Thursday, July 31, 2008

Saying Goodbye

Javier tugged my elbow after yesterday’s game and whispered the news.

“We traded for Pudge.”

The specifics of the deal spread quickly through the crowd that was gathered outside the players’ gate at Yankee Stadium.

“That’s a great move,” said Jon from Highbridge. “It’s too bad that we lose Kyle Farnsworth, but Pudge Rodriguez will be a difference maker going down the stretch.”

Javier nodded.

“I can’t wait for Pudge to get here,” he said, “but I still hate to see Kyle go.”

Farnsworth was the last to leave the clubhouse. He carried an equipment bag over his shoulder, a cardboard box under one arm and an overstuffed shopping bag in his other hand. He set everything on the ground and came over to say goodbye to the fans that were left outside the players’ gate.

“Thanks, Kyle,” said someone offering their hand.

“You’ll do great in Detroit,” said someone else. “Just don’t comeback and beat us.”

Farnsworth forced a smile and then signed every autograph and shook every hand.

It’s hard to say goodbye.

But today we get to say hello to Pudge.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Short Rest

The Yankees jumped back into the game as quickly as they had slipped out of it. But their ninth-inning rally fell short and everyone headed home.

“It’s a day game tomorrow,” said my friend Javier outside the players’ gate. “We all gotta sleep fast.”

A day game after a night game feels better following a loss.

“We’ll forget about this after a win,” Javier said. “Joba is starting and the guys will keep swinging the hot bats.”

Javier smiled and said:

“I’ll be ready to go on short rest, too.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Breaking The Silence

The Bronx was quiet this morning.

The guys around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart didn’t have much to say.

Only breakfast orders were being shouted at the Crown Diner: “Two eggs scrambled, crispy home fries and whiskey down.”

Even the 2 train rolled quietly under the Harlem River and down the Westside of Manhattan.

Javier, who was slouched in the back corner of the last car, finally put down his newspaper and broke the silence.

“We took a beating last night,” he said. “Everyone takes a beating once in a while and it always knocks the wind out of you. We just need to take a deep breath and know that that the Yankees will come out ready to play tonight.”

Monday, July 28, 2008

Coming Home

The Yankees are coming home tonight.

Jon from Highbridge started preparations early this morning.

“I helped my daughter pack her bag,” he said. “There is stuff she likes to bring to every game: Her Yankees coloring book and a picture of Derek Jeter and her pink baseball glove.”

Jon settled into a seat at the back of the 2 train as it rumbled downtown.

“I’m getting to work early so I can leave in time to pick her up from school,” he explained. “We’ll get to the Stadium and catch a little batting practice and then get popcorn before the game starts. She always wants cotton candy, but we make a deal and get the big bucket of popcorn. It lasts the whole game and we can share.

“I’ve got a busy day at work,” Jon continued, “but I’m gonna be thinking about the game for most of it. Maybe this is the night she catches a foul ball with that pink glove.”

He smiled and said:

“I glad they’re coming home tonight.”

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Longest Day

Sunday-night baseball makes for a long day in New York. A win by the Yankees on Saturday made the wait a bit easier to take.

Andy Pettitte worked hard for that victory.

“I was able to mix it up enough to hang in there for six innings and give the team a chance to score some runs,” Pettitte said. “I expect us to play well and I expect us to win. We are a good hitting club. I think we should knock tough pitching around. We have those kinds of players.”

Those players make the wait worthwhile.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

New York Smiles

New York City smiled on a sunny Saturday morning.

It was a good day to sit in the park and read the newspapers.

Mariano Rivera, who nailed down a 1-0 win for his 26th save, told the story.

“Joba did a tremendous job,” Rivera said. “He pitched like a veteran and it was outstanding to watch.”

The city watched on televisions and listened on radios and pumped their fists when Rivera finished it with a strikeout. Everyone pumped their fist again for Chamberlain.

“Joba came up big for us last night,” said someone walking along Broadway. “That was his game.”

Derek Jeter agreed.

“Joba deserves all the credit,” he said.

Chamberlain just soaked in the experience.

“That was the kind of game that makes you better,” Chamberlain said. “You understand it’s going to be tough, but you can’t break. Josh (Beckett) is an unbelievable pitcher. He battles and claws, and we got that one break. Jason hit that ball right where it needed to be.”

Giambi’s RBI single was all Chamberlain – with the help of Kyle Farnsworth and Rivera – needed.

“That’s the way you want it to be,” Chamberlain said. “And this is the way it’s going to be for the rest of the year.”

New York City smiled, again.

Friday, July 25, 2008

More Moose

Javier – an old lefty who used to throw a good fastball and a great curve – likes to turn the conversation to pitching. Mike Mussina’s outstanding season is one of his favorite topics these days.

“Moose is pitching the way I would,” Javier likes to say. “We’re both smart, but he’s got all the talent.”

The guys that gather around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart usually roll their eyes, but today they all smiled when he greeted them with:


Javier peeled the lid off his cup and tossed out some questions.

“Moose has been great this year, right?”

Everyone nodded.

“He’s helped put us in the middle of the division race, right?”

They all nodded, again.

“And he gives the best quotes, right?”

Everyone smiled.

Javier pulled out the newspaper.

“A reporter asked him why he went with a changeup to strike out Brendan Harris on Wednesday,” Javier said. “This is what Moose told him: ‘Just because. Jose called for it, and I said, ‘Hey, good idea,’ and shoom.’”

The guys laughed.

Javier continued with another Mussina quote:

“We’ve got a team right now that believes in themselves and believes that we can play with anybody, any time.”

“Yeah,” everyone said.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

All The Answers

Mike Mussina is comfortable with the questions these days.

And why wouldn’t he be?

He has all the answers.

“What do you think about already having more wins than last year?” reporters asked after he pushed his record to 13-6.

“This is a different year and I’m a different pitcher,” Mussina explained. “Physically I couldn’t do what I needed to do last year. This year I can.”

“What was working for you today?” reporters asked.

“Pretty much everything,” Mussina said. “I could throw the ball where I wanted and was able to stay in good counts. That’s exactly what you’d like to do in every game.”

Mussina had thrown 99 pitches and there were two outs in the seventh inning when coach Dave Eiland jogged to the mound with a question.

“Are you afraid of 100?” Mussina shot.

“Do you want to pitch to this guy?” Eiland asked with Denard Span coming to the plate.

“Yeah, let’s go,” Mussina said. “Get out of here.”

Mussina threw a curveball to Span for a called third strike to finish the inning. The crowd in the Bronx left no question how they felt about his effort.

Mussina smiled when reporters asked him about that.

“When you can walk off the field and feel good about what you’ve done, it’s fun.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cool Thoughts

The last car on the 2 train didn’t have air-conditioning this morning. Neither did the next car or the next car.

“There’s no sense in fighting it,” Javier said. “I’ll just sit down and sweat.

“You gotta roll with it on days like this,” he continued. “Some people get upset, but that doesn’t do any good. I just hang out and think cool thoughts.”

“What kinda cool thoughts?” someone asked.

Javier wiped his neck with a cloth and smiled.

“Getting a cooler of ice water dumped on my head like Bobby Abreu got from Robbie and Melky when he won that game (against Tampa Bay) a couple of weeks ago.”

Yeah, that’s cool.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

At The Ready

Javier is working at a downtown construction site these days.

“The money ain’t bad,” he admitted, “but it’s hot and dirty.”

He didn’t have time to go home and change before last night’s game so he brought a fresh Robinson Cano T-shirt to slip on.

“It smells better than the other one,” Javier said. “I didn’t want to offend the other fans because I was raising my hands to wave out the home runs.”

The Yankees hit three homers – one each by Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Cano – and beat the Twins 12-4.

“Cano’s shot was the longest,” Javier said. “The kid is really heating up.”

Javier waggled an imaginary bat and tried to imitate Cano’s home-run swing.

“It was way out in the (right-field) upper deck,” he said. “That is Giambi’s neighborhood, but I don’t think he’ll mind if Robbie moves in, too. Everyone needs to keep hitting for the rest of the year.”

Javier took another cut.

“I’ll keep working on it,” he said. “We all need to be ready.”

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hot Seat

Yankee Stadium was hot yesterday.

“It was like watching baseball on the edge of a volcano,” said Colin, who sat in Section 31. “The sun beat down on us and made for a long day. I’m exhausted, rung out, used up and I didn’t even do anything. I don’t know how the players go out and perform in weather like this.

“Jose Molina had one of the toughest jobs on the field,” Colin continued. “Catchers always work hard and all the equipment makes a hot day even hotter. That throw he made to end the game (catching Rajai Davis stealing) was incredible. I could barely lift my arms to clap and he’s nailing base stealers.”

Colin wiped his forehead and smiled.

“I guess that’s why Jose was behind the plate and I was behind the foul pole in Section 31.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Whatever It Takes

Sometimes there is only one way to win a baseball game. But there are always thousands of ways to lose.

The Yankees spent 12 innings and nearly five hours avoiding the thousands in their quest for the one. What they needed was a cut-fastball that hit Jose Molina’s knee with the bases loaded.

“Whatever it takes,” Molina told reporters. “It feels good because we won the game, but it hurts.”

Molina felt a bit better when he walked out of the players’ gate and the crowd yelled his name. He smiled and waved.

“That’s the way to take one for the team,” someone shouted.

Molina smiled, again.

Whatever it takes.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Another New Home

Richie Sexson arrived at his new home in the Bronx last night.

“I’ve always loved coming here,” he explained to reporters. “It’s a great place to play.”

He got comfortable in the neighborhood by ripping an RBI single to center in the first inning.

“It was a fun night,” Sexson said. “It’s a lot better having these fans on your side, that’s for sure. It’s a great atmosphere.”

Sexson could settle in and make this his last baseball address or he could be looking for a new place in a few weeks.

He understands this life can include lots of stops. Some of his were short-term leases in minor-league towns like: Burlington, North Carolina and Columbus, Georgia and Kinston, North Carolina and Akron, Ohio and Buffalo, New York. And then there were the big-league rentals in: Cleveland and Milwaukee and Phoenix and Seattle.

Sexson will probably go back to Brush Prairie, Washington, when it’s all over, but these days he’s making the best of things in the Bronx.

Welcome home, for now.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Back To Baseball

The Bronx is back to being itself today.

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart are running though the starting pitchers for the series against the Athletics.

“It’s gonna be a great weekend,” someone says. “We’re throwing our three best: Moose, Joba and Pettitte.”

Everyone smiles and nods.

The counter at the Crown Diner is elbow-to-elbow and the baseball talk is wall-to-wall.

“The bats will heat up in the second half,” someone shoots. “Damon and Jeter and Abreu are gonna be on base and A-Rod and Giambi and Posada will be driving them home. I think Cano will get rolling and so will Melky.”

“Yeah,” someone else says. “The break is over and this team should be ready to put it together.”

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Usual

Javier always orders The Usual.

He rattles it off:

“Two eggs over easy with home fries, rye toast and coffee.”

A comfortable grin settles on his face.

“That’s been my order for years,” he explains. “Sometimes I think about changing it up. Maybe getting pancakes or oatmeal or those fancy waffles with strawberries and whipped cream.

“But I always stick with The Usual,” Javier continues. “Some people think it’s boring, but I like the consistency.”

He pauses for a moment and then adds:

“I was just reading that the Yankees are looking for the same thing.”

Javier scans the newspaper and reads some quotes:

“Derek Jeter: ‘We need to play with more consistency.’”

“Alex Rodriguez: ‘It’s all about being consistent with our approach.’”

“Jorge Posada: ‘We’ve done some good things, but not consistently.’”

Javier flashes a big smile.

“They should start with breakfast,” he says. “Come by the Crown Diner and I’ll order The Usual for everyone.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Real Baseball

The All-Star Game was staged at Yankee Stadium, but some real baseball broke out deep in the Bronx night.

It started in the bottom of the seventh inning when J.D. Drew pulled the American League even with a two-run homer. The National League came back with a run in the eighth, but the American League matched them.

Then the exhibition – which is what the All-Star Game usually amounts to – was over and the game was on.

There were big hits and costly errors and great defense and spectacular pitching. Drew was named the Most Valuable Player, but there were plenty of outstanding performances from Mariano Rivera and Joakim Soria and George Sherrill and Scott Kazmir and Dioner Navarro and Nate McLouth and Russell Martin and Miguel Tejada and Ryan Dempster and Aaron Cook and Carlos Marmol and Brandon Webb.

The last seven innings had nothing to do with gaining home-field advantage for the World Series. It came down to two baseball teams that wanted to win. You saw it when McLouth threw out Navarro at the plate in the eleventh and you saw it when Carlos Quentin threw his bat in disgust after striking out with the winning run on second in the thirteenth.

Mostly you saw it when the American Leaguers piled out of the dugout and swarmed Michael Young after he won the game with a sacrifice fly that scored Justin Morneau in the fifteenth.

The All-Star Game was filled with real baseball and it was appreciated in the Bronx.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Moose Calls

Javier woke up with a plan in his head this morning.

“We need to do something for Mike Mussina,” he announced to the guys at Juan Carlos’s coffee cart. “We’ve got our three All Stars – Derek, A-Rod and Mariano – and we wore mustaches to try and get Giambi in. But Moose has been forgotten and he shoulda been an All Star, too.”

The guys all nodded.

“Moose made it sound like it wasn’t a big deal when he got passed over for the All-Star Game,” Javier said. “He explained how he would just go to the county fair and have fun with his kids.”

Javier unfolded a map, pinned it to the side of the coffee cart and stuck his finger on Hughesville, Pennsylvania.

“We should go to that county fair in honor of Moose,” Javier said. “We can eat corn dogs and funnel cakes and drive the bumper cars.”

Javier turned to blank stares.

“I love Moose,” someone finally said, “but I don’t have time to go to a country fair in Pennsylvania.”

“Can we, at least, give him some extra-loud Moose calls on Friday night?” Javier asked.

Everyone nodded and then they started:

“Mooooose. Mooooooose. Moooooooooooose.”

Monday, July 14, 2008


The All-Star hype is gearing up in New York, but the Bronx was more interested in the Yankees this morning.

“It’s disappointing to go into the (All-Star) break with a loss,” said someone in the group gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart. “We had a chance to pull closer to the top, but it just didn’t happen.”

Everyone shrugged.

“I think the break is coming at a good time for us,” said someone else. “The guys need to get away from the grind for a few days. They should come back fresh and ready to make a run at the division.”

They all nodded.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” someone added. “It looks like Damon and Matsui will be back soon and we’re only six games out of first with 67 to play.”

“Yeah,” someone else shot.

Everyone smiled.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day-To-Day Life

Baseball is a day-to-day life.

A 4-for-4 evening can turn into an 0-for-4 afternoon in just a few hours. That’s always made the game less about how a man hits and more about how he gets back up.

Bobby Murcer could hit – 252 home runs and a .277 career batting average – but he was best at getting back up.

And he was always up for baseball.

The Yankees won on the day that Murcer finally lost his fight with brain cancer. The victory seemed hallow, but I’m sure it wasn’t to Murcer.

I can hear his voice bouncing from the television:

“That was a great win for the Yankees…”

Every win is great win and every day is great day.

Bobby Murcer showed us all how to live a day-to-day life.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Game

Baseball is an easy game when you’ve won four in a row.

“We‘re playing well,” Joe Girardi said after the Yankees extra-inning win on Wednesday. “We just have to keep scoring one more run than the other team.”

It’s a disappointing game when that streak comes to an end.

“That’s baseball,” Girardi said with a shrug after Thursday’s loss in Pittsburgh. “Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the other pitcher.”

It’s a frustrating game when you run into the best pitcher on the planet.

“Roy Halladay didn‘t give us much of a chance,” Girardi explained after last night’s loss in Toronto. “His performance was the whole game.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

Stuck With It

Henry – the man who knows everyone and everything – was in his usual spot outside Yankee Stadium today.

“Hey,” he said. “Where’s your mustache?”

“I left it at home,” I admitted. “During Wednesday’s game I had it on, but Jason still didn’t win that All-Star vote.

“It’s too bad,” I continued. “But I’m glad to see that you’re still behind the campaign.”

“I’m never going to shave it,” Henry shot.

“Every little bit helps,” I said. “Maybe we can demand a recount.”

Henry shook his head.

“Nope,” he said. “I think we’re stuck with it.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Feeling Good

Bobby Abreu was doused with ice water after his game-winning RBI double.

“Robbie and Melky got me with the water cooler,” Abreu explained in a postgame interview. “It felt good.”

Everyone gathered around the players’ gate at Yankee Stadium got drenched in a late-afternoon thunderstorm.

“I don’t mind the rain after a win like that,” said Javier as he soaked it all in. “It was a hot day anyway so this really feels good.”

Yeah, it really did.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Javier from Walton Avenue looked like he had worked five-straight days out of the bullpen.

“A day game after a night game is a grind,” Javier said. “The boss will let me take off early, but I have to get my work done.

“I rushed through breakfast and tore through the newspapers,” he continued. “It will be fast and furious until I cut out and get ready for baseball.”

Javier smiled.

“Then it’s all worthwhile.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Business As Usual

Signs of the All-Star Game are already popping up around the neighborhood.

“Those billboards in the subway stations are huge,” Javier said. “Maybe the extra advertising dough will help keep the trains running this summer.”

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart laughed.

Javier shrugged.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I almost forgot where I was.”

This is the South Bronx where the carpetbaggers roll in and the money rolls out. It’s always been that way around here and in every other poor neighborhood in this country.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will continue to raise fares, cut service and allow our infrastructure to crumble. That’s business as usual for them.

Major League Baseball – a $6.075-billion-dollar industry – is estimating record profits from this All-Star Game. Those profits will flow from the Bronx and into the pockets of 30 of the richest men in the world. That’s business as usual for them, too.

The signs are up. The carpetbaggers are in. And the money will roll out. That’s the way it always goes in this neighborhood.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Bronx Rules

Pedro knows the rules.

“I have to be in bed at 11 pm,” he explained. “My mother doesn’t care about the inning or the score.”

That’s the way it is when you’re 12 years old.

“I used to have a little radio,” Pedro said, “but she caught me listening to the game and I can’t have it in my bedroom anymore.”

He watched the first eight innings of last night’s game on television in his Gerard Avenue apartment just four blocks from Yankee Stadium.

“I had to go to bed when it was really getting good,” Pedro said. “The best I could do was open my bedroom window so I could hear the crowd. The roar told me they won, but I had to wait for fans to start walking past the building to find out how they did it.

“I yelled down and someone told me that Brett Gardner won the game,” he continued. “I wish I could’ve seen that.”

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Little Things

Little things won a big game for the Yankees yesterday.

Jason Giambi scored with a slick slide to the outside of the plate on a Melky Cabrera hit in the second inning. Then Brett Gardner drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth.

There were also great plays by Robinson Cano and great pitching by Mike Mussina and Jose Veras and Kyle Farnsworth.

Then Mariano Rivera had to wiggle out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth.

“You can’t have doubts,” Rivera explained to reporters. “You have to make pitches. If you have doubts, a lot of things can happen. You just have to face it, one by one.”

That’s how a great pitcher cuts the big things down to little things and gets the job done.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Real Responsibility

Major League Baseball has something called the “Welcome Back Veterans” initiative. The program is designed to raise awareness and support for returning veterans while also raising funds and providing job opportunities.

It’s nice gesture.

And this country – each and every one of us – should be ashamed.

Supporting veterans is not an initiative or a program or a charity. It’s a responsibility that doesn’t have limitations.

But the only thing limitless is this country’s neglect.

We send soldiers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan with substandard equipment – old helmets that won’t stop a piece of shrapnel and no body armor and patrol vehicles that aren’t safe enough to drive on the Cross Bronx Expressway – and we give them poor pay and lousy healthcare and crummy housing and virtually no hope of a decent life back home if they’re able to survive.

The “Welcome Back Veterans” initiative is nice way of showing what a sorry society we have become. Wearing special hats and putting “I Support the Troops” bumper stickers on gas-guzzling vehicles and standing in the seventh inning for God Bless America does nothing to support the troops or the veterans.

It’s time for this country to take some real responsibility.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Reputation

Javier was determined to do his part. He cheered loudly – completely committed to a comeback rally – until the final out.

“That’s my job,” he said with a shrug. “It’s easy to be behind the team when they’re winning, but this is when they need us most.”

A thin smile crossed Javier’s face.

“Besides,” he said. “I’ve got a reputation to protect.”

Brett Gardner pumped some extra pride into the neighborhood when he picked up his first big-league hit on Wednesday night. The fans gave him a standing ovation and he gave them much more.

“These are the greatest fans in the world,” Gardner said. “I’m really lucky to be here playing for the greatest franchise in all of sports. It was a great moment.”

Javier flashed a wide grin.

“We’ve all gotta live up to that.”

Thursday, July 3, 2008


The 2 train was quiet this morning.

“There had been a lot of fretting over the last few days,” admitted Jon from Highbridge. “But I think everyone feels better after last night’s win.”

Jon laughed to himself.

“Fretting?” he shot. “I sound like my grandmother. That’s what we’ve been doing though. We fret about everything: the hitting, the pitching, the defense, the injuries.

“All of us are guilty,” Jon continued. “Even the most positive fans fret after a loss. I hope they keep winning because I’d like to keep it to a minimum for the rest of the season. I do better as the calm-confident type.”

Jon tried to hold back, but finally burst out laughing.

“I’ll be fretting the first time they don’t score nine runs in an inning,” he admitted. “It’s not pretty, but it makes my grandmother proud.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Good One

Javier climbed down from his fifth-floor apartment on Walton Avenue. He picked up a newspaper and flipped through the pages as he made his way up the Grand Concourse toward Juan Carlos’s coffee cart.

He stopped at 159th Street and read a message from Mariano Rivera.

“I’m disappointed and I’m upset,” Rivera told reporters after last night’s loss, “but tomorrow is another day.”

Javier smiled and ordered the usual.

“Regular coffee with two sugars,” he shot. “And I’ll also take that donut with the sweet frosting and chocolate sprinkles.”

“That’s a $1.50,” Juan Carlos said.

Javier dug out the money and handed it over before ripping into the donut.

“Yum,” he said with a grin. “It’s got jelly filling.”

Juan Carlos peered out of his cart.

“Hey,” he yelled. “That shoulda been $1.75 with the jelly donut.”

“Nope,” Javier said. “All sales are final. That’s a rule.”

Juan Carlos relented.

“Okay,” he said. “The jelly filling is my treat.”

“Nope, again,” Javier fired. “It’s Mariano’s treat. He said: ‘tomorrow is another day.’ It looks like a good one so far.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Part Of The Game

Mike Mussina has been a ballplayer for most of his life. He knows how the game works and he knows that sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

“I had good stuff and so did their guy,” Mussina told reporters after last night’s 2-1 loss. “Texas has been scoring a lot of runs and I was able to hold them down pretty good, but that’s just the way it happened tonight.”

Sometimes it works out differently.

“There have been days when I’ve given up runs early and we’ve come back and won,” Mussina pointed out. “It’s all part of the game.”