Why I Like Baseball

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Archive for September, 2007

September 24, 2007: Love Rules

September 24, 2007 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Yankee Fan Memories

It was a day of love at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.It began with an outpouring of love for someone recently departed from the family, Phil Rizzuto. While many members of the Rizzuto family–including his wife of 64 years, Cora, and lifelong friend Yogi Berra–watched from seats of honor near home plate, the scoreboard played a highlight montage from Phil’s career as player and as broadcaster. The music they chose couldn’t have been more fitting: “That’s Amore.”

But what struck me most that day was the way the fans have embraced one of the youngest, newest members of the family, Joba Chamberlain. The big kid with the 99 mile per hour fastball turned 22 on Sunday, and his father and some friends of the family were there all weekend to celebrate it with him.

For Harlan Chamberlain, Joba’s wheelchair-bound father, it was his first trip east of the Mississippi River. Many fans are familiar with his face from the television broadcasts of the game in Kansas City he attended where he saw Joba pitch in the majors the first time. Tears of joy made Harlan Chamberlain’s face shine that night, and now the smiles and greetings of New Yorkers everywhere he goes makes him smile.

“The people here have been wonderful. Absolutely great,” he said before a game this weekend. We were on the warning track in front of the Yankee dugout. Normally at that hour, batting practice would be taking place, but it had been cancelled because of the extra-innings affair that had kept everyone up late the night before. So we were doing what everyone else was doing: talking baseball.

In specific, we were talking Joba.

I had to ask. “So, was he always into baseball growing up?”

“Since four years old,” Harlan said without hesitation. “Back then of course it was just dress up. I had bought this catcher’s equipment from the church across the street. They were phasing that part out of their parochial school’s phys ed department, so I bought [it] for thee bucks. So he dressed up and just started taking to it, and I saw he liked it, so I just took a ball and started throwing it at him, teaching him not to be afraid of the ball. And that didn’t take long.”

I wondered if little Joba had been just as stocky as he is now, but what I asked was, “Did he play tee ball and Little League and all that?”

“Yeah. He always played with neighborhood kids. And then tee ball and what not. He always came to the top of whatever pursuit he embarked upon. He always has risen to the top, and well, it doesn’t get anymore top than this other than the World Series. And we’re not so far away from that.” The excitement in his voice is as palpable as it is in the crowd later that day, when the Yankees still have a chance to catch the Red Sox for the division, and stage comeback after comeback until finally notching an extra inning win in a five-hour game. But that will come later. Harlan told me more. “He’s got a passion for the game that is unequalled by anybody I’ve seen. There are lot of players an athletes who are better than he is, but I don’t ever recall seeing anyone who matched his passion. And that’s his motivator.”

I asked how old Joba was when he started to see that fire. “Oh, when he was about eight.”

Eight? “He liked playing the part. Initially it was a part.”

Like a role in a play? Yes. I asked if he always thought he was going to be a pitcher. Harlan laughed. “No, he was a catcher! He was a catcher for a long time.”

I told him then about Ralph Terry, a pitcher for the Yankees in the 1960s who was MVP of the 1962 World Series, but who started out as a catcher in high school in Oklahoma, playing against Mickey Mantle. But back to Joba. “He didn’t seriously get into pitching until he was a senior in high school. I mean, he’d throw the ball and play that position once in a while, but as far as actually pitching, developing pitches, being a pitcher. There’s one thing to being a thrower, another to being a pitcher. And people would always say to me ‘your son throwing tonight?’ Because they don’t know the difference. And I’d say ‘yeah, he’s pitching tonight.’”

Harlan’s pride in his son was obvious. And so was his love. “Did you know,” I asked in closing, “that there is video on the Internet of Joba singing in the bullpen?”

He didn’t seem surprised and he smiled at me. “That’s just the way he is. He’s a ham. He really is. He’s always been a ham.”

It’s not just the people of New York who have been so friendly to Harlan Chamberlain. A steady stream of players still came and went on their way to jogging or stretching, each one pausing to shake Harlan’s hand or say hello. Joba’s dad is as popular as his son, it seems, and that is saying a lot, as his son is possibly one of the most lovable characters to put on pinstripes in a while.

Already the “Joba Rules” T-shirts are being sold on street corners outside the stadium, and on Sunday, Joba’s birthday, there were at least four different styles of Joba-related shirts in evidence on the crowd, even though according to those “rules,” Joba should not have been available to pitch. The rules, as laid down by the coaching staff, included stipulations like, Joba shall not be brought in in the middle of an inning. If Joba pitches one inning, he shall rest one day. If he pitches two innings, two days. Well, he’d already been used in the middle of an inning earlier in the week, but Friday night he did pitch two complete innings in 14-inning loss to the Jays.

But on Saturday night, Joe Torre did say, when press by reporters, that the rules were ‘evolving.’ “All I can say is that the rules from here on will probably involve pitch count,” he said. The rules, it seems, can bend.

Sunday afternoon saw the Yankees take a comfortable 7-3 lead over the Jays while Mike Mussina pitched seven solid innings for New York. Unfortunately, with two out in the eighth, Luis Vizcaino walked the third batter he faced, then gave up a home run to Matt Stairs. When the next man, Aaron Hill, got a hit, the crowd began chanting “We Want Joba! We Want Joba!”

When Vizcaino then walked the next man, Joe Torre came out of the dugout and received a cheer.

Then a blare of heavy metal theme music came from the stadium sound system, and Joba came trotting in from the bullpen. It was positively Mariano-like. Five pitches later, he left the mound, triumphant, having struck out a player whose name he probably didn’t know and probably didn’t care to know. (Adam Lind, if you’re wondering.)

As it turned out, Torre decided that rather than use Mariano three days in a row in the ninth, he would send Joba back out to finish the job. He got a soft dribbler back to the mound, struck out pinch hitter Lyle Overbay, and then quite fittingly, blew away Reed Johnson on three straight pitches to seal the deal. His first major league save and the adulation of a sold-out house was his birthday gift.

By next season, as any fan knows, the love affair could be over. He could be traded, get injured, or even fall from grace. But for now, the lovable kid with the blazing fastball is loving it and being loved right back.

September 22, 2007: Long Night

September 22, 2007 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Great Games, Yankee Fan Memories

I have a credo, which is that any game in which your team gets the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning is a good game. By extension any game in which your team gets the winning run to the plate is pretty darn good also, and getting that man to cross the plate? Well, that would make it a great game.The Yankees game in the Bronx last night was a good game. I felt it was a good game even before the ninth inning, for a number of reasons. The weather was beautiful, warm and pleasant for a late September night. The crowd was energized by the sweep of the Orioles, which coincided with the Red Sox being swept by Toronto, slimming the Sox’ lead on the division to one-and-a-half games, lending a playoff-like air to the precedings.

And Chien-Ming Wang pitched a gem. Unfortunately for him, Damon was caught stealing in the first inning, which may have cost the Yankees a run, and Roy Halladay pitched a gem of his own. All night long the Yankees were picking the wrong pitch to swing at, hitting bleeders and squibbers and rarely leaving the infield. Halladay gave up a long drive to A-rod on the first, caught at the wall in center, one double to Cano, but otherwise the only real excitement came when once in a while someone would hit a long foul ball off him.

Wang, meanwhile, gave up two hits to lead off the seventh and might have got out of it with only one run, but on a play at the plate Jorge couldn’t handle the ball and a run came in on what was ruled catcher’s error.

In the eighth, skinny reliever Edwar Ramirez hit the first batter he faced, got a ground out, then gave up a two run shot. After all the soft stuff both starters had been inducing all night, the home run came as a shock, as though we’d forgotten what a hard hit ball looked like. 4-0 Jays.

Ah well. About a quarter of the sell-out crowd headed for home at that point. Little did they know that six more innings of scoreless baseball would be pitched by the Yankees’ bullpen after that. Made possible, of course, by an improbable ninth inning rally by the Yankees.

It felt like they didn’t want to give up so easily. The crowd certainly didn’t, cheering and hooting and hollering with such focus in the eighth inning that I wrote on my scorecard “most into it I’ve ever seen a regular season crowd for the Blue Jays.” When Damon doubled to lead off the ninth, his chances of coming home were high, but the chance that the Yankees would score four in the inning?

The crowd was on its feet for Jeter, who grounded out harmlessly, not even moving Damon along. But Abreu singled, and when Alex Rodriguez singled to bring Damon in, it was the only time in the game Halladay had given up 3 hits in an inning. He got Matsui to roll into another harmless grounder, though, despite the crowd now being in full playoff voice.

The game appeared to end for a moment when the next batter, Jorge Posada, grounded to second and was beaten to the bag by the throw. But Matt Stairs never got control of the wild throw, and Posada was called safe while a second run scored.

That ended Halladay’s night, and he went to the bench to wait for the bullpen to finish the job.

It would be a long wait. Lefthander Scott Downs came in to face Robinson Cano, who shattered his bat but muscled a grounder through the right side, bringing in A-rod. 4-3 Jays, and Halladay wore a stricken look as shown by the TV broadcast. As I was sitting in the stands, you might wonder how I know this. Well, my boyfriend called from home, where he was listening to the radio broadcast, where John Sterling described what was being shown, to tell me about it.

He also described how Halladay looked like he wanted to cry, when the next batter, Jason Giambi, stroked a soft liner into left to bring in the tying run. The place, as the expression goes, was going nuts.

Unfortuantely, Melky Cabrera grounded out to end the inning, and then a long drought ensued for both teams. The crowd was excited to see great outings by Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain, whose father is making his first trip to New York to see his son pitch. In fact, it’s his first trip east of the Mississipi River.

Pretty good game. Too bad Brian Bruney gave up a home run in the top of the 14th and the Yankees were unable to answer. It would have been an instant classic if anyone had been able to manage that walk-off blow. But Matsui, after 3 games in a row having the ‘Mini Cooper Drive of the Game’ looked flat, Giambi too, and A-rod is in a bit of a slump as well.

We still had fun, and there is still a good chance to catch Boston for the division lead, and a great chance to make the playoffs, what with a 4.5 game lead in the wild card and nine games to play. So it’s hard to be very upset about the loss, really. The last out came just 5 minutes shy of midnight and by then it was hard to say who was more tired, the crowd or the players. It was time to go home.

September 21, 2007: Seasonal Color

September 21, 2007 By: ctan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Yankee Fan Memories

In this age of digital photography, I really should have been documenting this better. But at the time, I really did not know that it would have Pennant Race Implications. I’m talking about my hair.

A lady does not reveal her age, but a female ballplayer does. It’s no secret that I’m forty, is it? Well, this spring I wanted to spruce up my hair a little. Over the past 20 years it has had blond streaks, blue stripes, braids, perms, you name it. But it’s been a couple of years since I did anything new, and I was walking down the hair color aisle of my local drug store, and there was a very enticing-looking bottle for making Extreme Red streaks.

I admit, at the time, I did not think of the implications of the color RED. I just thought it would look nice.

At left you will see what it looked like on that first day, which was May 9th.

Now, as you may recall, that day, the Red Sox were in first place. The Yankees were at 16-16, not great but not horrible. Both teams had just gone 7-3 over their last ten games, and the Yankees at that time stood six games back.

So, I dyed my hair red.

Over the next ten games, the Yankees went 3-7 and dropped to 10.5 games back.

Over the ten games after that, bringing us to May 29th, the Yankees went 3-7 again, and dropped to 14.5 games back.

Now, for those of you who have used this kind of hair color before, you know it starts to wash out. It’s really brilliant for about three weeks. Then it looks pretty good for a good while after that, but after about three to four months, you know what it does?

It fades.

Today is September 21st. The Yankees are 1.5 games back of the Sox, who have just lost 5 of their last 6 including getting swept by the Blue Jays, and here’s what my hair color looks like now. Yeah, the actual red is gone. The ginger that’s left is what my hair looks like when you bleach it.

I don’t think I really need to add much more commentary here, do I. Except to say I am contemplating doing the streaks blue next.

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