneaked in an excellent jab, which may have earned him a win on the scorecards, but led to his free fall from Row J to C. The Yankee fan, clearly stunned, sought retribution against, well, anyone really, and clocked the nearest partisan in range. A legitimate pier six broke out, yet fight fans had their attention immediately diverted to another impassioned scrum on the concourse. The drunken girl, personally dubbed as "my ex-girlfriend", was, by hook or crook, bleeding from the mouth. Now, here was a true National tragedy. The Upper deck’s prized starlet was bleeding, and, by God, we wondered for just a second what kind of messed up world we were living in. After that thought passed, fingers were pointed. Some people blamed Stadium security. Some people blamed a mysterious, balding tattooed figure wearing a Scott Brosius jersey. Few, however, assigned blame to a blood specked railing 20 rows down.    

……………

After an imminently needed sojourn to the bathroom, where, we’d heard from a prior patron " **** hit the fan around the fifth inning" [thankfully, not literally] we jacked a couple of unoccupied seats at the end of our row. When pressed on the whereabouts of the previous owners, a dude behind us claimed, "I don’t know where those people went. It was the third inning… and they just disappeared." Ah, the mysteries of life. But was this fate?

For, in the eighth, contest winding to a serene finish, Sully #1 appeared in our midst, expression bewildered, the unmistakable stench of barley and hops on his breath.

His accent was thick.

"Hey, do you guys remember where I was sitting?"

Greg eyed me. You take this one.

"No, man. Sorry."

Sully # 1 wearily exhaled, and than smiled.

"I’ve seen you two guys all night, just sitting back and watching the show."

"You did it to yourself." I flatly replied.

Sully # 1’s attention wondered.

"We’re standing on three decks … know that? It’s really incredible. I’ve had a blast, I really have."

"Are you crazy?" I angrily responded, almost insulted. "You’ve had drunk ******** talking **** to you all night, your team’s getting lit…"

"It’s part of the experience." Sully said, searching for the right words. He found them.

"We’re the bad guys."    

He started away, but I called him back.

"What’s your name, man?"

"Derek," he said. "Like Jeter, right?"

I’m not sure if Derek ever found his seat.

…………….

As we departed the stadium, the Yankees victorious, I search for signs of hope. I’m equal parts optimistic and pessimistic about this team, but could never part from at least being interested. I figure if Hughes is back by the All Star break, or immediately after it, and Clemens can be counted on for six quality innings a night, they have a chance to make an improbable run at the division, lest they scramble for the wild card.

I can’t quit, because for all the stupidity and negativity entailed with being a fan, there will always exist a sense of wonderment, an ode to the unknown within me.   

It’s in all us.

After all, we’re standing on three decks.

– Matt Waters

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Cooked Moose

Mike Mussina had nothing, the bullpen stepped up, but the offense, besides Robinson Cano, just couldn’t produce a big hit to reverse negative momentum, as Adam Loewen and the O’s cruised to a relatively bland 6-4 victory in the Bronx tonight. Tomorrow, Kei Igawa duels Steve Trachsel, with the Yankees in dire need of quality outing. Hey, the rotation is due.

Derek Jeter left with a probable bone bruise on his heel. Not a very entertaining game, but there were positives: Sean Henn pitched three quality innings, and the aforementioned lights out bullpen didn’t allow a run.

Unfortunately for the Yanks, after digging an early hole, they discovered Baltimore’s revamped set-up corps could match their efforts, with closer Chris Ray ultimately nailing down the victory.

‘Till Tomorrow….

Sweet and Loewen Down

Now here’s an interesting case: Adam Loewen fits an aces profile: his build suggests durability, and his stuff could translate into dominance. The big lefty flashed some serious potential against the Yanks last season, owning them for a couple of outings. He’s a huge part of the Orioles’ future. Reversing their course of stagnation won’t happen overnight, but if young pitchers such as Loewen and Cabrera find their stride, the O’s can advance in a hurry.

OMG TEH A-ROD!!!11111!!!

OMG TEH A-ROD!!!11111!!!

So, the Yanks lost one last night, falling rather ignominiously to Jae Seo and the dynamite Devil Ray relief corps. Before the season, I predicted the Devil Rays would lose about 110 games, due in large part to the dearth of pitching depth beyond Scott Kazmir, but, after their aggressive promotions of B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, and Elijah Dukes, I’ll readily admit that I need to recalibrate that projection. This team has simply too much offensive talent to be that awful.

As for the Yankees, hey, let’s be honest, they played terrible baseball for the first two games of the season. Atrocious fundamental play, sprinkled with mediocre starting pitching, does not provide a recipe for success. They were fortunate to escape Opening Day with a win, when Shawn Camp and company entered the proceedings armed with gasoline, but, overall, it wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing beginning for our Bronx Bombers.

But hey, SCREW IT. It’s two games. The fact that they were able to garner a split amid the sloppiness speaks to the team’s potential.

And, a piece of advice, fellow pinstripe acolytes… don’t get caught up in the Anti A-Rod hype. He popped up with the bases loaded last night, but this isolated failure isn’t indicative of anything, the farthest from a harbinger.

All in all, I think it’s pretty pathetic how Yankee fans treat A-Rod [the majority, anyway]. Say what you want about Met fans, and I’ve said a lot, believe me, but blind optimism always beats embittered entitlement.

Remember, we’re supposed to CHEER for the guys wearing pinstripes.

But, that’s another topic for another day…

‘Till Tomorrow

Until the End of Time

[ This is my first post for the blog. I have tons of stuff written about the Yankees over the past couple years, and would love to be able to show my old work to a brand new audience. Here’s a piece I wrote about attending a Yankee-Red Sox game at the stadium this past May]

There are three things in my life which I really love:  God, my family, and baseball.  The only problem – once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit.  ~Al Gallagher, 1971

Act One: Rise

Four hours. Sleep is the price I pay for negligence. I put off doing my English research paper, on the delightful art of sportswriting, until one in the morning, eventually concluding it’s subtly insane contents at 3:00 AM. There I was, scattered sources splattered all over my desk, one corner nestling a brilliant Best of book featuring the work of Tom Verducci,  another featuring a hard as nails pigskin pamphlet written by Mike Freeman. The paper was decent, despite an out of nowhere diatribe against Mike Lupica featured on the bottom of page three. Bitterness is a powerful thing, my friends.

It had been a rough day. Another absent minded morning and afternoon spent at School, our controlling hierarchy gradually losing their grip on the Senior Classes’ general sensibility. In the cafeteria, a spontaneous chant of “ We Will Rock You” directed at the Dean of Discipline stretched beyond a minute, replete with on cue table pounding. If nothing else, we are unified in our daily quest to be complete jackasses.

I’d been looking forward to the Yankee game all day, predicting a big start from the Yankees’ gangly ace, Randy Johnson. Johnson had been inconsistent, pounded in his prior outing. 

Johnson, of course, was shelled. Alex Rodriguez was booed. And the research paper that I had not allowed entrance within my thoughts until the game’s conclusion reared its ugly head around the fourth, after a Mark Loretta double.

“*****! I still have to do that Paper!”

  Rough it is, the morning after a brutal loss.  I promise myself to avoid the newspaper at all cost.

Of course, there it is, as I pour myself a bowl of cereal, the Post trumping a characteristically obnoxious headline. My eyes are heavy, weighing an estimated fifty pounds. I pass out in a sea of Cheerio’s, always a joyous experience. Knowing full well the team would be skewered after any defeat to Boston, my high hopes of Randy Johnson victory were cut even deeper than usual, because if there is anything I love doing before attending a big game, it’s to wrap myself in every minute detail.  Now, I had been robbed of that. No listening to the Fan during art class, one of my favorite pastimes. No reading the paper during homeroom, a superior alternative when compared against actually viewing the Student Produced school news. My habits are changed outrageously after a Yankee loss. The media negativity just has a way of gnawing at my soul. It’s just a drag, having one’s most pessimistic thoughts mutually agreed upon by fire stoking columnists. Surely, this process is dramatically easier to digest after a loss to the ‘Rays. However, after a defeat inflicted by Boston, it’s just painful.

School flies by at a reasonably quick pace. The highly anticipated sequel to “ We Will Rock You” is a laconic, yet original, chant of “ Briiiaaannn”, a dig directed at the Dean once again, targeting his seldom spoken first name.  He laughs it off, certainly relieved to be rid of us by next week’s end.

Act TwoA Special Guest Appearance

  My brother and I plan for a Six o’clock departure. He informs me of our added company, in the form of his longtime buddy Brett, to be accompanied by his girlfriend.

I had meticulously planned my day while nodding off in first period:

3-6: Nap.

6-? – Game

1-2- Column about game

The nap went off without a hitch. I had a nightmare, it’s memory washed from my conscience as soon as I arose. Chances are it involved either Randy Johnson or hanging sliders, perhaps a combo of both.

   Greg and I, while awaiting the arrival of Brett, begin a fierce argument regarding the Yankees’ starting pitcher Mike Mussina. I feel my bro harbors unjust hate for Mike, the motive unclear. He claims Moose simply rubs him the wrong way, coming off as reclusive and snooty. He doesn’t appreciate Mussina’s compulsive tendencies, ticks and tocks of an otherwise smooth personality that are often easily thrown off by external forces. I’ll personally never personally forget a particularly peculiar Moose moment, in which he claimed a Pre-Game ceremony celebrating the accomplishments of Blue Jay broadcaster Tom Cheek dragged on far beyond it’s anticipated allotment, a cause partly to blame for a porous outing. 

Mussina, however, is my favorite Yankees pitcher. I counter my brother’s arguments with games: Game 3 against Oakland, 2001, Game 7 against Boston, 2003.

“ Tell you what,” he offered sardonically, “If Mussina pitches good tonight, he’ll move up a notch on my list.”

/

Brett arrives, girlfriend in tow, and we take off toward Yankee Stadium, making decent time.

Brett wears his emotions on a ragged sleeve, bursting into sudden enthusiasm during even the most mundane of conversations. With the added intensity of Red Sox-Yankee game, he flies off the handle with astonishing regularity. His seat is rows from ours, spoiling a good view of his inevitable ejection from the ballpark. The question wasn’t if with Brett, but when. He’s on his A-game early as we approach gate four outside the stadium, viciously assailing Red Sox fans with verbal spew. He is on an impressive, rapid-fire delivery, offending at least five people per minute. His girlfriend often joins in on the assaults, as they form an unstoppable tag team duo of non-stop expletives. My brother and I hang back and callously observe, unsure of how to approach, let alone stop, a runaway train.

“ My money’s on the fifth,” Greg exclaims, nodding his head toward his theatrically passionate friend. 

[It was actually the seventh]

Act Three: Exterior

  Stan’s, a quintessentially aesthetic bar/town hall, is located just beyond the Bleacher Entrance into the House that Ruth Built, a short walk across a usually closed off street. To properly comprehend the buzz transfixing even the most placid of demeanor before a rivalry game against hated Boston is to breathe in it’s ethereal energy, visually digesting the denizens arriving and departing Stan’s as first pitch looms. The people are in an impractical frenzy, a cavalcade of expended energy and wasted motion. They scream, holler, randomly jump short distances, and occasionally even grip their faces, as if caught in the midst of a rather perplexing dream. As one approaches his or her particular gate, weaving around a labyrinth of tourists, vendors, and diehard fans, they will often find themselves melted into a time and place, simply filling out the design of intimate postcard. After all, when the sun is shining, when spirits are high, when people such as Brett perform, justifying our obsession with proof of their own, it’s easy to accept the reliable happiness that arrives with just fitting in, another Yankee fan clutching a ticket close to the heart. 

  The electricity was there Wednesday Night, Ace Vs. Ace, our hope renewed in Moose, our deepest fury launched into renewal at the mere sight of Schilling.

Act Four: Row X

  For those lucky uninitiated in the Tier fraternity, Nose Bleed seats truly provide an equally thought provoking and repulsive perspective on a Baseball game.

Our seats, Greg and I, are in Tier section 5, Row X. As a little kid, I always assumed purchasing seats in tier would make a grown man shed one, clarifying it’s usage as adjective instead of “Upper-Deck.” As time advances forward however, I have come to appreciate the Tier seats, often disregarding the occasional caveats that creep into any Stadium Viewing.

And sure, the drawbacks are many. The players, obviously, seem in another world, visitors from another planet viewed from beyond looking glass. The fans, many proud partakers in Happy Hour, seem quick to challenge easily accessible enemies. During the course of three innings, a drunken, middle-aged Red Sox fan, bent on the task of taking on the entire city of New York, began harassing an entire section, purposefully allowing his burly body to shroud the vision of at least 15 paid customers, executing his plan exclusively during lulls of activity when nobody else was standing. He pleaded ignorance of course, pretending to reach into his pocket for the trusty cell phone. The charade, made cosmically perfect by his Gray and Red Johnny Damon jersey, worn perhaps to spite only himself, came to a merciful conclusion in the top of the third.

Stonewall Jackson, as I had taken to calling him from my perched, objective view, was utterly doused by approximately thirty flying beers, in an impressive attack of intense coordination. It would be the Security Guards’ first full-fledged appearance of the night, as they quickly and quietly ejected the drenched and beleaguered Damon fan. He surprised nobody in his inability to finger any assailants. Or speak a coherent sentence. 

It isn’t right of course, picking on another human being exclusively due to their devotion to a team different than yours. In the case of Super Fan Number 18 however, mob justice is often the only immediate answer.   

Act Five: The Game

Moose, after a rocky first two frames, settled down and mixed an impressive array of breaking pitches, punctuated with a flat out nasty change, to navigate through seven successful innings.

Schilling, on the other hand, seemed to run out of steam around the fourth, hanging his splitter and failing to locate his fastball. The highlight of the night occurred courtesy of Alex Rodriguez, who took his nemesis deep into the left field seats for a tie-breaking home run. Rodriguez earned a brief reprieve from the slings of his constant critics, garnering a standing ovation from a fickle Stadium Crowd. Alex is a victim of his talents, which bring about impossibly unreasonable expectations. When he does indeed deliver however, it truly is a sight to see, and an occasion to raucously cheer in absolute approval.

And so we did.

Interlude

“ You know, Moose isn’t that bad.” Greg said it, choking down his pride for a quiet second.

I sat there, ignoring another brawl a few rows away, disregarding the squinting it took for the kaleidoscope of my favorite game to flourish in perfect vision, sitting back, relaxing, Sox-Yanks.

“ Not bad at all.”

Act Six: And so it goes…

The newspaper would be devoured come morning, positive reinforcement. I’d catch the replay, sneak another peak at ESPN News for the highlights, and even appreciate a less grumpy and more effective Mike Lupica.

Then, I’d watch another game, and another one after that, until the end of time, never keeping a safe distance.

/

Caught a good sleep that night.