Monday, June 30, 2008

Inches And Pitches

Baseball is a game of inches and those inches matter most on pitches.

Alex Rodriguez – who had a chance to tie yesterday’s game in the ninth inning – spoke about baseball’s oldest and purest truth.

“I thought, for a moment, it had a chance,” Rodriguez said of the ball he hit to left field. “It was a good pitch that jammed me a little. I didn’t quite get it.”

Billy Wagner threw the pitch and Rodriguez took a good swing. It was just an inch that caused the ball to die at the edge of the warning track.

Darrell Rasner threw a pitch without that inch to Carlos Delgado in the third inning. It bounced off the scoreboard for a home run.

Twenty-six players battled for three hours yesterday and it all came down to two inches on two pitches.

It always does.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Extra Special

Wins make everyone smile. Tough, gritty, grinding wins make the smiles a little bigger.

The Yankees had to survive rain delays and they had to scrape runs off a tough pitcher and they had to get big outs late in the game. The result was a 3-2 win, but it seemed like more.

“It felt like an extra-inning win,” said Javier, who lives on Walton Avenue in the Bronx. “It was like one of those games where you come close to winning and then you come close to losing and then you finally win it.”

Javier smiled over his morning coffee and continued.

“Every win is special,” he said, “but that one felt a little extra special.”

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Lessons Learned

Everyone learned something yesterday.

The kids that sell cold bottles of water outside Gate 4 at Yankee Stadium learned that business is good when it’s hot.

The old men who play dominos in Joyce Kilmer Park learned that some games are meant to be lost.

The guys that gather around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart learned that you can’t judge a baseball season by a few bad innings.

They all may have know those things going in, but a bad afternoon loss and a good evening win can reinforce a lifetime of lessons.

Derek Jeter went over baseball’s most important rule late last night.

“You’ve got to be good at forgetting,” he explained when asked about the Yankees’ afternoon loss. “This game has to be played with a short memory.”

That goes for every day and every game.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Good In Everything

Javier from Walton Avenue shook his head at the possibility as he stood in line for coffee this morning.

“If only they had waited a little bit longer last night,” he said sarcastically. “The Yankees could’ve played most of three games in three different Stadiums all in one day. Beautiful.”

“I bet that woulda been a first,” someone shot.

“Yeah,” Javier agreed. “I hated to lose that lead (3-1), but the guys are gonna get plenty of work today.

“I’ve done the two-stadium doubleheader before,” Javier continued. “It was exhausting and I sat through the games. They’re big-leaguers and they can handle it, but I’m glad they didn’t wait around all night in Pittsburgh. It certainly makes today a little easier.”

Javier smiled and shrugged.

“You gotta try and find the good in everything.”

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Radio Voice

Javier cleared his throat and made the call:

“W-I-N-Z broadcasting from the Bronx,” he said in his best radio voice. “We bring you baseball around the clock because the whole world can change in 24 hours.”

The guys around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart smiled.

“Actually,” someone said, “it changed in nine innings.”

“Yeah,” someone else shot, “everything is right with the world this morning.”

They all laughed.

Javier unleashed his booming voice, again.

“Stay tuned,” he announced. “There is more drama and more excitement and more Yankee wins coming to you on W-I-N-Z.”

“Can we get a new broadcaster tomorrow?” someone asked.

“Can I get new listeners?” Javier fired back.


“So I guess we’re stuck with each other,” Javier said.

Everyone smiled and nodded.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Something To Talk About

No one was talking this morning.

The guys around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart stood with their heads down in an uneasy silence.

Jon from Highbridge gave only a weak nod goodbye when he headed for his downtown construction job. He slumped in the back of the 2 train as it rumbled under the Harlem River into Manhattan.

“There’s really nothing to say about last night’s game,” Jon explained. “It’s over and done with.

“They have to bounce back,” he continued. “A win will give us something to talk about tomorrow.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

After An Off Day

Javier from Walton Avenue turned up his hands and shrugged his shoulders as he stood in line at Juan Carlos’s coffee cart this morning.

“There ain’t much going on,” he said. “Last night was boring, but I’m really well organized now. I did wash and straightened up my books and made neat little piles of newspapers and magazines.

“You’ve gotta do that stuff sometimes,” Javier continued, “but I don’t want to make it a habit. I’ll clutter things up tonight with some baseball. I’ll be in front of the television with my scorebook and pencils and a big bag of chips.”

Javier smiled.

“I’ll vacuum the crumbs on the next off day.”

Monday, June 23, 2008

Off To Work

The 2 train carried the Bronx to work this morning.

Some people slumped sleepily in seats with tool boxes at their feet and others drank coffee and read newspapers.

Eduardo – an old left-handed pitcher from Mott Haven – wanted to talk about Andy Pettitte.

“That was some really good pitching,” Eduardo said. “Pettitte wasn’t perfect, but I loved watching him work out of trouble. Getting big outs with the game on the line really gets your blood pumping.”

Eduardo smiled.

“I would give anything for one day like that,” he said. “Just one day when I could stand on the mound and command a game. Guys like me will never know that feeling. That’s why I’ve got to watch these days.”

He smiled, again.

“And go to work on Monday mornings.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Father And Son

The day started with two new hats.

“We can’t go to the game without hats,” the father said. “These are just like the players wear.”

“Even Derek Jeter?” the son asked.

“Yes,” the father said with a smile. “Even Derek Jeter.”

They settled into their seats in Section 3 with a scorecard and sodas and a big bucket of popcorn.

“I think they’re gonna win one for us,” the father said.

The son grinned.

“I really hope so.”

The game was tight into the seventh inning and then it started to slip away.

The faith of the father stayed firm.

“They’re gonna come back,” he said.

The son smiled and nodded.

The day ended with a loss, but faith in the team never ends.

“We’ll get ‘em tomorrow,” the father said.

“Yeah,” the son said tugging on the brim of his hat. “The Yankees will win tomorrow.”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Soldier’s Story

Brian peered over the crowd at the players’ gate outside Yankee Stadium last night. He wore standard-issue military fatigues and clenched a baseball in his left hand.

“Thanks,” I said offering out my hand.

“Thank you,” Brian said.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Oklahoma City,” Brian shot. “I come from a family of Yankee fans that goes back to Mickey Mantle and Bobby Murcer, but this is my first time here. It’s the first time anyone in my family has been to Yankee Stadium.

“I’m station at Ramstein Air Base in Germany,” he continued. “I’m on my way home for a couple of weeks before we head back to Iraq. I just had to stop and see a game. I want to get this ball signed for my father. He’d really like that.”

“You can move to the other side of the fence,” I offered. “The players always sign for soldiers, especially Johnny Damon.”

“How do I get over there?” Brian asked.

We walked toward East 157th Street along Ruppert Avenue and appealed to the good nature of the police.

The cops nodded Brian through.

“Thanks,” he said.

Then he turned and waved at me.

“Thank you for helping me out.”

No, Brian. Thank you.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Perfect Fit

Joba Chamberlain is from Nebraska, but he fits perfectly in the Bronx.

“You get up in the morning when you’re washing your hair and you’re brushing your teeth, and you know you’re going to have to get yourself out of a jam,” Chamberlain explained after working out of a couple of tight spots in yesterday’s game.

The guys that gather around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart every morning smiled when they read that in the newspaper.

“That’s just like us,” said Javier from Walton Avenue.

Everyone nodded.

“We get into all kinds of scrapes,” Javier said. “Life ain’t perfect, but having Joba to get our team out of jams makes things a little brighter around here.”

That’s a perfect fit in this neighborhood.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Yankee Stadium was emptying out after last night’s win, but Carl didn’t want to leave his seat in Section 3.

“I feel like sleeping right here,” he said. “Then I’ll be nice and early for tomorrow afternoon’s game.”

Carl doesn’t live far – two stops on the D train – but it still seemed like a long way to go after a rain delay pushed the game close to midnight.

“I’d give anything for a cot in one of the storage rooms,” Carl said. “I’ll even take a sleeping bag and unroll it right here. I’ll grab coffee and a hot dog in the morning and be ready to go.”

Carl smiled when a cop yelled at him to get moving.

“I’d better head out,” Carl said. “I don’t want to spend the night in jail because I’d never make bail before the first pitch.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nothing For Granted

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart were still feeling a little sorry for themselves this morning.

“Glum isn’t what I expected from this crowd,” Javier said as he ripped into a glazed donut. “Winning is sweet so let’s see some smiles.”

“Winning is great,” someone admitted, “but we’re still worried about losing Chien-Ming Wang.”

Everyone nodded.

“Sure we’re gonna miss him,” Javier agreed. “But this isn’t about us. It’s about Wang. He’s the one who’s hurt and has to do all the work to get back.

“We shouldn’t take that for granted,” Javier continued. “This guy is always taken for granted. Put down 19 wins from him every year, right? It’s not that easy and coming back from this injury won’t be easy either.”

Javier finished off the donut and washed it down with the last of his coffee.

“Wang’s a tough guy,” he resumed. “If anyone can recover and be ready for the stretch run, it’s him.”

“I won’t take him for granted when he gets back,” someone offered.

“Don’t take the work he’s gonna do in the next couple of months for granted either,” Javier said. “No one will see it, but it’s gonna be important.”

They all nodded and a few knowing smiles broke through, too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Everyone Needed

Jorge Posada talked a little baseball at The Pierre Hotel last night.

He and his wife Laura hosted their annual Heroes of Hope Gala to benefit the Jorge Posada Foundation, which raises money for research and treatment of craniosynostosis. The event was held on the Upper Eastside – a world away from the neighborhoods surrounding Yankee Stadium – but the game met him at the door.

Reporters asked about the foot injury that will keep Chien-Ming Wang out until at least September.

“He’s our best pitcher and it’s a big blow,” Posada said. “But we have to go on and win games. Someone will have to step up in his spot and we will keep it going.”

Posada’s words blared from televisions and radios and floated out of apartment windows and swirled through the South Bronx.

It was exactly what everyone in the neighborhood needed to hear.

Monday, June 16, 2008


A restless night gave way to an anxious morning in the Bronx. Jose looked down the subway platform and into the tunnel for a 2 train.

“What’s taking so long?” he asked no one in particular. “Do they think I’ve got all day?”

Heads turned and eyes rolled.

Jose laughed at himself.

“I’m sorry to rant,” he said to anyone who would listen. “I didn’t get enough sleep and I’ve already had too much coffee.

“I spent half the night trying to get updates on Chien-Ming Wang,” Jose continued. “I eventually came to the conclusion that he was on an airplane coming home and there wouldn’t be anything new on his injured foot. I finally went to sleep, but I woke up early to check the newspapers.

“I know there’s nothing I can do,” he went on, “but I can’t help myself. I need to know what’s going on with my baseball team.”

A few more heads turned and some eyes rolled his way.

Jose laughed at himself, again.

“Where’s that train?”

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Smiles All Around

Sometimes baseball can break out the smiles.

Everyone was reminded of that in the eighth inning when Robinson Cano bounced a run-scoring single up the middle. He rounded first and glanced back at Melky Cabrera crossing the plate before he allowed himself to enjoy the moment.

Cano – hitting just .220 with four home runs and 21 RBIs – hasn’t had much to smile about this year.

His struggles at the plate forced him to the bench last night, but with the Yankees clinging to a one-run lead he was called on to pinch hit.

Two hops and through and it was smiles all around.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Work In Progress

Joba Chamberlain may not have been perfect last night, but Jorge Posada liked his work.

“It was very good,” Posada told Peter Abraham in the Journal News. “He threw all his pitches and did a lot of things well. That’s what we wanted to see.”

Chamberlain worked six innings and gave up only one run. But Houston did steal four bases when he had trouble holding runners close.

“That’s going to come in time,” Posada said. “It’s just something we have to work on.”

Joe Girardi put it in perspective.

“Joba’s a work in progress just like the rest of us.”

Friday, June 13, 2008


The crowd gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart started to break up around 7 a.m. They scattered through Highbridge and Mott Haven and a couple of guys headed across the 145th Street Bridge to their jobs in Harlem.

Javier grabbed a downtown 2 train.

“I’ve got a longer commute these days,” he explained. “I’m putting in drywall at a building on Nassau Street. It’s a pretty long ride, but it’s nothing compared to what the guys had to do after last night’s win in Oakland.”

Javier’s train was heading along Manhattan’s Westside about the time the Yankees were checking into their Houston hotel.

“We had a late game on the West Coast while everyone else got to play in the afternoon,” Javier said. “These other teams try to squeeze every dollar out of us because they can’t get their own fans to come out for a getaway afternoon game.”

Javier shook his head.

“I’m sick of my team always having to getaway in the middle of the night.”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fighting Words

Edinson’s alarm clock went off at the usual time – 6 a.m. – but he was fighting to stay awake on the 2 train this morning.

“I hate West-Coast trips,” he said. “I haven’t left New York and I still have jetlag.

“These days are easier to take when the Yankees win,” Edinson continued. “It’s a real fight to get through after a loss.”

But the Bronx is full of fighters.

“I’ll make it,” Edinson promised. “I might grab a nap at lunchtime, but I’ll be ready for another late night and early morning. The team is expected to battle through every game and I always do the same. I don’t think you’re much of a fan if you’re not willing to pay that price.”

“Those are fighting words,” someone said.

Edinson smiled.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

All The Comforts

I just got back from a quick trip to Washington, D.C. Sometimes work tries to get in the way of baseball, but I was able to watch the Yankees from my hotel last night.

Some of the comforts from home found their way into my room at the corner of 10th Street and New York Avenue. I was able to get the Yankees’ broadcast with Ken Singleton and John Flaherty. And, of course, Chien-Ming Wang was solid pitching into the eighth inning.

Wang did have base runners in each of the first seven innings, but the adrenalin was comforting in my sterile accommodations.

He used four double plays to hold Oakland down. There was a 6-4-3 in the third and a 5-4-3 in the fifth and a 4-6-3 in the sixth. The biggest came with the bases loaded and one out on the seventh. Wang got the groundball that turned into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play that made me jump off the too-soft hotel bed.

“All right!” I yelled. “That’s the way to do it!”

Someone in the next room pounded on the wall.

But even rude neighbors couldn’t take anything away from the 3-1 win over Oakland. I slept for a few hours on scratchy sheets and caught an early train home.

Tonight it will be West-Coast baseball with all the comforts.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Never Forget

Ken Singleton dropped a line on a Yankees’ broadcast a few weeks ago. I was reminded of his words on a warm day made for baseball.

“They used to pay me to hit home runs,” he said. “Now, I’d pay them for the opportunity to hit just one more.”

Ballplayers never forget what it’s like to do something great.

Most of us never know that feeling, but we also don’t have to deal with the loss.

A man standing behind the fence outside the players’ gate at Yankee Stadium said:

“I’d trade places with Singleton in a second.”

That’s easy to say, but I think I would, too.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Who Wouldn’t?

The guys around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart were talking politics.

Jon from Highbridge started the conversation.

“I always think of Billy Martin when the presidential race heats up,” he said. “Billy once said: ‘Being a Yankee is the greatest thing in the world. I’d rather be a Yankee than be the President of the United States.’”

The rest of the guys shrugged.

“Who wouldn’t?”

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Political Signs

There aren’t many signs in Section 3. The television cameras don’t aim that high at Yankee Stadium, but that didn’t stop 12-year-old Allie from Parkchester from making a beauty.

“She spent most of the morning working on it,” her father explained. “Everyone seems to like it.”

It was made from the side of an old refrigerator box. There was a big red “Vote” at the top and underneath Hillary Clinton’s name was crossed off and John McCain’s name was scribbled out and there was a line through Barack Obama’s name, too.

In bold letters across the bottom it said:

“Derek Jeter For President.”


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Small Change

Darrell Rasner was tough last night. He pitched around infield bleeders and leadoff doubles and he got big outs with runners on third.

Allowing only two runs in eight innings is usually good enough to win. It didn’t work out that way, but Rasner remained focused.

“I always stick with the same approach,” he explained to reporters after the game. “I know these guys are going to score runs. It’s a matter of time before they break out. I can’t change what I’m doing.”

A mark in the win column is the only change he needs in Oakland.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Worth It

Jason Giambi hobbled to the plate on a sore foot and hit a homer to win the game.

There were two outs and Giambi was down two strikes to one of the games toughest closers – B.J. Ryan – but those were just props in this drama. It came down to one swing that plastered thousand of smiles across the Bronx.

Giambi’s smile was the biggest. Maybe it’s because he knows that a ballplayer only gets so many smiles.

Earlier this year a reporter asked if he’d thought at all about retiring.

“This is the greatest life there is,” Giambi shot. “Why would I want to retire and be a normal person?”

Normal people don’t play leading roles in baseball dramas and they can’t make thousands of people smile on a beautiful afternoon. But they also don’t have to deal with the pain and preparation and travel and incredible scrutiny that are such a big part of: “The greatest life there is.”

It certainly seems worth it on days when you hit a ball out and win a game and can cover everything with a smile.

Giambi knows it’s worth it every day.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Numbers

Javier jabbed me in the arm outside the players’ gate last night. He held up nine fingers.

“Nine victories,” he shot. “Moose is better than ever. Maybe this is the year he finally wins 20 games.”

The numbers kept piling up.

“And how about Jeter?” Javier fired. “He passed Mickey Mantle in hits.

“You know,” Javier deadpanned, “I’ve heard that Mantle was a pretty good player.”

Eyes rolled in his direction.

Javier finally cracked a smile and laughed.

“Everyone just needs to keep putting up the numbers.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hoping For Better

Yankee Stadium was burning bright when Joba Chamberlain threw the first pitch of his first big-league start.

“The place was really jacked up,” explained Javier, who lives over on Walton Avenue. “It felt like a playoff game against the Red Sox.”

Chamberlain reached his pitch limit in the third inning and the Stadium didn’t feel the same after that.

“It went from a postseason atmosphere to something more like Spring Training,” Javier said. “I know everyone was hyped up about Joba’s start, but Dan Giese held it close and gave us the chance to beat a really good pitcher (Roy Halladay).

“The fans going flat didn’t break the game open against us,” Javier continued, “but it didn’t help either.”

The crowd thinned in the late innings.

“It’s embarrassing that some fans can’t make it through a game,” Javier said. “They expect a maximum effort from the team, but don’t give it themselves.”

Javier shrugged.

“I’m hoping for better tonight.”

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Bottom Line

The mood was glum on the 2 train this morning.

“Joe Girardi spoke for all of us,” said a man slumped in his seat.

“I’m not happy,” Girardi told reporters after last night’s loss in Minnesota. “The players aren’t happy. Nobody is happy with this.”

Girardi was blunt when asked about leaving runners on base and surrendering leads.

“It’s very frustrating for everyone,” he shot.

Especially for Andy Pettitte:

“It’s an extremely disappointing loss,” Pettitte said. “I’m extremely disappointed in the way I performed. The team gave me the lead three different times, and it’s unacceptable.”

Girardi summed it up:

“We have to start playing better: That’s the bottom line.”

The mood will be better on the 2 train tomorrow.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Wakeup Call

Jose’s eyes hung heavy on the 2 train this morning. The city always wakes up slowly on Mondays, but today seemed sleepier than usual.

“The Yankees looked tired yesterday,” someone offered.

That punched Jose’s button.

“You always look tired when you lose,” he fired. “It’s too easy to explain it like that. Baseball is a hard game and things don’t always go your way. That was just one of those games you have to put behind you.

“I’m sure they’ve already done that,” Jose continued. “They’ll be ready to win one tonight.”

Jose smiled and said:

“Thanks for the wakeup call.”

Sunday, June 1, 2008


This neighborhood looked tired the morning after a game that was closing in on five hours. But the smiles still broke through because of an extra-inning victory over the Twins.

“That was a big win,” said someone hustling down the Grand Concourse.

A woman rushing to make the 2 train added:

“Things are starting to come together.”

A man waiting on the 149th Street subway platform explained:

“It wasn’t easy, but they pulled it off. I was drained just watching the game so I can’t even imagine how the players felt.

“I woke up with a hangover,” the man continued, “and I don’t even drink. I need to get some breakfast – with plenty of coffee – and I’ll be ready for today’s game. I’d love to see them win it in nine innings, but I’m willing to suffer through just about anything for a victory.”

Even another hangover.