Tag Archives: yankees

Nick Swisher Renews My Faith

Nick Swisher has renewed my faith in baseball players. For years I’ve thought of most baseball players as being too busy, too focused, or too impressed with their large contracts to pay much attention to the fans. Yesterday I attended the Nick Swisher autograph signing at Sports Express in the Livingston Mall, where I waited almost two hours for my Swishalicious minute.

It was worth it.

Check out the pictures from the event. Swisher is smiling in every single one. He had just played a game, cleaned up and gone from the Bronx to Jersey in time to sit for two hours with a sore biceps (on his signing arm). And he smiled, and talked to fans, and mugged for pictures. I asked how his arm was, and he replied, politely and positively. I think he signed about 500 autographs last night, and even though I was near the end of the line, I didn’t feel short changed at all.

Swisher even adds a moment of clarity to the “pointing to heaven” gesture after a hit: he does it in honor of his grandmother who raised him. It’s certainly not a religious gesture, otherwise how would you explain the Devil’s horns he’s making in my candid with him? He’s a guy who knows where he came from, where he’s going, and how to have fun. Not a bad set of morals for any player.

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Counting the Growth Rings

Sports fans most definitely mark time by sports seasons, and clearly associate events staggeringly good or bad with particular slices of our life. The 1969 Mets are what I remember from 1st grade; the 1972 Pirates-Reds National League Championship Series marked the beginning of understanding sadness in sports; the Devils won their last Stanley Cup the first year my son played travel hockey. But like financial prognosticators who picked stock market direction based on the conference affiliation of the Super Bowl winner, I have specific memories of World Series events and their perceived impact on my life.

1969 World Series: Miracle Mets, watching from Miss D’Amico’s first grade class on a black and white set perched on her desk, lights turned off, 25 of us clustered around the 12-inch screen to mark the first time I ditched school (or work) for a sporting event. My fascination with baseball cards started that following spring, collecting pasteboard memories of what transpired at the beginning of the school year.

1977 World Series: Yankees win, Reggie Jackson is Mr. October. I had put away my baseball cards the previous spring, upon graduation from middle school. I remember watching it with my cousins, amazed that they had such passion for the Yankees, not quite appreciating the magnitude of Jackson’s performance. It was likely the first sports event I can claim to have watched as a young adult.

1979 World Series: Pirates “We Are Family” series, Willie Stargell leading the black and gold to another championship, preaching unity before “diversity” was in the vernacular. In the fall of my senior year in high school, baseball was less interesting than college applications, dating, and doing statistics for the football team. My fascination with Stargell had faded a bit, into the mental left-center field gap, but came back front and center in the last Fall Classic I’d watch while living in my parents’ house.

2000 World Series: I watched the Yankees win from the comforts of a higher-end hotel, where I was addressing a dot-com high-flier the next morning. I remember seeing Sun Microsystems (my employer) stock jump the next morning, along with a basket of other technology stocks I owned. I sold only to be reprimanded by my manager for not believing the stock would continue its rocket ride. Just a few days, later, SUNW hit an all-time high, and since that day it’s been a remarkably difficult period to be a Sun employee or shareholder.

My personal definition of “lost decade” is that stretch from the Yankees last adding a ring until tonight. The World Series can’t make the market go up, or improve corporate earnings, or find jobs for all of my friends who have been displaced in the past year. Furthermore, there’s nothing I (or any other fan) personally did to propel the Yankees through the season and postseason. But for everyone who is a fan, who has been marking time since the first year of the double zero decade, the years marked with naught in every conceivable sense, there’s a bit of a halo effect that we’ll enjoy for a few weeks. It’s a nice way to wrap up the last season of this decade, bookending the way it started.

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One Shining Moment, Every Season

My friend Claire always wonders what makes us love sports so much. By “us”, of course, she means guys who have severe Claire-attention deficit problems when a game of even minor interest is broadcast over television, radio, internet, or via grunts and hand signals nearby. I’ve thought about her question for close to four years, much more so this past hockey season as each time the Devils lost, I sunk into a foul mood that even Ben & Jerry’s could not redress.

I think the answer hit me after the Devils decided not to show up in Philadelphia last Friday night. We love sports and sporting events because, for a short time, we do not distinguish between the players and ourselves. When they win, we win; when they lose, we lose and feel anguish; when they flirt with disaster our heart rate skyrockets and when disaster is averted by a goal post, poke check or shot that sails wide, we breathe easier on our way to the bathroom or beer cooler. What man hasn’t personally felt (or at least imagined) the cold ground striking the back of Charlie Brown’s head as Lucy snaps the football away from him? Even in cartoons, we time share with our favorite players.

I think this self-identification is part of the charisma that drives March Madness to ever increasing levels of public visibility. You can be a fan, an alum, or just a long-shot bettor on a school that doesn’t get so much as an ESPN Bottom Line score during an entire academic year, but once you make the Dance, everybody wants to be you if only for a little while. It’s also why all men tear up, ever so slightly, as CBS rolls “One Shining Moment.” We get to trade mental places one more time, and when the clock strikes midnight all of the Cinderellas, young and old, begin to dream of next year’s ball.

I came to this deep, Ganesh-given insight thanks to Bubba, who noticed my funk on Saturday morning. “Even if the Devils don’t do well in the playoffs,” he argued, “another season starts in the fall, all over again.” That was it. We love sports on a tribal level, wearing the colors, designs and marks of our alter egos, but we also love them on a temporal level. The seasons change – football, hockey, baseball, vacation, as the joke goes – and yet things don’t age as long as we have a fresh scoresheet, an empty stats page and an entire schedule of games to fuel our double lives.

Now that college basketball has been safely tucked away for the summer, it’s time to truly focus on the rites of spring: Passover, NHL Playoffs, and the disaster known as the Yankees bullpen.

The Bronx is Churning

It’s been a few days since Joe Torre’s implicit dismissal as the Yankee skipper, coming full circle with Joe Girardi’s filling the managerial jersey today. I’m still flabbergasted by this move: Torre was micro-managed from above (like he couldn’t figure out how to pitch Joba Chamberlain himself?), was given horrible resources to manage (his pitchers either sucked or were ancient or both, with the exception of Chamerblain), and had to deal with the media circus known as Alex Rodriguez. And he made the playoffs, again, as he did every single year he was in the Bronx. Normally I’m not a big LA fan, but go get’em Joe, and return some of that Dodger blue pride to the La-la-valley.

Then there’s A-Rod. The picture says it all — I snapped this one coming out of the Hynes/Convention Center “T” stop on the Green Line in Boston, halfway between the hub of the universe and Fenway Park, the true heliocentric point for the sun shining on Red Sox Nation. Why would the Sox want A-Rod? They actually won two World Series titles without him, and seeing how much Rodriguez failed to contribute in terms of baseball performance or on-field leadership, he’d only reverse the winning curve again. What on earth are A-Rod and Scott Boras thinking? That fans stop caring after the last regular season game? That someone who shelled out thousands of dollars on season tickets, and then doubled down for the playoffs, is going to think it’s fair that their signature player checks out for the postseason? The Yankees offered him more than he’s worth, which isn’t atypical, but somehow Boras thinks A-Rod can get more money for more years somewhere else. Loyalty, anyone? What difference will $3-5 million a year make for Rodriguez? Please don’t tell me it’s about the money, or providing for his future after baseball. It’s not about loyalty. Maybe it’s about where A-Rod thinks he can chase Barry Bonds’ record, and he’s shopping for a ballpark, not a team. That I could understand because it fits his public persona so well.

In the warped universe where I’m a baseball GM, here’s how I’d sign Rodriguez: give him a nice base above where the Yankees pitched, but with a negative performance option: Miss the playoffs, and he’ll forfeit the amount that would have been paid by season ticket holders for the divisional and league championship series home games. Get knocked out in the division series, and forgo the LCS home season ticket holder revenue. If you average out to 3.5 home games, $100 a ticket, and 15,000 season ticket holders, that’s $5.25 million a round. And that money would go directly back to the season ticket holders (if the team signed him it clearly had the cash to spare, all I’d be doing is redistributing it to the people who really lose when someone isn’t a team player.

Lonely In The Slot

Vinny Lecavalier was quite lonely in the low slot, waiting for a pass from Prospal that turned into tonight’s game-winning goal. Listening to the game on XM radio (sometimes rental cars aren’t thoroughly horrible) I could only get the Lightning version of events, but it didn’t sound so great for the Devils. Sutter commented after the game that there was a lot of “standing around,” and if it’s possible to hear nothingness on the radio, I did. Devils sounded good in the first, adequate in the second, and then deflated in the third. I think Oduya is showing some of the form that got him scratched in the playoffs.

It’s only one game. But it’s an opening night loss, and in a game that the Devils should have won. Coupled with the Yankees smelling like old cheese, and the fact that the Rangers managed to score one goal for each of the fingers I gave them in the third, it wasn’t a good night for this fan. The only solace: Gomez stayed off the Rangers’ scoresheet.

Choking Into The Winter

Stick a fork in the Yankees. They’re doing their best Atlanta Braves imitation, consistently winning the division and then failing to advance in the post season. This season’s choke-fest, though, was spectacular: They went without a run for 20 consecutive innings. Want to call a turning point? How about A-rod failing to do anything – anything at all – with the bases loaded in Game 2, at home, in front of a crowd that so very much wants him to be a hero.

The Yankees need pitching. They need to get Sheffield out of the infield, and maybe to the golf course permanently. More than anything else, they need leadership. Not “Jeter, the captain,” but someone in the club house who will step up and be the consistent performer; the player willing to do the work every pitch of every game. No whining about tags. No whining about called strikes. Sacrifice flies when they’ll break a tie, personal attention discarded in favor of team contribution.

At the 2000 All-Star Game in Seattle, my son was wearing a Texas jersey with “Rodriguez” on the back. Not A-Rod, but Pudge. Pudge, who put in his time in Florida, and then went to Detroit where he did the work through a few miserable seasons. We got some jeers from Seattle locals still reeling from A-rod’s departure for a Texas-sized contract — our four-letter word of choice was Ivan, not Alex or something else thrown our way.

I ignored the economics talking until I had a chance encounter outside the player’s hotel with A-rod. He walked by, spotted the two of us in our baseball finery, and kept walking. No autographs. No effort to reach out, literally, to the fans. All about A-rod.

I’d wager that Steinbrenner pays part of A-rod’s contract in an effort to deal him elsewhere. You can’t put a price on disappointment.

Ouch, Hideki

Ouch. I’m not normally too much of a wuss when it comes to seeing people get mangled on television, but watching Hideki Matsui fracture his wrist last night almost made me revisit my dinner. This is horrible for Matsui – here’s a guy who doesn’t complain, shows up to work hard and play great baseball every day, hasn’t missed a day of work in about 10 years (how many people do you know who can say that?) and he breaks his arm while making an extra effort to take away a hit. Surely, it’s bad for the Yankees too, and the rumors about Torii Hunter are at gale force now, but this calls for some major sympathy for Godzilla.

Under the best of circumstances, he’s back in mid-August, possibly for the playoffs (if they’re in the Yankees’ future this year), but let’s just hope he’s back. For all of us weaker Little Leaguers who were stuck in left field game after game, Hideki Matsui is something of a patron saint (how’s that for mixing your metaphors). I’ll appeal to any other saints anyone feels are appropriate to get him back in one piece.

A-Rod and 10 Year Olds

Yesterday was one of those very cool days when things just seemed to go right. Unless you were wearing pinstripes in the Metrodome, in which case they went wrong at the wrong times.

We had our first Little League game yesterday, after losing a week to rain and school vacations. After opening up leads of 11-2 and 15-8, our opponents closed the gap to a few runs in the top of the 6th (and final) inning. Bases loaded, one out, and it was a 1-run game. We got a force at home, thanks to some smart fielding by our first baseman (10 years old) and catcher (recently turned 12). Next ball was rapped sharply back up the first base line, picked up and used to tag out the runner by the same first baseman, game over, final score 15-14. Snack bar treats enjoyed by all.

I wish A-Rod could have seen this, for two reasons. First of all, the sports media widely reported that A-Rod was particularly hard on himself after the Yankees blew last night’s game in the Twin Cities. I can’t fault him for wanting to win, but I can dislike his grimace at the plate. When he came to bat in the later innings of the game, he looked like he’d had a steady diet of pain and suffering for the past week. In the words of Willie Stargell, my original baseball hero, it’s supposed to be fun. Play ball, not work ball, right?

The second reason A-Rod needs to lighten up is that he’s a role model as a Yankees star player. Kids (most kids) look up to him, try to mimic him, want to be him. If he’s faulting himself for not being perfect, what does that say to the 10-year old pitcher who gave up six runs in a half-inning? Sports reveal our character, according to John Wooden, and we should make sure the character traits so exposed are those we want the next generation of ball players to emulate.

Here’s my advice to A-Rod: on your next off day in the Bronx, go watch a Little League game. Go check out the 10-12 year olds on the 60-foot diamond, the batters who hold up their right arms to the ump like Jeter or run their fingers through the infield between plays, dirt like Posada or Cairo. Tell them it’s perfectly acceptable to make mistakes, as long as you’re a team player and always exhibit good sportsmanship. And before anyone dismisses this as wishful thinking, let me point out that I’ve seen Patrik Elias on the little league field fences, watching a softball game, cheering politely while signing autographs and being a good role model. Sometimes it’s good to remember how and why we started playing sports.

Our kids mirror our behaviors, professional or amateur, big league or little league, on TV or in front of it.

Being a fan

I’ve received at least a dozen e-mails asking me if I’m donning the sackcloth and ashes now that the Yankees’ season is over. I’m not. Sure, I’m disappointed that the pinstripes looked like pinheads dropping four straight, but it was good baseball and rounded out an exciting season. I don’t own the Yankees; I don’t play for them; I don’t manage the team (not even in an online fantasy league). Losing doesn’t take any money out of my pocket or even upset my career options for next season.

I was watching Game 7 of the Yankees-Red Sox series while having dinner with Claire Giordano, Queen of Various Open Source Projects. Claire spent some years at Brown University so she’s a de jure citizen of the Red Sox Nation, although she can claim plausible deniability. Claire asked me point blank “What’s the big deal? Why do you care so much?” Claire is very, very perceptive, and secretly rejoicing about the Sox.

Nearly a week of thought later, I think I know the answer. It’s not borne out of bringing accolades or profit to ourselves. Sports give us a way to mark time, and through each small victory we notch our personal timelines. It’s significantly more plesaant – but no more important – than remembering where we were during major events or national crises. I can recall each detail of my viewership of Game 5 of the 2000 World Series. It coincided very closely to the top of the dot-com bubble, but I remember more about Tino Martinez than stock prices or hot companies.

Even in current times of free agency and rosters more closely resembling stock portfolios rather than a community sampling, allegiance to our local – or favorite – baseball team allows us each spring to hope eternal.