"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice


After waiting all this time, it’s finally here: spring in New York. Just this week, the buds started popping up on trees all over the city. This morning, I jumped on the train and headed down to Union Square to the farmer’s market. At about 9:00 a.m. I was walking on the sunny side of 14th street (the south side) to the market and I’ve got it tell you, it felt to be great to be alive and living in New York. Each spring, I’m reminded about how much I love this town.

The farmer’s market is a treat. It’s too early for lots of produce yet, and the stands are still dominated by rooted vegetables, and potatoes and apples. I’m going up to my mom’s for Easter tomorrow, so I thought I would stop by and get her a little something, something.

Like many Belgians, my mom is a terrific cook. Don’t know why they are so good in the kitchen, but it’s true. My mom is a foodie without an ounce of pretension. She lives up in the suburbs so she doesn’t have access to some of the froo-froo items you can get in the city.

She happens to love fingerling potatoes, small, stubby little guys that look like links of sausage, or cigar butts, or thick fingers. Trouble is she can never find them up where she is. So I find a stand at the market that features five different kinds of fingerling’s. Who knew? So I got her a sampler: French fingerling, Austiran Crescent, Rose Finn, Russian Banana, and of course, the Purple Peruvian.

Not only that, but I found some ramps too, which is the ultimate sign of spring. Ramps look vaguely like scallions, but they are younger, smaller, and more pungent. Actually, ramps are a curious combination of the garlic and onion families. It can be used as a substitute for either, and it gives off a special flavor.

My aunt Biece is a bonafide foodie and for years she told me about ramps. The catch with ramps is that they aren’t around long. It all depends on the weather, but the colder it is, the longer they hang around. Still, it won’t be much longer than three weeks a year. After Biece hipped me to them, I think I missed them for two or three straight seasons, either because I didn’t get to the market in time, or because the weather effected the crop. When I finally had them, I have to admit I was let down. They aren’t all that, but they are a nice variation.

Turns out, this is the first week they are around. Since I was at the market early, there were still plenty to choose from. How could I pass up this opportunity? Running into fresh ramps unexpectedly like this. Heck, I know that mom will get a kick out of em.

The ramps are out and baseball is back in the city too. How is this for a spring welcome? Joe Torre received a contract extension for life yesterday, signing a three-year, $19.2 million contract. After that, he’ll make a half a million a year as a advisor. Ten years ago, who ever thought that we would be able to take such news with a straight face? And maybe Torre won’t serve the duration of the contract, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did either. I certainly feel more confident about Torre sticking around than I ever with any manager under George.

The Torre deal was announced on Friday afternoon before the game against the White Sox. In all, it turned out to be a forgettable day on the field for the Yankees as they got pounded by Chicago, 9-3. And it’s not only that they lost, but they looked badly doing it. You know you are going to have a long day when you team draws four walks in an inning but can’t score a run. Hideki Matsui and John Flaherty had particularly embarassing games. But no matter how disapointing the game was, it doesn’t take away from how pleased Yankee fans must feel that Joe Torre has got the keys to the executive warshroom and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Actually, the game was entertaining for several reasons. First of all, before it was over, came news that the Blue Jays had won their first game of the year, 10-5 over the Red Sox, at the home opener at Fenway. I’m not nuts enough to be overly concerned with the standings in April, but I can say that any day the Red Sox lose is a that much better of a day for me, especially if the Yanks happen to lose as well.

Next, the game was curious because it started at 4:00 in the afternoon. How often do you see a late afternoon game on a Friday? Plus, the light at this time of the year is specific, that it casts its own personality on the game. The light in the spring is much whiter, brighter, and cooler than the kind of light we’ll see in August or September, which is much warmer, and more yellow.

Anyhow, I really enjoyed watching how the light was a major character in the proceedings. I think New Yorkers are especially sensitive to light because it is often rationed out in such small, specific doses. I guess that would hold true for anybody who lives in a city, but it is especially intense in New York. In between buildings, for a certain amount of time, light in New York is fleeting, especially during the winter months. You got to catch it when you can. It’s not like living in Los Angeles, where the light and space washes over everything. You can’t get away from it out there. In New York, you have to hunt around for it.

The sharp–even harsh–spring light really makes the blue of the stadium stand out. The grass isn’t lush yet, but it’s a damn sight greener than anything we’ve seen in months, so who is complaining? Watching on TV, you can almost feel the chill in the air just looking at the images. For me, it was just another friendly reminder that spring is finally here. And if I haven’t already told you, spring is my most favoritest season of the year.

Jose Contreras has wonderfully dark skin and looked imposing and cool in the brilliant sun. He hass thick, puffy features, and the navy blue mock-neck shirt that he wore under the pinstriped uniform made him look sharp. As the game started, a ring of shadows, a crescent moon of sorts, covered the area behind home plate and the stands behind the plate moving toward first base side.

By the second inning, the umpire and then the batter’s were in the dark. Slowly, the ring crept towards the mound, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching how the moving light progressively altered the playing field and the stands. In the spring, everything can feel new, so watching concentrating on something like the light in a late afternoon game–something the average baseball fan experiences plenty of times each year–feels like it’s the first time I ever noticed such a thing.
The weather brought a mix of sun and clouds. The batter’s were at a distinct disadvantage for the first four innings, and both pitchers benefitted accordingly. By the fourth, the entire area from the pitcher’s mound to home plate was in the shadows. The pitcher’s stood shinning in the sun, while the batter’s were muted in the shade. But even after the hitter’s were covered speaks and flashes of light refelected on their helemets and faces and shoulders.

When Sheffield came up for the first time, he looked the Prince of freakin Darkness in the shadows, glimpses of light splashing off him (he ripped a double into the left field corner). After the shadows had moved safely behind the mound, it was the fielder’s who were at a disadvantage. And even the base runners too. In the third, Hideki Matsui was standing in the sun off of second base. The infield dirt around him was a deep orange, and it looked like a great place to be. Chicago starter Jon Garland–effectively wild for the most part–had walked the first two men of the inning and Matsui got to be in the sun. Perhaps he couldn’t see the catcher too well, because before you know it, the ball came screaming into second, and Matsui was easily tagged out.

(There is a hilarious photograph of Matsui sliding back to second in the Daily News today. Matsui has his hands stretched out ahead of him, making like a super hero flying. His body is flat on the ground except his feet. His head is down in the dirt, and as the announcers mention, he probably wants to bury it even further into the earth. The slide looks good, the form looks perfect. The only problem is that he is a foot-and-a-half away from the bag.)

Contreras labored from the begining. In the fifth, the Magglio Ordonez tagged him for a three-run homer. He hit a ball, low and inside, and really glicked it. It was somewhere between a line drive and a high fly ball. Actually it had the speed and arc of a golf ball being smacked from the driving range. It got into the seats but fast.

Felix Heredia wasn’t much better and the defense was even worse, as the White Sox scored all of their runs–four in the fifth, five in the sixth—in two innings. By the sixth, the only part of the field that was still in the light was center. Looking in, it was clear that the outfielders couldn’t see the ball coming off the bat. Bernie Williams looked like a deer caught in the headlights on several fly balls.

The one bright spot of the day came when Bubba Crosby hit his first major league home run. A fan favorite grows in the Bronx. But the Yankee offense is still tight. Who knows how long they will continue to struggle. The good news is that they can explode at any moment. Let’s hope it happens over the weekend.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver