I paused in front of my closet this morning thinking over my shirt selection. The pinstripes, number two on the back, was the obvious choice for the home opener. But my hand reached for the away grays sporting the double-barrelled fours. I was off work this week because the boys have spring break and being with them made me feel like I was a kid playing hooky. Maybe that’s why I wanted to wear Reggie’s jersey.
Yesterday I threw the first extended batting practice my four-year old ever requested. Previously, he’d been more interested in every other thing in the park over the bat and the ball. I’d carry the equipment to the field, he’d swing once or twice and I’d pack it up again while he dug up worms.
He took a hundred or so swings on Thursday morning. He’s chopping down on the ball too much and his feet are confused. He’s either moving them too much or not at all. But it’s unmistakably a baseball swing, and when he hits it he runs the bases – mostly in the correct order, though he’s not averse to skipping one if there’s a tag waiting for him there.
This morning, the sun was even brighter and warmer than yesterday and we had another great day at the park. Between 10 AM and noon, we had the entire park to ourselves and I think the lack of distractions and performance anxiety are key to sustaining his effort. We broke for lunch and picked up some rolls from the corner store on our way home. We are all Yankee hats and baseball bats walking up Broadway and one of the construction workers thought we were headed to the game. “Just going home to catch it on TV,” I said.
We got home and I fired up three hot dogs: ketchup for the four-year old, plain for the three-year old and mustard for me. We clinked them together and wished each other “Happy Home Opener” as Jorge Posada threw out the first pitch. I know they’re making progress with the Yankees because they only ask me if every other guy is Mariano Rivera instead of every single guy.
We crowded together on the couch and watched Hiroki Kuroda throw his warm up pitches. I told the kids that the Yankees were the team in pinstripes and the Angels were in red. My four-year old said something that sounded like “duh,” but I refused to hear it at the time (though in retrospect, that’s definitely what it was).
Kuroda doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he runs his sinking fastball with a little tail right to the catcher’s glove. His splitter is dangerous because he is willing to throw it at any time. The first batter singled and stole second but Kuroda defused the inning when he got Albert Pujols to fly sky-high to left.
The Yankees looked to be going quietly as well in their half of the inning when Alex Rodriguez smoked a two-out single to left center and stole second. Ervin Santana scoffed at Alex’s one-man jam and walked the bases loaded for Nick Swisher to teach him the true value of teamwork. Swisher’s last at bat was the game winner in Baltimore on Wednesday night. This one was the game winner on Friday afternoon. He rocketed a bases-clearing double over the head of speedster Peter Bourjos in center field. He out-paced the pace car.
I was pouring milk for the three-year old at the time of the double but I was watching the game around the corner of the kitchen wall, unbeknownst to the kids. I saw the ball skip up off the wall in center and I asked innocently what happened. My four-year old came running, saying, “The Yankees got three!”
We watched the replay, slowing down the point of contact. It was a real blast. My four-year old turned, grinned and said, “Let’s go play baseball.” Click, pack, pee, velcro. Good luck Yanks, I’ll catch the highlights.
My phone told me Arod and Grandy hit homers and the replays confirmed they were laser beam liners to center and right respectively. Alex especially put a charge in his and added a single hit so hard and straight it seemed to curve on its way up the gut. I doubt this is backed up by hard evidence, but when he hits like this, I feel like the Yanks can’t lose. I wonder if others feel the same way and if that’s not a big reason why those fans get so down on him when he’s bogged in a slump.
I don’t get text messages every time a Yankee pitcher has a smooth inning or retires Albert Pujols, or ends the game on a knee-buckling curve ball, but that’s why they invented the DVR. Kuroda was excellent and left a tiny spill for Robertson’s industrial-strength Hoover to suck up in the ninth. The Angels are not the scariest offense, but just holding Albert Pujols to a single in four tries is an impressive outing for the Yanks.
I was happy to the see the final score but I remembered today how I used to think about baseball from about 1982 to 1995. Those were the years when my own games and practices were all that mattered and the Yankees were a sideshow. I know it’s convenient that the Yanks didn’t win anything during those years, but I remember that intense tunnel vision and no amount of confetti could have penetrated.
I don’t know if it will happen again in the same way – my boys might not even want to play Little League. I know I haven’t minded the gradual dialing down of my obsession in the last five years. But the Yanks will be there, probably winning more than they’re losing, regardless of what’s going on with us and they’re a heckuva back stop.
Now let me add one dark cloud to this sunny day; I’ve avoided mentioning this all post long. Somehow, for reasons some therapist thirty years from now might uncover, my older son decided to become a hard-core Pittsburgh Pirates fan. I shit you not. Our batting practice sessions have been built around the 1960 World Series and I’ve been Mazerowskied dozens and dozens of times over the last two days. He pretends that the Yankees trade Mariano to the Pirates so he can use him in their lineup (yeah, he’s not quite clear on that yet either).
Don’t worry, the three-year old ain’t getting away.
Yanks 5, Angels 0. Happy Home Game.
Photo Via Daily News