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SHADOW GAMES: Baseball and Me

I went to a baseball game after my father’s funeral. I also went to one after finding out about my mother’s brain cancer.

It was selfish and heartless. I felt guilty before and embarrassed after, but for nine innings I felt only the game. That’s the way it’s always been between baseball and me.

It was my friend when I didn’t have any others. And it has always been there to talk or listen or simply to watch.

Baseball helps me forget and it makes me remember. That’s why it was exactly what I needed on the worst days of my life.

But there were no games when a doctor told me that I had cancer. The neighborhood was out of baseball on that cold November day. No one was playing at Franz Sigel Park or John Mullaly Park. And there wasn’t even a game of catch in Joyce Kilmer Park. The last game at the old Yankee Stadium was long gone and Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium was long off.

So I went home and wished for one of those summer days when I was a kid and my mother would send me to the ballpark with a paper sack stuffed with her famous tuna-fish sandwiches. That was back when you could slip through a delivery gate with the beer kegs and watch batting practice. And it was always okay to come home late with a beat-up scorecard and popcorn stuck between your teeth.

The doctor told me that tomorrow’s surgery and chemotherapy treatment might keep me in the hospital for 10 days.

“At least it’s December,” I said. “There aren’t any ballgames to miss.”

And I will be ready to slip through a delivery gate with the beer kegs when the new Yankee Stadium opens. I’ll watch batting practice with one of my mother’s famous tuna-fish sandwiches and come home late with a beat-up scorecard and popcorn stuck between my teeth.

Cancer can’t change the way it will always be between baseball and me.

SHADOW GAMES: Nobody Ever Asks Me, But…

Blogs are poor excuses for street corners.

I’m always being reminded of that in my neighborhood.

“Baseball blogging doesn’t take any courage,” my friend Javier was telling the guys gathered outside the bodega near the corner of Gerard Avenue and East 157th Street. “Ballplayers have the courage to put it on the line every day in front of a million people. If you don’t have the guts to toss your opinions around on the street and risk getting a fist in the face then you shouldn’t write them on a blog.”

“Agreed,” I said.

“I wasn’t asking some sissy blogger,” Javier snapped.

Nobody ever asks me, but…

I love grown men who spit sunflower seeds, chew bubblegum and answer to: Jete, Mo, A-Rod, Josey, Domo, Mattie, Melk, CC, A.J., Swish, Brew, X-Man and The Wanger.

If Joba Chamberlain was a banker, they would call him Justin Chamberlain instead of Joba the Hutt.

I know most people doubt Orlando Hernandez these days. He is old and hasn’t been healthy enough to pitch in a long time. But I still believe El Duque can do anything.

The best part of the World Baseball Classic is getting to see the Cubans play.

It seems like there are more Americans backing out of the World Baseball Classic every day. The players’ concerns need to be addressed if this tournament is ever going to be what it should be.

Jason Whitlock of The Kansas City Star is one of the best sports columnists in the country. I just wish he covered more baseball.

Joe Posnanski covers a lot of baseball for The Kansas City Star. He also does fine work for Sports Illustrated and on his blog.

The Kansas City Star deserves the best writers since that’s where Ernest Hemingway got his start.

There used to be a great sportswriter in New York named Mike Lupica. Whatever happened to that guy?

Josh Hamilton made year-end lists in GQ and Esquire. He also has a new book out called “Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back.” He had a fabulous season and deserves everything that comes his way.

Milton Bradley had a pretty good season, too.

According to some baseball writers, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro may be locked out of the Hall of Fame just like Mark McGwire.

Will there be any reason to still call it the Hall of Fame if all that talent joins Pete Rose on the outside looking in?

I say the Yankees are the team to beat.

The Crown Diner on East 161st Street has the best chocolate donuts in the world.

Two of my favorite places to watch baseball are Falcon Park in Auburn and Dunn Field in Elmira. And I will always love the long-gone MacArthur Stadium in Syracuse and the soon-to-be-gone Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. But the best place to see a ballgame is wherever you’re watching one that day.

I think Mark Teixeira is a great talent, but Manny Ramirez has ripped my heart out so many times that I wouldn’t mind having him on my side for a change. Part of it is that he grew up just across the Harlem River in Washington Heights and the rest of it is the big bat he swings. I’ll carry any baggage as long as he carries that lumber.

Tony Pena will bring a lot more to this team as the bench coach. And I’m not just saying that because I like the Tony Pena codfish-salad special at El Nuevo Caridad in Washington Heights.

My best friend Michael Allen recently gave me a copy of “Nobody Asked Me, But… The World of Jimmy Cannon.” I’ve never owned the book, but have checked it out of the library about a million times. That gift will save me a pile of money in late fees.

Blogs will always be poor excuses for street corners, but I told Javier that it would be warmer in front of my computer than on the corner of Gerard Avenue and East 157th Street.

“You online guys are real sissies,” Javier said. “But since no one punched your lights out I guess it’s okay to blog it.”

SHADOW GAMES: The Other Side

I found myself waiting for the 2 train at Chambers Street last night. My Yankees cap was pulled low and I was reading a newspaper filled with everything about CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

The pictures of them smiling in their new uniforms made me think about baseball in the summertime. I saw fastballs and sliders and curveballs and changeups coming from the left and the right.

A train came, but I ignored it and kept reading. Then another train came and another and another. I let them all pass and dug deeper into the newspaper.

“Why don’t you go home and read where it’s warm?” I finally asked myself.

“Because I’ve got no place go,” said the voice next to me.

Robbie Sanchez used to have a job like mine and an apartment like mine and a life like mine. He had a dozen Derek Jeter T-shirts and shared a season-ticket package with some friends. Depression used to set in when the Yankees lost, but he always slept it off in a warm bed.

These days he stays warm by moving.

“I’ll hang around here until someone throws me out,” Sanchez said. “Then I’ll head to Penn Station because there’s a guy at one of the food stands who gives out coffee on cold nights.

“I’m just between lives right now,” he continued. “The key is to hold on until you make it to the other side.”

The Yankees strengthen his grip.

“Baseball lifts my spirits,” Sanchez said. “Things don’t seem as bad when you’ve got something to look forward to. The Yankees didn’t make the playoffs last year so they’re doing something about it. CC and A.J. will get the job done and I’ve got to do the same.”

“Let’s go to Penn Station and get some coffee,” I said.

“Sure,” Sanchez said. “Are you done with that newspaper?”

SHADOW GAMES: The Good Stuff

Karl Sharperson woke up to rain pounding off his apartment window on Jerome Avenue. It was well before dawn, but he quickly splashed water on his face, brushed his teeth and pulled on his lucky T-shirt: Alex Rodriguez number 13. He added two sweatshirts and a coat before heading downstairs to meet the weather.

“I knew it was gonna be cold and wet,” he said. “But it’s no big deal because I heard that CC and A.J. are in the neighborhood. The word is that there might be a big press conference soon. That will be the beginning of something big and the end of something bad.

“I’ve dealt with four years of lousy Carl Pavano jokes,” he continued. “I’m Karl with a K. He’s Carl with a C. That’s C for candy-ass.”

Karl with a K is happy that’s all in the past.

“We’re gonna have a strong starting rotation this year,” he said. “No more buttock bruises or car crashes with garbage trucks. Nobody could line up a string of injuries like Pavano had. Nobody.

“I’m free from all the jokes and this team is free from a lot of drama,” Karl with a K continued. “So let’s get CC and A.J. announced and then sign Andy and get ready to play ball.”

Karl with a K pulled up his collar and yanked down his hat to keep off the rain.

“I hope the weather is better on Opening Day,” he said. “At least we know the good stuff is on the way.”


Kevin Sanders headed downtown to collect on a bet yesterday morning. A horse he liked – Toga Tiger – outran the field in the second race at Aqueduct.

“Word on the street had him a sure winner,” Sanders said. “I like fast horses when my money is riding on them.”

Toga Tiger paid off big and the money felt good in Sanders’s hand. But it didn’t feel good enough to pass on some poker.

“I live by the words of my father,” Sanders explained. “‘You can’t win if you’re not in the game.’”

Sanders sat at a table in a back room on the Lower Eastside and was up big for awhile. But he lost some hands and came home with nothing.

“You win some and you lose some,” Sanders said. “I’d rather lose a few than play it safe and never win big. Everything is a gamble: horses, cards and even baseball.”

Baseball is Sanders’s true passion.

“I bet my heart, my soul and my life on the Yankees,” he said. “But I never bet money. Baseball is too important for that.”

Building a baseball team is a different kind of gamble.

“I know that signing a guy like A.J. Burnett is a risk,” Sanders said. “He has had injuries in the past, but he also has shutdown stuff when he’s right. I think you’ve got to bet on him being ‘right’ if you want to win.”

And that’s all Sanders really cares about.

“I don’t mind taking losses at the table or even the track as long as the Yankees keep winning the arms race,” he said. “That’s gonna get us back to the World Series.”

Sanders smiled.

“Bet on it.”

SHADOW GAMES: Everything for Everyone

Orders were flying over the counter at a deli on Water Street this morning.

“I’ll take a Western with home fries and rye toast,” someone shouted.

“Give me a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich to go,” someone else yelled.

“What kind of bread?” the man on the grill asked.

“Slap it on a well-buttered roll,” they answered. “What else would you use for a heart-attack special?”

“I’m just trying to make sure you get what you want,” the grill man said.

Everyone seems to be getting what they want these days.

The Yankees got CC Sabathia to head the rotation.

Sabathia got a record contract and a call from Derek Jeter.

“The money is nice,” the guy who ordered the Western said, “but I bet the call from Jeter didn’t hurt.”

A call to A.J. Burnett added another power arm to the pitching staff.

“The Yankees are pulling out all the stops to get everything for everyone,” the guy waiting for the heart-attack special said. “We’re getting what we want and the players are getting what they want and the media is even getting something.”

“What’s the media getting?” the Western guy asked.

The heart-attack special guy smiled and said:

“The newspaper writers can now use the old ‘hefty lefty’ tag they’ve had in storage since David Wells left town.”

The grill man wrapped the sandwich and slid it down the counter.

“One heart-attack coming right at you.”

SHADOW GAMES: Lost and Found

A curveball is hard to find and easy to lose and it usually goes flat somewhere along the way. There was an old man on the 2 train this morning with a theory on why Ian Kennedy seems to have found his curveball with the Indios de Mayaguez in Puerto Rico.

“They have the best baseball weather this time of year,” the old man explained. “I grew up in Mayaguez and wish I was spending the winter there, too. It’s the perfect place for Kennedy to polish his curveball and get his confidence back.”

Kennedy carries a 2-2 record and a 1.56 ERA into today’s game against the Lobos de Arecibo.

“I’ve heard he looks great,” the old man said. “I believe in the kid and still think he’s going to be a good Major League starter.”

The old man crumpled his coffee cup and gripped it like a curveball.

“I used to do some pitching myself,” the old man said. “I could drop curveballs in for strikes all day.”

The old man smiled because he knows that the best curveballs come from memories.

“It’s a lot easier to talk about ‘em than it was to throw ‘em,” he admitted. “Good curveballs have a way of getting lost.”

Kennedy lost his sometime last year and got knocked around by big-league hitters.

“They were sitting on his fastball and changeup,” the old man said. “He needs to have a third pitch working. Maybe now he’s found the curveball I lost all those years ago.”

Another smile tugged at the edges of the old man’s mouth.

“I know he didn’t really find mine,” the old man said. “He found his own curveball and that’s going to make all the difference.”


I will start with a confession: I now love A.J. Burnett. I love his sizzling fastball and knee-buckling curveball and disappearing changeup. I love his sneer and his stare and his cocky glare.

I used to hate all of it when he handled my team – one, two, three – spit and walked off the mound like he owned the world. A guy like Burnett is easy to hate when he’s on the other side, but I find him irresistible now that he’s with us.

I officially fell for him last night in a bar. The music was loud, but the shouts were even louder when the news rolled across the screen: “ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the New York Yankees and free agent A.J. Burnett have reached a preliminary agreement on a five-year, $82.5 million contract.”

The barroom cheered and cheered and cheered again.

But some people were not cheering. Those people look at Burnett and see everything that can go wrong. They see his past injuries and the length and size of his contract and some other things that I can’t even understand right now because I’m in love with a talented pitcher who can get batters out.

That’s why I look at Burnett and see everything that can go right. I see the blazers and the benders and the Bugs Bunny changes. I see the frustrated Sox and Rays and Jays and O’s who will now hate Burnett as much as I used to.

I see a beautiful baseball summer with A.J. in a rotation with CC and Chien-Ming and Joba and maybe Andy, too.

And then I remember the true love this game can bring when you believe in the promise of the future and not just some possibilities drawn from the past.

SHADOW GAMES: Coffee, Donuts and CC

Juan Carlos was ready for the meeting at 5:30 a.m. Coffee was brewed and donuts were lined up neatly on the stainless-steel counter.

The Bronx’s top baseball minds not at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas – Javier from Walton Avenue, Fat Paulie from Gerard Avenue, Reggie from Mott Haven and Jon from High Bridge – would soon arrive to discuss the Yankees and CC Sabathia.

“Baseball is big business for me,” said Juan Carlos as he finished readying his cart. “They can’t do their meetings without my coffee and donuts.

“Once they went on so long that I had to send a kid to Twin Donuts for more,” he continued. “That was one of their marathon sessions last year when they were determined to keep Phil Hughes in pinstripes. They haven’t gone to those lengths yet this winter.”

Juan Carlos expects that to change today.

“The talk should really heat up,” he said. “Brian Cashman may be wrapping up a deal with CC on the other side of the country, but these guys are going to have their say in the Bronx.

“I can see another marathon session coming,” Juan Carlos continued. “This time I might need to add a lunch menu and possibly even dinner.”

Juan Carlos laughed and said:

“I could probably just send that kid back to Twin Donuts. These guys would eat donuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner if the baseball talk was good enough.”

CC certainly makes it good enough.

SHADOW GAMES: An Easy Target

Alex Rodriguez has always been an easy target.

He had a can’t-miss sign on his back as a teenager. Strike one.

He is now labeled as the best player in the game. Strike two.

He is paid like the best player in game. Strike three.

Last week Rodriguez announced that he’s going to play for the Dominican Republic in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and it seemed like the whole world took a shot at him.

Back in 2006 he debated playing for the Dominican Republic where his parents are from and he spent part of his childhood or the United States where he was born. He chose the United States and some people in the Dominican felt slighted. Most people in the United States feel slighted no matter what he does.

Rodriguez brings some of the controversy on himself. He tends to be too open and honest and allows the media to pick apart who he knows and where he goes and what he wears and how much he cares.

Rodriguez doesn’t have many flaws as a player, but he certainly has some as a public figure.

I have flaws, too. I make mistakes and haul around plenty of emotional baggage. My friends and neighbors also have flaws. We all live in old buildings and ride crowded trains and some made the mistake of being born poor the same way Rodriguez was 33 years ago just across the Harlem River in Washington Heights. Maybe that’s why everyone around here pulls for the guy when it seems like the rest of the world wants to shoot him down.

I suppose we could be out of touch or it might just be that people in this neighborhood understand what it’s like to be an easy target.


As we wait for the Winter Meetings to heat up…

Things changed on the 145th Street Bridge yesterday. The wind barreling down the Harlem River stung my face and the new buildings going up at the old Bronx Terminal Market cut down my view.

That view of the old Yankee Stadium has been dying for a long time. I just didn’t want to see it because my whole life has been spent believing that everything I love would always be there.

That has spared me the trouble of ever saving anything. I love scoring baseball games, but don’t save scorecards. I love opening packs of baseball cards, but I’m not a collector. I love writing baseball stories, but have never saved any of them.

Maybe I’m too interested in what’s next to care about the past. Or maybe that’s just the easy way out. Looking forward has always given me hope and I don’t look back because Satchel Paige said that something might be gaining on me. He was, of course, correct.

Paige was always correct although his direction was sometimes off. The new Yankee Stadium has been closing on me for a while now, but it wasn’t sneaking up from behind. It was coming head on all along.

I should have seen it during the last night at the old Yankee Stadium and when the team contacted me about a relocation plan and when my seats at the new Yankee Stadium arrived a few weeks ago. But old habits die hard and I continued to focus on what had always been in front of me.

Then standing in the bitter cold on the 145th Street Bridge it struck me that the new view – which includes parts of both Yankee Stadiums – might be even better than the old one.

It won’t last forever so I took something to save: A picture. It’s not as sharp as a memory, but it already has me thinking about keeping my scorecard from Opening Day.

SHADOW GAMES: The Baseball Gods

Jose Calero believes in gods.

He figures the gods are against him if the elevators aren’t working when he delivers pizzas to one of the tall apartment buildings. If he has to climb above the fifth floor he becomes convinced that the gods hate him.

“They always show their feelings,” Calero explained. “If things go bad then I try and do good and make the gods happy. Things are always better when the gods are on your side.”

Calero doesn’t believe in a specific god.

“I believe in all gods,” he said. “There are different gods for different things: Elevator gods and money gods, too. Once I was out of cash and wasn’t even going to be able to buy groceries, but I found $20 on the ground. The gods were looking out for me.”

The gods gave him a landlord who lets the rent slide sometimes and friends who look out for him.

“I’ve got it pretty good,” Calero admitted. “I just need the gods for the little things like elevators and money and baseball.”

Calero paused and dug around in his pocket. He pulled out a coin and flipped it in the air.

“I bought a newspaper this morning and got this back as change,” he said. “I thought it was a quarter at first, but it’s a coin from Panama.

“That’s a sign from the gods,” Calero continued. “Mariano is from Panama and next year is sure to be his best ever.”

Someone pointed out that every year is Mariano Rivera’s best ever.

“But this will be even better,” Calero insisted. “He will save the final game of the World Series and lead the parade downtown.”

Calero smiled.

“There is no stopping us now. The baseball gods are on our side.”

SHADOW GAMES: Stealing Home

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart watched a desperate move on the Grand Concourse this morning.

A woman trying to catch a bus bolted across four lanes of traffic. She sidestepped a delivery van and just missed being clipped by a garbage truck before reaching the other side through a wave of screeching tires and screaming horns.

The guys shook their heads.

“She might be nuts,” someone said, “but she’s got guts.”

“Maybe she’s late for work,” someone else offered.

“I can’t imagine any job being that important,” another said.

“Are you kidding?” someone snapped. “A job is all that stands between any of us and living on the streets. Lose your job, lose your home, lose your life. I would take a chance like that if I was late and the boss might fire me. Any of us would.”

They all nodded.

“I guess keeping your job is worth just about anything these days,” someone else said. “You just have to calculate the risk and give yourself the best chance to make it.”

“So it’s kinda like stealing a base?” another asked.

“Not exactly,” someone said. “It’s like stealing home.”

SHADOW GAMES: Nobody Asked Me Either, But…

I lean on Red Smith’s words like the counter at the Crown Diner and the bar at Ballpark Lanes and baseball all the time.

“Over the years people have asked, ‘Isn’t it dull covering baseball every day?’ My answer: ‘It becomes dull only to dull minds.’ If you have the perception and the interest to see it, and the wit to express it, your story is always different from yesterday’s story.”

Those are the baseball-writing basics from one of the greats.

Everything starts with the basics. Pitchers locate the fastball and hitters drive the ball back up the middle. Newspapermen usually lean against the bar and deal with it all tomorrow.

Smith used to share the pages of the old New York World Journal Tribune with Jimmy Cannon.

Cannon was also one of the greats, but is probably best known for his often imitated one-liner columns titled: Nobody Asked Me, But…

I loved the style as a young reporter and used to carry a collection of Cannon’s columns around with me like a crutch. An old newspaper editor encouraged me to swipe the idea.

“You had better learn how to steal if you’re gonna make it in this business,” the editor said. “There are only so many good ideas out there and the smart guys usually get ‘em first.”

Cannon was one of the smart guys so I grabbed his idea and ran. I have pounded out many of these columns in past lives, but now I’m just another old righty taking the mound to see if I’ve got anything left on my fastball.

Nobody asked me either, but…

I hope Jason Giambi gets a good deal to play ball somewhere, but I don’t want it to be in the American League East. I would hate to pull against the Big G.

I’m at every Yankees home game and I watch every road game on television.

I know that’s not normal.

I realize I’m crazy, which means I’m not crazy. I think.

It’s really insane to score every game, but I do it anyway.

I’ve had good ideas: Blogging about baseball.

And bad ideas: Becoming an art student through the mail.

I bleed Yankees blue and will defend my team and everyone on it until my last breath.

I believe Derek Jeter is the most important man in this city.

I also believe Alex Rodriguez will lead this team through October.

And that Mariano Rivera will get the final out of a glorious baseball season.

I know that Jorge Posada is the toughest man in the world.

I have faith that Andy Pettitte and Bobby Abreu will be Yankees on Opening Day.

I believe Robinson Cano is going to have the biggest comeback season of all time.

And that Hideki Matsui will bounce back strong, too.

This will be Joba Chamberlain’s year.

But Chien-Ming Wang will win the American League Cy Young Award.

It’s impossible not to love Johnny Damon.

Phil Hughes is going to pitch a lot of big games in the Bronx.

Humberto Sanchez is already a big star in the Bronx and now everyone else will get a good look at him.

I certainly wish Mike Mussina well, but I have no idea how anyone can walk away from baseball while they can still play.

I like the World Baseball Classic, but I want to love it.

If I could pick one ballplayer – living or dead – to have dinner with it would certainly be Josh Gibson.

I’m proud to be on the staff here at Alex Belth’s Bronx Banter. But I think the blog might get more readers if it was called Derek Jeter’s Bronx Banter.

Pitchers and catchers report in 71 days. I’ll be leaning against the bar until then.


Butch lives way over in Parkchester and only stops by Juan Carlos’s coffee cart when he wants to complain about something.

The regulars usually spot him a block away and most gulp their breakfast and head in the other direction. A stubborn few – Javier from Walton Avenue, Fat Paulie from Gerard Avenue and Jon from Woodycrest Avenue in High Bridge – meet him head on.

“You’re early,” Javier says. “Bitching season doesn’t start for another three months.”

“It’s also nice to see you,” Butch says smugly. “Are you finally ready to admit that Cashman is screwing up this team?”

“No one around here thinks that,” Fat Paulie says. “There’s a lot of work to do this winter, but what makes you think that Cashman isn’t going to get it done?”

“He didn’t even offer arbitration to Abreu,” Butch says. “He should have, at least, set us up to get the draft picks. And why hasn’t he finished a deal with Sabathia and what’s he doing to resign Pettitte and maybe get Teixeira?”

“You don’t know anything about Cashman’s plan,” Jon says. “Why not let him finish rebuilding the team before you start complaining?”

“You guys look at everything through Yankee-colored glasses,” Butch snaps. “Someday you’ll have to admit that I’m right.”

“Why do you waste all this stuff on us?” Javier says with a shrug. “You should do what all the other experts do: Start your own baseball blog.”

“Do you really think I should?” Butch asks.

“Absolutely,” Javier answers.

The others nod, too.

“I’m gonna do it,” Butch says as he turns and heads for home.

“Don’t forget to write,” Fat Paulie says.

“Yeah,” Javier adds. “Make sure and blog it!”


The 2 train was not part of the online revolution this morning. Everyone sitting, standing and leaning had their noses buried in a newspaper.

Robbie Ruiz from Mott Haven got his nose bent-out-of-shape when asked why he didn’t get his news online.

“Do I look like I’ve got a computer in my pocket?” he snapped. “They ought to try putting some more of that news in the paper so the rest of us can read it.”

Ruiz’s frustration came from The New York Times.

“They don’t care about us saps who read the paper,” Ruiz said. “I turn to page 4 and they tell me what’s on their Website: audio and video and special features. After I pay $1.50 they want to rub my nose in all the stuff they offer for free to people who have computers.”

The New York Times is still the standard for journalism in this country. And they show just how far that standard has fallen.

“You’ve got to dig for everything in this paper,” Ruiz explained. “The Metro section is part of the front section and the Sports section is buried in the back of the Business section. The first things I want to know are what’s going on in my neighborhood and what’s going on with the Yankees. They make me search for both and go online for the rest.”

There are some who say that online publications are the wave of the future. Declining circulations indicate that a lot of people aren’t reading newspapers anymore. But it was newspapers that first quit on readers a long time ago. They started by laying off reporters and photographers and then cutting pages and eventually whole sections. Some do it all online now and don’t even print.

Online publications may be good for business – there isn’t much overhead and they can certainly cater to the wealthy demographic that advertisers crave – but calling that journalism is like calling MLB 08 The Show baseball.

I know that newspapers are businesses, but I also understand that they are a critical piece of a functioning democracy. Limiting content and access can cause problems.

“I’m sure The Times is shafting me on the Yankees coverage,” Ruiz said. “Maybe they’re dumping more stuff online or something. They own a big chunk of the Red Sox and they’ve got it out for us in the Bronx.”

The standard for impartial journalism is certainly pretty low these days.


My friend Javier almost never acts his age. Last night he played his music too loudly and started to dance around the apartment.

“I can’t help it,” he explained. “Chico O’Farrill always gets my feet moving.”

Some of the neighbors yelled and the guy downstairs pounded the ceiling with a broom handle. But the music blared until the old lady from across the hall banged on the door with a big ladle from her pot of minestrone.

“Are you deaf?” she yelled. “I’ve been knocking for 10 minutes.”

“I didn’t hear you,” Javier said. “I guess the music was too loud.”

The old lady shook her head.

“Kids,” she said.

Javier flashed the same smile he used on his mother back in Puerto Rico so many years ago.

“I can’t stay mad at you,” the old lady said. “You’re a good kid, Javier.”

Everyone in the neighborhood puts Javier’s age somewhere past 50, but the kid tag still fits. He eats too many chocolate donuts and swears a doctor once told him that onion rings are a vegetable. He shags fly balls before games in Franz Sigel Park and looks forward to Opening Day just like when he was, well, a kid.

“Baseball has always been music to my ears,” Javier said. “I guess it’s kinda like Chico O’Farrill.”

Javier broke out another smile.

“Bring on the horns and the big bats,” he said. “Then let’s dance.”


I lost my rhythm sometime last week. The days and nights had become an uneven mix. They were nothing close to a good jazz riff. There were no wins, no losses, no games up and no games back.

Baseball’s grip had slipped and it seemed like nothing short of pitchers and catchers reporting could get it back.

But I slept with my glove last night and dreamed a baseball beat.

Derek Jeter opened with a perfect saxophone solo and A-Rod swung a big bass. Jorge Posada blasted a tune on the trumpet and Joba was pumping on the old trombone. Robbie Cano picked on the guitar and Chien-Ming Wang made the piano dance. Johnny Damon belted out the words and Mariano finished with a flourish on the drums.

Then the whole team met in the middle of the club and the beat kept right on going.

Pitchers and catchers play the first real set in 75 days.

My rhythm is coming back already.

SHADOW GAMES: The Visitors

Everyone pegged them for visitors when they piled on the 2 train at 72nd Street. There was a mother and a father and a son and a daughter. They seemed excited and were talking while everyone else stared blankly at a Sunday morning.

They might have been ignored if they hadn’t been wearing local colors. The father and son had Yankees hats, the mother had a Yankees scarf and the daughter was carrying a pink Yankees backpack.

“Where are you from?” someone asked.

“Michigan,” the father said. “We live in Ypsilanti. It’s near Ann Arbor and not too far from Detroit.”

“And you’re Yankees fans?” someone else asked.

“Yeah,” the father said. “I guess you can call it the Derek Jeter effect. We started following him because he grew up in Kalamazoo and now we watch every game.

“We always go when the Yankees are in Detroit,” he continued, “but we haven’t seen them in the Bronx, yet. This is our first time in New York City and yesterday we went and looked around the old Stadium and the new Stadium. We’re going to try and see a game next year.”

“So where are you headed today?” someone asked.

“To the Stature of Liberty,” the mother said. “And we also want the kids to see Ellis Island.”

The visitors wanted to switch to the 1 train at Chambers Street because that’s what their guide book said to do. But weekend service changes aren’t covered in books and everyone on the 2 train was looking out for them now.

“There are no trains going to South Ferry,” someone said. “And don’t bother with the shuttle bus because that’s usually like trying to get on the last helicopter out of Saigon in ‘75.

“Stay on this train to Wall Street,” they continued. “Then you’ll have a short walk to Battery Park and the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands.”

“I’ve got a friend named Freddy who sells Yankees hats and T-shirts in the park,” someone else said. “Tell him that Clarence from Mott Haven sent you and he’ll give you a good deal.”

“Thanks,” the father said. “If you’re ever in our neighborhood we’ll return the favor.”

“Just make some noise in Detroit next year,” someone said. “And help the Yankees get some wins.”

“Will do.”

SHADOW GAMES: What’s In A Name?

James Reynolds Jr. has been called a lot of names. He was Jimmy to his grandmother and Junior to the rest of the family. In school the other kids tagged him Bern, which was short for Bernie Williams his favorite Yankee.

Most people in the Bronx just call him J.R. these days, but in Manhattan he’s known as Mr. Quick.

Some say he sells more designer handbags than anyone else in New York City.

“I just know the flow of the crowds around here,” Mr. Quick explained. “The key is being fast on the setup and the getaway. That’s how I earned my name.”

Mr. Quick moves everything on a small cart. When he locates a good spot the handbags are scooped up and arranged over old bed sheets on the sidewalk.

“People flock like pigeons to popcorn if you hit it right,” Mr. Quick said. “But you don’t want to draw too much attention. That brings the cops and then you’re out of business.”

So Mr. Quick has rules if you want to buy his French-designed handbags that are made in New York.

“The small bags are $20 and the big bags are $40,” he explained to a group outside the Winter Garden Theatre last night. “I don’t make change and don’t even think of asking for a receipt. Take it or leave it.”

Most of them took it.

Mr. Quick pocketed the cash and packed the leftovers. He was headed up Broadway when a woman shouted:

“Stop. Please wait.”

Mr. Quick kept walking, but the woman caught him near 54th Street.

“I just want to buy a bag,” she said. “But our tour bus is leaving so I need to make it quick.”

“That’s my name,” he said.

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