Monday, March 31, 2008

Our Team

The Opening Day scorecards are rolling off the press this morning.

The ink is still drying on the names of 26 men – including Andy Pettitte, who will be added to the roster on Saturday – from 25 towns in seven different countries that will represent a city of immigrants. New York is home to everyone from everywhere.

This is our baseball team:

Johnny Damon from Fort Riley, Kansas: It feels like he’s been a Yankee forever.

Derek Jeter from Pequannock, New Jersey: The Captain means everything to this team and this city.

Bobby Abreu from Maracay, Venezuela: A man who was born to hit third in this lineup.

Alex Rodriguez from New York, New York: His big bat is always the key to the season.

Jason Giambi from West Covina, California: He might be the most dangerous hitter in this lineup. And that’s saying something.

Robinson Cano from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic: This guy could complete a double play with the D train barreling down on him.

Jorge Posada from Santurce, Puerto Rico: The team’s fire and toughness.

Hideki Matsui from Kanazawa, Japan: A perfect baseball player.

Melky Cabrera from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: The kid with the style and the smile.

Chien-Ming Wang from Tainan, Taiwan: Opening Day at Yankee Stadium is the game he’s waited all winter for.

Shelley Duncan from Tucson, Arizona: Big swings. Big hits. Big celebrations.

Wilson Betemit from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Ready to live up to all that promise.

Morgan Ensberg from Redondo Beach, California: A tough right-handed hitter that adds depth to a relentless lineup.

Jose Molina from Baymon, Puerto Rico: A great backup for one of the greats.

Mike Mussina from Williamsport, Pennsylvania: He has grown into the leader of this pitching staff.

Phil Hughes from Mission Viejo, California: Pete Abraham of the Journal News calls him “The Franchise” and that sounds good to me.

Ian Kennedy from Huntington Beach, California: His pinpoint control hits the Bronx on Friday night.

Andy Pettitte from Baton Rouge, Louisiana: The big lefty will be here on Saturday.

Jonathan Albaladejo from San Juan, Puerto Rico: Sometimes a player just needs a chance. He’s got the talent to make the most of it.

Ross Ohlendorf from Austin, Texas: Some are impressed with his Princeton degree. I prefer his hard sinker.

Billy Traber from Torrance, California: He gets big outs against tough lefties.

Brian Bruney from Astoria, Oregon: I like his attitude and love his fastball.

LaTroy Hawkins from Gary, Indiana: A great teammate and a great pitcher who will quickly become a favorite in the Bronx.

Kyle Farnsworth from Wichita, Kansas: Coming in at 99 mph.

Joba Chamberlain from Lincoln, Nebraska: Coming in at 100 mph.

Mariano Rivera from Panama City, Panama: Game Over.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Moving On

The New York Yankees and Joe Girardi put Miami behind them last night.

The Yankees hadn’t been there since the 2003 World Series. And, of course, everyone knows how that played out.

Girardi hadn’t been there since he was named the 2006 National League Manager of the Year after nearly leading the Florida Marlins to the postseason. And, of course, everyone knows how that played out.

“You just move on and learn from things that happen in your life,” Girardi explained recently. “I doesn’t really matter whether they’re good or bad. You have to keep learning all the time.”

The Yankees finished Spring Training with a win over the Marlins and headed home to a fresh baseball season in the Bronx. That’s what matters this morning.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Longest Day

The last day of Spring Training is always the longest.

It drags out of bed and down the stairs and up the street. There are newspapers to buy and coffee, too. Maybe a cigar for later. That would be nice. There’s no rush because the team is still in Florida.

“Way down in Miami,” says the guy at the newsstand. “They’ll come home after tonight‘s game. We won’t see ‘em until tomorrow.”

That’s a long way off for everyone in this neighborhood.

“And tomorrow isn‘t even Opening Day,” snaps the newsstand guy. “But at least the boys will be back in town.”

That means the Yankees will throw it around a little in the Bronx. They will take batting practice and probably some infield. The pitchers will toss in the outfield and throw in the bullpen.

People will hang by the players’ gate and wait for them to head home after the workout. A few might be autograph hounds looking to make a buck. Most will be fans. There are regulars that you’ll see before and after every game. The rest will just want their first look at baseball.

It’s coming.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Everybody’s Got One

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart were talking about opinions on the last Friday before Opening Day.

“Everybody’s got one these days,” says Jon from Highbridge.

He digs around in his over-stuffed backpack and pulls out newspaper supplements and magazines and fat preview books that promise baseball insight.

“It’s written down,” Jon says. “So it must be true, right?”

Everyone laughs.

Jon tries to keep a straight face, but finally breaks down.

“I know what these people are all about,” he says. “I read all the opinions and scouting reports and take them for what they’re worth.”

“A good way to kill some time on the train,” someone shoots.

“Not just that,” Jon says. “I respect everyone’s opinion, but I’m only worried about my own.”

How the Bronx feels about its baseball team is all that really matters in this neighborhood.

“You can’t pour it onto a page or into a chart,” Jon explains. “It will never be that simple no matter how many so-called experts study the stats.

“The biggest thing they don’t understand is how guys like us look at things,” Jon continues. “It’s not only about the Pennant and the World Series like they all seem to think. We just come out every day to support our team. It’s really that simple. Those who spout opinions and make predictions will never get the game on our level.”

They all nod.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Never Simple

Joe usually rides the train downtown, but today he decided to walk. His flowing black and silver hair is held down by a headband as he moves along Broadway.

“I like this stretch,” he says. “It’s an old Wappinger Indian trail so I know the lay of the land.”

Joe has native blood in his veins. He’s not sure exactly how much, but there’s no doubt it’s there.

“I grew up on a reservation in Oklahoma,” he says. “My mother was mostly Irish and my father was part Arapaho. They died when I was young so I lived with our neighbors. They were an older couple and I called them my grandparents. They weren’t, but really they were. You know what I mean?”

Nothing was ever simple.

“I never felt comfortable with myself growing up,” Joe explains. “The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to come to New York. Mickey Mantle was from Oklahoma and he made it in New York. I knew he was important and I knew the city was, too.

“Allie Reynolds was my grandfather’s favorite player,” Joe continues. “He told me about the wins and the no-hitters and all the World Series victories. They were beautiful stories.”

Joe now has his own stories.

“Joba Chamberlain is my man,” he says. “I’m so proud of him and his native heritage. I got to every game that he pitched last year. I’m also planning to make every one this year. It was gonna be easy with him in the rotation, but now he’s back in the bullpen and could possibly pitch in every game.”

Joe shrugs.

“Nothing is ever simple.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tough Guys

Mr. Rosati sat at the back of the 2 train and listened to a recap of yesterday’s game.

“Ian Kennedy really had to battle,” someone said. “He couldn’t locate his pitches like usual and there was a big error behind him. But he still held it close into the fifth.”

“Yeah,” someone else said. “I like how he toughed it out and gave the team a chance to win.”

Mr. Rosati nodded and smiled.

“Tough guys don’t look like they used to,” he said. “Kennedy looks like the young kids you see playing ball in the park. He’s got a face like apple pie.

“I’m showing my age here,” Mr. Rosati continued. “But Sal Maglie was a tough guy that looked like a tough guy. Gossage looked tough and so did Guidry. Even Pettitte looks tough when he stares down the hitter with the glove to his face. Kennedy just doesn’t look tough enough.”

His pitching tells a different story.

“Absolutely,” Mr. Rosati said. “The kid pitches tough and plays tough. I like him a lot. He just doesn’t look like a tough guy.”

Everyone on the train stared at him blankly.

Mr. Rosati shrugged.

“I guess it’s just me.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What’s Really Important

Rodrigo had a good feeling when he woke up this morning. He untwisted the kinks from his neck and stretched his back before ripping into a day-old bagel as he headed down five flights to Jerome Avenue.

He cut up East 164th Street and then walked along River Avenue passed the construction of the new Yankee Stadium and down the stairs to the subway near the bleachers of the old Yankee Stadium.

Rodrigo was waiting for a downtown D train when someone mentioned that Andy Pettitte’s back was improving.

“Great news,” Rodrigo said.

Another person pointed out that Pettitte is going to be pushed back in the rotation and probably won’t start until game three or four.

“That’s not a big deal,” Rodrigo said. “I’m just happy that he’s feeling better.”

Rodrigo’s job – a bricklayer’s apprentice – often leaves him stiff and sore.

“I can deal with my own aches and pains,” he said. “I just want to make sure that my ballplayers are feeling good. That’s what’s really important.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

One Thing

Jose from Gerard Avenue was only interested in talking about one thing on the 2 train this morning. He held up his index finger and smiled.

“One week,” he said. “That’s all we got left until Opening Day.”

He started counting weeks back in October.

“I tried counting days,” Jose explained. “It seemed too long to say 148 days or whatever so I worked out the weeks and started counting down: 19 weeks, 18 weeks, 17 weeks…

“I’ve been like a prisoner using the wall of my cell for a calendar,” he continued. “I’m scratching out the last of the hard time.”

Now it’s time to make plans.

“I know exactly what I’m gonna do on Opening Day,” Jose said. “I’ll get up early and grab a big Sunday-type breakfast: bacon and eggs and home fries and toast and coffee. When my belly is full I’ll watch the guys come in the players’ gate and then catch batting practice. After that it’s just about me and my team and getting a win.

“I realize that it’s unfair to expect so much from one day,” he admitted. “You’re bound to be disappointed, but that won’t last long because one day leads to the rest of the season and then it’s all about getting one win at a time.”

Jose smiled and held up his index finger again.

“Let’s go Yanks!”

Sunday, March 23, 2008

What It’s All About

I parked in front of the television on a cool New York afternoon.

Everyone in the crowd was well aged at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Florida, when Melky Cabrera stepped in against lefty Paul Maholm.

It was a comforting sight because Spring Training is supposed to be about retired workers relaxing at ballparks on warm afternoons. That’s one of the advantages of getting old.

I don’t consider myself old, yet. But age is quickly creeping up on me. The fans soaking up this game in the Florida sun had clearly known the feeling.

I imagined them all as retired steelworkers who spend a few weeks each spring watching the Pirates get ready for the season. Most of them probably saw Ralph Kiner and Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski and Willie Stargell back when there were still steel mills in Pittsburgh.

Those jobs are now gone along with the rest of the good jobs in this country. The faces in Bradenton were a reminder of what used to be and could be again.

That’s what Spring Training is really about.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


The barbershop is humming on the next-to-last Saturday before Opening Day.

Mr. Castorini goes to the front of the line and puts in his order.

“Take an inch off the top,” he says. “My wife wants it short and she says my eyebrows are too bushy. Do something about that.”

“No problem, sir,” says Giuseppe as he brushes off the chair. “I will make you look beautiful.”

“Hey,” Mr. Castorini shoots. “I don’t want to look beautiful.”

He scans the waiting faces and asks:

“Did I say anything about wanting to look beautiful?”

Everyone shakes.

“I will make you look handsome,” Giuseppe corrects. “Your wife will love you.”

Mr. Castorini nods.

“I’m taking her to the opera tonight,” he says. “We’re going to see Tosca.”

Giuseppe smiles.

“That is very nice, sir,” he says.

“I don’t care about the damn opera,” Mr. Castorini fires. “This will keep her happy so I can go to Opening Day with my son. This is the last one at the old ballpark and I’m really looking forward to it.”

“Fabulous,” Giuseppe says. “Chien-Ming Wang is pitching. That should be a beautiful game.”

“Yeah,” Mr. Castorini says. “Let’s get this done so I don’t miss the opera or the ballgame.”

“Of course, sir, right away.”

Friday, March 21, 2008

Something About Joba

The conversation had turned to pitching by the time the 2 train rumbled under the Harlem River into Manhattan. Everyone was interested in news about another good start from Ian Kennedy and the progress of Phil Hughes, but Javier just wanted to talk about Joba Chamberlain.

He cleared his throat and made his pitch:

“That kid is something else,” Javier fired. “There are so many great pitchers on this staff and so many talented young arms in this organization, but Joba still stands out.”

Chamberlain’s larger-than-life image is built on exploding fastballs and disappearing sliders that get big outs in big games.

“It’s exciting to watch,” Javier explained. “He always gives you the sense that something amazing is going to happen. And he tops it all off with a fist pump.”

His first relief appearance of the year was amazingly efficient:
1-2 fastball: K
0-2 fastball: K
1-2 slider: K

No fist pump needed in Spring Training.

“He was untouchable,” Javier said. “I know the game doesn’t count and the season is still over a week away, but he looks ready.”

Chamberlain easily slipped back into the bullpen after working as a starter all spring.

“I know he’s gonna be a top-of-the-rotation guy,” Javier admitted. “But I’m glad he’s a reliever for now. He lights up the Stadium when he comes in with the game on the line. He’s not Mariano, but he’s getting there.”

Javier smiled and shrugged:

“There’s just something about Joba.”

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Workaday Wonders

Marcus from Mott Haven was facing a long day when he stopped at Juan Carlos’s coffee cart this morning.

“I’m working a doubleheader,” he said. “I’ve got a construction job on Gerard Avenue today and I’m delivering (pizzas) tonight.

“I have to put in the extra time to get ready for baseball,” Marcus continued. “I’m taking off Opening Day and I need to build up a bankroll because I always spend a bunch of money.

“I gotta have a scorecard and a new Yearbook and Media Guide,” he went on. “I also have my eye on a Phil Hughes T-shirt. I’ve already got a number 65, but I like to be current so I’m going for a number 34.”

Hughes is also working toward Opening Day.

“He had a rough start last night,” Marcus said. “The wind blew out a few homers, but he said he’s feeling good and getting close. That’s all that matters. Just put in your work and get ready for the season.”

Marcus finished his coffee, crumpled the cup and fired it into a trash can.

“Strike one,” he shot. “I gotta get to work.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Special Delivery

My tickets were delivered in a box. I always remember them being stuffed into a fat envelope, but this season required a bigger package.

It felt like my birthday as I ripped into the cardboard and quickly checked the spiral-bound book of tickets. Then I scanned the Fan Club brochure and read through the Ticket Information & Fan Guide.

There was some parking information that was passed over because I don’t know how to drive and an Amtrak schedule that went in the trash because I never leave New York City. There was also something about selling tickets on StubHub, but that’s useless since I haven’t missed a game in years.

I continued through pages about options and benefits and amenities before stumbling across my Identification card that includes a license number and seniority date.

That’s pretty heady stuff for someone who’s never been identified outside of a police lineup and has never been licensed to do anything.

I currently carry a MetroCard and a library card and a SABR card and an ACLU membership card. But being an officially-licensed, card-carrying Yankee with some seniority is quite an honor and a lot of responsibility.

“I’m proud to be part of this team,” I told the media gathered outside my building this evening. “I promise to do everything in my power to deliver a championship to the Bronx.”

Twelve days to go.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Out Of Vogue

The guys hanging around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart felt a level of sophistication rise over the Bronx this morning.

Word on the streets placed Alex Rodriguez – who was born just across the Harlem River in Washington Heights and now resides on the hot corner at East 161st Street and River Avenue – on the cover of Men’s Vogue.

None of the guys have ever read the publication, but they all sense that it is quite sophisticated. Jose is the only one who can actually recall seeing a copy of the magazine.

“I remember it from a barbershop a few years ago,” Jose says. “It looked a little, well, fancy so I didn’t pick it up.”

A Yankee on the cover changes everything.

“I bought a copy of Men’s Health last week just because there was an article on Derek Jeter,” Jose explains. “I’m a sucker for anything about a ballplayer so I’ll have to get this Men’s Vogue, too.”

But a search of neighborhood newsstands turned up nothing.

“Nobody even carries that magazine around here,” Jose says. “Marco over on Gerard Avenue thought I was some kind of sissy just for asking about it.

“I told him A-Rod is on the cover and he calmed down,” Jose continues. “He promised to ask his supplier about it, but I’ll also make sure and keep my eyes open when I go downtown.”

This bit of sophistication is coming to the Bronx one way or another.

“No,” Jose shoots. “The Bronx and A-Rod are bringing sophistication to Men’s Vogue.”

He winks and smiles and then adds:

“You’re welcome.”

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wakeup Call

Everyone was dozing on the 2 train this morning.

“Maybe it’s the time of day,” Jon from Highbridge reasoned. “Or maybe it’s the time of year. Yeah, it’s probably just a flat spot in the middle of Spring Training.”

New York is just starting to shake off the winter rust.

“Sometimes baseball still seems a long way off,” Jon admitted. “It’s one of those things that never feels like it’s going to get here until it does.”

Then Opening Day cracks the door to a whole new season.

“It’s almost surreal,” Jon explained. “The Stadium is so familiar, but it’s like you’re seeing it for the first time. The game has only been in newspaper stories and on television all winter, but everything comes to life that day.

“It’s hard to describe the emotions because there’s so much going on,” he continued. “It’s like a map for the whole season unfolds. You get to see the kids and the new guys and, of course, the veterans.”

Jon paused and smiled.

“Just talking about it gives me a jolt,” he said. “I’m wide awake now so let’s play some baseball.”

Two weeks to go.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Nice Ending

Sometimes you just have to get to the end. That is the best part of Spring Training for everyone. The regulars want to be healthy at the end and everyone else is playing baseball to the end.

Some guys are struggling to earn jobs and the rest are just kids trying to get noticed. They come in for the last few innings and maybe get one shot to hit.

They all made the most of it today.

Everyone who stayed for the finish got to see Bernie Castro from Washington Heights drive in a big run in the eighth inning and then get thrown out trying to tie the game on a single by Alberto Gonzalez.

Then they saw Kyle Anson hammer a ninth-inning double off the right-field wall pulling the Yankees to within one run. They also got to watch Anson score the game winner on Nick Green’s two-RBI single.

Three runs in the ninth. Yankees win 7-6.

Nice ending.

The Same Streets

Young pitchers all walk the same streets. Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain traced the steps of Phil Hughes yesterday.

Chien-Ming Wang – the oldest of the young pitchers on the staff – took the ball for another walk through Tampa today.

Everything is about building innings and gaining experience and getting ready for the season.

These strolls around Florida will lead them to the Bronx on March 31.

They will be at the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue on that afternoon.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nobody’s Perfect

Phil Hughes took a step forward yesterday. He gave up some hits and got some outs without his best stuff. His string of perfect innings was broken, but that doesn’t really matter.

“It was just one of those days that you’ve got to battle through.” Hughes said. “It’s better to get it out of the way now than in the regular season.

“I’ve been able to put my fastball where I wanted so far this spring,” Hughes continued. “It just wasn’t there today. Sometimes I was missing by a little bit, but other times I missed by a lot. It was tough.”

Hughes learned something about getting through tough games.

“I think I just felt too good,” Hughes explained. “I was really overthrowing. The ball came out of my hand real good; I just wasn't throwing it for strikes.”

Not being perfect is sometimes the best way to move forward.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Buttoned Up

Another American soldier died yesterday. Three died the day before and another the day before and eight more the day before that.

No one seems to notice dead soldiers anymore. Everyone is too busy driving their cars and honking their horns and getting worked up over the price of gasoline and the stock market and whether or not Billy Crystal should play in a Spring Training game.

Marcus from Gerard Avenue in the Bronx only gets worked up about what’s pinned to his Yankee jacket. It’s a homemade button that has to be updated all the time.

Today it says:
3,987 dead Americans in Iraq.
How many did you know?

Marcus knew two.

“They were both neighborhood guys,” he says. “They joined the Army because they didn’t have a choice. They say there’s no draft in this country, but I guess that depends on where you’re from and how rich your family is.

“Guys around here get ‘drafted’ all the time,” Marcus explains. “You get out of high school and you can either join the military or deliver pizzas and live under a bridge in a cardboard box.”

Too many kids are coming home in wooden boxes these days.

“I made this button when my friends were killed,” Marcus says. “We had just passed 1,000 dead. I didn’t think it would last much longer, but now it looks like it might go on forever.

“They’re never going to run out of kids to send over there,” he continues. “People in places like the South Bronx are getting poorer and more desperate so they will keep ‘drafting’ themselves. And the people running this country will keep getting rich off it.”

And Marcus will keep adding up the cost.

“I’m sick of changing the number on this damn button,” he says. “I hoped it might make a difference, but it hasn’t so far. People in my neighborhood are too poor to do anything about it and no one else even seems to care.”

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Broken Windows

They broke some windows on West 41st Street last night. That’s what happens when you play baseball inside a fancy glass building.

It wasn’t what some people expected at TheTimesCenter from a panel discussion – Streets of New York: Writers Covering the City – that included journalists Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, Susan Dominus, Dan Barry and Clyde Haberman.

“I thought this was going to be about journalistic ethics,” someone in the audience whispered as the first pitch was thrown.

Breslin started the game by talking about a book he’s reading on legendary general manager Branch Rickey. Then he weaved baseball into the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“We’re still fighting the same battles,” Breslin said. “I read about Phillies manager Ben Chapman and all the hate he aimed at Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers. Then I look at Geraldine Ferraro and see the same thing.”

Hamill jumped into the batter’s box.

“Jackie laid the groundwork for this,” he said. “Obama’s run began on April 15, 1947, when Robinson took the first step.

“There are many similarities,” Hamill continued. “Robinson had the courage to enter a battle knowing that he couldn’t fight back. Now we see Obama doing things much the same way.”

Those parallels show that progress has been slow.

“But at least there’s been progress,” Hamill said. “You can look at Obama and see that we’ve come a long way.”

And you can look at Ferraro and the racially-divisive campaign run by Hillary Clinton and see that we still have a long way to go.

“It’s the job of newspaper columnists to tell the stories that can make a difference,” Hamill explained. “We want our readers to say ‘I didn’t know that’ or ‘I never thought of it like that.’ It’s a double off the right-field wall if they say both.”

Another window gets broken, but this time it’s for journalistic ethics.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

One Last Time

John Dugan has lived exactly 87 years.

“Today is my birthday,” he tells everyone within earshot on the 2 train.

Most of his life has been spent within walking distance of Yankee Stadium.

“I’ve been going there as long as I can remember,” Dugan says. “I worked for a popcorn vendor on River Avenue when I was a kid and would sneak into the bleachers once the game started.

“I didn’t go enough after the war (World War II),” he explains. “There were times when I was too tired from working too much and other times when I was too broke from not working enough.

“But there’s really no excuse for missing too many baseball games,” Dugan admits. “Those are the good times and there are never enough of them. Take it from someone who knows.”

He speaks with a lifetime of experience.

“I’ve been through plenty,” Dugan says. “There’s been good and bad, but I guess that’s how it always is.”

“What’s the worst you’ve been through?” someone asks.

“I don’t think you ever really know,” Dugan explains. “You may think things are bad, but they can always get worse. I grew up during the Depression and thought that was bad.

“But the war was really bad,” he continues. “When I was in France and Belgium and Germany I would have loved to be shivering under the covers in my little apartment in the Bronx.”

“What’s the best thing you’ve ever seen?” someone else asks.

Dugan smiles.

“My wife,” he says. “I met her walking down the Grand Concourse and we were married just before the Army shipped me overseas.

“We were together for 67 years,” Dugan continues. “I lost the best part of me when she died last year. I’ve managed to keep it going, but it’ll never be the same.”

Dugan shakes his head.

“She always baked me a chocolate birthday cake,” he says. “I don’t ever eat chocolate cake anymore because it couldn’t be as good.

“Baseball isn’t as good either,” Dugan continues, “but I still want to go to Yankee Stadium like we used to do together. Sunday afternoon games were our favorite. I’ll go on a hot day and afterwards I will get an Italian ice and sit in the park until dark.

“Yeah,” he says. “I’ll do that one last time.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tools Of The Trade

Javier has the right sound, but he can’t quite get the motion down.

“Brrrrrrrrrr,” he growls trying to simulate a chainsaw. “Brrrrrrrrrr…”

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart are locked in puzzled stares.

“What the heck are you doing?” someone finally asks.

“It’s a make-believe chainsaw,” Javier says extending his empty hands. “I’m pretending to cut down trees the same way the guys were cuttin’ down hitters last night. Joba and Kennedy and Traber and Hawkins and, of course, Mariano was brilliant as usual.”

“They all pitched well,” someone says. “It was a lot more impressive than your little chainsaw impression.”

Everyone laughs, but Javier keeps going.

“It was beautiful,” Javier says. “They were cuttin’ down the hitters and stackin’ up the outs like firewood.

“And they’re just gettin’ started,” Javier continues. “The kids have all the talent in the world and this pitching staff has the tools to keep it going all year.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Forming Opinions

Anthony was squeezed on the 2 train this morning. He got on a nearly empty car at Burke Avenue in the Bronx, but by Penn Station he was wedged between the center bar and a woman who kept jabbing him in the ribs with her elbow as she furiously worked on her BlackBerry.

“I don’t mind getting banged around a little,” Anthony explains. “It’s a reminder that I am one little person in a big city.”

The woman couldn’t hear him because she was also listening to her iPod.

“A lot of people do that,” Anthony says. “I guess it’s fine for them, but I like to hear what’s going on in the train and on the street and at the ballpark, too.”

An unfiltered Yankee Stadium is the most important.

“I see lots of people listening to the radio at the game,” Anthony says. “I’ve never done that because the game is personal to me and I don’t want broadcasters in the way.

“Everyone’s got an opinion they’re trying to sell,” he continues. “I like to get the facts and form my own.”

His opinion on:

The woman elbowing him:

“She needs to take off the headphones, put away the BlackBerry and join the party.”

The 2 train:

“That’s where the party always is.”

The left-field seat he has for Opening Day:

“I’m looking forward to everything: the train and the climb to the upper deck and batting practice and the game. It will be just me and 55,000 screaming fans and my team and nine innings.

“I’ll be one little person in a big ballpark,” Anthony continues. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Future

Phil Hughes’s four no-hit innings traveled through the Bronx on the wind. That was the only option with the game not on television or radio today.

It’s the same way news of him first reached the neighborhood. His legend started floating over high-school baseball fields and moved quickly through places like Charleston and Tampa and Trenton and Scranton.

All along it was passed down busy counters and across tables and around subway cars. It built on park benches and at newsstands and bars and cigar shops and crowded grocery stores.

And then one day the whole city knew everything about a pitcher none of us had ever seen. We all got a good look at him last year and everyone saw the promise.

Hughes will soon be at Yankee Stadium and all over the television and radio again, but today that promise belonged to those with the ability to imagine.

Close your eyes for a look – blazing fastballs, knee-buckling curves, exploding sliders, and disappearing changeups – at the future.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


The rain made it a good day to stay undercover in the Bronx.

But there was no cover in Tampa for Francisco Cervelli. He was drilled by a David Price fastball in the seventh inning and bowled over in a play at the plate by Elliot Johnson in the ninth inning.

Cervelli fractured his right wrist in the collision, but he quickly brushed off the incident.

“It’s part of the game,” he said.

Those are the words everyone expected from a tough guy like Cervelli.

Joe Girardi was not as forgiving.

“I think it’s uncalled for in Spring Training,” Girardi said. “You get people hurt. Now that’s what we’ve got; we’ve got Cervelli hurt. I’m all for playing hard, but I don’t think it’s the time when you run over a catcher in Spring Training.”

Those are the words everyone expected from the manager.

The Tampa Bay Rays should know what to expect from the Yankees when they meet again on Wednesday.

They should also know what to expect in the Bronx. April 4 is now circled on every calendar in the neighborhood.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Keeping The Dream

Jon has a good job at a warehouse in Hunts Point. He moved up to shift manager and got a raise this year. But his weekends are still spent driving a cab to save for Yankee tickets.

“The extra money comes in handy,” Jon says, “but that’s not the only reason I do it. I have always wanted a cool story about driving a ballplayer. I’ve heard about guys picking up Satchel Paige. He paid with checks and the guys never cashed ‘em because they had Satchel’s signature.

“I want to drive Derek Jeter someday,” Jon continues. “I would get him where he’s going in record time and then maybe he would flip me an autographed ball and say, ‘You’re the best driver in the city.’”

Jon laughs at his own story and says:

“That would be a first coming from one of my fares.”

His driving has been described as “unique” and “interesting” and “the most frightening 20 minutes imaginable.” One lady even suggested that he should drop everyone in Coney Island so they could ride the Cyclone to calm their stomach.

“She was exaggerating a bit,” Jon says. “I may not be as smooth as the full-time hacks, but I get the job done.”

The job has changed.

“You used to talk to people about the weather and baseball and maybe politics,” Jon explains. “If they were visiting you would tell them about the Statue of Liberty and the best breakfast joints.

“Most people don’t want to talk these days,” he continues. “They are all wrapped up in their own little world with headphones and cellphones.

“It’s just not as interesting as it used to be,” Jon goes on. “There are people I drove years ago that I’ll never forget. Then there are faces that got in my cab last week and I couldn’t pick them out of a lineup.”

He will always be looking for Jeter.

“It’ll probably never happen,” Jon admits. “But there’s no harm in keeping the dream.”

Thursday, March 6, 2008

As Good As It Gets

Johnny Blevins was going through the motions on the 2 train this morning. He started by mimicking a big right-handed swing and then broke into a homerun trot that took him through the subway car and finished with an extended fist.

“I love Shelley Duncan,” Blevins says. “That guy is a blast to watch.”

Blevins has all the Yankee moves.

“Run through the batting order,” he says.

“Johnny Damon.”

Blevins jumps into the lefty’s stance and waggles his hands that are holding an imaginary bat.

“Derek Jeter.”

Blevins flips to the right side, holds up his hand and gently slides into position. A perfect inside-out swing rockets a single into right field. He finishes at first base with a sweeping clap.

“I’m the best at doing Jeter,” Blevins says. “It’s because I’ve been watching him for so long.”

But Jeter wasn’t the first one he imitated.

“I started with El Duque,” Blevins explains. “I loved the high kick and decided to try it. It’s harder than it looks, but I got pretty good after awhile. Then I picked up Paul O’Neill. Mostly his batting-helmet throws when he made an out, but I got his swing down, too.”

He has it all down these days.

“Keep going with the hitters,” Blevins says.

“Bobby Abreu… Alex Rodriguez… Jason Giambi… Jorge Posada: lefty and righty… Hideki Matsui… Robinson Cano… Melky Cabrera: lefty and righty…”

“Go through the pitchers,” Blevins orders.

“Chien-Ming Wang… Andy Pettitte… Mike Mussina… Phil Hughes… Joba Chamberlain… Ian Kennedy… Kyle Farnsworth... Brian Bruney...”

“And the best for last,” Blevins says.


Blevins looks in for the sign, spits, comes set, and then fires an exploding cutter that finishes the hitter and the game. He walks slowly off the mound and extends his hand.

“Congratulations,” he says.

That’s as good as it gets on the 2 train.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Just Like Baseball

It rained rivers in the Bronx this morning.

“I almost got washed away,” said Bill from Mott Haven. “But I’ll take this with a smile if we can get a nice afternoon for Opening Day.”

The rain was big and fat on Manhattan’s Upper Westside.

“You’ve got to be quick on a day like this,” said Marco as he danced around the puddles on Amsterdam Avenue. “I stay close to the buildings and use the awnings for cover. It’s like being in a rundown and trying to avoid the tag.”

Leslie – who sells beer at Yankee Stadium and works on Wall Street – lost her umbrella downtown as the rain blew sideways.

“This weather is crazy,” Leslie said. “It reminds me of the seventh-inning beer rush because I’m just trying to survive.”

The wind whistled up Maiden Lane and took Carlos’s Yankee hat for a ride.

“It’s like chasing down a ball in the gap,” Carlos said. “But I got to it and threw the runner out at second.”

Things were drying out by lunchtime.

“It turned out pretty nice,” said Ira from Tremont Avenue. “You’ve gotta hang in there every day because you never know what’s gonna happen.

“Hey,” he exclaimed. “That’s just like baseball.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Full-Time Fan

Jon from Highbridge has been dragging. The guys that gather around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart have watched it develop for weeks, but they all hoped he would turn things around.

Javier from Walton Avenue ran out of hope this morning when Jon slogged up and ordered his usual – black coffee and a glazed donut – with the same tired look on his face.

“What’s going on?” Javier asked. “You look like you’re working three jobs instead of two.”

“It’s nothing to worry about,” Jon insisted.

“Maybe it’s that huge bag you’re always lugging around,” Javier shot. “That thing looks like it’s ready to give birth.”

Jon cracked a smile and dropped the overstuffed Yankee bag off his shoulder.

“It’s filled with baseball magazines,” Jon explained. “It seemed like every day for a month there was a different one at the newsstand and I’m a sucker for anything with a ballplayer on the cover.

“Then there’s all the newspapers,” Jon continued. “I read in the bathroom and on the train and on my lunch break and I still can’t get through everything. It just keeps accumulating in my bag. I love all the baseball coverage, but trying to keep up is wearing me out.”

“Maybe you should become a full-time fan,” Javier scoffed.

“Is anyone hiring?” Jon snapped.

Everyone laughed.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Old Habits

Javier walked over to Yankee Stadium this morning because old habits are hard to break. His baseball tickets are already secured though his many neighborhood connections, but he was drawn to the ticket line that ran along River Avenue.

“I have lots of great memories from here,” Javier explained. “I always wanted to be first in line, but I never was. I did have some pretty good spots though. They were like gold in the days before the Internet.”

His friend Jose came out last night looking for a good spot and Javier was bringing him breakfast. He had a sack stuffed with chocolate donuts, egg sandwiches, coffee and a couple of bananas. When he spotted Jose near the front of the line he pulled out a banana and moved in from behind.

He jabbed the banana in Jose’s back and said:

“Stick ‘em up.”

Jose slowly raised his hands and then quickly spun to grab the banana.

“Thanks for breakfast,” he said.

Javier peeled the lid off his coffee and asked for the scoop.

“So what’s been happening?”

“What do you think has been happening?” Jose snapped. “My feet hurt and my back hurts and I’m cold.”

“But at least you’re having fun,” Javier said.

“No,” Jose said. “I’m not having fun.”

Javier shook his head.

“I just don’t understand you kids today,” he said. “I’ve stood in the snow for tickets and loved every minute. Any sissy can sit in front of a computer and buy baseball tickets. You’re out here doing it the right way.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” Jose said.

“We’ll come out together next year,” Javier promised. “I’ve got this big book of baseball trivia and I’ll bring dominoes and we can play all night.”

“You really are crazy,” Jose said.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Bronx Is Ready

A bar napkin doesn’t make a great scorecard, but that’s the best Eduardo could do today.

“It’s a mess,” he admitted, “but it’s my first game of the year.”

The Bronx was watching real baseball – although just on television – for the first time in a long time.

“I know they’ve played a couple of games,” Eduardo said. “This is just the first one I get to see.”

Eduardo was settled in his seat at the end of the bar at Ball Park Lanes on River Avenue. The Sunday papers had been read and laid in a heap, but The New York Times Sports Magazine PLAY – with its feature on Hank and Hal Steinbrenner – was tucked in his back pocket.

“I’m saving it for later,” Eduardo explained. “There wasn’t enough time to finish the story before the game. I’ve heard about it and I love how Hank and Hal are helping their father with the team so I want the chance to soak it all in.”

It was a good day to soak in the Yankees, too.

“This team is so much fun,” Eduardo said. “I just love to watch ‘em.”

He watched them turn a double play behind Andy Pettitte: 6-4-3.

He watched Jason Giambi blast a three-run homer into the bleachers: HR 3RBI.

He watched Melky Cabrera track down a drive to centerfield: F-8*.

He watched the game end in a tie: 7-7.

“It was great,” Eduardo said with a smile. “Spring Training isn’t always about winning and losing. It’s about getting ready for the season.”

The Bronx is ready.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


Javier from Walton Avenue was determined to share his thoughts on Mike Mussina. He clipped a newspaper article a few days ago and tucked it in his pocket to wait for just the right moment.

He decided to make his move while watching the old men play dominoes in Joyce Kilmer Park this afternoon.

“Did you guys hear about Mussina?” Javier asked the group gathered around the game.

Everyone was concentrating on dominoes.

Javier grabbed their attention.

“Mussina said you’re a bunch of old cranks,” he fired. “And that none of you know a damn thing about baseball.”

They all turned and laughed.

“Okay,” someone said. “What did he really say?”

“He was talking about what it’s like to get old,” Javier said. “That should sound familiar to all of us.”

Javier smoothed the newspaper clipping and read some quotes:

“There is no normal Spring Training when you’re 39,” Mussina said. “This takes a lot of work. There are plenty of people out there who want to do what I do. I’ve got to stay after it and be ready to go.”

Javier skipped down in the story and continued reading:

“I knew that I wasn’t going to just stroll into camp and be a starter my whole career,” Mussina said. “I have to go out there and prove that I can still do it. Maybe it’s time that I get pushed again.”

Javier folded the newspaper article and slipped it back in his pocket.

“We’re all pushed to prove ourselves,” Javier said. “That’s why Moose’s words stuck with me. I think that attitude will help him have a great year.”

Everyone nodded and then went back to dominoes.

Determination always pays off.