Why I Like Baseball

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Archive for March, 2008

March 17, 2008: Another winner!

March 17, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Spring Training

The Yankees beat the Red Sox today. Yeah, sure, you can say it was only spring training and that the games don’t count and that if it were a real game, for example, Andy Pettitte probably would have pitched more than 3 1/3 innings. But it was the Red Sox, which always adds excitement, and it was St. Patrick’s Day, meaning that the crowd looked rather like it had sprouted moss overnight, in addition to looking somewhat rusted, thanks to all the red jerseys that appeared for the matchup. It felt even more like a real game than the day before.

The theme of today was pitching. Pettitte did not give up a hit until the third inning, while Boston’s starter, Bartolo Colon (yes, that Bartolo Colon) did not make it out of the first inning.

Colon looked very sharp against leadoff hitter Johnny Damon, but maybe Damon is suffering from the allergies that have hit over the past two days as the pollen count has spiked near 11 (on a scale that goes to 12). Colon simply could not locate his fastball for a strike, and after walking Wilson Betemit, the number 8 batter, was lifted having given up four runs.

Julian Tavares took over, got the final out, and then gave up three runs in the second on a two-run Abreu blast, which followed sweetly after Jeter had been hit by pitch, and a sharp Giambi double over Dustin Pedroia’s head and a Matsui single were all it took to make the score 7-0. After 9 Yankees had come to the plate in the first, eight batter in the second, meaning Pettitte had more than 20 minutes to sit, two innings in a row.

He was not as sharp in the third inning, having trouble finding the strike zone from time to time. And he wasn’t helped by Damon who lost a ball in the sun that went for a double. Andy gave up two runs in that rally, one on his own wildness as a pitch in the dirt scooted between Posada’s legs and allowed the runner on third to score, and in the fourth he gave a solo homer to Kevin Youkilis. Still, compared to both Colon and Tavares, he looked brilliant.

Heath Philips, one of the many lefty control pitchers to get an invite to camp, took over, and did not pitch well, giving up another run on four hits, while both outs he records were both line drives to second, snared by Cano.

Everyone else for the Yankees pitched great. Jonathan Albaladejo, Billy Traber, Brian Bruney, and Scott Strickland kept the Sox in check, limiting their offense to two hits over the final five innings and no more runs.

All in all, a very pleasant afternoon.


Jeter has always had some interesting rituals associated with his game, like rubbing Don Zimmer’s head and having Joe Torre hold his bat in the dugout. (Which makes me wonder… who holds his bat now?) This year prior to every at bat he seems to have adopted a procedure by which he uses the tick of pine tar, and then throws it at Bobby Abreu, usually hitting him in the stomach.

It being a Red Sox-Yankees matchup, there were plenty of “mixed marriages” in evidence, and the Yankees, perhaps in a diplomatic move, invited an acapella group from Yale University to sing the National Anthem. (Though the boys were all wearing Yankees’ caps, no doubt provided by the team). Sitting in front of us was a man and his full grown son, both wearing Red Sox hats. But when Jorge Posada came to the plate, the man called out “Hip Hip!” starting a rousing round of Hip-Hip-Jorge. His son turned around and tried to take the man’s hat away. “Now now!” he said, grabbing the hat back, “I’m from Rhode Island! I’m allowed to root for both teams if I want!”

Every inning in baseball is almost universally preceded by the first baseman tossing grounders to the other three infielders while the pitcher throws eight warmup pitches. After the final pitch, the catcher throws down to second as if catching a base stealer, and then the inning can begin. Well, at the start of the second inning, Robinson Cano was chatting away with Jeter all through the warmup tosses, and when Jorge was ready to throw through, Cano wasn’t in place. He waved his arms until Cano got in position and then threw down. Before the third inning, once again Cano missed his cue to cover second and Jorge, apparently fed up with waiting, just threw the ball into center field.

P.S. My interview with David Cone is up at Gotham Baseball magazine, here.

March 16, 2008: Run Through

March 16, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Spring Training

Today’s game at Legends Field (soon to be re-christened George M. Steinbrenner Field, but they haven’t had the official ceremony yet, though the local government already voted in the change) was almost like a Real Game! With Real Excitement!

It’s difficult for fans who live and die by the Yankees to grasp just how laid back Spring Training games can seem. Winning the game is not the goal. Each player has things that he is working on, like mastering a specific pitch, or testing the health of his knees, and so on. Getting in shape to play in April is the goal of playing in March.

This means that in crucial situations in a spring game, you might see the very effective starting pitcher lifted because he’d reached his pitch count and the game handed over to some no-name journeyman who is fighting for a spot on the roster, and who is likely not to succeed in either pitching well in the exhibition or making the team.

A good analogy is to think of these games like dress rehearsals. You’ll see a lot of the understudies instead of the stars, and just when you are getting into the swell of emotion of a really good song, they keep breaking in and changing things around. If you’re disappointed by watching the rehearsal because it wasn’t like the Real Thing, well, guess what, you need to buy a ticket to The Show for that.

But, today, the Yankees pulled off a pretty bang up rendition of an exciting cast with a big production number at the end.

Things started well, with Chien-Ming Wang on the mound with a nice 1-2-3 inning, which included strikeouts of Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner. His second inning did not go as smoothly, as he gave up three runs, but still ended the inning with a strikeout to David Dellucci. He then sat down six of the next seven, the only hit being a pop fly into no man’s land that dropped for a hit. In the fifth he showed a little fatigue, perhaps, as Grady Sizemore, oopsie, got a hold of one and hit a long homer, and then after striking out Dellucci again, walked Hafner and was declared done for the day.

Scott Patterson (no, we hadn’t heard of him either) followed, getting them out of the jam with a 6-4-3 double play, and then pitching a 1-2-3 sixth. Darrell Rasner pitched the final three innings and, oopsie, gave up another homer to Sizemore, and they nicked him for one more in the ninth, giving the Indians a tally of 6 runs.

The Yankees were perpetually playing catch-up in the game. After Wang had given up the three in the second, Giambi led off the bottom of the inning with a walk, followed promptly by a Shelley Duncan dead-center blast that was absolutely crushed. Much earlier this spring, Joe Girardi had remarked that he didn’t understand why any pitcher would ever throw him a fastball ever. Apparently C. C. Sabathia had not gotten that memo, though and the shot made it 3-2 Indians.

In the fourth the Yankees tied the score, as Cano led off with a hit, stole second, and then came in on a Jose Molina double. Molina is one of the few catchers I’ve seen who does not look as though he is running perpetually uphill into the wind. He even tagged up and took third on a fly ball to right. Unfortunately, he was stranded there, and the Yankees were unable to take the lead. After Sizemore’s two homers it was 5-3 Cleveland, and the Yankees scratched back one more in the bottom of the eighth on a Greg Porter triple (yes, he plays for our side… we’re in the understudy territory now) andd a Bernie Castro RBI single. Castro nearly scored the tying run on the next hit, but ended up gunned down at the plate.

After the Indians got that insurance run off Rasner in the ninth, things were not looking good. 6-4 in Cleveland’s favor with Chad Moeller, Brett Gardner, and Justin Christian coming up for the Yankees.

But Moeller is no slouch, a former big league backstop who is currently jobless and looking to hook on with a team after the Nationals released him about a week ago. And Gardner is the guy my mother just loves. “This guy can run like crazy!” is her scouting report on him. Every time he’s come to bat this spring, my mom has said to me, “I hope he hits the ball so we can see him run.” The crowd, which had been sun-lulled all afternoon, came to life with a “Let’s Go Yankees” cheer.

Moeller doubled, and Gardner did not get to show off his speed–at least not right away–because he walked on four pitches. (That did not keep my mom from cheering “Way to go Speedy Dynamo!”) Justin Christian then tried to hit a ball in the big hole between short and third, but ended up lining to the left fielder. Damn.

So up came Kyle Anson in the DH slot. This is a guy who was a third base prospect but the Yankees converted him to catching because of the strength of his arm. I have no idea if he’s any relation to Cap Anson, the great 19th century baseball player. Anson doubled and Moeller scored. Now it was 6-5 Indians with one out and two men on… Gardner the Speedy Dynamo at third, and Anson at second.

Up came Nick Green, who at least most casual Yankees fans have heard of, even if they couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup. The sparse crowd was on its feet and he did not make them wait. He hit the first pitch for a single, bringing in the tying and winning runs with one sweet, walk-off stroke, and the strains of Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “New York, New York” filled the house.

Not bad for a dress rehearsal.

March 15, 2008: Duncan Donuts, and other Tampa tales

March 15, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Spring Training

After all the sturm und drang of the previous two matchups between the Yankees and Rays (collision at the plate, catcher broken wrist, Duncan slid spikes high, bench-clearing brawl, suspensions levied, okay now you are caught up…), there was absolutely nothing to report about conflict or tension between the two teams at all.

Shelley Duncan, the player who landed at the center of the controversy after his slide into Rays 2B Akinori Iwamura, had the following to say after the game. “It was a normal baseball game. We could just play baseball.”

When asked if conversations at first base were any different than usual, he said no, there was just the usual “standard first base talk,” which led the writers to ask… so… what is standard first base talk?

“Oh, you know, I always say hi,” Duncan explained. “You know, if they walked, congratulations on your walk. That kind of stuff.”

And if the batter had been hit by pitch? “Where’d he get you? Was it a cutter? Does it hurt? Don’t rub it! Doooon’t rub it!”

Joe Girardi is different from Joe Torre. He rocks in his chair as he holds his daily postgame with the writers, and his office door is often closed… because he’s rarely in there. He is more likely to be sitting at a table in the coaches’ locker room, talking with them, than to be at his own desk. Where Joe Torre drank green tea, the Styrofoam cup on Girardi’s desk smells distinctly of sweet hazelnut. (I presume it’s coffee.) And this morning, as the writers were all leaving the clubhouse prior to batting practice, Joe called everyone into his office to show them something on his laptop. (If Joe Torre had a laptop, I don’t remember it.)

“Take a look at the weather forecast for Tuesday!” he enthused.

On the screen were the predictions for Blacksburg, VA, where the Yankees will play a game at Virginia Tech. “On like March 1st I said it would be 65 and sunny when we got there,” Girardi said, then pointed out one of the longtime writers. “You said it was going to be like thirty-nine.”

Another writer confirmed that both statements were true. The weather forecast is calling for 66 degrees and partly cloudy. “And that means partly sunny, right?”

Apparently I don’t even have to make one of those glass half-full analogies for Girardi’s outlook on success, because his sunny outlook is even better.

Mike Mussina is no longer alone. He’s the eminence grise of a whole club of pitchers who do crossword puzzles, now. This morning Moose, Billy Traber, and Daniel Giese (both non-roster invitees) all worked on a puzzle together. Traber held the pen. Giese also did a sudoku.

Traber was described by Joe Girardi today as “a very intriguing guy for us.” The non-roster invitee was added to the 40 man roster today. He is one of a passel of control pitchers invited to camp to try to make the bullpen (including Giese and Heath Phillips). Girardi described his former experience as a starter as valuable because “he developed all his pitches and he can get lefties and righties out.”

When asked about his improved status, Traber was happy but kept his emotions in check. “Me being healthy and being able to pitch is exciting, too,” he said, when asked how he felt about the move. “I’m pleased that I’m getting an opportunity to pitch and get innings in. I don’t want to get too caught up in the contract [technicalities]. I just play.”

Many of the Yankees’ staff members are still in touch with their cohort who went to the Dodgers with Joe Torre, including former bullpen catcher and BP pitcher Mike Borzello. Borzo is apparently on the current trip to China that the Dodgers are taking part in, the travel team being managed by Tommy Lasorda–and is coaching first base. In the first game they played, there was a close pickoff play at first, and Borzo got to witness firsthand a Lasorda Dodger-blue-in-the-face argument.


Overheard: “Okay, your job is to go into the gift shop, find this guy’s parents, bring them to the front desk and make sure they get passes and all taken care of for today’s game. Oh, and make sure they get 50% off in the gift shop.”


It’s hard not to notice that Jason Giambi’s beard stubble is quite gray. Especially since he still dresses like he’s 19.


Pitcher Darrell Rasner smelled something amiss. Very amiss. “Do you smell dog poo?” he asked a gaggle of writers standing nearby. Writers all checked their shoes… nothing. Rasner checked his locker… nothing. Someone was probably pranking someone but by the end of the day the joke had not come out. Later, Chien-Ming Wang and Kei Igawa, who locker right near Rasner, also expressed displeasure with the odor. Sadly, Igawa really stunk up the joint once he got on the mound.


More to come tomorrow and Monday, when we’ll see the Red Sox… or at least who of the Sox make the trip to Tampa and aren’t already packed to go to Japan.

March 13 2008: Live from Tampa

March 13, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Uncategorized

It’s a gorgeous day in Tampa, Florida, today. Sunny and warm and dry, not humid or hot, nor chilly or rainy. And with Spring Training games about half done with, it was a perfect day for some diversion.

Much of today’s hullabaloo revolved around Billy Crystal, who lived a dream for his 60th birthday where he was signed to an actual contract with the Yankees organization, worked out with the team for a couple of days, and then today took a turn in the batting order. He led off the game against Pirates pitcher Pat Maholm, who pitched him exactly like he would any other right-handed leadoff man. A lot of cutters inside. The one pitch he threw on the outer half of the plate, Crystal fouled sharply down the first base line.

Perhaps the best thing about the comedian’s turn with the Yankees was just how serious he took it all. Crystal did not approach this as a media stunt at all, nor did the Yankees. Derek Jeter suggested the idea and was the one to get the ball rolling, but Crystal himself handled it all with grace and humility. He began his own workouts with a hitting coach, Reggie Smith, earlier in the spring, and took batting practice with the Yankees yesterday and today.

Young Cody Ransom gave up his number 60 so that the 60-year-old Crystal could wear it, and also ended up lockering next to the “non-roster invitee.” This meant that although Cody hit a home run today (Aside: A homer I called, when I saw it was Byung-Hyun Kim warming up and I turned to my mother to say “Look for a home run soon.” I’m almost sorry I was right. B. K. is a sweet kid, but he’s never adjusted to the United States nor to major league hitting. Every time it seems like he’s getting it together, something happens like… he gives up a home run and gets Korea eliminated from the World Baseball Classic. For example. On the other hand, he ended up the Winning Pitcher in today’s game, only because the Yankee pitching who follow him were worse.) which put the Yankees on the board after a six inning drought, he had to stand aside wearing nothing but a towel, waiting to get dressed because the media horde were surrounding Crystal.

We also knew Billy Crystal was a “real Yankee” when during BP he had perfected the ability to always be facing away from the cameras. “Most of the comedy today came from Robin Williams who was sitting right by the dugout,” said Joe Girardi. “We could hear him the whole game.”

Mike Mussina wishes umpire Mark Carlson would be behind the plate for all his games. He got a lot of called strikes in the first, and as the game wore on, he looked better and better. He had an outstanding changeup today, and although he was not going to the big yakker as often as he did last Saturday, he threw all his pitches for strikes.

Manager Joe Girardi summed it up nicely. “Moose was excellent today. That is as good as he can throw.”

Indeed, in five innings (64 pitches, 41 for strikes), Moose gave up the proverbial “bupkus.” No hits, no runs, no walks. Five perfect innings. “He was living on the corners, changing speeds,” said Girardi. “Leading me to believe he’s going to have a very good year.”

Some things I noticed in the Yankees clubhouse today.

Yogi Berra does not fall for the shoulder tap trick. Come up behind him and tap him on the right shoulder while you’re actually on the left… and he turns to the left.

Andy Pettitte has what looks like a larger-than-usual box of fan mail waiting by his locker. (It’s still nothing compared to Jeter’s–Derek has a whole separate locker just for his mail.) I have to wonder if the whole HGH-Clemens-McNamee kerfuffle has generated extra mail for him.

What’s up with Morgan Ensberg wearing #21? He’s the first man to wear the number since Paul O’Neill retired, and the longstanding surmise among fans and the media is that O’Neill’s number will be retired. Does wearing the number make it more or less lkely that Ensberg will make the team?

On the whiteboard next to Mike Mussina’s locker, someone with very neat handwriting had written “5 innings + 0 hits = Gutsy.” It was signed “Kennedy.” Presumably Ian Kennedy, the youngster whose stuff is often compared to the Moose’s.

Joe Girardi’s office door is closed a lot more often than it was when it was Joe Torre’s office. That’s because Girardi does not seem to spend much time in there. He grabs his lunch from the clubhouse spread and takes it into the coach’s locker room to eat.

Figures from past dynasties abound. From the 90s, David Cone, Paul O’Neill, and Tino Martinez are all here. Tino threw BP to Melky Cabrera and some other young hitters in the cage under the stands this morning, while Cone and O’Neill both worked the YES Network broadcast today. Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Graig Nettles, Mickey Rivers, and Reggie are all in attendance from the 1970s “Bronx Zoo” crew. You don’t, however, see so many people hanging around from the Yankees’ fallow periods.

Melky Cabrera’s clubhouse nickname is “Leche,” which is Spanish for “Milk.”

On the section of cinderblock wall between Mussina and Philip Hughes’ lockers, Hughes hung a poster that looks like a window to brighten things up. Next thing you know, some of the other guys added a sill and curtains to it, and have decorated around the “window” with vintage gas station advertisements and the like.

After the game, Paul O’Neill came down to the clubhouse, bummed some new sneakers and some workout clothes off the clubhouse attendants and then declared “I’m gonna go get some iron in me.” He was last seen in the weight room.

I’ll be reporting again from Tampa on Saturday, and don’t miss my exclusive interview with David Cone, slated for Gotham Baseball’s web site.

March 8, 2008: Spring Rolls

March 08, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Spring Training

It is raining, freezing and cold here in the North, but I am heartened as I spend this Saturday afternoon listening to Spring Training broadcasts from Florida. As it turns out, it’s chilly and rainy in Florida, too, which is not really what I want to hear, but, well, there are many things about the reports from Florida that one must accept.

I want to hear, of course, that Mike Mussina is sharp, that he’s looking like the pitcher with the glare in his eye who nearly pitched a perfect game at Fenway Park in 2001. I want the news to be sunny, in other words. But although Mussina’s outing is encouraging (2 2/3 inning, one run on a solo homer, two hits, five strikeouts but two walks), it is riddled with missed calls and/or missed pitches.

This has been an ongoing theme for Mussina in recent years, ever since he lost the edge off his fastball and started to rely more on deception. He’s always had a variety of breaking pitches including a big yakker, the knuckle curve, and every other possible pitch you’ve heard of, but he didn’t need to rely on them until late in his career.

It was at a game at Yankee Stadium last year when I was talking with a colleague of mine who is now a top writer for ESPN. We were in a rain delay and sitting in the press box amusing ourselves by talking baseball. I asked him what he thought about Mussina and the umpires. “His pitches are so good, it’s not only the batters who are fooled,” he said.

So how does a man get past the fact that his pitches are so deceptive that he cannot get them called for strikes? The result of all the called balls is more men on base, longer innings, more pitches thrown per batter, shorter outings, an inflated ERA… the list goes on and on. And if he throws more obvious strikes? Well, you have what we’ve seen, which is Moose giving up more home runs.

The one he gave up today was a windblown flyball that the weather ended up carrying over the wall. Overall, Mussina showed the shtuff that will keep him in the rotation, eating up inning at the back end. He’s no longer an elite pitcher, and you won’t see him turning to a syringe to try to chase induction to the Hall of Fame.

In contrast, we have Kyle Farnsworth. Where Mussina is considered hyperintelligent and a respected eminence griese in the clubhouse who throws with finesse, Farnsworth has been viewed as a troublesome fireballer who is at best something of a blockhead and at worst is a total head case. The truth, of course, is not necessarily what is in the papers, but Farnsworth’s awful stats cannot be denied.

Joe Girardi has a history with Farnsworth, though, as he was a catcher with the Chicago Cubs back when Farnsworth was “good.” Wrigley Field is not exactly a pitchers park, either. Girardi’s first task as new Yankees manager (and upon seeing that the only bullpen help he would be getting this offseason was a new mop-up man in LaTroy Hawkins) was to build up Farnsworth’s confidence. The “I believe in you” message has supposedly been drilled into Farnsworth all spring.

And who is to say that is more or less important than the fact that pitching coach Dave Eiland also rebuilt Farnsworth’s mechanics? Eiland identified a hitch in his delivery that supposedly was the reason his ball was up. Indeed, although Farnsworth’s first pitch of the spring went over the wall for a home run, since then the majority of his pitches have been at the knees, right where they should be.

So, maybe some of the news is sunny after all.

By the way, I head to Tampa on Tuesday for my annual trip and will be reporting daily from there. Tune in to Why I Like Baseball for all the news!

February 21 2008: Blood Portents

February 21, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

As I was looking at the rather hematic smudge in the sky last night, it occurred to me that the last time I’d seen the “blood moon” eclipse was in 2004. Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, too. And the Sox themselves won the World Series.

And, as it turns out, they won the most recent World Series, also.

But if I am going to try to use voodoo, feng shui, and the Farmer’s Almanac to predict next year’s winner what signs and portents should I be looking for in the news and current events?

  • While appearing at a rally for Senator John McCain in Arizona, President George W. Bush is bitten by a rattlesnake. Diamondbacks over Texas Rangers in 5.
  • Paris Hilton starts a new rage in fashion when she and her dog begin appearing in public with a bengal-striped hair dye design. Winner: Detroit Tigers.
  • Paleontologists uncover the remains of a human ancestor that turns modern evolutionary theory on its head. Unlike all previous skeletons unearthed, this find shows a pre-homosapiens that is much much bigger than the average human. Winner: San Francisco Giants.
  • Further research into the remains shows that it was a Neanderthal after all, mysteriously pumped up on hormones. Speculation runs rampant that early humans were experimented on by space aliens. Winner: Houston Astros.
  • New Pope. San Diego Padres.
  • Divine intervention: The Angels, wherever they are.
  • The Devil Rays drop the word “devil” from their name and… oh, wait. never mind. They’ve still got no shot.
  • Panda bear breeding program doubles population. Chicago Cubs get hopeful. Then they figure out pandas are not really “bears,” but more related to the raccoon family. Rangers over Cubs in four.
  • Ted Williams is revived from cryogenic freeze and sets out Old_man_and-the-Sea-like solo in a boat to land the big one. He disappears. Marlins over Red Sox.
  • He reappears: Red Sox over Marlins in seven.

February 18 2008: Taking One for the Team

February 18, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings

It seems like Roger Clemens, and baseball as a whole are just going to continue to “take it in the nuts” so to speak as a result of the Mitchell report, so former major league pitcher Mark Littell is right on time with his new product, The Nutty Buddy.

Now, I thought a Nutty Buddy was an ice cream cone coated in chocolate and dipped in nuts. I swear that’s what I used to buy from the ice cream truck that trolled my neighborhood. But Littell has other ideas. He has built the proverbial Better Mousetrap. Well, actually, he’s built a better protective cup.

Before we go any further, you should probably watch Littell testing the product for himself on YouTube. The two-and-a-half-minute video opens with the ominous words: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

In it, Littell takes a shot straight to the business center, from a pitching machine only a few yards away. They have a young blonde woman drop the ball into the machine. My guess it’s because no man could bring himself to do it. Littell, like any good stunt man, has his athletic trainer standing there to supervise the stunt. That poor guy looks like watching what happens hurts him far more than taking the shot does Littell.

The latest craziness in the Clemens soap opera has Brian McNamee’s lawyers practically throwing in the towel in frustration because they believe Clemens will lie through his teeth only to be pardoned by George W. Bush later. They figure if Bush would pardon Scooter Libby for screwing around and lying on matters of actual national security, then pardoning Roger Clemens for carrying on his longstanding tradition of self-centered egoism ought to be a no-brainer. Pun intended.

As for where I stand on the whole issue, I think the whole story has yet to be known. Who “leaked” Clemens and Pettitte’s names to the press as appearing in the Grimsley affidavit? When Grimsley’s testimony was unsealed, their names were nowhere to be found. Is there more going on here than just a drug and cheating scandal? It reminds me a bit of when the Iran-Contra Scandal was unfolding and bits and pieces emerged over time. Except, again, that was a story with actual implications for national security and our government.

I suppose one of the things that makes the Clemens and other baseball-performance-scandal stuff so compelling is that regardless of its relative “importance,” (or unimportance) in the grand scheme of politics and American life, it feels highly relevant. Because people actually care about baseball. For people like me, it’s a part of our way of life, not just a mindless form of entertainment that we could take or leave. Baseball will not be replaced by episodes of “Lost,” Texas Hold ‘Em, or blogging as a part of the fabric of American life. It is important because we make it so, because we care. So, no, I have no problem with Congress spending time on the issue–up to a point. There is a war going on, and the economy is in a shambles. On the other hand… it’s the offseason. I know, I’m so fickle.

To distract myself from political circuses of all kinds, I’m reading the news from spring training and discovering things like… it’s amazing how many YouTube videos come up if you type the words “hit in the nuts” into the Search box. Hey, didn’t they say Do Not Try This At Home? Maybe this is outside the guy’s office:

42 days to Opening Day!

December 23, 2007: Goodbye, Lefty

December 23, 2007 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Interviews

I just heard the news that Tommy “The Wild Man” Byrne passed away. I visited him in March of 2003 and spent a couple of hours at his home talking baseball and in particular recapping that hreatbreaking Game Seven he pitched against Johnny Podres in the World Series. Since Phil Rizzuto died, I’ve been thinking Tommy might go next. Thank goodness Yogi is still going strong.

Since I’m just now re-launching Why I Like baseball under a new URL, I figured I’d remember Tommy by reprinting here the recap of the day we met. He’ll be missed.

Reprinted from: March 6, 2003

2002-2003 OffseasonWhen I arrived at Boston’s Logan airport this morning, the roads were crackling with fresh ice and the forecast was for snow. When I stepped onto the tarmac three hours later at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the air was moist with balmy rain. Folks here tell me it’s unusually cold for this time of year, but you won’t hear me complaining. Suddenly, my brain is thawed and I can think about baseball again. I am here in North Carolina to begin a drive through the the south in search of baseball landmarks.

Ostensibly I am here as research for a novel I am writing, one where the characters will be trekking south in search of a way to reverse the Curse of the Bambino. But as I inhale the humid, lazy breeze I realize that maybe what I am really in search of heart’s ease. Not to go into gory detail on my personal life or state of mind, but this winter has been cold and long.

This has nothing to do with baseball, or does it? I flew to Carolina in the smallest plane I have ever been in. It seated thirty people and the plane was full of men, businessmen mostly, mover and shaker types, from their mid-thirties to their mid-sixties. Them, and me. In that way it was not unlike being in a major league press box. Story of my life, I guess, to be one of the only women in a man’s world. No one seems to mind.

One of the themes of my novel, and indeed one of the recurring motifs in baseball history, is that strange coincidences occur. Here’s the first one of the trip: the rental car they gave me has New York plates on it.

My first stop was Fayetteville, NC. In 1914, Babe Ruth was signed by the minor league Baltimore Orioles straight out of St. Mary’s Industrial School, from the arms of Brother Mathias to Jack Dunn. Dunn had a friend who owned a hotel in Fayetteville and who said he’d put the team up for free if Dunn wanted to bring them down for spring training. The young Ruth, entirely naive about the world, rode on a train for the first time and learned, to his delight, that he was allowed to eat as much as he wanted on Dunn’s dime. His first appearance as a professional player came in an intra-squad game and the home run he hit into the cornfields was of note not only because homers were so rare in those days, but because back then they still thought of the big kid as a pitcher, not a hitter.

Babe Ruth HR markerThe homer was hit at a field on government land, an old fairgrounds, which is now the site of some government buildings and the offices of the highway department. In 1951, just a few years after Ruth passed away, the son of the hotel owner lobbied to have a marker erected on the site. While driving through the historic section of Fayetteville you see quite a few of these historic markers, commemorating poets, soldiers, the sites of historic buildings, and so on. Ruth’s marker is located where it is easy to see from the road and seems to indicate that the actual spot being commemorated is “135 yards northwest”–beyond an impassable chain link fence as far as I could tell.

Now you might be asking, why did I have to drive all the way to Fayetteville, North Carolina to see this marker, to see this historic place, if the place itself isn’t even there anymore? I already know the story of the homer–I know quite a lot more than one can tell from looking at a plaque. So, why go to see it? Right now I’m not sure I can articulate the answer to that question. It may be that if you have to ask the question, you wouldn’t understand the answer, anyway. To me, the answer seems self-evident, but not that easy to explain. I suppose one answer is this: the same thing that drives me to go to visit sites like this, drives other people to put up brass plaques and markers in the first place. It’s important.

From Fayetteville I headed to Wake Forest to meet Tommy Byrne. I spent the afternoon at his house talking baseball with him. When I originally contacted him, I was hoping to put together a feature on him for Yankees Magazine. I had no idea that he had a connection to Babe Ruth, but he does. Byrne was a wild lefthander in the late Dimaggio and early Mantle eras who several times led the league in hit batsmen. He also lost a heartbreaker of a game in 1955, Game Seven of the World Series against the Dodgers. The connection to Ruth dates back further than that, though. Byrne met Babe Ruth when he was only four years old, when he was living in an orphanage in Baltimore. I asked him if he wanted to be a ballplayer. “Every lefthanded kid in Baltimore wanted to be Babe Ruth,” he told me. “And I figured if he could do it, I could do it.” Late in his life, Ruth used to come to Yankee Stadium for Old Timers festivities. “He would always borrow my glove,” Byrne reminisced. “A ‘pud,’ he always called it a ‘pud.’ He’d say to Pete Sheehy the clubhouse man, ‘where is the Baltimore kid’s locker?’ I’d have let him have everything in the locker if he wanted. He could have borrowed a glove from Lopat, we had lots of lefthanders around. But he always asked for me, the Baltimore kid.”

We talked plenty about Dimaggio, Mantle, Don Larsen’s perfect game in ’56, the 1949 pennant race, and the importance of a good change of speed. I also had a gander at some of his memorabilia, including Mickey Mantle’s custom Rolls Royce style pinstriped #7 golf cart. Yes, golf cart. The thing has a built in cooler and stereo sound system. Tommy got it for $6500 in a charity auction and is thinking of donating it to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, if they have room for it. A memorabilia guy in the neighborhood figures it could be worth as much as $56,000. Wow.

On my way out of Wake Forest I stopped at a nearby Appleby’s restaurant which had more of Tommy’s photos and memorabilia on display as tribute to their local hero. Tommy’s wife passed away just a few months ago and he isn’t feeling too good himself lately. “A lot of the old guys are running out of gas now,” he said, when we were talking about Ted Williams and Enos Slaughter (who also passed on recently.) “I’m going to run out of gas myself soon,” he said, “but I hate to give up my hobby.” What hobby? I asked. “Breathing,” he joked. One of the niftiest photos on the Appleby’s wall is an aerial view of Yankee Stadium, taken when Tommy was on the mound, if the caption is to be believed. The photo was taken over fifty years ago, and the Stadium has changed, but the Macombs Dam Bridge, the municipal ballfields, the elevated train line, are all the same as today. It makes it seem like maybe it wasn’t so long ago after all.

For dinner I made my way into Durham, to Bullock’s Barbecue, to meet local baseball writer/editor Chris Holaday for dinner. Bullock’s came onto my radar as a place that features photos of many famous celebrities on the walls, including photos of the game when the Yankees played the University of North Carolina in 1981 and the post-game party that the restaurant catered. Catfish Hunter, Yogi Berra, Bucky Dent, Tommy John, Graig Nettles, Reggie Jackson, and many more are in the photos. That alone would have made it worth the trip, but then there were the best hush puppies I have ever eaten. The pork barbecue, fried chicken, and Bismarck stew were also super-tasty, and a great way to cap off a very busy day.

End of reprint. The rest of the travels can be found at the Why I Like Baseball Archives, Here!

October 7 2007: Playoff Party

October 07, 2007 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Great Games

When the Yankees win at Yankee Stadium in October, it’s the best party in the world.I know it is only the first round of playoffs, and I know they still face elimination tomorrow, but the smiles, cheers, and good times rolled tonight.

We left Boston right around noon, and to keep from getting slowed down, we got take out at our favorite deli in Connecticut, Rein’s New York Deli. Rein’s is a hotbed of Yankee-Red Sox talk, being smack in between the two teams’ territories. Often on my way to or from the Stadium, I’ll sit at the counter and read the sports pages and talk baseball with the people around me. Today, though, it was quite crowded, and we got our sandwiches and ate them in the car while listening to the football Patriots until the Red Sox and Angels came on the radio. The trees are starting to come into their color in New England, and many trees seemed to glow red, orange, or yellow under the gray overcast. Around New Haven, the sun came out, and the weather forecast for the Bronx was for a warm night.

It was about 4:30 when we pulled into Lot 8, right next to the Stadium, two full hours before the first pitch, only to find ourselves going all the way to the roof to find open spots. It being a Sunday, and tomorrow being a holiday, even with the early start time for the game many people made a day of it, beginning their tailgating early. Guys were playing catch on the roof of Lot 8, many grills were going, car stereos were pumping, and a few camera crews were going around getting footage of psyched up fans.

We had a little walk around the neighborhood because our car needed oil, so we walked past many of the other parking lots toward the Bronx Terminal Market, and found them mostly full, too. By 5pm we had oil, and many fancy-looking BMWs and SUVs full of geared up fans were circling forlornly, growing more and more desperate for places to park. I suppose that as playoff games are more expensive than regular season games, it tends to be a more moneyed, suburban crowd, making the competition for what little parking is left now that they’ve torn some of the old lots down even more fierce.

Anyway, it was a party atmosphere for those who had gotten parking.

Once inside the Stadium, we saw the Red Sox had extended their 2-0 lead to 4-0 in the 8th inning… and soon it was 8-0, then 9-0. The poor Angels mustered one, lone consolation run after that, and were swept out of the playoffs. “Gee,” I said to corwin. “That means if we win this game, we’ll be the first team to have been down in their playoff series and NOT get swept.”

All around the Stadium there were people who seemed to be experiencing their first playoff game. The two women who sat next to us seemed to be rookies, as they made several rookie mistakes. First of all, I saw them in the women’s room just before we took our seats, and they were taking turns using the facilities so one of them could hold their freshly bought hot pretzels. Next time I think they’ll remember to use the restroom first before buying food. Second, they were sitting in the wrong section. Our seats are in section six, and their tickets were actually for section four. The season ticket holder who sits next to me covets the seats in section four, so I didn’t say anything. Third, after finishing their pretzels, one of them went to the concession stand to buy beer, but did not bring her ID with her and was refused service. Besides the fact that at least twenty beer guys would be coming by the seats throughout the game.

There also seemed to be a plethora of kids at the Stadium tonight, and no, I’m not talking about Joba Chamberlain and the other rookies on the roster. There were more kids than one usually sees for night games and playoff games, but my surmise is that the early start (6:30 first pitch) and the Columbus Day holiday meant more kids could attend. Also, the ALDS is the one “affordable” level of the postseason. The tickets cost about twice what they do in the regular season, whereas in the ALCS they are 4 times the price, and in the World Series they are 8 times the price. If you’re going to bring a family of four to a playoff game, the ALDS is the way to go.

Of course, there were the actual rookies. Phil Hughes saved the Yankees’ bacon. Poor Roger did not have it. He was struggling with his control from the very first pitch. His nemesis, Trot Nixon, hit a home run off him, and he was not able to finish guys off with 2 strikes.

I almost felt like Alex Rodriguez was a rookie again, because I think the fans at the Stadium tonight embraced him anew. He has had such an incredible season and given the fans so much pleasure and excitement, they weren’t ready to start booing him again just because he hadn’t yet gotten a hit in October. During pregame introductions he got a bigger ovation that Derek Jeter did. I think people realize that you can’t blame Alex for not hitting when Jeter, Posada, and Matsui combined had only one hit among them (Jeter’s) thus far in the playoffs.

When A-rod did manage a base knock in his first at bat, just barely scratching a hit, the crowd exploded. Sadly Jorge Posada then hit into a double play, but at least A-rod got the monkey off his back.

So did Hideki Matsui, who never made an out in the game. He beat out an infield hit in the third, then got the rally started in the fifth with another single. He was walked intentionally in the sixth after Doug Mientkiewicz’s sacrifice bunt, and then walked in the eighth.

Posada also finally got a hit, during the rally in the sixth that was partly clutch hitting and partly Trot Nixon muffing a ball in the right field.

Jeter, on the other hand, is clearly still bothered by his sore knee. He made a bad throw on a play in the first, and went hitless again, hitting into two double plays. He did have one good swing, but unfortunately Grady Sizemore made a great play on it in center. He did have a beautiful bunt in the first that just went foul, but we must hope that is not an emblem for the Yankees postseason… close, but no cigar.

In the 6th, the flashbulbs emanating from the left field bleachers clued us in to the fact that Joba Chamberlain must have been warming up. A few minutes later, the scoreboard confirmed it. Flashbulbs are love. Joba, A-rod, and Mariano definitely got the most bulb-love tonight. Joba had many huge cheers from the crowd, even in his second inning of work where he was less effective and raised everyone’s eyebrows about whether Torre should have gone to … um… Kyle Farnsworth? Jose Veras?

I’m in the car trying to get out of the parking garage as I write this, so my apologies if it has rambled somewhat. People are so happy that they won the game that they are honking their horns in pure exuberance. We’re now listening to sports radio and having a lovely time… I’ll sign off now, and post this when I get somewhere with Internet access.

Go Yankees.

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.

August 26, 2007: Family Feud

August 26, 2007 By: ctan Category: Baseball Musings, Interviews

I woke up this morning from a dream that Dominic DiMaggio had passed away. I’m certain this is my brain still working through the loss of The Scooter in recent weeks. As time marches on, we must necessarily lose the great players who are still living, but those who remain from the generation who played in the 1940s are starkly few in number.

I never had a chance to interview Phil Rizzuto, but I did interview Dom DiMaggio not that long ago. In preparation for yet another Red Sox-Yankees showdown which starts in a few days, I thought I’d share with you some words from a true veteran of The Rivalry and one of the last standard bearers of a great generation of baseball players.

Cecilia Tan: So, your brother Joe played in New York, and you played in Boston, putting you on opposite sides of the rivalry. What was it like playing in Boston?

Dominic DiMaggio: The people in New England are fabulous, just fantastic fans. The Red Sox are their team, and Red Sox nation exists all over the world, not just in the US. Red Sox Nation is everywhere. I suppose there are other teams that have such a following, but it’s nice to know we have so many people in distant places. I get mail from them, from everywhere, got one today from England.

CT: Is there a lot of interest in England? I have a friend in Scotland who follows a semi-pro league but that is all they have.

DD: Perhaps it’s all the inclement weather they have there. Though 56 degree weather is not too hard to take, in San Francisco it gets pretty cold, and we still played there. They probably wonder why we don’t play cricket.

CT: What was Fenway Park like when you played?

DD: Oh, I enjoyed Fenway Park. I enjoyed it very much. I bounced off the wall a number of times but I didn’t try to do anything I shouldn’t have done. They treated me very nicely, there. I lived right in Kenmore Square and it was very convenient to walk to the park. I was single–I didn’t get married until 1948–so I lived at the old Sheraton Hotel on Bay State Road, and then the Miles Standish, and then when I was married we lived out in Wellesley Hills. The area was very nice.

CT: I think both those buildings are university dormitories now. In 1948, that was the year the Yankees were out of it and it was the Indians who went into the one-game playoff against the Red Sox.

DD: We lost that playoff to Cleveland. We lost the game, but at least I was able to get married a little sooner!

CT: You got married right after the season?

DD: Yes, and the World Series would have made it a week or ten days later. Not that I wouldn’t have waited!

CT: I’m sure you would have been great in the World Series, too. In the 1946 World Series you batted third and went 7 for 27.

DD: I batted third that entire year! And that was the only time I batted third. I always wondered why I never batted third again, even though we won the pennant and almost won the World Series.

CT: Did you never ask anyone why?

DD: No, I never did. They felt my value was where they put me. We had some pretty solid hitters and for me to go up and say ‘I want to hit in this spot’ would be ungentlemanly and unsportsmanlike. But Bobby Doerr paid me the ultimate compliment by telling me that if I had been batting down in the lineup I would have driven in 100 runs annually. Being a leadoff man, that was the ultimate compliment.

CT: The Sox and Yankees faced each other pretty often in those days, but was there a particular time you remember? Like the Allie Reynolds no-hitter?

DD: He was a tough pitcher, a real real tough pitcher, tough to face, and a darn good pitcher. I remember when he pitched his no-hit game against us, I was batting, and Ted was the next batter. 2 outs in the ninth inning, and I got a base on balls, and Williams hits the ball straight up–and Berra dropped it! And the next one went right up in the air, too, and Reynolds went right over there to make sure he caught it!

CT: Any other games stand out for you?

DD: Forty-nine. The last two games in New York, we came in from Washington and we should have won the pennant in Washington. We did not, so we went into New York with one game in front and they beat us two in a row.

CT: There was a whole story they tell about how one of those games it was Joe DiMaggio day, your whole family was there on the field with him, including you, and Joe had the flu.

DD: I recall him leaning on my shoulder–he was pretty weak.

CT: Joe’s speech that day ended with the words “I’d like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.” He then went out and got two lucky hits that were the difference in the game.

DD: It’s been really nice talking to you, but it’s my cocktail hour so I had better go.


July 2, 2007: Mechanical Failure

July 02, 2007 By: ctan Category: On Playing the Game

The other day in a game against the Yankees, Shannon Stewart of the Oakland A’s made a weak throw from left field, allowing a run to score and a runner on second base to move to third. The game’s broadcasters mentioned that Stewart’s shoulder is injured, and has been “for years.” How, one might think, could a guy still be playing with such a weakness and why hasn’t he done anything about it?

Well, I don’t know about Stewart’s arm, but I know about mine. And over the past seven years playing in the women’s leagues, my arm has only gotten weaker, not stronger, every year. Stewart probably could hire the best doctors, personal trainers, and kinesiologists to diagnose and treat his problem. He can not only afford all the experts, he can afford to spend hours a day working on his baseball skills. I can’t. I’ve got an acupuncturist, and if I even exercise twice a week right now I’m doing well.

The truth of the matter is that as I age, and as the repetitive strain of daily computer use takes its toll, my throwing actually has been getting weaker. What I found out yesterday in practice, though, was that strictly speaking my arm isn’t weak right now. But my mechanics are all out of whack from years of favoring the elbow pain. And it turns out it’s not just my throwing, but my hitting, too.

Wow. I’ll explain.

I arrived at practice a bit late. Bob told me to take a run around the field for that. Check it out though–I can run all the way around the field (outside the fences) and not die. Last year I don’t think I could have done that. I really am in better shape than last year where I re-injured the elbow in early April and literally didn’t do ANYTHING from then until June 20th when Slaterettes season started. At my age, two and a half months of sitting on your ass definitely puts you out of shape completely.

But we were talking about my arm. One of my tae kwon do instructors pointed out to me recently that I seem to be having trouble extending my arm fully. Even when I reach out, my elbow is staying slightly bent, as if I’m afraid I’ll hyperextend it and hurt it again. I think the rehab exercises I’ve been doing non-stop actually have built up my bicep such that my arm just doesn’t want to straighten. It’s probably been this way for three years at least, but especially since I re-injured it last spring.

Bob took a look at a single throw of mine and said, hmmm. He sent me and another player off to the side to warm up my arm better. We played catch for about 5 minutes, I went back to the infield, took another grounder, sailed another one nowhere near its target, and he did something no coach has done in all my years in the league. He turned the grounder-hitting duties over to Bridget and then he worked with me one-on-one.

We played catch. After only a few throws he came over to show me what my arm looks like when I throw. First of all, it’s bent when it shouldn’t be. I’m not getting full extension. To make up for the shortness of my arm, I’m pushing harder with my shoulder. He asked me, “when you throw a lot where does it hurt?” In my shoulder, of course. I didn’t tell him that last year’s strategy was not to throw at all, and to save the few good throws I had in me for game situations. I made a good throw in the game the other night, too, hitting my cutoff man (by which I mean woman).

We worked on it. I threw a lot, trying to come over the top and extend my arm all the way.

Now, one of the most annoying symptoms of an RSI is that your fingers start to go numb. Funny thing is, I haven’t had much numbness or tingling over the years, but I woke up the other day with two fingers on my right hand partly ‘asleep.’ Which is troubling, but not dire. I hope.

Then he looked at the way I grip the ball. Turns out, to make up for the weakness and numbness in my fingers, I’ve been letting the ball get deeper in my hand than usual so that I don’t lose my grip. If you know anything about pitching, you know that a fastball turns into a changeup when the one thing you change is how deep in your palm the ball is.

It all goes back to that same injury. Shannon Stewart can’t throw? Just goes to show fixing it isn’t that simple. The elbow affects the shoulder affects the fingers affects everything.

We had a fun practice, I worked in the outfield where I’ve been playing mostly the past few years. Thing is, no one has ever told me how to play the outfield. Right field, where I play, is mostly about backing up first base on grounders hit to the left side and on pickoff throws from the catcher. I know that from reading books about positioning. And cutting off line drives in the gap and getting them back to the cutoff man. Not a lot of actual fly balls go that way because the whole league is stacked with pull hitters.

But I still would like to be able to catch a ball if it were coming to me. Thing is, the “instructional” years I worked out with the New England Women’s Baseball League (now the NE division of the North American Women’s Baseball League), I wanted to play second base and they obliged me. I learned all kinds of things about playing the position, and how to field ground balls, turn the double play, et cetera. No one ever taught me to catch a fly ball.

So three of us were standing out there with Bob, and he is hitting us pop flies and liners. And Sam and I were not having an easy time judging where they are going. Bob is another one of those coaches who can’t really place his fungoes–a rare skill–so that means running around all over the place, and sometimes giving up on balls that are going to land twenty yards from you no matter how fast you run.

Finally Bob comes over and says to Sam, “which direction should your first step be when a fly ball is coming toward you?” I’m thinking… toward the ball. She’s thinking it’s a trick question and she says “I don’t know.” Well, the answer isn’t toward the ball. It’s “take a step back.” We all know that when the ball’s to the side of us, it’s easier to catch, because you can gauge the arc much more easily. But when it’s more or less toward you? Bob demonstrated the laziest looking little step back. “Just like Manny’s,” he explained. “If you fall back that little step, if the ball looks like it’s still going up as you go back, you know you gotta run back. If it looks like it’s not still going up, you come in. If you don’t take the step back, you can’t judge the top of the arc just by standing there.”

This is clearly one of the most basic things about fielding one should know, and it’s funny that I didn’t. But hey, like I said, I was supposed to be an infielder. Frank Crosetti’s book on infield play didn’t mention this.

Now, here’s one to add to the list of Weird Baseball Injuries. Not as weird as Paxton Crawford cutting himself by falling out of bed in his hotel, nor that guy who burned his face with the iron while watching ESPN. I scooped up a ball from the grass with my glove, and an insect bit me on the finger. The one finger that sticks out from the glove, you know? Somehow a bug got between the finger and the leather and the sucker bit me! It started to swell up and now as I’m typing this two days later it’s got a hard lump. Like, ouch.

It was about 1:15 by the time we were done in the outfield and we’d all been running around in the midday sun for over an hour. Bob’s next step was to make a run to Dunkin Donuts and buy us all frozen drinks. But that’s not why he’s currently my favorite coach. It’s because he takes the time to explain things and he sees it as worth his time to do so to help individual players improve their skills.

This makes me think we have a good shot to win the league this year. If the pitching holds up. The team is pretty strong defensively overall, and clearly getting better, and we’re hitterish enough that we can always put some runs up.

Once we were sufficiently cooled down and sugared up, we went to the batting cages.

Here, my shoulder/elbow reared its head again. I won’t go into a complicated breakdown of my swing, but two major things have changed. The first one you could guess. I’m not extending my arms enough. Still trying to protect that elbow. Bob suggested I get a brace for it to take the worry out. And two, to try to make up for the shortness of my arms, I’ve opened my stance too much. My feet are starting out far apart and then my stride is nonexistent. It was like I had somehow forgotten everything about my natural swing over the course of last season when I was hitting so terribly. Guess what? I did forget everything about my natural swing. All Bob had to do was point it out.

And now I just have to keep it all together in the game. It’s funny how things you do in practice can go out the window when people are watching. Here we are, a group of 7-8 women, mostly between 20 and 25, clustered around the cage watching each other hit. We were using the slower cage as most of the pitchers in our league are not getting the ball above say 55 mph. Along comes this strapping young hunk. Six-two, college age jock. He gets into the faster cage like he knows what he’s doing.

We weren’t really watching him, not really. We were minding our own business. But we couldn’t help but notice when he swung and missed on the first pitch. When the fast pitching machine wings the ball that quick, and you miss, it hits the pad on the backstop with a loud “boom.”

Boom, boom, boom. He didn’t even foul tip a single one of his first 16 balls. I couldn’t help but notice his face was red as he came out to feed another token into the machine. He jumped right back in there.

Boom, boom.

I said to Robin, “I think we’re making that guy nervous.”

Pretty soon we were all stealing glances over there to see if he was getting any better. I was hoping he’d finally connect with one so we could say “nice hit,” but he didn’t. He ended up leaving without really having gotten much in the way of “batting” practice in at all.

Poor guy. He probably had a game to play that night in his league and had just wanted to get some extra swings in. But it could have been worse. We could have actually been giggling.

No games for me this coming week. I’m off to San Francisco for a wedding and will miss our two scheduled matchups. But I think I may pack my batting gloves. Just in case.

June 28, 2007: Out Standing In a Field (again)

June 28, 2007 By: ctan Category: On Playing the Game

Oh, I ache everywhere, but especially in my forty-year-old legs. Slaterettes Baseball season has begun and I feel like I put the “senior” in the “Senior Division.” I played right field two days in a row. (Who the heck put two games in a row on the schedule? Oh, my aching muscles.)

I’m on a new team this year–the team that was Palagi’s and wore lime green. We don’t know who our sponsor is or what color our uniforms will be this year because… we don’t have them yet. If you have the impression my league is not as organized as it could be, well, that’s because it isn’t. What are you expecting, the St. Louis Cardinals, here? It’s all volunteers who run the league; everyone’s in it for the love of the game. So it’s hard to get angry about stuff like that. As long as we get on the field and play, I could care less if we wore burlap sacks.

Still, it was funny as our team assembled for our first game and I walked up to the dugout actually not sure which of the two teams there that day was mine. Like I said… a little disorganized. “Anyone know what team I’m on?” I shouted as I neared the third base bench, dragging my equipment bag from my car.

“This one,” Lori answered. She’s the one who, when we were in the field would later yell, “Here we go Green! And red, purple, gray, blue… (mutter mutter)”

There’s no point getting worked up about it. I complained to corwin the night before the game, trying to do the drama queen thing. “Damn it,” I said as we were eating dinner, “I better like my team this year. If I don’t, or the coach is mean to me, I’m quitting!”

His answer, “You will not either!”

Which made us both break out into hysterical laughter. “You’re right,” I said. “I obviously just can’t pull off the drama queen act.” Yet another lack of similarity between me and Ken Griffey, Jr. And besides, the first thing our coach did when he saw me was give me a big hug and a big smile.

Anyway, I can hardly criticize. If the league got a late jump on this season’s preparations, I’ve been even worse. I didn’t visit the batting cage even ONCE during the offseason, haven’t looked at the glove or even moved my equipment bag since the last game of last season (though I did take the dirty laundry out). Haven’t even played softee-ball toss with corwin in the hallway or hit the Wiffle ball in the park.

On the other hand, I’m in better cardio-vascular shape than last season. Last year, some of you may recall, I hurt my arm in early April and had to quit working taking class at my tae kwon do school. I was too demoralized about this to pick up some other activity like, oh, riding the exercise bike in my office more than once a month.

Then Christmas came and corwin got dance pads and a game system for Dance Dance Revolution.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, “DDR” is a video game of Japanese origin, in which one steps on specially marked places on the pad (north, south, east, west) as directed on the screen to accompanying hit pop songs from around the world. It’s like aerobics class for geeks, basically, only better, because it’s competitive. Yes, there’s the magic word. No one hands you a score or a grade at the end of an aerobics class, but the game keeps track of your high score and all that.

Am I competitive? P-shaw. Of course not!

Hopefully you all detected the heavy sarcasm coming through the Internet in that last paragraph. I’m so competitive that if I had to chose between playing every inning myself and having my team lose, I’d chose to sit on the bench. The reality of course is that what I ought to do with that competitive fire is make myself into a contributor to the team winning. Now if only I had a little more time to practice, I might be able to do that.

It’s clear to me that physically it’s an uphill battle against age. My fielding skills which were halfway adequate when I started in this league five years ago are now a joke. If I could hit like Jason Giambi, that might not matter so much, but… I hit more like Chuck Knoblauch.

The first game was fun, even if I only got one at bat. We had a lot of players on the bench, so I sat for three innings and played for three innings, but only got one at bat in that time. That’s because it was a low-scoring game without a ton of walks for either team, which made it all the more fun. Our new rival team is last year’s champions, the team in Light Blue. (I’ve no idea who their sponsor was last year, and not this year either.) They are a fun team, and the one that most of the older women in the league have gravitated to. A lot of my old teammates from that Narragansett Electric team of five years back (when we were considered the “old lady” team) like pitchers Brenda and Michelle, are there, and they’ve got one serious stud named Lisa who pitches hard and fast and can hit the ball a ton. If she’s fighting an uphill battle against age, she started out so much further up the hill from the rest of us, we can’t see it.

Bob, our coach, said as we gathered in the dugout before the first game, “Okay, so, this team beat us last year, they beat everyone last year, and that makes me really want to beat their butts.” Okay, he didn’t say butts, but technically there is a no cursing in the dugout rule in our league and I wouldn’t want to get him in trouble by telling you he actually said “ass.”

Well, we went out and beat their ass. How? Two out hits, some good defense, cashing in on some walks that Brenda made, and some calls in the final inning that went our way. They had scored two unearned runs in the first inning, one of them on an RBI triple that Lisa hit. Lisa pitched the first three innings for them, but we scratched two runs off her to make it 2-2. Brenda pitched the final three, and we went up 6-3, but they scored in the final inning and then had the tying runs on with one out.

Oh, so, FYI, we play a six inning game. At one point the league voted to change the rules to make it 7 innings, with strict rules about the need for darkness to end some games before the full seven could be played… but at some point they got overturned and we reverted back to six. With games starting at 5:30, by 7:30–when six innings are typically over–it’s starting to get dim enough that my eyes (and most of the umpires’…) are straining. We’ve got no lights on our field.

So for us “bottom of the sixth” is equal to “bottom of the ninth.” I don’t feel like the last three innings are missing. I feel like the middle three are. Like we play one-two-three, and then seven-eight-nine. For example, for us, by the time it is the fourth, the starting pitchers are starting to get tired, making it more like the seventh.

Anyway, the game ended on a wacky wacky play that I’m not even sure I can describe accurately. It left some players on our team wondering as we lined up to shake hands whether we had won or lost the game. No, I’m not making this up.

There was a ball hit in the infield, a force out was made for the second out but the batter reached, and then we tried to get the runner who was trying for home, but failed, so she was safe, making it 6-5, but meanwhile the batter rounded first thinking about trying to take second while the business at home was taking place… but Bridget, our catcher, gunned he ball to first, and the batter was tagged out while trying to get back to the bag. End of game.

May I say right now, Bridget is awesome. She was awarded MVP of the league in a recent year–it might have been last year or the year before, I can’t remember. She’s also the one who pegged me right in the chest on the day Rob Novotny came and ran the tryout-clinic for the 24 Hour Game. We were supposed to be practicing the flip-to-second on the double play. I used to play second base, remember? She was at short, got the ball, and instead of the soft flip, she sidearm winged the ball hard from ten feet away and hit me square in the sternum. Oof.

I think she was just nervous from us going first and everyone watching. Can you believe that was in 2003? Four years ago. She also used to pitch and I used to hit her pretty good.

She was a star in the league then, and is a star in the league now, and she’s also grown up a lot. I’m not sure when she converted to catching, but in our league the two most important things to winning are a strong catcher and a couple of pitchers who throw strikes.

Anyway, we won the game 6-5, which might be the first time a team I’m on won our first game. The year I played for Narragansett Electric we lost the first game and then pretty much didn’t lose another one. The next year Diane, our coach, quit or was run out of the league or whatever that drama was (I never did get all the details), and Paula took over but we lost all our previous pitchers to one thing or another, had no catcher, and had to pull a couple of teenagers out of the junior league to fill out our roster. We lost every game that year, as I recall. I hit and played well, and was voted an All Star, but I’d rather have the team win, and thanks to that experience I can say that with authority.

The next two years were with Shove Insurance, which Paula’s ex-husband Todd coached the first year (their daughter Megan was our catcher) and last year Todd seemed to split the coaching duties with Dave. But Megan’s off to the military now, and Dave’s daughters are off to other things, and so Shove was broken up and the players, like me, were scattered to other teams.

So the league is at four teams again, after a brief expansion to 6. The last time we were at four, the schedule was nice and neat. We each team played two nights a week, Monday-Wednesday on one week, Tuesday-Thursday the next, in rotation so everyone played everyone an even number of times.

This year, it’s a four team league, but although we played our first game on Tuesday, on Wednesday–which was yesterday–we played again.

Did I mention my legs hurt?

No one was in as good shape the second day. Still no uniforms, and so our players were still in the shirts and caps of past years, though the team we faced seemed to be all in yellow shirts. All except Kayla, another of Todd and Paula’s daughters, who arrived one minute before game time in Bridget’s car–Bridget who we were also waiting for as it’s hard to play without a catcher. They were on an all day trip to Six Flags; Bridget had the most amazing chlorine-frizz hair. Good thing the catcher’s equipment hides it.

It’s a nicely loose team, in large part because Lori, our resident True Jock, keeps everyone laughing. This is one of my old teammates from Narragansett Electric, and she plays hockey in the winter, plus a laundry list of other sports. She’s the best bench jockey I know. Now, in our league, we’re actually prevented by rule from shouting insults at the other team, though there is some good-natured banter going on across sides from time to time. Which means what it comes down to, if you’re going to make fun of the other team, you do it inside your own dugout without letting anyone but your teammates hear.

I’ve decided I ought not try to reproduce our bench talk. Because you might get the idea that we ladies of the diamond are an uncouth lot, or worse, that baseball is a detriment to our feminine comportment.

Did I mention we won this game, too? Shannon and Becky pitched in the first game, three innings each, and were great. Remember what I said about how any pitcher who can throw strikes can do well in this league? It helps tremendously that the team has overall good defense, too. Well, second game, Sarah pitched four and Nora two, and we won, I think, by a score of 5-2. It was 5-0 going into the ninth–I mean, the sixth–but they had their best hitters coming up, they did get a couple, but we stopped the bleeding in time. Again the game ended on a non-standard double play, in which a fly ball was caught and then the runner on first, who had taken off without waiting to see if it would be caught, was doubled off.

We are in first place.

Okay, so I was going to end the entry there, and then I realized I never said a word about what I did personally at the plate.

In the first game, I only had the one at bat. I haven’t seen live pitching since last August, and haven’t even been to the cage. Brenda was on the mound. The first pitch was a ball, the second one was so far inside I not only had to get out of the way but the catcher had to reach out for it–but it was called a strike. I then swung at the next one about an hour before the ball got to the plate. The one after that, I swung only a half hour before it got there. A little anxious, are we?

Before the second game I cadged Crystal, who was on Shove with me last year, to do a wee bit of soft toss for me, just like 10 balls, and I made contact with 9 out of ten. Okay, so my hand eye coordination is NOT 100% shot. The result? I made contact with the baseball in all three at bats.

The first at bat was the worst, in which I popped up between first and the catcher and got another one of my patented Bizarre Base Hits. The ball ended up dropping just fair and then got kicked by one of the opposing players into their dugout. So I got a hit and then was awarded second. I’m not sure if that counts as a ground rule double or an error. The runner on third was awarded home, the one on second got third, etc. I don’t know if I got an RBI for that or not. All I care about is we got a run. See? Good things can happen when you make contact.

The next time up I grounded an outside pitch up the first base line but right to the first baseman. (First basewoman?) Bob’s comment: “Good idea, but… well.” And the last time up I hit a pop fly into short left which sounded pretty solid off the bat, the best “ping!” I’ve gotten in a while, but it was caught. So that makes me 1-for-4 on the season, I think. Which puts me already way ahead of last year when I didn’t get a hit until our second-to-last game. That was one of those Bizarre Base Hits, where the ball went up the third base line, stayed fair, they waited for it to go foul, it hit the bag and then went into foul territory and eventually into the dugout on that side… meanwhile everyone was running, scoring, et cetera, except me who had overrun first and then went back and stood there waiting to find out what the heck happened. They say you should run until you hear the word “foul” and well, I never did since the ball never went foul!

That wacko hit broke my oh-fer and the next day I went four-for-four. And that was the last day of the season.

Bob’s taking us all to the batting cages on Saturday. He says I have a hitch in my swing, which is something new for me. I know I’m still jumping at the ball and swinging too early, too. So maybe we work these things out, and I go on a hitting tear. I can hope.

June 3, 2007: Community Values

June 03, 2007 By: ctan Category: Baseball Fans and Fandom, Yankee Fan Memories

I had dinner last night at Dominick’s on Arthur Avenue, a Bronx Italian-food institution where there is no menu, they only take cash, and there’s an hour wait for a table for dinner on Saturday night.

While you wait, they send you upstairs to a bar-equipped waiting room where the television is, of course, showing the Yankees if they are playing.

Last night as we climbed the steps up to the waiting room, Doug Mientkiewicz was on the ground being examined by Gene Monahan, the Yankees’ team trainer, and the lead had slipped away. In the time it had taken us to walk from the car to the restaurant, the score had gone from 6-5 Yanks to 7-6 Sox.

“What the hell happened?” I asked a guy sitting at the bar, but he was A) Clearly not from New York as he seemed taken aback to have a stranger talk to him. (Get used to it, buddy.) and B) Not a Yankee fan, as he hadn’t the foggiest idea.

So I asked the bartender instead. “Got his bell rung,” he answered. The game was on Fox TV, so I knew we’d see the reply of what happened many times over, so I stood at the TV, rapt. Soon there was a small crowd standing there with me. All the waiters from downstairs, and some of the cooks, had drifted up one at a time to see what had happened.

They were wondering, I’m sure, not only what happened to Dougie Mientkiewicz, but what happened to their season? For that matter, what happened to Derek Jeter?

“He hit the home run, you know,” one of them told me.

“There’s the captain. There he is,” said another as a shot of Jeter appeared on the screen.

“Yeah, but, it was him threw that ball away. Cost them the game right there,” the bartender said.

As if on cue, a replay of the double-play ball to short ran on the screen. Jeter stepped on second, whipped his body around… the throw was low. Mike Lowell was a freight train.

“Terrible, just terrible.”

“Who was pitching?”


“Him, I like him. Good kid.”

“He’s the one hit that guy last night!”

“Just protecting our boys. I like him. Good kid.”

“There’s the captain.”

And so it, went, a running commentary more musical and relevant than the blather Tim McCarver puts on. Jeter made another error, letting in another run. A ball dropped in front of Melky–a sac fly.

“Where’s Bernie? Bernie plays shallow. Bernie makes that play.”

The intercom from downstairs buzzed. “Table 33, table 33. Is Proctor still pitching?”

The bartender answered no. Bruney was in by then. “Who else we got out there?”


“You’re not bringing him in with them losing. That’s crazy.”:

“I think there’s still Luis Vizcaino,” I put in.

“Myers,” one of them answered.

And indeed, Myers was coming into the game. He even brought the inning to a close.

“Thank God.”

“That’s it. They’re not catching up.”

“Too much. What they gonna do?”

“Game’s over.”

The game was, indeed, over. Vizcaino did come in, to a chorus of negative comments from the staff, and let up another run. It was 10-6 and the Yankees were down to their last out when our table number was called. We trooped dutifully down to our seats and had a wonderful meal. I had the best veal piccatta I’ve had in years–possibly ever–and stuffed artichokes to die for.

As we were leaving the restaurant, I said good night to our waiter. “Don’t worry,” he told me. “Tomorrow, the Yankees are gonna win.”

That put a smile on my face. This losing business is new to us. We’ve had a winning team–a division winning team, in fact–for over a decade. The pleasure that comes in riding the horse in front, or even a horse in the pack and not trailing 13 lengths behind, is not there for us this year.

But the pleasure of following a team and of sharing that experience with others is still there.

“We’ll get ‘em tomorrow,” I said, and stepped out into a warm Bronx night.

May 22, 2007: Warming Up

May 22, 2007 By: ctan Category: Yankee Fan Memories

Who knew that winning two games in a row would feel so darn good? Maybe it’s like hot and cold. They say if you put one hand in cold water and one hand in hot water, and then put them both in the same bowl of lukewarm water, the cold hand will think it’s hot and the hot hand will think it’s cold. Maybe this is just another one of nature’s ways to point out that it’s all in your point of view.

For example, Alex Rodriguez. he was undeniably baseball’s hottest hitter in April. A historic tear. Maris-in-1961 pace. Then he came back to earth a bit, especially as concerned the home runs, which he hit as many in April as any major leaguer ever did before (15), and then dropped off to the proverbial nuthin’. Immediately, he became a bum, in many people’s eyes.

But then he hit two homers in two days. As he came to the plate last night, ESPN noted the helpful stat that he’d had 2 homers in his last 8 at bats, but had only one in the 82 at bats before that. I call that some slump, said the bartender who was pouring me a healthy serving of club soda. Wait-a-second, I said to him and the other folks sitting with me at the bar* where I took in the Sox/Yanks contest. But he’s still hitting .311 and…

Before I finished my sentence, he hit a ball all the way to the left field bleachers, of a hanging knuckleball right at the top of the strike zone. It is amusing to note that the homer he hit the night before, in the game against the Mets, he hit off a pitch at the very bottom of the strike zone. Dave Campbell on ESPN Radio pointed out at the time that “A-rod seems to be handling those low pitches, but he’s looking terrible at those ones up in the zone.” Well, apparently when they are only going 65 miles per hour, he can handle them just fine.

Alex is just the emblem, though, of the entire Yankees’ team. The offense carried them in the early part of the year, when the pitching was awful. Then the pitching started to stabilize, but the bats went cold. Alex had a slump. Giambi has a bone spur. Matsui hasn’t gotten going just yet. Cano and Abreau have both been mired in slumps. Jeter and Posada have been hitting great–they are numbers one and two in the batting leaders’ list in the American League–but Posada has been doing a lot of it with luck. He’s hit more dunkers and bleeders that have made it through the infield than I’ve ever seen. But hey, luck is just as good as skill in the final outcome.

Luck is one thing the Yankees are still lacking. After Jeff Karstens faced only two batters against the Red Sox a few weeks ago, and then left the game with a broken leg, young Darrell Rasner just suffered a near identical fate, only this time it was two batters and then a broken finger. Philip Hughes was pitching a no-hitter when he popped his hamstring. It’s almost enough to make one say the word “jinx.” Tyler Clippard had an excellent outing against the Mets two nights ago, notching his first major league win, his first major league hit, and maybe he will even start shaving next week. But I worry that his next start it’ll be two batters and then a broken toe… if the previous rookie sensations are any indicator.

But still, two wins in a row, once against the Mets to avoid the sweep, and one against the Red Sox to whittle down their lead to a mere nine-and-a-half games. It feels like the Yankees are heating up, but what I cannot tell is it merely because of how darn cold they’ve been?

I don’t care. I’ll take it. The weather is beautiful for a change and they are going to win tonight. I hope.

*The Forest Cafe on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, Mass. Best baseball talk and Mexican food in the Boston area, bar none.

April 29, 2007: Odds on Evens

April 29, 2007 By: ctan Category: Baseball Musings, Yankee Fan Memories

One of the baseball adages oft-repeated by grizzled third-base coaches and Little League parents alike is “it all evens out.” Those screaming liners that were caught, robbing a hit, even out by those soft dribblers that the infield can’t get to.

Well, Yankees fans and Red Sox fans alike know that the disparity between the two teams’ championships is unlikely to ever “even out.” A popular shirt in the Bronx reads “Got rings?” and points up the difference between 26 and 6. But this is little consolation to citizens of the pinstriped empire as their team as of this morning had lost seven in a row, including four meetings in a row now with these same Boston Red Sox.

In the opener of this three game set in the Bronx, the Yankees did everything wrong. Their one so-far reliable starter, a man with an ERA under two and what would have been a 3-0 record had the bullpen not blown two leads (one against These Same Boston Red Sox a week ago), was Andy Pettitte. Was. Pettitte spit the bit and did not make it through five innings. The bullpen was not much better, with Sean Henn being the only one to put in an effective performance.

The sight of Joe Torre going out to take the ball from Mariano Rivera was shocking for its rarity and demoralizing to the crowd, who–like Red Sox fans of the past–seemed determined to sit through every slow minute of the excruciating loss. The offense provided very little to cheer about, their only “rally” coming courtesy of Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had a bout of wildness in the fourth and walked three men in a row.

In other words, although the rain stopped during the night, it was a very dark day for Yankees fans on the morning of the second game. Don’t forget Bobby Abreu’s slump, Johnny Damon’s balky back, and Derek Jeter’s sore leg from being hit by pitch in Tampa Bay. Alex Rodriguez had to come down from the stratosphere sometime. You know it’s bad when the one good thing the offense can talk about from the past few days is that Jason Giambi is taking the ball the other way.

The Yankee starter was slated to be youngster Jeff Karstens, coming off of arm stiffness that had kept him from the Opening Day Roster, against Sox veteran Tim Wakefield. Veteran may be a bit of an understatement in Wakefield’s case. He currently has won more games in a Red Sox uniform than anyone but two men: Roger Clemens and Cy Young. Karstens meanwhile still counts his major league service in innings (47). He faced These Same BRS last week, didn’t get out of the fifth, and earned seven runs for his trouble.

It was with all these clouds of doom and gloom, both metaphorical and literal as rain showers threatened, that Karstens took the mound for a nationally televised Saturday game. At least the temperature was pleasant, and any weekend day at the Stadium is a treat whether the team is winning or losing. The cheers were long and loud as the starting lineup was introduced. Ice cream and beer were served in copious quantities to Sox fans and Yankees fans alike as the stands filled up.

Given the overworked state of the bullpen–leading the American League in relief innings thus far–the Yankees hoped for a long start from Karstens. Unfortunately, on the very first pitch of the game, Julia Lugo hit a line drive back and Karstens, who took the shot off his leg and fell off the mound looking as though he had been shot. Infielders, team trainers, coaches and umpires gathered around. After a bit, Karstens stood up, threw a few test pitches, and was allowed to pitch to the next batter, Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis got a hit, and Torre came to take Karstens out. It was later revealed that Karstens had faced Youk with a broken leg. (For those of you who watch ER and love your medical jargon: cracked fibula.)

Embattled Japanese import Kei Igawa came on to relieve. It was only a few days before he had been told he was being demoted to the bullpen while Karstens, whose control had been better than Igawa’s, would be in the rotation. Fate, though, placed Igawa on the mound against the Sox anyway, but this time with a two-runner handicap.

Igawa was at his best. Although he did walk three in his first three innings, he held the Red Sox scoreless through six, departing in the seventh with the game in much the same state as it had been at this entrance. Two men on, no outs, and no score. He induced Big Papi to ground into two double plays and to pop to first. And he dealt out six strikeouts, three of which came on three pitches.

But no pitcher can win without offense. The Yankees had their usual spasticity against Wakefield, putting various men on by the walk and scratching some hits, but having trouble cashing them in as the ball fluttered unpredictably toward the plate again and again.

Leave it to Jorge Posada to make the difference. Even though Jeter reached base five times (three singles and two errors by Mike Lowell), Giambi and Abreu had four more walks between them, it was Jorge who finally squared up a Wakefield pitch, sending the ball into the upper deck in right field. Matsui was on at the time (also by base on balls), making it a two run shot. Jorge was responsible for the insurance run, as well, walking to lead off the sixth, moving to second on a comebacker to Wakefield that might have been a 1-6-3 double play if the pitcher had handled it cleanly. Melky Cabrera followed with a pop fly remarkably similar to one the Trot Nixon hit in an extra innings game at the Stadium in July 2004. That one Derek Jeter raced over to catch just shy of the foul line and then fly into the stands to save the game. This time, three Sox converged toward the ball, but it hit the grass untouched and bounded into the stands–a ground rule double. Jorge therefore scored, and Wakefield’s day was done.

The Sox got a run back off Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth, but although he put the first two men on, after a mound visit from Gator, Farnsworth threw strike one consistently and managed to escape the inning giving up only one, setting the stage for Mariano Rivera in the ninth.

Rivera is to the Red Sox as Pedro is to the Yankees, a dominating pitcher who has an outsize number of losses to the rival team for no explicable reason. The Sox have beaten Mo numerous times, including once just last week.

Not this time. Mariano returned to form, aided by one truly great defensive play from Alex Rodriguez. If the night before, they had done everything wrong, this afternoon the Yankees did everything right, including a terrific catch of a foul pop off the bat of Big Papi by Jason Giambi, who was only playing the field so that Johnny Damon could have a day at DH. Giambi reached into the seats to snare the ball, off balance but determined not to give Ortiz another swing.

It would turn out to be Mariano’s first save of the year. Igawa would be awarded the win and a spot in the rotation. The only person who went home unhappy was Jeff Karstens, whose broken leg will keep him on the shelf indefinitely.

Someone should tell him that it will all even out.

March 10, 2007: Simple Pleasures

March 10, 2007 By: ctan Category: Spring Training, Yankee Fan Memories

It was a tidy little game at Legends Field tonight. The Yankees scored four runs in the second, in a nine-man inning kicked off by Alex Rodriguez. Alex had a much better day than Wednesday, tonight playing flawlessly in every respect both offensively and defensively. Also, everyone in the audience–in my section anyway–noticed that tonight he played with his socks high.

I speculate that this is in solidarity with–or perhaps just symmetry to–Doug Mientkiewicz, A-rod’s high school buddy and Yankees first baseman, who wears his socks high as a matter of course.

Technically it isn’t a player’s “socks” that are high, it’s the hem of his pants, raised to show more sock. But “high socks” is still the name for that style. It’s a style associated with dirt dogs, speedsters and old school players who can bunt and execute the hit and run. In recent years many of the big sluggers have adopted the opposite style, the “pajama pants” look, in which the hem hangs down over one’s endorsement-contract shoes (see Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds, et. al.)

The pants/socks probably didn’t help or hurt. Alex led off the second inning with a single, moved up on a wild pitch, tagged and went to third on a fly to center, and then came home on a fielder’s choice. The Yankees went on to score three additional runs that inning. In the third, which he also led off since the Yankees had batted around, he hit a line drive but was robbed of a hit by a nice play from the Devil Rays’ shortstop, some kid named Ben Zobrist.

He also made two great plays in the fifth–he meaning Alex Rodriguez, not Zobrist–spearing a humback liner and then on the next play a great diving stop to his right, pegging the throw to Mientkiewicz, whom I shall call Minky from here on because that name is using up too many letters. Alex walked in the bottom of the inning and was replaced by a pinch runner.

On other news, Minky uses the Miami Vice them–the old one from the TV show–as his at bat music. Don’t know if he picked it or if the scoreboard department did. And someone must have read my column from the other day… several people updated their at bat music. Derek Jeter added Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” which seems a truly weird choice for him but it’s got a cool riff.

Jorge Posada hit a home run off Rays righthander Jae Kuk Ryu. The amusing thing to note about this homer is that the first two swings he took, on the first two pitches, Jorge looked about as awful as a hitter can. He worked the count full though, and then tagged the next offering hard, just fair, and just hitting the top of the wall to go out for a dinger. I am guessing that once he had seen all the kid’s pitches, he picked up something that tipped him off to what was coming on the one he walloped. Jorge’s good like that.

And we got a look at Juan Miranda, the Cuban defector. he has a dangerous, slugger-like demeanor at the plate. Meaning that when he worked the count to 3-2 with the bases loaded and two out, everyone got excited. And that it was perfectly in character that he then struck out.

And then there were fireworks, paid for by the Yankees, for the simple fact that it was Friday night. The pleasures of the spring are simple ones.

March 7, 2007: Sprung!

March 07, 2007 By: ctan Category: Spring Training, Yankee Fan Memories

At Legends Field tonight, people were complaining of the cold. The temperatures were in the mid-sixties, the wind on the cool side. Speaking as someone who left Boston yesterday where it was eight–yes (8)–degrees with a wind chill of minus-thirty, all I can say is: hah! It’s lovely here in Tampa and don’t you forget it!

The game, like the temperatures, was not so hot, being scoreless for seven innings, but as any newcomer to Spring Training quickly learns, winning and scoring runs is not what its about.

The excitement began tonight long before the first pitch, when the buzz going through the savvy Yankee fan crowd was that the man in the faded orange hat sitting down by the Yankees’ dugout was Roger Clemens, in the house to see his best bud Pettitte toss a few frames. As Pettitte warmed up, it was time for many in the audience to get reacquainted with the lefty.

“Man, he’s got long legs,” the man sitting next to me remarked. “I had forgotten that.”

“Yeah, but his ass is fatter than it used to be,” was my irreverent reply. Actually, Pettitte’s hindquarters were pretty chunky the last time he wore pinstripes, too, ever since he and Clemens became workout buddies and Andy started building leg and lower-body strength like the Rocket’s. But we’ve collectively forgotten that, too. What we remember is that greyhound-skinny kid with the Texas twang taking the mound in Yankee Stadium with the snow falling during the Home Opener in the magical year of 1996.

The game’s first moment of excitement came on the second batter Pettitte faced. Pettitte, for those of you re-acquainting yourselves with him, is a ground ball pitcher who was known for his nasty cut fastball before Mariano Rivera was. Pettitte saws off righties the way Mo does lefties, and the bat of Cincinnati’s Chris Denorfia sheared off in his hand. The barrel of the bat helipcoptered straight at Pettitte, who hit the deck but managed to snag his hand on the bat as it went by, immediately shaking it in pain. The predictable conference on the mound then followed; Pettitte stayed in.

Pettitte isn’t the only one I re-acquainted myself with tonight. So many little things which fade from ones mind during the long cold winter return vividly on a night like tonight. I had forgotten the storm of flashbulbs that come on every Jeter at bat. The way Hideki Matsui paws at the ground in the batters box, his eyes on the horizon, as he prepares to hit. Giambi’s immense cuts.

And it seems like almost everyone is still using the same at-bat music from last year. There are so many songs I only know 15 seconds of.

Pettitte started to look shakey in the seconds, prompting nailbiting about the possible flying-bat injury, as he loaded the bases with no one out. The clichŽd thing to say in the dugout at a time like this is “Oh, a strikeout and double play and we’re out of it.” That is exactly what Pettitte then delivered, and he would have had a one-two-three third inning too, if not for a crummy throw by Alex Rodriguez.

Chalk this one up as “another tough day in the life of Alex Rodriguez.” How else do you explain that a scrub like Bubba Crosby, who is now with the Reds, got a bigger ovation upon entering the game in the eighth inning than A-rod did when coming to bat in the second? Everyone loves Bubba, a scrappy little player with a lot of heart, a guy for whom the expectations are low. With A-rod, the expectations just keep getting higher. But it wasn’t mere skewed perception on the part of the fans; tonight, it really seemed like that 13 on his back was a jinx.

He led off the second inning with a ringing double. But he was thrown out at home plate on the very next play when third-base-coach hesitation may have cost him his chance to score. He came up with two out and two on the very next inning, and struck out looking. Meanwhile, what would have been the third out of the third, he threw up the line, and his high school buddy Doug Mientkiewicz was unable to apply the tag to the runner. Pettitte walked the next batter but was able to escape unharmed. In the fourth he made a play where the out was made, but he looked absolutely wrong-footed while doing it. For any player, that counts as a bad day, but for A-rod, where everything he does is magnified, it simply looks worse.

Repeat after me: It’s only Spring Training.

You see, if Alex had not been thrown out at the plate, the Yankees would have won the game in dramatic fashion in the ninth inning, 2-1. Instead, they merely tied the game in dramatic fashion. You see, reliever Luis Vizcaino looked impressive in the eighth except when he faced Joey Votto, when he gave up a solo shot. Meanwhile, Elizardo Ramirez, the fifth Reds pitcher of the night, held the Yankees scoreless in the seventh and eighth, just as the four pitchers who preceded him had.

Elizardo, which looks like it ought to be Spanish for lizard but as far as I know isn’t, finally tired in the ninth. A passel of “Yankees” wearing numbers like 93 and 64 scratched a run off him and gave the crowd the most excitement they’d had all night. The “Let’s Go Yankees” chant went up. And when Brett Gardner, wearing number 91, worked the count full with the bases loaded, two outs, and the score tied at one, the entire crowd actually got to their feet cheering for him to take ball four (or get a hit, but really, we weren’t that optimistic).

It was the climax of the game, for sure. Unfortunately, it was also a called strike three, which sent the game to a very anti-climactic and uneventful tenth inning, after which the contest was called a draw.

All I can say is, it beats doing anything in a minus-thirty wind chill.

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