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June 1 2000: Boy, We Picked A Good One! (Pedro vs. Rocket)

season2000Anyone who has watched even a little baseball knows that luck has something to do with it. I don’t mean the “oh, it was lucky the wind blew the ball back” kind of luck–I mean the kind of circumstantial chance that creates great drama. Like the luck of the draw that put Pedro Martinez on the mound the same night as former Red Sox ace Roger Clemens, the same night that ESPN broadcast from the Stadium to the entire nation.
It’s the same luck that had me and my entire Yankee-loving family sitting in section U13 (upper deck, first base side) during that game. Once again, we get to utter those word that fans love to say: “We Were There!”

ticket-rocketI was supposed to be in Wisconsin speaking at a writers conference. But my cousin picked Memorial Day weekend to get married in Philly, so I changed plans, met up with my parents and brother for the ceremony on Saturday. Which meant we had Sunday to take in a game.

In the months before the game, when we bought the tickets, we had no idea who would be pitching, nor that the Yanks and Sox would be tied for first place going into the weekend. All we knew was we had a chance to get to the Stadium. It would be our first trip to the national temple of baseball as a family since 1983.

In 1983, I was a teenager, and my brother was about eight years old. That was the year we first got lucky–when we were at the Red Sox game on July 4th, when Dave Righetti pitched a no-hitter. In my locked, handwritten diary I put in an entry on July 10th. I went on for several pages about boys I had crushes on and then wrote the following: “Speaking of sports, on July 4th we went to the Yankee Game.To set the mood, 5 parachutists landed on the field and Chuck Mangione played The Star Spangled Banner. They gave away cars, golf carts, and money. Besides that, Dave Righetti pitched a NO-HITTER!!! First one since Don Larsen’s perfect game in ’56! WAY TO GO RAGS!” What I didn’t write in was we waited two hours outside the press gate in a throng of fans until Righetti came out. At least, my Dad insists it was two hours. I don’t remember it being that long, but you know, maybe that’s another one of those “time flies when you’re having fun” things.

You don’t expect to see a game like that again in your life–unless you’re a Yankee fan. But still, you never know when it will happen.

So, here it was, another summer holiday, and for the first time in sixteen years, the Tan Family starting lineup was once again at the ballpark together. The previous summer we’d planned a triumphant return for August which was scuttled when Dad went on the DL with a collapsed lung. (He’s fine now, thanks.) So when the opportunity, because of the wedding, to make a trip this May came up, I jumped at it.

It was already going to be a great day no matter what. Even the threatening gray skies couldn’t dampen our spirits–It was Umbrella Night, so if it rained, who cared? We all had Yankee umbrellas! We had no traffic crossing the George Washington Bridge, and zipped right across the Macombs Dam Bridge to our favorite parking lot. As we were walking up to the stadium, we came to the press gate. Shane Spencer was just walking in. Then a small green convertible pulled into the player parking lot and people started screaming “Bernie!” Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez went walking in a few minutes later.

Of course, being there early enough to see the players enter meant that we were once again wrong about when the gates opened to the public. It being the ESPN game, it started an hour later, so we had time to kill. We walked around the corner in search of an authentic New York pizzeria with a bathroom, and found one about two blocks up 161st street! A startlingly clean place, actually, with pinstripe and Yankee-Logo wallpaper on the walls, and the best pizza I’ve had in a long time. (See, in New England, the pizza is kind of like the baseball team, thick, substantial, occasionally very tasty, but it just doesn’t satisfy…)

Then we took up residence on the steps outside gate 2, so we could get in line for Monument Park right away.

I had been through Monument Park once earlier this year, by myself, but this was corwin’s first time through. The Yankees were taking BP as we went through, so we put our gloves on. A lot of people there were making comments like it was their first trip to the Stadium and it was quite crowded among the monuments. Bob Sheppard’s newly minted plaque was hung under Mel Allen’s. As we filed slowly out toward the stairs to exit, some guys in the bleachers above us yelled “Here comes one!” A ball sailed in, hit he camera platform and bounced into the grass right by the groundskeeper’s monument. I wish I could say I caught it, but actually, I pounced on it with my glove in the grass.

Our first BP home run ball! Even at Spring training this year, we never got a ball from the field. We yelled up to the guys “Who hit that?” “Tino Martinez!” they shouted back. Wow. As I held the ball in my glove I thought “Do it again, Tino…. but against Pedro…”

Well, you probably know how the game turned out by now. You can read all about it at The Sporting News or yankees.com. But you know what? It almost doesn’t matter. For eight innings every single pitch was cheered, booed, and hollered about. This was different from the Righetti no-hitter, where there was one half of each inning we cared about, and the other half didn’t matter so much. Here, every member of a sell-out crowd was hanging on every detail. You know that term “edge of your seat?” At one point my back was starting to hurt, and so was Julian’s. “Hey bro,” I said. “You know we can lean back and still see everything perfectly fine.” he and me and corwin eased ourselves back in our seats, and lo, we could. But one pitch later we were back to hunching forward and screaming like maniacs. And two pitches later we were standing up, again, as Roger Clemens mowed down another Red Sock.

The flashbulbs. I’ve never seen so many flashbulbs go off in the first two innings of a ballgame. On the first pitch to every batter, from both Pedro and the Rocket, it was like some kind of magic special effect, sending sparkles all through the place. They died down as the game went on, then would flare up again–I can just imaging the guy at the one hour photo place in the mall the next day. Processing all these shots of a huge green field, the blue stands full of people, and this tiny little figure on a round brown dot below… “The one in white is Roger Clemens, the one in gray is Pedro Martinez…” Man. The MLB powers that be say they think people want to see high scoring games. I think the theory is that home runs and high scores are exciting. But well, strikeouts and low scores are pretty damn exciting, too, wouldn’t you say?

It’s weird to say it but I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a loss so thoroughly. If the Yanks had won, it would have been the absolute best baseball game of my entire life: got a ball, Red Sox, sell-out, whole family there… Now, if we were REALLY lucky, that BP home run ball would have been our good luck charm. After all, we’d seen Tino and Bernie coming in to the stadium. And both of them got up in the bottom of the ninth, and could have won the game with a three-run homer. But, for once, the full Curse of the Babe did not appear to be in effect, Tino grounded out to end the game, and the Red Sox escaped with a win. Luck, whether good or bad, only goes so far, I guess. Now if only I can get tickets for the whole gang some time in October…

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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