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Archive for July, 2008

July 15, 2008: All-Star I Was There

July 16, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Great Games, Yankee Fan Memories

One of the things I relish most about experiencing baseball live and in person is the ever-present possibility that I might see something special. Maybe something that’s never been done. Maybe something historic. Everyday baseball is full of possibilities like that. Postseason baseball of course creates special opportunities for it. And the All-Star Game produces a unique set of circumstances that pretty much nearly guarantees something special.

Put the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium, in the final year of the building’s existence, and you create an even more unique situation.

But ultimately it was the play on the field that distinguished the 79th All Star Game as an unbelievable “I-was-there!” experience.

And yes, I was there.

The details of the game will be analyzed and recorded in a thousand places. I know because not only did they have to build an auxiliary press box in the outfield loge (like they do for the postseason), they built a third one around section 20 in the upper deck, way up under the roof. So perhaps I should not even try to detail all the amazing things that happened…

But then I think that so many of the reporters there are limited to a certain number of column inches. How many of them won’t even mention Ichiro’s amazing throw from the right field corner to nail the batter trying for second? More of them will probably mention that Dan Uggla set a new record for the most errors in an All Star Game, racking up three (and also striking out three times and grounding into a double play).

I should back up first, I suppose, and say a few words about the FanFest that went on down at the Jacob Javits Center. corwin and I slept late, then headed out after a terrific breakfast of bagels and lox courtesy of our gracious hostess (who would join us at the game later). We decided that what might seem like a high price to pay to park at the Stadium (thirty bucks) actually seemed reasonable for all-day parking in New York, so we drove to our favorite lot (which was already open at 12 noon) and parked, and then took the D train from the Stadium down to midtown.

FanFest might best be termed Tchotchke Fest. The sheer amount of stuff we acquired might require a blog entry of its own. Actually, I’m sure that it will – suffice to say that by 5pm we were tired out and laden with many bags of goodies. We made our way back to the Bronx and put all the stuff in the trunk, then still had time to grab some excellent Dominican food before going into the Stadium.

For a while I was worried that the game itself was going to be overshadowed by the pregame buildup. For this grand sendoff for Yankee Stadium, they did a special pregame introduction, position by position, of all the living Hall of Fame players. So that meant the Yankees like Reggie and Yogi and Goose (who’ll be inducted next month), but also Bill Mazeroski, and Henry Aaron, and Luis Aparicio, and even Earl Weaver.

Even Lee MacPhail, who I hadn’t even realized was still alive. MacPhail was the architect of some seven World Series championships and I think also served as president of the American League. I’m writing this entry in the car at 3am on the way home from the game, so I have no Internet to check my facts with, and hardly any brain to recall them with in the first place.

Sheryl Crow sang the National Anthem. And there were four ceremonial first pitches, from the four living Hall of Famers whose plaques feature a Yankees hat, Yogi, Reggie, Whitey Ford, and Goose. They were caught by the four Yankee All-Stars of this year: Jeter, A-rod, Mariano, and Joe Girardi, who was on hand as a coach.

A B-2 Spiirt Bomber did the flyover at the end of the anthem and was pretty nifty.

There were huge cheers for anything Yankee-related, and boos so loud for Manny and Papelbon that the concrete under my feet vibrated. Papelbon apparently mouthed off in the preceding 24 hours that he, and not Mariano Rivera, ought to close the game. That’s patently ridiculous for a number of reasons, and even the New York setting and the respect due to Mariano for other reasons aside, Mo’s numbers this season alone blow Papelbon’s out of the water. 23 for 23 in save situations, and until a week ago had not allowed any runs at all in those saves.

As things turned out, with the game going into an extra innings situation in which each manager was down to the last pitcher in his bullpen, no one got a save at all. Papelbon got booed roundly and was greeted during his mound appearance with chants of “Mari-ano!”

During the first inning, the Bleacher Creatures did the roll call for three men only: Derek Jeter, A-rod, and Bobby Murcer.

In keeping with the All-Star theme, and things like bringing out all the Hall of Fame players… during the traditional “YMCA” dragging of the infield the actual VILLAGE PEOPLE came out and performed it! There were a lot of little touches throughout the game which were purely Yankee Stadium. They did the “match game” but with All Stars instead of Yankees (though of course it was Alex Rodriguez whose face they were looking for), but there was no Cap Game. There was Cotton Eye Joe in the 8th, but no Subway Race.

While I’m on the topic of the scoreboard, I have to say that the scoreboard department did not acquit themselves like All Stars. I can only assume that various things were impeding their normally flawless work, like maybe the plethora of All Star media and rightsholders, and all the out-of-routine things that had to happen at various times. There were a few times when the wrong stats appeared on the board, things like that. The worst night, though, was had by Jim Hall, the announcer, who has been Bob Sheppard’s understudy for many years and who has been doing all the announcing since Sheppard fell ill.

He mangled several names, calling Justin Morneau “Monroe,” and getting Justin Duchscherer’s name utterly wrong. He also had trouble following the game at times, announcing the next batter when the original batter had only gone to get another bat after a foul ball broke his—things like that. All the substitutions were a problem for him, too. Apparently, I could follow the changes better just by watching, without the aid of any scorecard (or even any idea who half the national league players were), than he could.

But the game!

The game. For a long time the AL just couldn’t get any offense going. They had given up single runs twice, and with the score 2-0 going into the seventh, J.D. Drew hit a two run shot to tie things up. But Papelbon gave up a run to huge disapproving boos, and it took a rally in the bottom of the eighth, including an RBI double from Evan Longoria, to even the score again.

That meant there would be no save situation. Because just a simple win with a Mariano save simply wasn’t a good enough story for the final All Star Game in Yankee Stadium. No. Instead, an epic battle that included amazing defense (making up for horrible defense), incredible pitching, and the total exhaustion (pun intended) of both rosters ensued, which would turn out to be the longest All Star Game by clock time by a wide margin, and would tie for the longest at 15 innings.

In the end, Terry Francona had to pitch Scott Kazmir, who was supposed to not be used, and Clint Hurdle was down to the closer he had saved until the end, Brad Lidge. Kazmir would get the win, Lidge the loss, when the AL finally managed to push across a run. It was 1:37 in the morning, and we had already sung Take Me Out to the Ballgame twice by then (the 14th Inning Stretch) AND had a second round of Cotton Eye Joe.

Huh, I totally forgot to mention Josh Groban’s totally smarmy rendition of God Bless America. Ronan Tynan can beat you black and blue any day of the week, Groban.

There’s more to say but I’m starting to nod off. And I had better take a nap, since in another 50 miles or so, I’ll have to drive. Suffice to say it was well worth the high price of admission when such an amazing game is played!

Home now—it’s six a.m.–and I’m going to sleep… thankfully today and tomorrow, too, are off days for the Yankees! zzzzzzzz….

July 14, 2008: Home Run Derby!

July 15, 2008 By: Cecilia Tan Category: Baseball Musings, Great Games, Yankee Fan Memories

Well, now I have proof that the Home Run Derby is even better live than it is on television. And I’ve always enjoyed it on television. Tonight I sat in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium and watched at least 106 balls sail out of the park. And that’s not counting batting practice!

We arrived at the Stadium around 5pm, managed to park in our favorite parking lot, and then headed out to find some food before being at the mercy of stadium concessionaires for the next six hours or so. What we found first, though, was a large Nike-sponsored amusement area, with a batting cage, PlayStation 3 setups for MLB: The Show, and souvenir stand. We amused ourselves there for a bit, then moved on to the pizza joint we like. Sitting in the back in the air conditioned area of the shop, eating Real New York Pizza ™ — the likes of which cannot be gotten in Boston where corwin and I live – I counted fans of no fewer than five major league teams, including the Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees (of course), Mets, and a large contingent for the Twins.

Outside the Stadium Chevy was running a promo where if we answered a survey about our car-buying habits, they would give us a free DVD about Yankee Stadium. Score!

Once inside, we wandered around the Main level for a while, watching batting practice. The American League was taking their practice then, and we hung around in the box seats watching that for quite a while. We were about to go off to see if they would do Designated Driver signups on an All-Star night (they do) when we realized Alex Rodriguez was about to bat. We decided to wait.

It was worth the wait. A-rod put on his own personal home run derby, launching the first ball that I have ever witnessed go into the upper deck in LEFT. Many of his shots were mammoth. It was impressive and really made me wish he had decided to do the Derby, but on the other hand, I would rather see him hit 25 more homers this season than see him hit any in a meaningless exhibition.

After that, we collected our free Designated Driver drinks and headed up to our seats.

There is lots of entertaining hoopla around the derby, of course, one piece of which is the introduction of all the Major League Mascots. Wally the Green Monster got one of the loudest boos I have ever heard at the Stadium. Yankees fans are already anti-mascot (an early 80s experiment with one was a horrible failure) but add to that the Red Sox connection and, well, the result was predictable.

Meanwhile, there is some stuff that makes it feel not that different from other special game days, like of course there is the National Anthem, and Reggie Jackson threw out the ceremonial first pitch. His catcher was Derek Jeter, which prompted a loud, unified, “Derek Jeter” chant from the fans.

The first contestant in the derby was Dan Uggla, whom I love just for his name, plus I’m partial to hard-nosed guys who make the most of their shot. Uggla, in case you don’t know or remember, labored in the Diamondbacks minor league system for years until he was left unprotected by them and went to Florida in the Rule V draft in 2006. That same year he was picked to be a reserve on the All-Star team, and has torn up the league since. He broke the ice immediately with a blast to left, and racked up a respectable 6 homers in his first round.

In between almost every hitter (or at least each pair), there are commercial breaks in the TV coverage, so for people in the stands there are all kinds of other filler, including video montages, various people being given charity awards and such, and little interviews with players. The on-field host for the event was Michael Kay, and at one point he interviewed Mariano Rivera. Mo is so soft-spoken half the time you cannot make out what he says anyway, and this time there was no chance since the fans broke into a quite loud and unified “Mariano” chant.

The man who would get the most and loudest chants of the night though was not a Yankee. Oh sure, there was a very strong chorus of “ass-hole, ass-hole” at the umpire who ruled that one ball which was going to fall short of the wall, but which was grabbed by a fan Jeffrey Maier style, was not a home run. But the thing that really raised goosebumps was the hitting of Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton is already MLB’s feel-good story of the year. A 1999 draftee, with a near-$4M signing bonus, he was working his way through the minors with his parents in tow in an RV. They had quit their jobs to follow his career. But a car accident resulted in injuries for his mother and his parents headed home to recuperate. On his own, Hamilton ended up falling into drug addiction, and then out of baseball from 2002 through 2005. He worked his way back, then was left unprotected by the then-Devil Rays and was taken by the Cubs in the Rule V draft. He’s bumped around a bit since then, but as a Texas Ranger this year he has been phenomenal, winning the starting center field job out of spring training and tearing up the place since.

We saw almost every major league team represented among the fans tonight. I never did see anyone wearing either Diamondbacks or Washington Nationals gear, and for the AL we saw no one with Seattle Mariners, Oakland A’s, or LA Angels stuff. I imagine we’ll see more of them tomorrow, but at least 50% if not more of those in attendance were Yankees and Mets fans. Since there was neither a Yankee nor a Met in the derby, the crowd quickly adopted Hamilton as our own, when one of the first homers he hit banged off the BACK WALL OF THE BLEACHERS. That got him a standing ovation, and while people were still on their feet for that, he hit one that hit the BANK OF AMERICA sign! Five hundred feet.

He hit them into every part of the ballpark. The upper deck in right. The bullpen. The “black.” He was also the hitter who came closest to hitting the “HIT IT HERE” sign, which if he had would have meant MasterCard had to pay some lucky fan a million dollars. He never did hit it, but he came within 50 feet of it, and the crowd stayed on their feet for most of his incredible 28 homers in the first round, a new single-round record for the HR Derby. Between pitches, he received one of the greatest honors a Yankee Stadium crowd can bestow, which is the rhythmic chanting of one’s name. For about a half hour or so, Josh Hamilton was adopted as an honorary Yankee.

The rest was mostly anti-climax, fun but not the incredible show-stopping performance that Hamilton’s first round was. In the end, too, because of the way the derby rounds work, Hamilton lost the final round to Justin Morneau, 5-3. Morneau is the guy I was betting on (though not with actual money…), so that is kind of neat. But in the end I was as won over by Hamilton as anyone.

Now we hope he smashes a couple more balls like that in tomorrow’s game. More to come! I’m going to FanFest and then to the All Star Game itself!

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