Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb – born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s ok I know nothing’s wrong . . nothing
—The Talking Heads
I just had to share this e-mail from longtime Banterite, Jon DeRosa:
On the night the Yankees lost the 2001 World Series, I was watching alone in my apartment on 90th St and 1st Ave, in a building that housed a “Checks Cashed” franchise in the ground floor. I couldn’t eat, though I made myself some Kraft Velveeta and Shells and poked at it. To this day, I can’t even think about Kraft Velveeta and Shells without tasting bile. For about an hour or two after the loss, I sat in stunned silence and absorbed the pain. My girlfriend (and now wife) is a pediatric oncology nurse and was working the night shift at the time so I was free to kick and scream a little bit – which I usually did anyway regardless of her whereabouts.
A comedian and former classmate Mike Birbiglia has a great joke about his tiny Manhattan apartment: he sees a mouse one night and asks, with pragmatic concern, “Where are you going to sleep?” This apartment was designed on those same specs, so even if I could summon the impetus, there was no place to move around and dispense the huge ocean of emotion that had collected in my guts. I went to the computer and began hammering out an email to all the Yankee fans in my distribution list. I don’t remember if I sat down with a theme in mind or if it just formed as I wrote, but what I came up with was not negative, was not bitter, was not even that sad.
I felt proud of a team running on fumes, pushing things to the brink. I felt loyalty to everyone, especially Mariano, whom we needed to be perfect, and for once, wasn’t. And I expressed my desire to see the same team back again next year, supremely confident they could become champions again. I wrote something like, “this won’t be the end or a period, merely a comma in a long line of championships.”
I never, ever, even once that night or in the following few years, considered they would not get that close again. I never thought about Mariano Rivera retiring or Derek Jeter declining. Inconceivable to me as I wrote, but since that night, Andy Pettitte went to the World Series – with ANOTHER team. I was so sure they would be back that the worst case scenario never occurred to me (and the worst case scenario always occurs to me, it’s in my genes): these young, core Yankees would never win a World Series together again. Cone was gone, O’Neill and Brosious were set to retire. Nobody even knew how old El Duque was. Tino was clearly going to be replaced by a big hitter – Giambi would have been signed right after the ALDS if it was allowed! But Bernie had time. Jeter, Mariano, Posada and Pettitte were young and had the majority of their careers left. They were the best; they were battle tested. They would be back and they would erase this awful feeling – it was not a matter of if, or even when, but how quickly? Mussina and Giambi and Soriano were not only superior players to the ones they had employed during the title years, but they were hungry and focused on winning their first ring – an infusion of new blood without disturbing the experienced spine of the team seemed like just the right approach.
Well, obviously, there is no need to re-hash the intervening years and catalogue the disappointments. On 2 or 3 separate occasions, the Yanks took the undisputed best team in baseball to the postseason and failed to return with a championship. In only one of those years did they advance as far as the World Series, and the ensuing 6 game defeat felt perhaps more like the end than that night in Arizona. They lost to such an inferior team in such an ordinary way. They would quickly (hastily?) allow Andy Pettitte to leave for Houston, and then before even a blink of an eye, Bernie diminished and retired and there were 3 left and they were fading too. Not in terms of talent and performance, but in terms of their position as THE stars at the center of the baseball universe.
After 2003, each year felt like opportunity lost and an approaching reaper edged ever closer. The worst case scenario that didn’t even take shape in my brain in 2001 was now hardening into reality. When they shut down Yankee Stadium last year, there wasn’t a parade. There wasn’t even one inning of baseball in October. How could that be anything but the definite and absolute end?
Yet, tonight, after 7 years of constant assault from the finally fully operational Boston Red Sox organization, half a roster of all stars and possible Hall of Famers come and gone, and the departing of the manager perhaps partially responsible and definitely present for the dynasty years, the Yankees have returned almost to where they were in 2001. They are not yet 3 outs away (and may not ever be, the pessimist gnawing on my brain stem reminds me), but they are 1 win away. They may be in a brand new home, but pitching tonight’s game is Andy Pettitte. He’ll be throwing the first pitch to Jorge Posada. Derek Jeter will be the first Yankee to bat, and I am hoping with every fiber of my being, Mariano Rivera will throw the last pitch.
I am not a fatalist. I don’t think the above circumstances give the Yankees any special advantage tonight or that they are destined to win in this fashion, and though likely, it’s possible that none of these 4 guys will even factor heavily in the outcome. But the fact that they could win this way, that they have improbably, at these advanced baseball ages of 35, 37, 38 and 39, formed the heart of yet another championship quality effort, is staggering me as I await tonight’s game.
I am going to watch tonight in my apartment, probably alone, though my wife might make it through 2 innings or so. My 2 sons will be asleep (or at least in bed) by the time the first pitch thrown. Like the Yankees, I live in a new place, a different part of town now, in a slightly bigger living room, with more roaming space and more things to break in frustration and anger – though I’ve acquired enough discipline to only attack the soft, silent couch cushions. But tonight I will be at peace (nervous, anxious, impossible for my wife to deal with, possibly immeasurably disappointed or elated, but at peace).
The Yankees have returned to the place I needed them to be. They have given themselves the chance to be world champions. I thought these 4 players would never be in this position again, and tonight, it’s largely up to them to determine their own fate. I aged along with the team. Thanks to my wife and sons, I have experienced higher highs than world series titles and thanks to life being what it is, I’ve experienced lower lows than blown game 7s or 3-0 leads, but with age comes the feeling that career paths, friendships, and relationships that were lost are never coming back. And that once that decay sets in, it forms an irreversible death spiral. But that doesn’t have to be true does it? Because here they are again – and it’s up to them.
I want it for them. I want it for me. I want it for them for me, if that makes any sense. But most of all, I want it for us as one collective thing, the group of players and fans that have been together from these guys’ debuts and who will be there to see their numbers retired. If we get beat, we get beat together, and that’s the only way to get beat. If we win, we win together, and that’s pretty frigging amazing.
Let’s Go, Yank-ees.