"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Ray’s First Game

Jay Jaffe was at Tuesday night’s game, screaming his head off as Alex Rodriguez smacked three dingers and drove in 10 of the Yankees 12 runs in their 12-4 win over Bartolo Colon and the Angels. Me? I was there last night, when the Yanks managed just one lousy run off of Jarrod Washburn (the elusive solo homer that would have made Rodriguez’s Tuesday night performance the greatest in American League history).

It wasn’t all for nothing, however. Last night I and two of my colleagues brought my 67-year-old boss, a man who has lived in New York City for nearly 40 years, to his first game at Yankee Stadium.

It was an interesting crew. With me was Dave, my best buddy at work. Dave grew up in Fairfax, Virginia. As a teenager, his favorite team was the Toronto Blue Jays club that won back-to-back World Series in the early ’90s. When I informed him that Pat Borders made the Twins postseason roster last October he was both shocked and delighted at the news. Since moving to Queens, Dave has become a Mets fan. He is also something of a sports connoisseur, enjoying soccer, lacrosse, cricket, baseball, football, NCAA basketball and NASCAR equally. Dave also performs improv comedy at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theater and recently published his first humor book, a harrowing take on corporate drudgery in which he uses my name liberally and without permission.

Joining us was a strikingly handsome 6′ 6″ Croatian named Zelimir, a former coworker who left our office several years ago to get a masters from Harvard and is now back at work elsewhere in Manhattan. Dave introduced Zelimir to the Mets back when he worked with us and Zelimir quickly mastered a level of understanding of the intricacies of the game that far surpassed Dave’s. Departing the game last night Zelimir informed us that his grandfather, while on shore leave from the Yugoslavian navy in the 1930s, attended one of the two sold-out Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fights at Yankee Stadium (how he managed this Zelimir did not know).

Ray, our guest of honor, is also a Virginia native (though he’s from the southern part of the state), but has been working in publishing in New York since the ’60s. Once a colleague of Jackie Onassis when she worked at Doubleday, Ray is one of the last of the great old-school editors (he still uses a typewriter, though I’ve taught him some rudimentary email skills). Over the past several decades, Ray has edited books by John Fowles and Thomas Pynchon, as well as a series of bestsellers by Martha Grimes and most recently the hit debut novel by Ron McLarty. A huge tennis fan, Ray is more significantly a connoisseur of art, food and literature. In fact, he had never paid baseball much attention at all until 2003 when, after several years of working with me, he decided to find out what my obsession was all about and became hooked on the Yankees. Not long after Ray started watching baseball, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox in the thrilling 2003 ALCS. Since then, Ray’s become obsessed, watching every single Yankee game only to come to work the next day complaining about what a tremendous waste of time this “silly game” is while peppering me with questions about the game and why the players do this and why they do that.

Moved by his conversion, Dave and I decided we had to get Ray up to Yankee Stadium. As it turns out, Ray has only attended a handful of live sporting events in his lifetime, including a few tennis matches (including some at Madison Square Garden back in the day) and a football game at Soldiers Field in Chicago in the late 1960s. He had never been to a professional baseball game and, despite his newfound fascination with the sport, it seemed to take a considerable amount of arm twisting to get him to come along. Ray relishes being a grinch, it’s all an act. He revealed the degree to which he was looking forward to going when we settled into our seats in the upper deck beyond first base and he expressed disappointment about not being able to see into the Yankee dugout.

With Zelimir in tow, we took the D train up to the Bronx, while Ray attempted to decipher the past five years of Mets games in Dave’s scorebook. We arrived at the stadium in the midst of a thunderstorm and ducked into a bar to wait out the weather. Once the rain calmed down (right around the scheduled game time) we headed across the street to the stadium. Dave bought Ray a foam “#1” finger on the way in.

The game itself was a complete dud. Despite making it through seven innings, his longest outing of the year, Mussina pitched like Old Moose rather than the Moose of old, throwing 88 mile-per-hour fastballs and striking out just two men and giving up ten hits including two home runs which drove in four of the five runs he allowed. On offense, the Yankees got twelve men on base on 9 hits, two walks, and an error, but scored just once on a bases empty homer to dead center by Alex Rodriguez. With the eleven other men on base, a total of 16 plate appearances, the Yankees got just two hits, but ground into three double plays. Of the two hits, one was Bernie Williams’ double in the first on which Luis Sojo got Derek Jeter (who lead off with a four-pitch walk) thrown out at home, the third time this year that he’s sent a runner to a sure out at the plate (the other two being Tony Womack). The other was a two-out Jeter single following Tony Womack’s fifth walk of the year (settling into place, Womack now ranks last among Yankee starters in walks, one behind Hack-Rod). Overall, the game was an even match for the weather, which held off despite a little spitting here and there. The best thing that could be said about both is that they were not completely unpleasant.

Nonetheless, I think Ray enjoyed his first trip to Yankee Stadium. Being a grouch, he complained throughout. When Dave and Zelimir rooted loudly for the Angles, Ray informed the Yankee fans around us that he was not with them and that they should feel free to kill them (Ray’s sense of humor is not subtle). He also complained about not being able to see the field from multiple angles, not being able to see the strike zone head-on and not being able to watch endless instant replays. Although a country boy at heart, and hardly a refined gentleman despite his appreciation for the finer things, he was nonetheless out of his element in terms of the attitude of the surrounding fans and the available foodstuffs (myself, I chowed down on a dog and a sweet sausage). He also refused to waive his foam finger (in response to which I told him it was his fault that the Yankees were losing), but did cheer heartily and seems to think very highly of Tino Martinez, who went 2 for 4 but did not come to bat with a runner on base.

As much as he grumps about it (again, all for show), I take great pride in Ray’s interest in baseball. In similar, but less extreme cases my passion for the Yankees has turned my mom from a casual rooter to a rabid fan (I’m taking her to a game for Mother’s Day), and, of course, my girlfriend has gone from an otherwise disinterested girl who remembered liking the ’86 Mets to a passionate fan who owns more Yankee gear than I do (though that’s not saying much, I’m not big into merch).

Tonight Kevin Brown and John Lackey try to keep their opponents to single digits. Ray and I will be watching from our respective homes and the odds are that he’ll pay closer attention than I will.

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1 Murray   ~  Apr 28, 2005 2:55 pm

1.  Fine story. I haven't had the pleasure of taking somebody to their first game at the Stadium in a long time, but it's a great feeling. What a great thing to be able to do for a friend.

2 Cliff Corcoran   ~  May 3, 2005 1:49 pm

2.  Correction, Ray did not edit Gravity's Rainbow. He did Pynchon's Mason and Dixon. Fixed above.

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