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April 27 2001: Comings & Goings

apr25I parked my car at Yankee Stadium recently, when I wasn’t going to a game. Why? Well, where else can you park your car in New York for eight hours for only eight dollars?

I had driven down to the city from Boston to do a reading for the New York Review of Science Fiction that night, plus I had a lunch meeting. After lunch downtown was over, I had about six hours to kill before the reading, which was way up at Columbia University. I got on the Deegan to go north and realized–hey, Yankee Stadium is only two exits up from here…

My parents are getting ready to retire and move to Florida in a few months. I guess that means New York won’t be home anymore.

Or, maybe my home away from home now is the big ballpark in the Bronx. I pulled into Lot 8 around three in the afternoon last Wednesday. I was there before Derek Jeter, Don Zimmer, and Bob Sheppard. I know because I saw them walk from the player parking lot to the press gate.

Jeter appeared to arrive in the same car with Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada and I thought: carpooling to beat the traffic? saving the environment? For some reason I can picture the three of them arguing good-naturedly over what CD to play on the way to the park. Then again, if Jeter is like me the rule is: my car, my choice.

Much is made of the fact that baseball players are “normal”-sized people, especially when compared with other athletes. Yeah, okay, so they still tend toward the taller percentiles, but they don’t tower like basketball players, don’t hulk like football players (except for the ex-footballers like Glenallen Hill). On the field and on television they look like they could be your neighbors or your co-workers. But baseball players never look more normal than they do when they are in street clothes.

In the middle of a homestand like this, the guys are driving their own cars and wearing casual clothes. David Justice was in what looked like a matching zippered denim jacket and jeans, rock star’s day off wear. Roger Clemens came in sporting a white visor on his head that, knowing Roger, was for golf. But after watching a lot of local sports on cable at my folks’ last weekend, I couldn’t help but identify it as a women’s softball visor.

The very last player to arrive was, of course, Andy Pettitte. Since he was starting that day, he arrived at his leisure, a starter’s prerogative. Pettitte may have been working out like a maniac with Clemens all winter, but he’s still built like a greyhound, his straight leg jeans not the slightest bit tight and his oversize blue sweatshirt hanging loose off the frame of his shoulders. He waved a hand toward the autograph hounds and fans behind the fence at the press gate, but he did not smile or take his eyes off the path in front of him.

The Stadium may be like home, but someone is always redecorating and the residents are constantly changing. After Pettitte went in, I made my way to the subway and noticed that the David Cone Adidas billboard had been replaced with a big, boring Budweiser. A few train stops later I was in Manhattan.

Here’s the real reason why I parked at the Stadium. Oh sure, it’s very convenient to just hop on the Deegan there, take that through the various parkways to the Hutchinson north. And as I said, where else could I garage my car all afternoon and evening for eight bucks? But I had been thinking, hmm, if the reading gets started on time, and I don’t linger, I can get back to the car around 9pm, and see the last three innings of the game…

But that was not to be. I put the game out of my mind while at the reading. I read four or five short selections, answered questions, autographed books, schmoozed with colleagues–I had a good time. When I reactivated my cell phone as I walked back to the subway, though, I saw that it was almost ten thirty and the game was probably over.

When I emerged from the D train onto River Avenue hordes of fans were heading for their cars. I was afraid to ask who had won, because I was guessing that the Yankees had lost. The crowd didn’t seem unhappy, just subdued, too quiet for the team to have won. I stood at the traffic light waiting to cross and finally asked a clean-cut guy going the other way. My heart leaped for a second as the guy stammered, “The Yankees… no, I mean, Seattle.” Sigh.

I hadn’t had dinner and I had a four hour drive ahead of me. I walked around the Stadium toward the press gate where the vendors were folding up their umbrellas and rolling their carts back to where ever they park them every night. One young guy was still serving hot dogs to three women–I got in line behind them and got the very last foot-long of the night.

I ate it while standing among the faithful watching the players emerge from the Stadium. It seems hard to believe, but it was the first time I had stood at the press gate both before and after a game. And I guess I had never really thought about it before, but it had never occurred to me previously that the players would wear the same thing home that they had getting there.

Jeter and Tino were together again which left me wondering how Jorge was getting home. There was Justice, who gave a quick wave to the fans as he hurried out to the lot. It was a thin crowd along the barricade that night, only one person deep with very few people crossing the entrance. I have seen other games, sold out weekends with rowdy crowds where bouncers would grab Derek Jeter by the elbows and rush him to the gate like a rock star leaving Madison Square Garden. Not tonight. Don Zimmer, almost hairless without a baseball cap on, received a cheer.

Pettitte had on the same serious look, the same jeans, same sweatshirt, as earlier. He’d tried a little too hard to be the stopper that night, and overthrew the ball. At least, that was the opinion being expressed on the radio when I got into my car. Pettitte had been the last to arrive, and was just about the last to leave. His car was a few ahead of mine as I pulled onto East 157th Street. I wondered where he lived during the season. Every ballplayer has at least three homes, his home field, where he lives near it, and where he lives in the off season.

I did the drive to Boston in four hours straight and I did not stop the car until–again–I too was home.

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