Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Baseball Is Back

Sometimes you’ve just got to be honest with yourself.

It took me a few days, but I’ve finally accepted the fact that I’m thrilled with my baseball team. It didn’t make much sense at first – losing our manager and our cleanup hitter – but now it’s clear.

I’m happy and excited because we have a ballclub and not a drama club.

The Daily News ran a cover yesterday that said: Bronx Zoo II. It sold a few newspapers, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. The Zoo is gone. It’s headed for Disneyland or Disney World or The City by the Bay or someplace else that’s a million miles from this neighborhood.

The Yankees – from the Steinbrenner family to Brian Cashman to Joe Girardi – have a clear direction and it’s all about building the best team.

Baseball is back in the Bronx and it feels good.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I like Hank Steinbrenner.

I like everything he says. I like the way he and his brother, Hal, are helping their father run the Yankees. I like the way he relies on baseball people to make baseball decisions. Mostly, I like the pride he’s shown in this team.

“We’re the Yankees,” Hank told reporters yesterday when asked about the direction of the team. “We’ll always be the Yankees. We are going to contend for a championship...”

The Steinbrenner family has always been committed to this baseball team and they expect the same from everyone.

“My example is Derek Jeter,” Hank continued yesterday. “He has wanted to play for the Yankees all his life, and he understands what this team is all about. That’s what we want.”

That kind of pride makes me feel good about counting on Hank Steinbrenner the same way I’ve always counted on his father.

Yeah, I like the man.

Monday, October 29, 2007


They wore secondhand coats over sweatshirts with hats pulled low against the cold. Malik sat in the middle of the group on the 2 train and pulled the collar of an old Yankee jacket tight around his neck.

“You need layers to work construction on a day like this,” Malik explained. “I’ve got this coat and a sweatshirt and a heavy sweater and a T-shirt.”

But he didn’t have enough to protect him from the news that Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract.

“It really hurts,” he admitted. “I loved him and wanted him to stay. I thought a guy from Washington Heights would want to be here.”

The group nodded in agreement.

“It’s been a rough couple of weeks,” Malik continued. “First Torre goes and now A-Rod. I hope this storm breaks soon.”

Sunday, October 28, 2007

First Question

The end is coming.

“It can’t come soon enough,” says Javier outside a bodega on Gerard Avenue. “Every day there’s new speculation about which guy is going to get the job.”

Who will be the next Yankee manager – Don Mattingly, Joe Girardi or Tony Pena – has been the only question asked in this neighborhood for more than a week.

“It’s one baseball story I’m actually tired of talking about,” says Javier. “There isn’t a bad choice so all the debates just seem pointless.”

And there’s plenty of pressing business.

“We need to sign our cleanup hitter (Alex Rodriguez), our catcher (Jorge Posada), our closer (Mariano Rivera) and make sure the big lefty (Andy Pettitte) is coming back, too,” Javier explains. “And don’t forget about picking up Bobby Abreu’s contract option.

“There’s plenty of questions,” continues Javier. “So let’s answer this one and move on.”

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sit And Wait

I’ve finally accepted that things are going to stay quiet today.

The talk is that the Yankees will name a new manager on Monday. There’s also a rumor that they want to sit down with Alex Rodriguez and discuss a contract extension.

Around here we can just sit and wait.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Local Support

All baseball is local.

They can make rules that define when it’s okay for a team to make news. They can film commercials and talk up the World Series, but baseball will always be local.

There’s nothing more local than the Crown Diner at the corner of East 161st Street and Gerard Avenue.

“I heard we can’t announce our manager until after the World Series,” Jon says between bites of his BLT.

“Yeah,” Javier says. “I read that Hank Steinbrenner said ‘we will obviously honor the wishes of the commissioner.’”

Jon laughs. “The commissioner, huh? How many tickets does he buy?”

“The commissioner wants you to care about the World Series,” Javier explains.

“I care about my baseball team,” Jon says. “I care so damn much that I spend every spare nickel on it. They never have any trouble taking my money and now they want to tell me what to care about, too.”

“I just want to know who’s managing my team and what we’re doing to get ready for next year,” Jon continues. “Is that too much to ask?”

Apparently, it is.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Great Day

The air clouded with opinions and cigar smoke has cleared a bit.

“I think it’s the rain,” says Jon from Highbridge.

The group huddled around a Grand Concourse newsstand seems content to wait out the storm.

“We should have a new manager by tomorrow,” Jon reasons. “It’s not an easy choice, but we’re going to get a winner no matter what.”

“I still think Pena is the best man,” says Javier from Walton Avenue.

“Are you still on the codfish salad?” Jon asks.

“That’s not the only thing,” Javier says. “I love what he said in the paper: ‘Any time you talk about baseball, it’s a great day.’

“You can’t put it any better than that.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Someone finally took a stand in the Bronx.

“I think Tony Pena should manage the Yankees,” said Javier from Walton Avenue.

“But you liked Mattingly yesterday,” someone said.

“I was thinking about it last night,” Javier said. “I really like ‘The Tony Pena’ at El Nuevo Caridad.”

“The codfish salad from that joint in Washington Heights?” someone asked.

“Yeah,” Javier smiled. “It’s my favorite.”

“So you’re backing a manager because of codfish salad?” someone laughed.

“The little things can make a big difference in a close ballgame,” Javier explained. “I think Mattingly and Girardi would be great too, but codfish salad gives Pena the edge with me.”

“It’s not much of a stand,” someone said, “but I guess it’s something.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Marcus always finds a seat on the 2 train.

“It’s easy when you have to be in early,” he explains. “I used to get to go in later, but the trains were so crowded. I’m much more comfortable with this trip.”

He’s certainly more comfortable than the men – Joe Girardi, Don Mattingly and Tony Pena – interviewing to be the next manager of the New York Yankees.

“I haven’t had to interview for a job in a long time,” Marcus says. “I feel for guys having to go through that.

“They would all be great managing this team,” he continues. “I can’t even say I have a favorite, but when it’s over I hope they can all get a seat in our dugout.”

It’s a comfortable thought.

Monday, October 22, 2007


This week’s agenda was sketched out on the 2 train:

“Getting a new manager is the first priority,” said Jon from Highbridge. “After that, we can move ahead with the rest of the coaching staff and the free agents.”

“You talk like you’re gonna have something to do with it,” said Edwin from Harlem. “Are you The Boss’s long lost son?”

The rest of the guys laughed, but Jon didn’t see the humor.

“I do my part,” he shot. “All the tickets and shirts and hats and scorecards I buy are part of what makes this team competitive every year. The other part is having an owner who invests my money in baseball instead of putting it in his pocket.”

The group nods in agreement.

“I’ve got a good deal with The Boss,” Jon continues. “I can trust him with my money because he always does his absolute best to put a winning team on the field.”

“So you are kinda like family,” Edwin offered.

“Yeah,” Jon said. “I guess I am.”

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Something More

Javier took control of the conversation on an autumn day in the park.

“They can’t explain how we feel on television or in a newspaper,” he told the group gathered around his bench.

“But everyone believes the stories,” someone said.

“Why do you care what anyone else believes?” Javier snapped. “This is our home and our baseball team.

“Things change all the time,” Javier continued. “We get new neighbors and they always bring something more.

“Plenty of people can’t understand that,” he goes on. “They want everything to stay the same and they want everyone to look the same and dress the same and talk the same.”

Change is what makes this city and will remake it again and again.

“Other places stand still,” Javier explains, “but we keep moving. Joe Torre moves out and someone else will move in.”

And they’ll bring something more because they always do.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


The newspapers are full of Joe Torre explaining why he had to walk away from the Yankees.

Javier is explaining why the rest of us never could.

“We’re all Yankee lifers around here,” he says. “Joe Torre was great for this team and I’m sorry he’s gone. But this is our home and our team and we’re not going anywhere.

“We don’t have choices,” Javier continues. “We work hard jobs for little money and we are Yankees.”

Lifers all the way.

Friday, October 19, 2007


I’ll start with a confession: I love Joe Torre. I love his style and his calm and his passion. I am taken by the heart and talent that made him a great ballplayer and the determination and skill that made him the finest manager of his generation and maybe the finest of any generation.

Someday, there will be a Joe Torre Day at Yankee Stadium. No one else will ever wear the number 6 and he will go into the Hall of Fame as a New York Yankee. He’s earned all the credit and all the memories.

I’ll finish with another confession: I think it’s time to move on. Torre knows it. The Yankees know it, too. There’s nothing to fault and no one to blame. This is just how baseball goes sometimes.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Long Way Off

Henry is at Yankee Stadium today.

This isn’t exactly news because he’s always there, but people in this neighborhood will take what they can get these days.

“Brian Cashman came in early,” Henry says. “I haven’t seen any players because they’re all gone for the winter.”

Henry is not at his best because more than five months stand between him and the next game.

“I’m not sure of the exact date,” Henry says, “but Opening Day is a long way off.”

Henry will run through the schedule like lines of poetry once it’s released. He’ll have the answers if you need to know who the Yankees are playing on April 17 or July 10 or September 14 or any other day.

He can also tell you Derek Jeter’s batting average and Mariano Rivera’s saves total and Chien-Ming Wang’s ERA and Alex Rodriguez’s career home runs.

He’d like to talk some real baseball, but there isn’t much to say.

“It’s all a long way off.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Park Summit

The Bronx news wire is full of cracks and there can be delays if, say, someone stops for coffee and donuts.

“Where have you been?” Javier shouts.

“I had to get us breakfast,” Jon says. “I got the newspapers, too.”

He unloads everything on a bench in Joyce Kilmer Park.

“Here’s your black coffee,” Jon says as he sorts through the bags. “There are two chocolate donuts and I got a couple of bagels, too. I’ll load up the cream cheese if you read the baseball.”

Javier digs through the papers.

“Not much here,” he says. “They had a meeting, but there were no decisions.”

“What would you do?”

“That’s easy,” Javier begins. “Get Joe squared away on a two or three-year deal with the idea that he moves into the front office when it’s finished. Donnie can slide in as manager after that. Then wrap up A-Rod, Mariano, Jorge, Abreu, Molina and Mientkiewicz.”

“What else?” Jon demands.

“Wait for spring.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Only Game

The only game in town isn’t even in town.

“The closest thing we have to baseball is a meeting in Tampa,” says Jon from Highbridge.

It’s better than nothing.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a week,” he admits. “Getting ready for next year is all we have around here.”

Everyone is hungry for news.

“They should do radio play-by-play,” Jon laughs. “Something like: ‘Before offering his opinion, Brian Cashman takes a bite of his glazed donut and washes it down with a swig of coffee…’

“We need something to fill the time,” he continues. “How many days until pitchers and catchers report?”

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cheap Seats

The 2 train has the best seats for the biggest fans.

“The Yankee big shots are on their way to Tampa,” someone says.

“This train doesn’t go that far,” says Javier from Walton Avenue. “We have to sit and wait for what comes next.”

He remains calm.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” Javier says. “They started making good decisions a couple of years ago and I expect more this week.”

“They’re not going to do anything to derail what’s been started with Hughes and Joba and Melky and Robbie,” he continues. “This was a very good team this year and next year will be even better if they keep it rolling.”

Javier settles back at the train rumbles south.

“I feel good about everything so far.”

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Waiting Room

Baseball stories sell in New York. They are gobbled up on trains and in parks and along coffee-shop counters. That’s why the city is full of them even when there’s nothing going on.

“They know how to play us,” said Javier as he thumbed through the newspaper. “Just slap a picture on the cover to lure us in and then finish us off with some speculation about this and that.”

Most of this is about Joe Torre and all of that is about Alex Rodriguez.

“It’s not going to calm down until something‘s decided on them,” Javier said. “It’s supposed to get started this week with some meetings and I hope it’s wrapped up quickly so we can start looking ahead.”

What’s next is always the biggest baseball story in town.

“I can’t wait for next year,” said Javier.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


The neighborhood is quiet.

It cuts through the buildings and down the streets.

It’s the kind of quiet you can feel.

It’s a feeling you never want again.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Way It Is

The Bronx began cold and rainy and the Stadium was bare.

“It’s a lousy start to the day,” said Jackson from Gerard Avenue.

The sun came out just after breakfast, but the Stadium remained bare.

“It’s still not a great day,” Jackson said. “It’s not the worst, but it’s certainly not great.”

And there’s no change in sight.

“Baseball means a lot around here,” Jackson said. “There’s always gonna be clouds hanging around if they’re not playing.

“That’s just the way it is.”

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wasted Promise

There’s been a lot of big talk in the newspapers and it’s taking its toll on the 2 train.

“What’s this guy’s problem?” asks Jon from Highbridge as he folds the paper in his lap. “He writes the same garbage every day. It’s Joe’s fault. It’s George’s fault. It’s Alex’s fault. Now it’s Derek’s fault and Jorge’s fault and Chien-Ming Wang’s fault.”

“The Yankees got beat and it’s nobody’s fault,” Jon continues. “Is that so hard to understand?”

“I guess it is for Mike Lupica,” someone says.

Lupica has never been too popular in this neighborhood and his stock is falling fast.

“He used to have opinions,” someone else says. “But now he’s just ‘The Queen of Mean.’”

Everyone laughs.

But none of this is funny.

There was a time when it looked like Lupica was going to be great, maybe the best New York sportswriter since Red Smith. But between becoming an author and a television star he lost what makes a newspaperman.

He still has the voice and the talent, but his humanity is gone. He no longer cares about the games and the players and the people they touch.

He’s just a highly-paid hit man who comes in when things go bad.

It’s a sad state for someone who had so much promise.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Sorry Business

Baseball is a hard business. Only the toughest survive the meat-grinder of a path to the Major Leagues. Stepping on a big-league field is daily proof of a player’s mettle. Excelling on that field shows the kind of talent and determination that few can even imagine.

A baseball season is covered by hardworking journalists who understand the game and the grind, but when the season ends they call in the dogs.

The sorry business of attack-dog journalism is all the rage in New York these days and Mike Lupica of the Daily News is the lead hound. His headline on today’s page 6 column is “$200M for a bunch of bullies who can’t take a punch.”

There was a time when I thought newspapering was honorable, but Red Smith is dead and Jimmy Breslin doesn’t write much anymore.

Lupica’s words are the sorry result of everything that’s wrong with sports journalism today. He barges in at the end to take down a team he seldom sees and knows little about. He’s pocketed millions of dollars by making broad generalizations about men like Joe Torre and George Steinbrenner and Alex Rodriguez, who have the courage to try and build something rather than just pick it apart.

Nasty words may sell a few newspapers, but making Red Smith spin in his grave is a sorry business.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


A few stayed in their seats and ignored the humid night and the departing crowd and the scoreboard, which read Cleveland 6, Yankees 4. The game was over. The season was over. But the heartbreak had just begun.

“It hurts,” said Javier from Walton Avenue. “I’m an old man, but it feels just like when I was a kid. I guess you never out grow this empty feeling.

“It sounds silly,” he continued, “but I feel like I came a long way with this team. The injuries and the struggles were rough, but getting to know the kids was a lot of fun. It was a great year around here and I just wish it wasn’t over.”

The end is the hardest part.

“The Yankees bring a lot of life to this neighborhood,” Javier said. “Next year seems so far a way right now.”

Monday, October 8, 2007

No Words

No words were needed at Yankee Stadium. Everyone knew what was on the line: Joe Torre’s job and Roger Clemens’s career and the whole season.

When Johnny Damon’s fifth-inning home run cleared the wall everything was swallowed by the roar.

“That was as loud as I’ve heard it in a long time,” Javier said outside gate 4 when it was all over. “The fans wouldn’t stop and the team wouldn’t either.

He smiled and said, “A big win.”

It was the biggest win because it means they are playing baseball in the Bronx tonight with everything still on the line.

No words needed.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Challenge

Derek Jeter forced a grin when he was asked about Andy Pettitte’s performance on Friday night.

“He kept challenging himself,” Jeter said. “He put people on base and always got out of it.”

Pettitte held Cleveland down after leadoff singles in the first, fourth and fifth innings. He also allowed nothing after a leadoff double in the third and leadoff triple in the sixth.

“He was pretty tough,” Jeter said.

The Yankees will need to dig deep to get out of this hole in the American League Division Series.

“This is where we’ve been all year,” Jeter said.

Another challenge starts tonight.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Far From Over

Alex Rodriguez – born across the river in Washington Heights – brought it home for the Bronx after last night’s loss.

“This series is far from over,” he said.

I needed to hear that.

Everyone in the neighborhood needed to hear that.

The sun came up today and this team has the right to fight again tomorrow.

That’s all anyone needs.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Rough Ride

It was a rough ride last night.

“The Yankees just couldn’t get much going,” said Raul from Washington Heights. “They couldn’t get a big hit or a big out when they needed it.

“The good thing is that it’s only one game,” he continued. “They can turn this whole thing around with a win.”

That falls to Andy Pettitte.

“Who else would you want going?” Raul asked. “He’s been there before and you will get everything he’s got.

“This game is important and they need to find a way to win,” he went on. “It starts with Andy, but it needs to end with the whole team playing well.”

Thursday, October 4, 2007

D Train

Baseball starts on the D train.

“We’re finally playing tonight,” says Jon from Highbridge. “It seems like it’s taken forever to get this thing started.”

Three days off have produce more stories than anyone could read, but Jon doggedly digs through a stack of fat newspapers as the D rumbles under Harlem.

“They all say the same thing,” Jon continues. “Wang is ready. Jeter is ready. A-Rod is ready. The Rocket is ready. Everyone is ready.”

“Are you ready?” someone asks.

Jon smiles.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

That Smell

Juan Carlos’s cart smells of ham and eggs and coffee and hope.

“What are the papers saying,” someone asks.

“Matsui’s knee is fine and Clemens is ready to start game three,” someone else says.

“Anything else?”


“What are the writers saying?”

“Do you need to conjugate a verb or something?” Javier asks.

“No,” someone says. “I was just wondering…”

“I used to wonder the same thing when I was a kid,” Javier admits. “But I’ve learned that writers don’t know much about baseball and the people on radio and television know even less.

“You watch all the games,” Javier continues. “You know what Torre and Jeter and Posada and A-Rod and Mariano are saying.

“You know more about your team than any writer,” Javier goes on. “So what do you think?”

Someone smiles.

“They’re gonna win this thing.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Law

Derek Jeter’s words are law in the Bronx.

He was recently asked to try and explain Alex Rodriguez’s season – a .314 average with 54 homers and 156 RBIs – in a USA Today interview.

“I don’t want to try to figure it out,” Jeter said. “I don’t want to ask him. You’d have to ask… No, don’t say anything to him. Leave him alone.”

Those words would stand on these streets, but the American League Division Series starts in Cleveland so Rodriguez is sure to get plenty of attention.

Not that any of it will bother him.

“He’s been focused all season,” said someone at the Crown Diner this morning. “Teams pitch around him and hit him and he just keeps coming. Sooner or later they have to put the ball over the plate and he doesn’t miss it.”

That’s the real law around here these days.

Monday, October 1, 2007


The biggest hit of the last day of the season wasn’t even a hit. It was a bouncer to second that almost turned into a doubleplay. But Derek Jeter went hard into second and Bobby Abreu hustled down the line to collect his 100th RBI.

Everyone in the dugout jumped and Jeter pumped his fist.

Abreu – who finished with 101 RBIs – said, “It means a lot.”

Abreu clearly means a lot to his teammates and his presence in the lineup was a big factor in this run to the playoffs.

Alex Rodriguez was the biggest factor in everything this year. He hit .314 with 54 homers and 156 RBIs.

Joe Torre said it best, “Whatever you say is not enough…”

“I’m proud of the year I had,” Rodriguez said. “As a team, we overcame a lot of adversity.”

And there’s more to come. October is never easy, but the biggest prize waits at the end.