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March 18-19-20: Rain=Baseball Drought

Three days in a row of dissatisfaction with baseball followed.

First, on Sunday March 18 the Yankees played the Red Sox in Fort Myers, a game I could not get tickets to no matter how I tried. Last year’s game I tried to buy phone, and they told me the Yankee game was the one game they sold out by mail order. This year I sent in my order the day I received the order form in the mail, and a few days later I got back a slip saying that even that was too late. I think somebody in the ticket office has a brother who is a scalper. We had a wonderful day anyway–the whole family now together (me and corwin, mom and dad, and my brother and his girlfriend Heather), we went to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Pete. The guy was a genius, no doubt about that. The only thing of relevance to add is that even Dali has a work that relates to baseball and I bought a postcard of it, which I probably can’t reproduce here without violating the copyright of his estate or something. Had a great dinner that couldn’t be beat, and looked forward to the rain ending–it was gray and pouring all night.

Second, on Monday March 19, we had tickets to see the Tigers come to Legends Field. It poured rain all day, but around 4pm it started to lighten up, and then stopped entirely. I called Legends and was told that as of then, the game was still scheduled. However by the time we packed up the car and headed out there, we arrived to find the electronic billboard outside the stadium saying “GAME CANCELLED.” Miraculously, just as we drove past the sign, Julian’s cell phone rang, and a family friend we had been trying to get in touch with was on the line. We had been wondering how we were ever going to fit in seeing him, what with our packed baseball schedule, but within twenty minutes we were at a sushi bar waiting for him. Had a great dinner that couldn’t be beat.

astrosThen, on the third day, we were slated to see the Astros at Legends. When we woke up that morning it was again gray, overcast, and raining, but the weather reports gave us hope that maybe it would clear. From my parents house on the gulf coast we could see blue sky out over the gulf coming nearer. It was a 1pm game, but we didn’t try to get there for 10am BP, figuring the practice field would be too wet for it anyway. As we went east toward Tampa we passed through a few rain bands, but we held out hope that it would clear. Quite literally we’d be driving, drive out of the rain and into sun and blue sky, then be stopped at a stop light and have the rain catch up to us. Then at some point the rain swept past us, and it looked like maybe, just maybe, we’d see some baseball…?

mel-n-clemensAs we made our way across the bridge from the parking lot to the Legends Field grounds, what should happen but the sun came out! A blue sky appeared, and it looked like Florida again. A large crowd was gathered on the bridge, looking down into the seven mound bullpen, where Ted Lilly was doing his regular throwing. It wasn’t Lilly that people were looking at though, it was Roger Clemens, with Mel Stottlemyre and a few other coaches around him, going through his wind up and pitching motion very slowly. Sometimes Clemens would stop partway through the motion–balanced on one foot, or with his arm cocked back–and freeze while the coaches muttered about something. News travels quickly through a pack of Yankees fans. Today’s news was that Clemens was having some kind of shoulder stiffness or pain, and so he wouldn’t start today.

Instead the starter would be Christian Parker. To tell you the truth, I was more excited to see Parker. After all, I’ve seen Clemens before. Parker would be something new–the St. Pete Times had called him the “dark horse” candidate for the fifth starter job. Hmmm, better than El Sid had been the other day? Must be something special.

Then Clemens and Lilly went in, leaving us only the beautiful foliage and landscaping (xeriscaping) to look at, with tantalizing glimpses of Yankee BP going on inside the locked gates of Legends Field. Then they packed up and turned the cage over to the Astros, and the crowd was allowed in. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to watch the Astros take BP. But it’s much more fun to watch the Yankees.

We went in and found our seats, over on the third base side, and then I went down to stand among the Yankee fan faithful along the first base line. Many had baseballs, Sharpies, and cameras in their hands. As I worked my way down the stands I thought I saw some familiar faces. It turned out a crew of folks I knew through the former Yankees Xtreme, yankees.com, and bronx-bombers.com were all hanging around down there. (Hi Snowy, Lolo, Mike, and everybody!) We had a good time joking around and I showed my photos from the Yankee Stadium tour and last year’s Spring Training to everyone.

I can’t remember now who it was who yelled to Alfonso Soriano when he came out to play catch. As I said before, Soriano has matured a lot as a player, but he’s still a rookie. You could tell because when you yell his name, he can’t help but look. The older guys are all immune to it, but not Alfy. (I’d rather call him “Alfy” than “Sori” which sounds like an apology…) Anyway, he was quite a distance away, trying to warm up with some of the catchers, but someone caught his attention and the next thing you know, they threw him a ball, then a pen, and then he had to walk over to the fence to give everything back. He ended up autographing for a few dozen people (including me) before he could get away.

Shortly after that an usher in a yellow rain jacket came and told everyone standing there that if they didn’t have tickets in that row, to move along. It was almost game time anyway, so I went back around to the third base side where the family was. I got nice and settled in my seat. And then guess what happened?

It started to rain.

Argh, no, not again! I know corwin was sunburned and needed to minimize his exposure, but darn it, that’s what sunblock is for… The rain got harder and we decided to dash for a dryer area. Of course, the concourse around the stadium on the outside, where the concessions vendors are, isn’t enclosed from the wind, it’s just got an overhang. So we had to push through a throng and get to the back of a crowd by a beer stand to find a place where we weren’t being rained on.

The rain lasted about a half an hour, and everyone waited it out, peering to the West where the blue skies had come from before. Then, about five minutes before game time, it finally stopped, everyone headed back to their seats, and we were ready for baseball at last. The grounds crew was behind schedule because of the rain delay, and so they showed the Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First?” sketch on the Diamond Vision, and then the Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs single-handedly takes on the Gas House Gang. As a result, the catchphrase of the week became “And now I will per-plex him with my SLOOOOW ball….”

Now, in a normal season game in which the Yankees were shut out 3-0 and only had one extra base hit (and five singles), you’d think we would be extremely frustrated. Especially after two whole days without baseball thanks to the Red Sox conspiracy and the weather. But Christian Parker was the real bright light of that day.

Yes, he was a little wild. He hit a batter in the third that loaded the bases. In fact, it’s possible that if he hadn’t had a wild pitch in the fourth, he might not have given up the one run he did. But generally speaking, he almost always threw a first pitch strike, and we were especially impressed with how he struck out Jeff Bagwell to end the third, when he had the bases loaded behind him. Struck him out looking, I should add–all three of Parker’s strikeouts were looking. “And now I will per-plex him with my SLOOOOW ball…”

The other two runs came on a home run off Darrell Einertson (ouch, Chief!) and one run off, gasp, Mariano Rivera. It’s okay though, Mo gave up a single and then an RBI double, then struck out two in a row and induced a ground out. It wasn’t a save situation, so we think he had to give up that run before he could get up enough of a head of steam to get the guys out.

Meanwhile the Yankees would have had a better offensive day if they hadn’t hit into four inning-ending double plays, including one in the sixth when they had the bases loaded. But, oh well. With Soriano and Jimenez in the 1 and 2 holes, they had only one hit and one walk between them. You have to think that if it had been our regular leadoff guys, Chuck and Derek, that maybe we would have seen a little more offense.

In fact, the only real disappointment of the day, other than not getting to see the Yankees take BP on the practice field, was that neither Derek nor Chuck played. We now confirmed from other fans in the stands that Derek had pulled a muscle at the Braves game, and was shut down for a few days. Wow, first the shoulder, then tonsils, now a leg muscle? It seemed like they often took Chuck and Derek out at the same time, so that didn’t seem too surprising that Chuck had the day off, too. But the rumor was already going around that the Yankees weren’t going to give Chuck any more chances at second. It was odd to be immersed in baseball and yet cut off from my normal sources of baseball news, i.e. the Internet, The Sporting News site, MLB.com, and the AP Wire. Otherwise I might have already known that day that the winds had shifted almost as much as the weather. Now instead of playing Soriano in left to increase his trade value, the Yankees were starting to look at him as the starting second baseman on Opening Day. And what about that gaping hole in left field that the ailing Spencer, the slumping Henry Rodriguez, the bad-handed Glenallen Hill, or the recovering-from-double-hernia David Justice could not fill? Well, hey, there’s this one guy on the roster that we have to keep in the lineup…

Well, it was out of our hands. Joe Torre has made the right decision so many times before, we trust his judgement. We’d just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, the game was very short — nobody on base and lots of double-plays will do that — clocking in at two hours and three minutes! That gave us plenty of time to go home, shower, change into nice clothes, and head for another dinner that couldn’t be beat. We still had four more days of baseball to go. Would we get to see Mike Mussina’s knuckle-curve? Would we get to see Jeter play? Would I get within ten feet of Jeter this year without fainting? The weather forecast was steadily improving.

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

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