Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Happy Yankee Elimination Day!!! (My Tongue Is In My Cheek)

Unlike Christmas, it doesn't just seem like it comes earlier every year.

9/23/08, 9:56 EST, the Red Sox beat the Indians (and Cliff Lee!) to officially put the nail through that uncharming concrete box in the Bronx.

But I must give the devil his due, as the organization handled the last game with a touch of class not usually seen from the team with 26 championships. That's right, the Yankees have 26 championships. It's not a well known fact, but it's true. 26. When I went to the Stadium last May I had to ask an usher how many they'd won because I had no idea nor were there any signs informing me that the Yankees won 26 championships. Twenty-six. None this century, but who's counting, right?

Yogi Berra's always a cutup and dispensed some wonderful, Zen-like wisdom. Even my grandfather, who hated the Yankees when they had Babe Ruth, always spoke fondly of the other number 8.

Also, they were smart enough not to invite Roger Clemens. What did you spend that silver on, Rog? Oh, right, it was in the Mitchell Report.

But, it must be said that I'm a sucker for history, and I'm glad I was able to see Yankee Stadium and Shea before the call of wrecking ball, so in tribute to the dying structure, I'll revisit the top ten moments in the history of Yankee Stadium and five from Shea (half as old, half as many).

Yankee Stadium

10. May 5th, 2000: Martinez v. Clemens

A classic pitcher's duel, with Pedro and Roger matching zeroes for eight straight innings until Nixon unknots the tie in the ninth with a two-run blast. Pedro finishes his shutout. Roger would become more famous later that season for throwing more than baseballs.

9. October 2nd, 1963 : The Jewish Kid Fans 15

After watching his performance in game one of the World Series, Casey Stengel is said to have declared, "Nevermind Walter Johnson, that Jewish kid is the best I've ever seen." Or something like it. The start of what would be one of only two World Series in which the Yankees could not win a game. Yankee fans later boo Roger Maris, as was the style of the time.

8. August 31, 2004: Tribe Wins By Three TDs

Some say this Yankee team didn't have heart. They were right, and come October we found out just how much.

7. October 10th, 1980 : Faster Going Out

Rich Gossage tries to blow one by Royal's 3B George Brett and ends up getting whiplash watching the ball sail into the stands. Brett's homer gives the Royals a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish and brings Kansas City's AL club their first pennant. After winning back-to-back titles in '77 and '78, the Yankees were beginning what was to become their longest drought (17 years) without any of those 26 championships. Yes, twenty-six.

6. August 4th, 1985 : Terrific Indeed

The greatest New York pitcher since Mathewson threw for McGraw's Giants wins number 300 in the Bronx with the White Sox. Overflowing with Mets fans, Stadium-related violence drops remarkably, only to rise again the next day. Remains the only game in Yankee Stadium history in which none of the crowd was charged with assault and battery.

5. October 9th, 1960: Wait 'Til Pittsburgh

The overmatched Pirates show the Yankees that heart and determination are more valuable than greenies. Vern Law and Roy Face hold the Yankees to two runs (after scoring 26 in the previous two games), setting up the magnificent game seven in Steel Town with Maz's famous home run. Mickey Mantle cries on the plane back to the Apple because he didn't want to live in a world where the Yankees only had 18 World Series Championships. That's right, 18.

4. October 3rd, 1956: Everything's Perfect

Don Larson throws the only perfect game in World Series history. In an unrelated matter, umpire Babe Pinelli is later declared legally blind.

3. October 25th, 2003: Beckett Turns Summer To Fall

Josh Beckett, probably only 13 or so at the time, throws shutout to end the Series as the Yankees let slip that elusive 27th World Series Championship. Free agent deluxe Jason Giambi drives in only one run the entire Series and later apologizes for something, but couldn't say what. I say it was his performance here.

2. October 19th, 2004: ALCS Game 6

Down three games to none, the Red Sox, riding the back of the all natural David Ortiz, win two in Fenway and force the LCS back to the Bronx. There, Curt Schilling, pitching with a bloody red sock, stymies the Yankee batters for seven innings before Arroyo and Foulke close it out, with some help from A-Rod. A little known fact about this game is that Rodriguez later complained to the umpires about "entrapment," insisting that previous violations of the rules by the Yankees went unpunished in the postseason (e.g., 1996 ALCS game 1, 1999 ALCS game 4) leading him to believe he would also go unpunished for similar offenses. Thankfully, his complaints fell on deaf ears.

1. October 20th, 2004: ALCS Game 7

Baseball's first reverse sweep. Ever.

William A. Shea Municipal Stadium

5. October 17th, 1999: Grand Slam Single

Robin Ventura's titular blast forces the LCS back to Atlanta, where the Mets might have had a reverse sweep of their own had Kenny Rogers not pitched with such clean hands.

4. October 10th, 1973: You Gotta Believe!

Tom Terrific and Tug pitch the Mets past the Big Red Machine and into their first fall classic since the Miracle of '69.

3. August 20th, 1985: Doc

Twenty-year-old ace Dwight Gooden strikes out 16 Giants en route to his Triple Crown sophomore campaign. My mother doesn't follow baseball with the dedication that my father and brother do, but ask her and she'll be able to tell you why they called him Doc.

2. October 27th, 1986: A Mets' Town

Game 7, as one of the great teams in baseball history brings a second title to Queens. Game 6? I don't know what you're talking about.

1. October 16th, 1969: Talent, Not A Miracle

After eight years in the cellar, the Mets climb out and stun the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Four Hours In Phili, All At The Ballpark

When it comes to the Phillies, there are two ways to look at it:

1) As Tom Petty reminded us, even the losers get lucky sometimes, and no team has ended more games with that moniker than the City of Brotherly Love's beloved baseball team. Over one hundred years and just five pennants to show for it. The Yankees have won that many in the last ten years. Or...

2) But there it flies. 1980, the Phillies beat a better Royals team and finally bring a diamond championship to Philadelphia. While some writers have referred to this as a bit of a false spring, as the team hasn't won any since, they've certainly been more competitive since, winning pennants in 1983 and 1993. Since '79, only the Cardinals and Braves have won more, and the Braves have as many championships to show for it. And at least they don't have the honor of being the worst team to ever not lose a World Series, which would be the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.

No, I don't like the Cardinals, and you will hear more about that next week. But first, let me tell you how I ended up passing through Phili for a game.

My father has brain damage. Not severe enough to warrant constant supervision, but he has no depth perception, suffers from periodic, intense headaches, and cannot fly on airplanes. He technically can, but should the cabin depressurize (they are called accidents because they're unplanned) then he could die. As a result, he always travels by train or car. Andre Dubus wrote that flying is not true traveling, it is merely a change of location. My father, a New Englander like Dubus later became, seems to appreciate the gradual alterations in landscape that accompany an earthbound journey. Much like the cadence of seasonal changes that is an alien concept this far West, but which he always speaks of fondly. In Los Angeles county, there is no hot or cold. Days are merely warmer or cooler than the day before.

So when my uncle got a nice deal on a house in Cape Cod for a week, he was kind enough to invite my family (myself, mother, father, brother, sis-in-law) along. Because of this, my parents had to drive. Because my father would be spending the summer in Connecticut with his family, I went to help my mother on the trip back. Because my cousin Casey (my uncle's son) has a writer's appreciation for leisurely travel, he came on the trip to the Cape, after which he would catch a plane to Spain. The travel agent misunderstood his requests to fly out of "New York" and instead booked a flight out of "Newark."

That's another story entirely. Suffice it to say that for years I've heard and seen endless jokes made at the expense of the Garden State. I now fully understand and encourage said jokes.

My mother's friend Gina lives in Virginia-near-D.C with her boyfriend and her children, so we stopped by for a visit on our way up the coast. A pleasant, short stay, and I discovered that evening that the Phillies would be playing the Mets the next afternoon. This would allow us the opportunity to catch a game and still get to Connecticut that evening.
My cousin had decided he would spend game time with a friend he knew in the area, allowing us to purchase only three tickets. However, a basic misunderstanding of geography and fear of taking public transportation left him alone in the parking lot of Citizen's Bank Ballpark. As a result, we were forced to scalp a ticket outside, which I happily accepted. I'd have to sit by myself but the seat was much closer to the field. It had started to drizzle as we parked, so we quickly made our way inside.

An entrepreneurial fellow was standing in the parking lot selling t-shirts that featured a young man urinating on Terrell Owens, which had his name printed underneath his visage lest the uninformed not know who was the intended object of ridicule. My cousin, who doens't follow football, asked who T.O. was, and I explained that he used to play for the Eagles. He then asked why they had a picture of him on a T-shirt with-I explained that he had left the team on bad terms. He then inquired further as to why they were selling football related shirts at a baseball game. I told him to ask my mom, who had the year before gone to the City of Brotherly Love on a business trip. She explained to him how...attached Philidelphians are to the Eagles.

While I'd heard terrible, terrible things about the Vet, actually, horror stories is probably the correct term, the Cit was a refreshing amalgam of the old-fashioned ballpark mode with modern amenities and spacing, akin to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and (I've been told) PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Steve "Lefty" Carlton

Also, the Phillies appear, like the other NL team across the state, to pay proper homage to the team's finest. I was not able, alas, to get a picture of the Mike Schmidt statue, which was on the other side of the Park and we wanted to beat the traffic. Ah well, now I have an excuse to go back, as I've never eaten New York pizza or a Phili cheese steak. Plus they now have a Robin Roberts statue.

Richie Ashburn, "The Nebraska Comet"

I was walking, quickly, to my section I heard a groaning coming from the field. I'd glimpsed the score on the stroll through Ashburn Alley and imagined the Mets had scored again when I turned the corner to go into my seat only to find myself facing everyone in the area scrambling to get out of the rain that was now pouring onto the field.

The thoughtful gentleman at the front of the line kindly turned me around and shoved me back through the passageway, where I saw the occupants of the other areas spilling out and crowding the concourse. Being at the front of the line allowed me to make a beeline for the nearest concession stand so I could grab a dog and a coke.

That task accomplished and with time to kill and rain to avoid, I wandered around the area, signing up for a credit card and getting a Phillies shirt (It was that or a towel), buying a copy of the DVD set of the 1980 championship team, which featured a pair of documentaries as well as the complete broadcast of game 5 of the NLCS vs. the Astros and game 6 of the World Series against the Royals. Also, a postcard for a near-Phili native at the office. So I have my tray with the food, the DVDs and the shirt when I hear a high vibrating wail, sounding similar to air-raid sirens in the movies. I looked to my left, and there he was, the Phili Phanatic, riding through the concourse on an ATV and blaring the siren attached to the handlebars as the people cleared a path for him.

Wow. A sighting of the Phanatic, one of the holy trinity of baseball mascots, along with Mr. Met and the San Diego Chicken.

The camera was in my pocket, and as I fumbled to get it out without spilling anything from my tray in the packed walkway and turn it on and then just as I got it ready he was round the corner.

D'oh! I was lucky to get this shot of him atop the dugout, trying to in vain to rally the Phillies to a comeback.

Eventually the crowd began meandering back to their seats, so I followed. Luckily, I grabbed a large handful of napkins at the condiments table, a trait inherited from my father, who reminded me when I was young it was better to have too many napkins than not enough. I was able to use most of them to wipe off my seat, now coated with water from the summer shower. I sat down and immediately snapped the above picture.

The seat was terrific, here's a better picture, taken after the clouds had rolled away.

I nice afternoon at the yard, and a welcome break after spending three days on the road. The Mets won, 5-4, as Wagner got the save to a chorus of boos, which were loud but not quite as angry as I expected. I imagine that might have been because of the prominant number of New Yorkers (or maybe Mets fans who live in Philadelphia?) in the crowd.
I've seen the Mets six times in my life (twice in Los Angeles, twice in Phoenix, once here and another at Shea) and they've never lost. Coincidence?

On the trip back home, after Newark, we stopped at Busch Stadium and saw the Cardinals, a team that, as a Red Sox fan and Cubs sympathizer, are the National League version of the Yankees.

Speaking of which, remember the "Got Rings?" t-shirt sad Yankee fans wear? Well, St. Louis has their own version, laughing at the Cubs and their lack of success. I think this tells you all you need to know about Cardinal fans.