"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: Shadow Games

Has it Really Been One Year?

We lost Todd Drew on this day one year ago.

Here is his penultimate post.

We miss you Todd, as a Banterer, as a writer and as a good soul.

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: 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 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: Justice Is Served

The streets are in a rage today. Everyone is going somewhere to buy something or sell something or steal something.

Traffic is snarled and parking tickets are being written in bunches: One car in a crosswalk, two up on a sidewalk and three in a bus stop.

“These people don’t care,” a parking cop says. “Double parked, tripled parked and some of them block the whole street. We try to keep emergency lanes open and people move the barriers to park.”

It almost makes you feel sorry for the parking cops.

“We need a way to show these people who is really in charge,” the parking cop says.

Yeah, almost.

Even though most New Yorkers can’t work up a holiday-shopping rage it is interesting to watch. It’s like seeing an enemy fan being hauled out of Yankee Stadium by a dozen cops. It may not be right, but you quickly come to terms with the fact that justice can take many forms.

The parking cop gets on the radio and calls a tow truck to Broadway and 56th Street.

Another car in a bus stop. A BMW with Massachusetts plates. Perfect.

Justice is served.

SHADOW GAMES: Never Count an Old Man Out

Alessandro Candelaria smells of pipe tobacco, aftershave and perfect bacon. He wears brown shoes and white socks and black pants and a tan overcoat. His sharp-brimmed fedora marks him from another time, but he’s always looking ahead.

He asks a stranger on the subway platform for the time. It’s 6:45 a.m., he’s told.

“Where is that train?” he asks shaking his head. “I hate being late.”

Candelaria rode the 2 train to work for 53 years and now he rides it because old habits are hard to break.

Sometimes he finds a seat, but mostly he stands. He always holds a newspaper, but never reads. He likes to look at faces and remember what it’s like to work and worry and be miserable and alive.

“I never knew how much I enjoyed it,” Candelaria says. “People used to tell me that the climb is half the fun, but it’s really all the fun. I retired and got stuck with a bunch of old people who want to talk about old times.

“I want to talk about new times and this is where they’re happening,” he continues. “I’ll spot a guy reading the paper and ask, ‘What do you think of that damn mayor?’ Or I’ll see a guy in a Yankees hat and ask, ‘How do you think the team is coming together?’

“I’m already excited about baseball season,” Candelaria goes on. “And I want to talk about the young guys: Joba and Cano and Hughes and this kid Mark Melancon that I’ve heard so much about. Sometimes people stare at me like, ‘You probably aren’t even going to make to Opening Day old man.’”

Candelaria winks and smiles and tips his fedora.

“I’ll make it for sure,” he says. “I’ve got a couple of World Series left in me. Never count an old man out, especially one who stays young like me.”

SHADOW GAMES: The Boss

The Boss – George M. Steinbrenner III – has sometimes been too tough and too demanding and even too mean. He has also been the perfect Yankees owner you couldn’t help but love around here.

“Sure he’s made some mistakes,” said a man smoking outside Ball Park Lanes across from the old Yankee Stadium. “But he gave us some damn good baseball teams and a whole bunch of championships, too. He got us Reggie and Donnie and Gator and Goose and A-Rod and Mariano and Jeter. And now he’s building the new Stadium.”

The man took a last drag on his cigarette and tossed it to the curb.

“I’ve heard people bitch because they say we’re paying for that Stadium,” the man said. “Who cares? We pay for everything anyway and at least we can watch baseball at this place. Yeah, The Boss could’ve done a little better, but I still love the son of a bitch.”

There have been a lot of newspaper columns about The Boss since it was announced that his son Hal officially took control of the Yankees last week. They have written him as a good guy and as a bad guy and sometimes everything at once. They are all probably spot on. That makes The Boss just like the rest of us.

Some of the papers even ran a list of his highlights and lowlights as the owner of the Yankees. It was filled with championships and fines and suspensions, but they left a few things out.

The Boss hired Bob Watson, who became the first black General Manager in Major League Baseball to win a World Series.

He hired the first female Assistant General Manager Kim Ng and he also hired the second, current Yankees Assistant General Manager Jean Afterman.

He hired the first female Major League Baseball radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman.

Before buying the Yankees he hired John McLendon, the first black coach in professional basketball, to lead the Cleveland Pipers.

The Boss always wants to be first. He demands it and won’t accept anything less. How could you not love the guy?

SHADOW GAMES: The Truest Things

I love baseball, but can’t play very well. I love poetry, but can’t write very well.

So I watch and read those who are truest to the crafts.

Derek Jeter is the best shortstop I’ve ever seen. He has been praised by some and criticized by others. A few have even felt the need to explain him with numbers.

Jeter needs no explanation. Everything about him speaks clearly.

Langston Hughes is the best poet I’ve ever read. He has been praised by some and criticized by others. A few have even felt the need to explain his work and his time.

Hughes needs no explanation. His words always speak clearly.

Theme for English B

By Langston Hughes

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you –
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me – we two ­– you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me – who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records – Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white –
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me –
although you’re older – and white –
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

(more…)

SHADOW GAMES: Shake On It

Jimmy Blain was playing on the 2 train last night. He kept bouncing a rubber ball off the facing bench and snatching it with his glove. The other riders waited for a mistake, but he was perfect from Park Place to 14th Street.

“What did you expect?” he shot. “I’m Mariano Rivera.”

Blain shifted around in the seat to show off his T-shirt. It was white with hand drawn pinstripes, an NY on the front and a 42 on the back. He tugged on his Yankees cap and explained:

“I always go to the Halloween parade as Mariano because I met him once.”

That caught people’s attention.

“You met Mariano Rivera?” someone asked.

“Yeah,” Blain answered. “Well, a bunch of us did. He was stuck in traffic after a game and we ran up to his car. He put down the window and signed stuff and talked to us and I shook his hand. I definitely shook his hand.”

“That’s not really meeting him,” someone shot. “Quit trying to trick us.”

“I did meet him,” Blain shot back.

He fired the ball off the seat.

“Of course I met him,” Blain said snatching the ball with his glove.

“I shook his hand.”

SHADOW GAMES: The Captain

Fat Paulie – who works as a super at a building on Gerard Avenue – can never decide how he feels about Halloween.

“I love the candy,” he admitted. “But I always eat too many of those little Snickers bars and get a gut ache. Then I swear not to make that mistake again.”

Fat Paulie made an even bigger mistake last year.

“I shoulda known better than to pour concrete on Halloween,” he said.

The sidewalk in front of his building was marked the next morning with: hand prints, initials, a “Joba Rules,” an “I love Derek Jeter,” and, of course, an “I (heart) Derek Jeter.”

“A little more concrete smoothed out most of that,” Fat Paulie said. “I left the Joba and Jeter stuff because I didn’t want the kids coming back and egging the windows.”

Fat Paulie knows the South Bronx.

“I started cleaning up and bagging trash at a building over on Jerome Avenue when I was a kid,” he explained. “They just called me Paulie back then, but that was a lot of Snickers bars ago.”

He patted his stomach and continued:

“I’m not pouring concrete this Halloween so the kids will probably paint something on the sidewalk. I’m betting on a big red heart with Derek Jeter in blue.

“That will be nice,” Fat Paulie went on. “Everyone knows how we feel about The Captain around here.”

SHADOW GAMES: You Can Look It Up

I was reading a baseball story on the 2 train last night.

It was something I’d printed out from SI.com. Jon Heyman had plenty of good information on: CC Sabathia, Matt Holliday, Brian Cashman and Ken Griffey Jr. But I stalled halfway through a sentence somewhere around 14th Street.

“Writers have marveled at the language of…”

I had to get to a dictionary and look up: erudite.

er●u●dite ‘er-ə-dīt, ‘er-yə- adj. Characterized by great knowledge; learned or scholarly: an erudite professor; an erudite commentary.

I restarted from the beginning of Heyman’s sentence:

“Writers have marveled at the language of erudite Rays manager Joe Maddon, noting how he has used several multi-syllable college words correctly. His language does provide a nice contrast with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who hasn’t used many words correctly.”

I didn’t go to college. I guess that’s why I had to look up a multi-syllable word to understand that Heyman was taking a shot at me and a lot of other people, too.

He was clearly trying to embarrass Charlie Manuel, who is the manager of the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Heyman can look that up today.

I don’t like being talked down to. I’m guessing that Manuel doesn’t like it either because I don’t know anyone who does.

But FOX baseball broadcasters keep doing it and so do some baseball writers.

“You don’t need a college degree to love this game.”

That’s written on a wall in the Bronx. You can look it up.

SHADOW GAMES: Dangerous Business

Gordon Whiten – a 64-year-old janitor from the Bronx – always catches the 2 train at Jackson Avenue before 6:00 a.m. There’s usually enough room on the last car for him to stretch out, drink his coffee and read the newspaper.

This morning he hoisted his cup and made a toast:

“I know this is dangerous business, but old habits are hard to break.”

Whiten took a big swig and explained:

“If the cops catch me drinking coffee on the train I’m going down for sure. I’ve seen people get tickets for just holding an empty cup. But the coppers ain’t usually out this early so I’m gonna keep going.”

Whiten is headed downtown to the same job he’s had for 45 years.

“They call me a Maintenance Engineer nowadays,” he said, “but that’s just a fancy name. Being a janitor isn’t the greatest job, but having any job is pretty good.”

There was a time when he hoped for more.

“I wanted to be a ballplayer just like every kid does,” Whiten admitted. “I still think about it sometimes when I’m at Yankee Stadium or watching on television.”

He laughed to himself and then continued:

“It’s an old man’s dream now, but any kind of dream can be dangerous business.”

Whiten took another gulp of coffee and went back to his newspaper.

SHADOW GAMES: Empty

There is an empty building on Walton Avenue in the Bronx. Four families were living there just last week, but they’re gone now and no one is sure exactly where they went.

Some may be staying with relatives in Astoria and others might be with friends in Washington Heights. It’s said that a few are already on their way back to Mali in Western Africa.

One of the men stood on the sidewalk and cursed the building when the bank was closing in. His family and his brother’s family along with two others had put nearly 10 years into a down payment. They drove cabs and worked construction and delivered pizzas and on Saturday and Sunday mornings they waited along Third Avenue for a van to take them to work at a warehouse in Red Hook or a fruit farm Upstate.

They moved into their home four years ago and thought it was forever, but time ran out just like it has for so many other families. They left in the middle of the night and piled what they couldn’t carry – several boxes of books, four chairs, two tables, a lamp and an old mattress – at the curb.

Two boys from the neighborhood found a use for the mattress.

“You try to block the plate,” one of the boys yelled from up the street.

The other boy turned his hat backwards and crouched in front of the mattress. A collision was avoided when the catcher stepped aside and swiped a tag.

“Safe!” the runner shouted as he slid across the mattress.

“I tagged you,” the catcher shot.

No one was going to win this argument. And no family feels safe on Walton Avenue or anywhere else these days.

[Photo Via It's a Long Season]

SHADOW GAMES: Crazy Love

The South Bronx is just like baseball. Both are far too complicated to completely understand and simply too beautiful not to love.

The guys who gather around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart every morning are committed to the game and their team and getting the last word. Javier – the unofficial leader of this group – is respected for his baseball knowledge and the fact that as a boy in Puerto Rico he once shook hands with Roberto Clemente.

He also got the last word on the neighborhood and maybe the whole world when he showed around his Last Will and Testament that was signed by the lawyer J.C. Klein. The only stipulation listed was that his gravestone – payments having already been made to a place on East Tremont Avenue – carries the line:

“It Was The Walks That Killed Him.”

“That sounds like something Casey Stengel would have done,” one of the guys said.

“Nope,” Javier shot. “Lots of people have talked about it, but I really did it. And that’s the last word.”

Javier smiled and said:

“Man, I love winning.”

Everyone in this neighborhood loves winning almost as much as they hate losing.

The kids that climb the fence and play ball in the parking lot across from the old Yankee Stadium will risk anything for victory. Just the other day a ball was hammered into the left-centerfield gap. It was fielded perfectly off the wall and the play at second was going to be close so the runner slid on the asphalt to the cardboard base. Getting into scoring position is always worth the price.

The old men who play dominos in Joyce Kilmer Park know the price of victory, too. And that price goes up when they are certain there are no cops around.

Jose, who delivers pizzas during the winter and sells baseball tickets in the summer, hates to lose.

There was a game this past April when he was stuck on River Avenue with nine tickets at the end of the first inning. He gave eight Main Box seats to his friends and lost himself in the Tier with a bottle.

The Yankees won and that made everything better, but Jose is worried about his ticket business for next year.

There are a lot of people worried about their jobs around here.

Jon, who lives over in High Bridge, had his hours cut at the warehouse and is driving a buddy’s cab on nights and weekends. Things like paying for rent and groceries and buying baseball tickets will be getting a lot more complicated for him.

“But I’m not worried about the economy,” Jon explained. “I need my team to get healthy. How’s Mariano doing? Is Jorge’s shoulder coming along? And is Wang’s foot feeling okay?

“I’m also looking for big things from the kids next year,” he continued. “Joba will be Joba and Hughes is ready to break out and I think Cano is gonna come back strong.

“That’s all anyone around here really cares about,” Jon went on. “Give us the Yankees and we’re ready to take on the world.”

Things can get pretty complicated around here. But what’s not to love?

[Photo Credit: Arthur Tress]

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