"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

How You Like Me Now?

“Alex has gone from town to town, and there’s been just resentment all over the league for him because of how much money he makes,” Manager Joe Torre said before the game. “And nobody ever feels that anybody’s worth this money. Like, you know, he went in there and held somebody hostage to get the money. Somebody made a choice to give it to him. And it’s just something that he has to live with.”
(N.Y. Times)

Yesterday started off so badly and well, just look how it ended. My girlfriend Emily would have some new-age Wayne Dyer words of wisdom for me, that’s for sure. I take that malarky with a grain of salf, but often, the essence of what a guy like Dyer is saying makes a good deal of sense, the power of intentions and all that.

I had to fight up all the positive vibes I had in me when I awoke at 5:30 in the morning to the pattering sounds of raindrops against our bedroom air conditioner. The weatherman has called for rain and thunderstorms for much of the last week. When they got Monday and Tuesday’s games in without a hitch, I figured Wednesday was the day that it’ll all fall apart. I had taken a vacation day to go to the Stadium with a high school friend and his wife. My pal had an extra seat so I invited my cousin Eric along. But early in the morning it was pouring outside my window in the Bronx and the skies were dark. I sulked like a little boy.

Em and I had an early-morning appointment downtown. I can’t stand being wet all day, so I over-dressed in order to stay dry. Put on the timberland boots, heavy cordiroy pants, a long sleeved shirt and a hoody. By the time we finished out business in downtown Manhattan, it was 9:00 a.m and the rain had stopped. I arrived at Eric’s studio in the East Village by 9:30 with chocolate croissants for breakfast. When I called my boy Adam’s house his wife said, “He went to work, sorry about the game today. Didn’t he call you? It’s pouring up her in Westchester.” Awwww, man. I got Adam on the horn and we agreed to check back in at 10:30.

But by 10:15, I got him on the phone again and went into my spiel. “Dude, it’s been sunny here since we spoke. They are getting this game in. Yo, the Yanks haven’t done dick offensively for a week now and they need for us to be there today. Get your ass down here.” He said he’d check with his old lady but would likely come down no matter what she chose to do. It was one those moments where I knew peer pressure would work to my advantage. I played baseball with Adam in high school–he still pitches in an over 30-league in fact–and I knew he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if they got the game in and he didn’t come through.

Eric and I had some time to kill so we walked across the street to play stickball. The court was locked up and being used as a defacto parking lot for the Police Precinct that is on the block (it used to be the exterior location for the old NYPD Blue show). Undeterred, we used the lot behind the court, where two off-duty police vehicles were parked (an officer was fast asleep in one of them). The court had several major puddles, but we quickly came up with a field. Since we couldn’t use a wall as a backdrop, we found a pile of rubbish that would suffice. A sheet of metal siding became our strike zone.

Without any practice Eric says, “Let’s go,” and we’re playing a game. It lasted two innings. I struck him out four times (two outs per inning) and I scored one run on a bases-loaded walk. Had a couple of good swings, all late. The best thing I did was foul off three pitches with a full count. I don’t even remember what the result of the at bat was, but staying alive like that was rewarding.

When Eric and I got to the Bronx, there was no sign of rain and I was horribly over-dressed. Adam showed up with another kid I had played ball with in high school, Quentin Lindsey. When I played varisty during my junior year, Quentin, an 8th grader, made our team. And he was everything I’d never be–he was a real jock. He was physically, emotionally, and mentally superior to me–and just about everybody else on the team–even though he was much younger. He went on to play middle infield for Old Dominion (and made the College World Serious one year, ’94 I believe) and now teaches P.E. and coaches baseball in Westchester.

It was fun to watch a game with a pair of jocks. Adam and Quentin sat behind Eric and me, they dipped skoal, predicted what pitches were coming next and often broke out into hearty, gutteral laughter, “M’wha-ha-ha.” Directly in front of us a woman had a nifty little scorebook. I remembered her from the last time I had gone to the game with Adam–his old man has gotten these seats periodically for years–Games One and Two of the 2001 ALDS vs. the A’s. As it turns out, she is the same lady who was featured in a New York Times article last year. Her name is Nancy Smith and she’s been a season ticket holder since 1965. Wearing a wicker visor and a pastel-patterned shirt, Nancy has short hair–sandy brown with gray highlights–and glasses. She almost looks as if she could be related to Peter Gammons. Nancy’s scorebook can be ordered on-line here (she’s got the Fan version). I’ve been looking to get a nice scorebook for several years now. Getting this information, in and of itself, made the afternoon worthwhile.

Anyhow, you could not hope to sit behind a more impressive Yankee fan. Nancy’s observations are sharp no matter what her personal feelings about a specific player may be. She has her favorities for sure–John Wettleland of all people is her favorite Yankee ever–but is nobodies fool. Many of the things we harp about here at Bronx Banter–from the announcers to the players to some of the manager’s decisions–is stuff she is right in step with. I felt blessed getting to meet her and having the opportunity to watch a game with her as well.

As it turns out, Nancy really likes Alex Rodriguez. So did the two jocks sitting behind us. As if it were scripted, Rodriguez was the hero for the Bombers yesterday in their 4-3, 12 inning win against the Braves. John Smoltz and Chien-Ming Wang pitched efficiently and the game was decided by the bullpens. Atlanta blinked first when Smoltz’s slim 2-1 lead evaporated in the bottom of the seventh when Jason G’Bombie crushed an absolute rainmaker off the facade of the upper deck in right. I think it might have been the highest homer I can ever recall seeing live. From where we were sitting on the first base side, field level, we didn’t know if it was going to stay fair or not. I saw the ball go up and then it went too high, out of our vision. And it hung in the air for several seconds. Who knew what was happening? I was simply waiting to hear the crowd’s reaction. Then we saw it briefly come down and glance of the upper deck.

The game remained tied in extra innings. Mariano Rivera pitched two scoreless. Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Myers got into trouble in the 11th but Scott Proctor got them off the hook. However, Proctor surrendered a solo shot to Marcus Giles–on a 3-2 pitch–in the 12th, giving the Braves a one-run lead. The Stadium, which had already begun to thin out, was deflated.

I thought the Yanks might have a chance when Jorge Sosa entered the game in the bottom of the inning. Sosa gave up a meaningless dinger to Melky Cabrera the night before. Now, he had to go through the heart of the Yankee order. Derek Jeter slapped what looked-like a sure base hit up the middle. But Edgar Renteria made his third sterling play of the game–his diving stop of a Jorge Posada line drive earlier in the game was marvelous–gloving the ball, spinning, and throwing Jeter out by plenty (I later saw the replays and Jetes gave Edgar the stink-eye but good). Giambi followed with a walk setting the stage for Rodriguez.

Lou Piniella had just arrived back in his midtown hotel room with his wife after catching a matinee. According to Bill Madden, he turned on the TV just as Giambi walked. Piniella had been at the Stadium the night before for an executive function and ran Rodriguez. The two talked about hitting, though Piniella was careful not to step on Don Mattingly’s toes. Still, Lou cares deeply about Rodriguez and took some time to encourage his former player.

Sosa fell behind our man 3-1. Eric and I looked at each other and said, “This is the pitch.” Our pals Adam and Quentin had left innings earlier, but Nancy was right there with us, sitting erect, leaning forward slightly. Rodriguez walloped the next pitch deep into the left field seats. We knew it immediately. The next couple of moments are a blur. Hugging and jumping. I slapped Nancy high five. I remember looking up and Rodriguez was barely around second base. Then as he neared home plate he flung his helmet into the air. The crowd was thrilled. They continued to cheer after the players disappeared into the dugout. Now this is a good time for a curtain call, I thought. But Rodriguez never re-appeared. It hardly mattered. What counted was that he got a big hit at a time when he and the team really needed one. After the Red Sox pounded Pedro Martinez and the Mets last night, winning their 11th straight, it was even more crucial.

Man, the day started off horribly. But we kept the faith and it ended wonderfully.

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