You know it doesn’t much matter if the groundhog sees his shadow this morning or not, according to what I read in the paper this morning, there’s only 14 more days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Hey, New York native John Perricone would be happy to know that in his home town, sometimes if feels as if only baseball really does matter. Yesterday, a friend of mine showed me a poll on WFAN’s website that had more New Yorkers amped about spring training than the Super Bowl or the Final Four. Granted, hockey has a limited audience, the Knicks are awful, and there aren’t any local teams playing in the big game this Sunday, but still…
Yo, I forgot to tell you guys the sight for sore eyes I caught last Saturday up in Inwood. It was another unseasonably warm day and I went to visit my brother. On the way over, I was walking up 207th street and saw an older guy standing in the sun, filling out a lotto card outside of a Bodega. He was earing a Red Sox hat, not an uncommon site uptown. I thought to myself, I wonder if there have ever been as many Sox fans in New York as we see these days? Not only do you have a lot of transplanted New Englanders living here, proudly showing their colors, but the Latin communities uptown–especially the Dominicans–have been rockin’ Boston caps ever since Manny signed with the Sox, and they got Pedro. Formerly, you’d see a lot of Indians hats, but even with Pedro gone, Manny is a hometown hero in these parts. Add in Ortiz, and the fact that the Sox are just a good team, you see that Boston has become almost like a third team in New York, next to the Yankees and Mets.
It was so nice out, that we took Ben’s little boy Lucas (all of a year-and-a-half) out to Inwood park to tool around. The park is right across the street from their apartment. There are basketball courts, tennis courts and a huge green field with at least five baseball diamonds. Inwood is still a predominately Dominican neighborhood, so it didnt’ come as a major surprise that there, in the middle of winter, were kids playing baseball. A warm day? Quick, let’s get out and play. Now, this may not seem like a big deal for those of you who live in California or Florida, but in up here in the Northeast, where we’re always bemoaning the fact that kids don’t care about baseball anymore, it sure is a warming scene.
We passed the first diamond where seven kids–must of been 8th or 9th graders–were playing: two dudes on the left side of the infield, a guy in center, another in left, a pitcher, a batter, and a lone kid on the right side of the infield. They were using muddied old baseballs, were dressed like scrubs in sweats, and playing some kind of game of round robin. As we walked by, the kid at bat swung and missed at a pitch, and then popped one up to second base. The fat kid who was stuck on that side of the field because he was probably the worst of the lot made a futile stab for the ball, which landed with a thud about five feet away from him. Immediately, the rest of the guys started laughing, busting on him, including the batter. A wave of anger shot through me and I remembered being that age, taking pick-up games like this so seriously that I lost any sense of humor I may have had at the time. I wanted to defend the poor kid who wasn’t much good and who was laughing at himself along with the other guys. I imagined that I was him, humiliated, directing my anger at the hitter. I wanted to yell, “Yo dog, what the hell are you laughing about, why don’t you try hitting something besides a cheap-ass pop-up, you fuggin toy?”
My brother carried his son on his shoulders. We were approaching the playground. But before we got there we passed a second diamond that was occupied by a girl’s softball team. The girls were roughly the same age as the boys, but this was an official, or semi-official workout. They too were dressed in scrubs, but they had helmets, and looked altogether more organized than the boys. A middle age man stood on the mound, and a thick, middle aged woman, yelled out instructions from behind third base. It didn’t look as if there were enough girls for two teams, but it appeared as if a game was in progress. There was an intensity in the air that was almost palpable. I stopped and watched as the batter swung and missed at a pitch and then fouled the next one into the backstop. The coach was not just lobbing the ball in there. There was a runner on third, and the batter grounded the next pitch to short. The runner came home but the batter didn’t move out of the box. The third base coach came out onto the field, pointed around, gave some specific intstructions, clapped her hands and returned to her position. Soon, it became evident that they weren’t playing a game, but running through game situations.
I was almost besides myself. I mean, how cool is this, I thought. It’s January, and these girls are out here working on game situations, at full tilt. They cut right to the chase: bottom of the ninth, tying run on third, here’s what we’re going to do. The girls were focused, attentive, fierce.
After cooling our at playground for a while we made our way back. It was getting late and sky was grey. Three of the boys had taken a seat and only four kids were left on the first diamond. I’m sure at least one of them was a competitive red ass like I had been at that age, wanting to win whatever competition they were having, pissed at the fat asses sitting out. One thing was sure, though, a couple of them were going to keep playing until it got too dark to see anymore. Yup, in some parts of the country, even our city, it’s true: only baseball matters.