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March 23: All The Way To/From Texas (Yanks at Rangers)

It’s a two hour drive from Crystal Beach to Port Charlotte, which meant we had to get up quite a bit earlier than we were used to in order to arrive in time for BP at 10am. Yawn! My parents had to be on a plane back to Jersey that day, and Heather and Julian decided they wanted to get a little sleep and then go sea kayaking. As a result, corwin and I took their tickets with us, figuring we’d have no trouble selling them.

We arrived in the parking lot to find lots and lots of big pickup trucks surrounding our dinky rental car–I guess even ex-Texans like their trucks. No gun racks, though. One fellow was standing at the side of he road as we pulled in, holding up two fingers for “I need two tickets.” We walked back to him and sold our extras to him at face value. As we approached the gates I was a little sorry we hadn’t saved them for a Yankees fan, though, when we saw how many people were standing near the gate with little signs that read “Need Ticket” and “Need 2.” Something about the guy after we exchanged the money made me think he wasn’t going to use the tickets himself, either, but probably resell them.

As it turned out, he never showed up inside, and neither did anyone else, which meant we had two empty slots on the bleacher-type bench to pile up our stuff. I wonder if maybe he tried to sell them to a police officer or something, or if whoever bought them (or maybe he himself) just sat themselves somewhere better.

The seats were way out to the first base side, at the very edge of the stands, overlooking the Rangers clubhouse, a small playground, and the airplane hangar where the Rangers had their batting cages. As such we got to watch various Rangers walk back and forth to the cages, or spill out of the clubhouse onto the picnic tables or outfield grass to work on their tans. Two great things about those seats, though–they were in the shade, and we were surrounded by Yankees fans who liked talking baseball. I was able to give them the numbers on the new guys like Michael Coleman and Morales, who we’d been seeing all week.

Scott Brosius hits off a teeI was surprised by the number of people crammed up against the fence along the walkway to the batting cages. It was the first time we’d seen such avid fans for any team other than the Yankees. In most of the parks we had been to, the visiting Yankees fans outnumbered those of the home team seeking autographs. Not with the Rangers though.

And who could blame them? I wouldn’t have minded getting Andres Galarraga’s autograph, or Pudge Rodriguez, or that other Rodriguez, the new guy, they signed over the winter.

Speaking of A-rod, the much anticipated match up/reunion with Jeter did not happen. Derek stayed in Tampa, still benched with the quad injury.

It felt like Texas, 85 degrees and very hot in the sun, as we lined up behind the Yankee dugout to watch batting practice. Ah, BP. It’s such a joy to watch the Yankees hit, I wish I could get to Fenway Park (the nearest major league park to my home) just to see that part and then leave before the game starts. Having gotten Derek Jeter’s autograph the night before, I felt sated, and just took photos of the guys going in and out of the dugout. There was Brosius, and Justice (got him already), Soriano (ditto), Sojo, Clay Bellinger (got him last year), Andy Morales, Glenallen Hill.

Chuck was there, too–if I used my binoculars I could tell that was him way out in left field.

He looked so small out there. Chuck is by far the shortest Yankee. In his bio stats it always lists him as 5′ 9″, but having stood quite close to him last year, I think he’s actually 5′ 7″. There he was, shagging flies with a vengeance, and trading off taking fungoes with minor league outfielder Paul Ottavinia. At one point the two of them had a long, long talk and I had to wonder if they were talking about playing the outfield, or something else. It really tugged on my heartstrings to see little Chuck out there.

chuck-in-left

He hardly touched a ball the whole game.

That was partly due to the fact that El Sid was pitching well. In fact, I’d say he only made two real mistakes. Unfortunately, both of them came when Pudge was at bat. Once in the second, and once in the fourth, Pudge launched towering home runs, one to left, and one to right. I guess that’s what you could call spraying the ball out of all fields.

Sid only gave up one other hit, a Galarraga hot shot through the box that bounced off of him on the mound–couldn’t quite tell what part of his body got hit, but they scored it a single.

Who the heck is Doug Davis? At first, we didn’t think he was going to be much. A lefty, he walked Knoblauch to lead off the game. But Knobby’s head was clearly still out in left field. Davis tossed over to first–not even a hard pickoff throw,just a “keep the runner honest” toss–and caught Chuck flatfooted several feet from the bag. You could see that moment of “oh S**T” go through Chuck’s mind as he saw the ball in the first baseman’s glove, stood there for an instant, and then began running to second. He was easily out, and we wondered if Joe Torre’s strategy of getting Knobby away from second base was going to backfire.

Anyway, I was talking about Doug Davis. He held the Yankees hitless through five innings, striking out six, though he walked four. There is the fact that two of those six were Michael Coleman, who we were beginning to think of as a strikeout machine, but the result was he was pitching a no-hitter. But it’s still the spring, and everybody has to get their work in, so in the 6th Jeff Zimmerman came on, and once again no one was surprised that the first Yankee hit was by none other than Alfonso Soriano. he was gunned down trying to steal second base, though — because after all, that’s Pudge Rodriguez behind the plate. Anyone else and he would have made it.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the scorecard, the Rangers picked up a run off Ted Lilly, who walked the leadoff man of the fifth, who went to second on a wild pitch, stole third, and then came home on a sacrifice fly. The sac was hit by Alex Rodriguez, and caught by Chuck Knoblauch, who may or may not have thrown to the wrong cutoff man, depending on who you talk to. There was no chance for a play at the plate anyway. Anyway, that was the sum total of both A-rod’s and Chuck’s contributions to that game. And Pudge turned out not to be superhuman after all, grounding out with two men on to kill the rally and the inning.

Randy Choate pitched a scoreless inning and Pascual Matos, who was catching that day, caught A-rod replacement stealing (never found out who it was). Brian Boehringer also gave up a run, on a single, sac bunt, single, and sac fly by Ken Caminiti. But suddenly the game got exciting in the last two innings. Matos lead off the eighth by getting on on an E-6, Luis Sojo then hit an RBI double and was replaced by pinch runner Carlos Garcia. Garcia went to third on a ground out and then scored on a sac fly by D’Angelo Jimenez, putting the score at 4-2 Rangers after 8.

In the ninth, Michael Coleman led off the inning, and we braced ourselves for a couple more big cuts at pitches low and away. Tim Crabtree was in to close the game, and I guess he didn’t know the book on Coleman, because he served him something that Coleman finally got good wood on… and the ball sailed out of the park. (Play Home Run Theme Music Here…) The dinger woke up the other Yankees who tried to stage a rally. Morales, who had replaced Brosius, walked, went to second on a single by Clay Bellinger (yay, Clay!) and then scored on an error by the pitcher that allowed Matos to get on and take second (I can’t remember what it was now… threw the ball into the dugout or something…). A third run was scored on a sac fly by Henry Rodriguez, putting the Yankees up 5-4 when all was said and done.

But the home team gets last licks, and the Yankees had not brought Mariano Rivera with them. Here came Todd Williams to try to get the save. The first batter singled and went to second on a bunt. Then came whoever was now playing left field for the Rangers–that far over in the stands we really couldn’t hear the announcements. Unfortunately, it was someone who had noticed that a lot of balls had flown out of the park that day, and a lot of runs had scored on sac flies as well. Whoever he was, he decided to put the ball in the air, and in the air he put it… right over the outfield fence. Two run homer, Rangers win 6-5. Rats! And here we thought maybe victory was in our grasp! Well, it just goes to show how important a Teflon (TM) bullpen is…

When the game was over, we drove to Sarasota and played catch with a New York Yankees “Softie” ball I’d picked up in the gift shop at Legends Field. corwin had surgery on his finger recently and so hasn’t been able to throw or catch for a while, and I wanted to start getting him in shape for Wiffle Ball season. We tossed the soft stuffed ball in the sand for a while, then watched the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. Then it was on to St. Armand’s circle for another meal that couldn’t be beat, at another branch of the Columbia Restaurant. And then home for one more good night’s sleep before one last ballgame.

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

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