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A Sad Night in New York

When the Yankees lost the 2001 World Series to the Diamondbacks there was a silver-lining to the defeat–it saved the life of utility infielder, Enrique Wilson. Had the Yankees won the Serious, Wilson would have been on the flight headed for the Dominican Republic that tragically crashed in Queens. From Buster Olney’s ‘The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty’ on the Belle Harbor crash:

The victory parade that would have taken the Yankees up New York City’s Canyon of Heroes for the fifth time in six years was canceled, so Enrique Wilson, the team’s utility infielder, decided to change his flight home. He was supposed to return to the Dominican Republic on Nov. 12, eight days after the end of the World Series, but moved up his departure a few days. He was at home when he heard that American Airlines Flight 587 – the plane he was supposed to be on – had crashed in Belle Harbor, a neighborhood in Queens. Two hundred and sixty-five people were killed in an accident that shook a city still reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

When Wilson saw Mariano Rivera in spring training the next year, the reliever expressed great relief that Wilson was still alive. If Rivera had held the lead against Arizona, Wilson would likely have been on Flight 587. “I am glad we lost the World Series,” Rivera told Wilson, “because it means that I still have a friend.” For Rivera, this was further confirmation that they were all subject to God’s will.”
(thanks to joejoejoe for providing the excerpt)

Had the Yankees managed to beat the Tigers last weekend in the ALDS, Corey Lidle would still be alive. These are just some of the thoughts that ran through my mind tonight during an intermidable commute home from Manhattan to the Bronx. I could not concentrate on reading, I did not not want to listen to music. I wished I had someone I could talk to, and I looked around for anyone wearing a Yankee cap but found nobody. I was left to my thoughts and felt very alone. When I got off the subway on 231st street, I ran for the BX 7 bus in a driving rain and just missed the damn thing. I did not have an umbrella and so I waited for more than twenty minutes in the rain, the hollow pit in my stomach now climbing up to my chest, which became tighter by the moment. A crowd of people formed but hardly anybody spoke.

It’s so interesting to see how death affects people. Before I left work this evening, there was already a good dose of gallow’s humor floating around. “I bet A Rod is to blame for this,” said one co-worker, obviously joking. Another walked past my desk and said something about how Steinbrenner always manages to steal the Mets’ thunder. I shot him a dirty look and said, “Wow, that’s messed up.” He registered my reaction and said defensively, “If you can’t laugh at life, what have you got?” Rage shot through me. What kind of insensitive jerk, I thought. Then I remembered something callous a family member said to me about the Twin Towers on the afternoon of 9.11 and was reminded that in a time of death or existential crisis there is no “right” or “proper” way to act. Some people will instinctively use humor to avoid the pain of the situation. They may say things that strike others are completely inappropriate. Really, it’s unfair to judge anyone’s reactions in these moments.

As I stared into space on the subway, I wondered why I was feeling so empty, so sad. I’ve never had any special affection for Lidle, a mouthy pitcher who seemed to have burned his fair share of bridges in different clubhouses across the big leagues. Nevertheless, he was a familiar face. Though I didn’t know him personally, we all watched him on TV, lending the illusion of intimacy. This summer, I saw Lidle in the Yankee clubhouse on several occasions, walked up the runway to the dugout right behind him on one occasion, in fact.

I was sitting in the middle of the Yankee dugout, staking out a prime seat for Joe Torre’s pre-game press conference, one late Sunday morning in August when Lidle walked past me, down to the far end of the bench, to conduct a TV interview. A middle-aged woman interviewed him, and a young camera operator with a baseball cap turned backwards, stood next to her. Lidle, an altogether average-looking man, wore a Yankee cap and a warm-up suit and held a bottle of water in his right hand as he sat on the bench and looked into the camera. The smell of freshly-cut grass permeated the air, and though the Yankees would not take batting practice on this morning (it had rained the night before), the grounds grew were busy attending to the field as the organist played a medley of pop tunes–first “Sonny,” then “I’ve got you Under My Skin,” and then “I Feel Fine.” I overheard the woman asking Lidle about being a Yankee and him saying, “One month exact.” Had he seen any Broadway shows since he’d been in town? No, he had not. “I understand you are a big poker guy,” she said, hoping to engage him. Lidle had a blank look on his face and answered her questions in a bland manner, as if he was on automatic pilot. He told her about a Texas Hold ‘Em celebrity event he hosted in the off-season. Eric Chavez, Scott Erickson, and David Wells were just some of his friends who had shown up.

The interview did not last long. After Lidle walked away, the interviewer looked disappointed. She asked her cameraman, “Did he sound O.K.? He wasn’t very talkative.”

“He could just be tired like the rest of us,” he said.

The cameraman began packing up his equipment as the organist transitioned into “I Can See Cleary.”

The first time I remember seeing my father cry when I was a boy was the day after Thurman Munson died. When they had a ceremony for Munson at Yankee Stadium, my father sat in his chair in the living room and sobbed. I was nine at the time and just couldn’t understand why he was so upset. After all, he didn’t even like the Yankees. He explained to me that sometimes it is sad when a person dies, no matter who they are, even if they did play for the Yankees. When I got older, I understood what he was telling me. But it wasn’t until my trip home on a chilly, wet, October night, that I really felt what he meant.

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