Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nothing Back

Alex Rodriguez – born just across the Harlem River in Washington Heights – spoke for the Bronx yesterday.

“It hurts a lot,” Rodriguez told reporters after the Yankees’ loss. “This is a game we feel we should have won.”

Many pointed to Robinson Cano’s error as the reason why they didn’t.

“We win as a team and we lose as a team,” Rodriguez said. “Robbie had a great day offensively and he’s been playing great defense. It’s one of those plays that you wish you could take back.”

But baseball takes nothing back. Not the low throws or the bad pitches or the hard-hit balls that turn into double plays. And it certainly never takes back the hurt.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Straight From The Doctor

Some guys in the neighborhood decided to give Javier from Walton Avenue a new title.

“We wanted something that fit,” said his friend Jose. “We thought about it for a long time and I think we got it right.”

They decided on Doctor J because Javier hands out such sound advice.

“Yeah,” Jose said. “I used to think he was kind of a know-it-all, but he really does understand things that the rest of us miss sometimes.”

“What kind of things?” someone asked.

“He keeps saying that anything is possible,” Jose explained. “That makes everyone feel better and good things happen when people are feeling better.

“He told us to believe in Carl Pavano,” Jose continued. “Then Pavano comes back and really gives the team a lift. Now the whole neighborhood feels good about the rest of the season.”

Jose smiled and said:

“Anything is possible. And that’s straight from the Doctor.”

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pitching Philosopher

Mike Mussina fielded the question – the reoccurring one about the Yankees’ chances of making the postseason – with the same skill and quickness he did a liner to end the seventh inning.

“If we can go out and win one ballgame every day, then it doesn’t matter what our chances look like here with 29 to go,” Mussina said. “We have to go out and win that given day. You can’t look at it like we’ve got to win 10 out of 15 or 20 out of 25. You have to win one ballgame.”

Tonight it’s against Toronto.

Slugging Poet

Jason Giambi – lefty slugging poet – dropped the signature line after dropping the hammer on a game tying two-run homer and a game-winning single.

“You feel like you’ve got an opportunity to not let the ball club go quietly into the night.”


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Almost Tomorrow

Javier was at the end of a lousy day. He stood outside the players’ gate at Yankee Stadium after last night’s loss still wearing the stain of bad beginning.

“Look at this,” Javier said pointing to a spot on his shirt. “That’s were my jelly donut exploded this morning. I started eating from the wrong end and paid the price.

“It was all downhill from there,” he continued. “Work was, well, work and my train was delayed and then we fell behind in the first inning and things got a whole lot worse before it was over.”

Javier shook his head.

“Tomorrow will be better,” he said. “It pretty much has to be.”

Javier looked at his watch.

“Heck,” he shot. “It’s almost tomorrow already.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Matter Of Respect

Campos usually heads home as soon as the game ends. He cuts quickly down the ramp in farthest right field and out gate 6. Then it’s up East 157th Street to his apartment on Gerard Avenue.

He tries to squeeze the most sleep out of a night because he gets up early – 4 a.m. – to deliver bread and rolls for a downtown bakery.

But Campos was too upset to sleep after last night’s game. He stood outside the players’ gate with arms folded and shook his head.

“I can’t believe the way some people treat A-Rod,” Campos said. “It is disrespectful to the game to treat our best player like that. He is a New Yorker and a Yankee and he helps us win so many games. To boo is ridiculous.”

There were even a smattering of boos when Alex Rodriguez walked out of the Stadium wearing jeans, sneakers and a gray T-shirt.

“What’s wrong with these people?” Campos asked. “Don’t they understand anything about this game: How it’s played, what it means and how quickly it can change?”

“Nope,” Campos said answering his own question. “Some people just don’t have any respect.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Quiet Night

There was no need to rush last night.

The father moved slowly up the street as the son darted from the curb – where he watched a bus driver assist a disabled rider – to the storefront windows. The son moved quickly past the barbershop and the pizza joint and the barroom and the newsstand and the smoke shop.

“Hey,” the son shot. “Let’s go in the candy store.”

Red hots, cherry sours and chunks of pink bubblegum were stacked in the window.

“How about some ice cream?” the father asked.

“Yeah,” the son shouted.

“I’ll have a scoop of cherry vanilla in a sugar cone,” the father ordered.

“Me too,” the son said.

They sat on a bench and ate as the city streamed by.

“We’ll be at the ballgame come this time tomorrow,” the father said.

“All right,” the son said.

The son stopped for a moment and then asked:

“Do you think Derek Jeter gets cherry vanilla like us?”

“I bet he does,” the father said.

The son smiled.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Getting A Grip

Darrell Rasner’s pain was obvious. It was cut deeply into his face when he walked off the mound in the fourth inning of yesterday’s game.

Every pitcher has worn that face. It is frustration and anger and probably a little hate, too. It makes you want to yell and quit the game and maybe even punch something.

“I’m disgusted with myself,” Rasner told reporters later. “I just couldn’t get anything to work. It was like I’d never pitched before.”

But he can’t wait to pitch again.

“I’ll be better next time,” Rasner promised. “I have to be.”

Jim Bouton said it best:

“You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball; and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Good Medal

South Korea, Cuba, the United States and Japan all advanced to the medal round of the Olympic Baseball Tournament in Beijing.

Everyone played to win, but when it was over they explained that there are no bad medals.

“It may be bronze, but it feels like gold,” Team USA’s Matt LaPorta said. “It didn't really sink in until I was up on stage and they put the medal around my neck. I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.

“It was a huge honor just being here with the best players,” LaPorta continued. “What South Korea did (finishing 9-0 in the tournament and winning the gold) was amazing because there were so many great teams here. To be able to win every game against this competition is special.”

The great Hyunjin Ryu won the gold medal game for South Korea.

“Our goal was to win the gold,” Ryu said, “but mostly we just wanted to come here and compete well. I was nervous in the ninth inning, but it worked out for us against a great team.”

Cuba had their best player – and one of the best players in the world – Yuliesky Gourriel at the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, but a double play ended their chance to repeat as Olympic champions.

Legendary Cuban pitcher Pedro Luis Lazo wore a prideful smile and his fourth Olympic medal (two silvers and two golds) when it was over.

“Silver is a fine medal,” Lazo said. “We fought hard and that makes it a good medal.”

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Downtown Deals

Downtown was full of deals this morning.

“Sunglasses,” a vendor shouted. “Two pairs for five bucks.”

A group of tourists stopped. Six pairs of sunglasses were headed to the Heartland a few minutes later.

“You gotta offer deals these days,” the vendor said. “Everybody’s doin’ it.”

Watches were going for 20 dollars and T-shirts were two for one and Statue of Liberty snow globes were down to three dollars.

Shoe shines were the best deal.

“Only a buck,” the man said. “And every shine comes with a Yankee win.”

“You can guarantee a Yankee win?” someone shot.

“Absolutely,” the man said.

“What can you do with these sneakers?” someone asked.

“I’ll make ‘em look like new,” the man said. “And you can put ‘em up on the coffee table when you’re watching the Yankees tonight.”

“A win, right?” someone asked.

“Yes,” the man said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

No Shame

The Yankees lost to Roy Halladay – the game’s best pitcher – last night in Toronto.

There’s no shame in that.

Team USA was knocked off by Cuba in the Olympic semifinals this morning. Pedro Luis Lazo – baseball’s best big-game pitcher – finished off the victory.

There’s no shame in that.

But it all still hurts.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tough Customers

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart were talking about tough customers this morning.

“Andy Pettitte is pretty tough,” someone said. “He came up big last night in a game the Yankees needed.”

Everyone nodded.

“Javier is the toughest customer,” Juan Carlos shot from his cart. “He’s always changing his coffee order and he has to handpick the biggest donut.”

Javier bounced on the balls of feet and threw a few quick jabs at the air.

“I’ll take you on right now,” Javier fired. “You never get the sugar right in my coffee.”

They all laughed.

“Roy Halladay is a tough customer,” someone offered. “He won’t be easy to beat tonight, but the guys have to do it.”

“Yeah,” everyone said.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Way It Is

Everyone on the Grand Concourse this morning knew the feeling. So did the people waiting for the D train at East 161st Street. The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart knew it, too.

The Bronx has taken punches to the gut and police clubs to the head. People in this neighborhood know all about knockdowns and beatings. And they can take it.

They can take anything because they don’t have a choice. And they take it with hopeful smiles because they don’t know any other way.

This is another day to survive and tonight there is another baseball game to win.

That’s just the way it is around here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


There wasn’t much to talk about this morning. That silence made things uncomfortable for the guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart.

Everyone was still thinking about Ronney Vargas’s senseless death. They thought about the grief of his father and the rest of his family. And they hoped that no one else would be shot in the streets.

That hope vanished quickly because they’ve all been around long enough to know that nothing ever changes around here.

So thoughts drifted to their baseball team. The Yankees have always brought real hope to a lot of people that don’t have much. They will watch televisions or listen to radios and believe that the guys can brighten a dark night in Toronto.

Then maybe tomorrow there will be a little more hope and something to talk about, too.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Basic Right

Nothing has been able to lift the mood around here. A pair of Yankee wins brought brief smiles to the Bronx, but reality wiped them away.

They were gone as quickly as Ronney Vargas’s life. He was killed on Saturday – pistol whipped and shot in the chest – because he talked to the wrong person’s girlfriend outside a bodega in East Tremont.

Vargas was a hero in his Mott Haven neighborhood and all over the Bronx. He was a three-time Golden Gloves champion and was undefeated in his first year as a professional boxer.

His record will stand at 8-0 forever because someone got jealous and used a gun.

The highest court in this county recently reaffirmed an individual’s right to own a gun. That must seem like a reasonable decision in a nice, clean courtroom. But a person’s most basic right is not getting shot. Ronney Vargas was denied that right and now a father has to bury his 20-year-old son.

Vargas is not the first person to be shot around here and he won’t be last because there are too many guns in the Bronx. There are also too many guns in Brooklyn and Queens and Newark and Detroit and Miami and Memphis and Houston and Los Angeles.

This morning someone said, “Ronney woulda been a champion. He really coulda been somebody.”

Ronney Vargas was somebody and now he’s dead.

Maybe the Supreme Court should take a look at that.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Better Win

Bobby Abreu limped off the field in the 12th inning after breaking up a double play. One inning later he shot out of the dugout and celebrated with Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner.

Everyone felt better after the win.

“This was big for us because we’ve been scuffling,” Joe Girardi told reporters. “We’ve been struggling to score runs and maybe this is the game we needed to get us back on the winning track.”

Girardi smiled and said:

“However it comes, it comes.”

It didn’t come easily.

“We left numerous opportunities out there,” Alex Rodriguez said. “I think each one of us is trying to pick each other up, and yeah, it probably weighs on us a little bit. But the important thing is we won the game.”

The Captain agreed.

“At this point, it doesn’t make a difference how it looks,” Derek Jeter said. “We need to get wins.”

There’s another one out there today.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Need To Win

The Yankees came back from three runs down in the fifth inning. And they came so close to a victory – down by one with the bases loaded in the ninth – that they desperately needed last night.

“Close ain’t good enough,” Joe Girardi snapped after the game. “We have to find ways to get it done. We had a ton of opportunities early and we had opportunities late. Because we didn’t execute, we didn’t win. At some point, you have to start executing on a consistent basis if you want to play in October.”

But Girardi isn’t thinking that far ahead.

“We need to come out and win tomorrow,” he said. “We can’t worry about this game or yesterday’s game or who’s ahead of us in the standings. We just need to win.”

It starts today.

Friday, August 15, 2008


My barber Orlando likes to push the limits. He has clippers, shavers, a hot plate and a coffee pot plugged into one electrical outlet. Sometimes the strain is too much and the splitters and extension cords will pop and smoke.

“That’s when you know it’s time to turn something off,” Orlando explained. “You’ll never find the limit without smoke. That’s what the Yankees are finding out right now.”

Orlando pointed to a pair photos on the back wall of the barbershop. One was of Floyd Mayweather Jr.: the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world before retiring earlier this year. And the other was of Derek Jeter: the best pound-for-pound baseball player in the world.

“Derek and the Yankees need to takes some lessons from Pretty Boy Floyd,” Orlando said. “They need to put up a good defense and throw some punches. They can win this thing, but it’s gonna be a fight. The next six weeks will push ‘em to the limit.”

Orlando smiled and said:

“That’s the only way to find out what you’re capable of.”

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Orders From The Top

Derek Jeter answers the questions at shortstop. He answers the questions in Yankee Stadium and all over the Bronx and on the 2 train, too.

The trip under the Harlem River and down the Westside of Manhattan was dragging after another disappointing loss, but Javier focused on The Captain’s words.

“Derek admitted that it was a bad road trip,” Javier explained. “He said that the team needed to fix some things and start scoring runs and winning games.

“Maybe we already knew that,” Javier continued, “but it’s important that it came from Derek. On the radio last night I heard someone ask him if the rest of the team was confident and he said: ‘They better be.’”

Javier’s face turned serious.

“And we had better be, too.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Javier was in his Walton Avenue apartment when the final out settled into Bobby Abreu’s glove. The clock flashed 12:29 a.m. in the Bronx – 11: 29 p.m. in Minneapolis – when he turned to his friend Ron from across the hall and asked:

“How long can you hold your breath?”

“I’m not sure,” Ron answered. “How long was that game?”

“Too long,” Javier said with a smile, “but at least we won it.”

Javier checked the newspaper this morning for the official word on the 9-6, 12 inning victory.

“Four hours and 22 minutes,” he said. “That’s how long we can hold our breath because that’s what it took the Yankees to win a game they had to have.”

Javier took a deep breath and held it for a moment.

“Just warming up,” he said. “We need another win today.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Backing Up Centerfield

Melky Cabrera sat alone in the dugout last night. He stared across the field at a disappointing season – .243 with 8 homers and 36 RBIs – and another frustrating night.

It was his 24th birthday and an 0-3 game – including an inning-ending double play in the second – wasn’t how he planned to celebrate.

Maybe Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez cheered him up later with a birthday dinner. Or maybe he and his buddy Robinson Cano ate out of the hotel vending machine like so many Latin players have to do in the minors. Or maybe he just sat alone in his room and stared at the walls because he knows there are no guarantees.

It doesn’t matter that he has delivered plenty of big hits and helped this team win plenty of big games. It doesn’t matter how hard he works or how hard he plays.

Baseball is a bottom-line business. But the South Bronx is not a bottom-line neighborhood. And New York – despite the ramblings of outsiders – is not a bottom-line city.

People are important around here so we’ll be busy backing up our centerfielder.


Joe Girardi faced reporters after last night’s loss and reaffirmed his faith.

“I believe in our guys. I believe they’ll score runs. And I believe that tomorrow is another day.”

This game makes everyone believe in tomorrow and the next day and the next day, too.

“There’s nothing that says we can’t win eight in a row,” Girardi said. “When you win eight in a row, you feel a lot better about your ballclub. We’ve done it once. We’ll do it again.”

Faith is part of baseball. No one gets to tomorrow without it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Come Out Swinging

Eyes were aimed down and the platform was silent as people waited for the 2 train. The cool air drifting though the Bronx this morning hadn’t made it three stories under the Grand Concourse.

“It’s a hot blast of reality,” shoots Javier from Walton Avenue. “It really hits about halfway down and you know the day ain’t gonna be as good as you’d hoped.”

There haven’t been too many good days in the Bronx lately.

“We’ve taken a beating,” Javier admits. “The Yankees need to win games and they just haven’t put it together.”

Each loss has been tougher than the last.

“Yesterday was the most frustrating,” Javier explains. “There were so many chances to win that game and we missed ‘em. That can’t happen anymore. The guys know what they need to do and they’ll come out swinging in Minnesota.”

Javier forces a smile and says:

“They have to come out swinging.”

Sunday, August 10, 2008

On Winning

The best players are always focused on winning. It’s what they talk about even after a disappointing loss.

“Quite honestly, we can’t look back now,” Derek Jeter said. “We’re running out of games so we need to move on from this point. We need to play well.

“Every game is important,” Jeter continued. “We need to come out and win.”

Pudge Rodriguez is new in the neighborhood, but he knows plenty about winning.

“This team has the talent to win everything,” Rodriguez said. “But we’ve got to start winning.”

The rest of the season begins today.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What They Said

Ian Kennedy said something after last night’s loss:

“I’m just not real upset about it. I’m just going to move on. I’ve already done that.”

Alex Rodriguez said something else after breaking an 0-15 slump with a solo homer:

“I haven’t been taking it that hard. I just want to go up there and hit the ball hard and have good at-bats. There hasn’t been a lot of that lately, but tonight was better so we’ll see what happens.”

Both players were talking to reporters and had to say something. Kennedy’s words may not have come out perfectly and Rodriguez may not be carrying the team like he did for so much of last season. But they both tried to say the only thing a ballplayer ever can:

“There’s nothing I can do about that (the pitches or the swings), but I’ll be back tomorrow ready to win.”

Friday, August 8, 2008

Off The List

Mike Mussina has been pitching awhile and Derek Jeter has also played in a few baseball games.

They both said the same thing when reporters asked about a play in the ninth inning last night.

“I’ve never seen that before.”

Wilson Betemit was on first base with one out when Jose Molina grounded to second. Betemit stayed on the bag because he believed the ball was a looping liner.

Second baseman Ian Kinsler threw out Molina at first which took off the force and Betemit was safe. If Kinsler had thrown to second he would have started a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. But Johnny Damon moved Betemit into scoring position and Jeter drove him in to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead.

“If you hang around this game long enough you’ll see just about everything,” Mussina said. “That’s one more crossed off my list.”

It’s off my list, too.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The News

Jon got the news on the 2 train.

“A guy at Chambers Street last night noticed my hat,” Jon explained. “He asked if I’d heard the news about Joba. I shook my head and prepared for the worst. Then he gave me the best news I could have hoped for.

“I know that rotator cuff tendinitis isn’t a good thing,” Jon continued. “But it’s a whole heck of a lot better than a lot of other stuff that has been going through my mind. Maybe he’s back in a few weeks or a month or maybe it’s not until next year. I just want him to come back strong and healthy.”

Jon paused and a thin smiled slid across his face.

“That kid makes watching baseball a lot of fun,” he said. “Knowing I have that to look forward to makes a temporary setback like this easier the take.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Go From Here

The 2 train was slow this morning.

The automated voice said: “We are being delayed by train traffic ahead. Please be patient.”

Patience runs thin during rush hours, but early in the morning – before 7:00 a.m. – delays are taken in stride.

“It’s not all bad,” said the man sitting next to me. “At least now I can finish the newspaper.”

“Is there any good news today?” I asked.

“Not too much,” the man said. “The Yankees lost and there’s still no real news on Joba.”

The man turned back a few pages in his newspaper and then continued:

“There is this quote from Joba that made me feel a little better: ‘Life’s too short to worry. You hope everything will be okay and you think it will be, and you just go from there.’”

“So I guess we should be able to go from here?” I shot.

“Yeah,” said the man.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


That two-run homer in the fourth inning didn’t seem like a big deal this morning and neither did the three-run shot in the fifth or the game-winning grand slam in the ninth.

The Bronx gained some perspective last night and the guys eating breakfast around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart were focused on reality.

“It’s amazing how quickly your outlook can change,” said Jon from Highbridge. “One minute it was about winning the ballgame and all that mattered the next minute was Joba’s shoulder. A game just doesn’t mean much when you consider the health of a player.”

Jon paused and shook his head.

“I just want the kid to be okay.”

Everyone nodded and crossed their fingers.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Title Fight

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart looked tired this morning.

“But it’s a good tired,” said Javier from Walton Avenue. “It’s the kind of weary satisfaction that a boxer feels the day after a big fight.”

Everyone nodded.

“Yesterday’s game turned into a toe-to-toe slugfest,” Javier said. “I sat in the bleachers and was emotionally exhausted when it was over so can’t even imagine what it was like to play.”

Javier took a bite of his donut and washed it down with a big swig of coffee. He swallowed hard and then fired off his game story.

“It looked like the ballgame was slipping away,” he said. “Then the Yankees climbed back into it and I thought Nady’s three-run homer in the seventh was going to be the game winner.

“But the Angels fought back,” Javier continued. “It took a flurry of hits, stolen bases and errors to finally finish them off in the eighth.

“These knock-down-drag-out games wear you out,” he went on, “but the Yankees need to keep winning at all costs. That’s the only way they’re gonna stay in the title fight.”

The guys nodded, again.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dressed For Success

Mike Mussina walked out of Yankee Stadium wearing jeans, sneakers and a Captain America T-shirt. The crowd gathered near the players’ gate let loose when they spotted him.

“Mooooose,” they all bellowed. “Moooooooose. Mooooooooooooose.”

Mussina smiled and waved.

“That was a vintage performance by Mussina,” someone said. “The Yankees really need a win and he looked perfect for Old Timers’ Day.”

Mussina always dresses for the occasion.

When asked about wearing his socks high yesterday, Mussina said:

“It’s Old-Timers’ Day. Why not do it today?”

And why not go out and beat the team with the best record in baseball?

“We need to win ballgames,” Mussina told reporters after the Yankees 8-2 victory over the Angels. “These guys have always given us trouble. We looked like they were in it today, like everybody who put on the uniform thought it was an important game.”

The Yankees will put on their uniforms and hand the ball to Darrell Rasner for another important game today.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Time Is Now

There’s a little less than two months left in the season. That’s a little more than eight weeks. It’s exactly 52 games and the Yankees need every one of them.

“We know we have to go out and win games,” Johnny Damon told reporters after a 1-0 loss to the Angels. “We’ve got to play much better and we have to beat these good teams. We aren’t getting to the playoffs if we don’t.”

That means what it always means for the Yankees at this time of year: The postseason grind starts now and they need to find ways to win the type of game they lost last night.

“This was very frustrating,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Sidney threw an unbelievable game. Regardless of who’s pitching, we’re better than no runs.”

They are going to have to be.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Finding Religion

My friend Javier found the quote on a calendar.

“It was one of those where you tear off each day,” he explained. “I saw it on the foreman’s desk and it was pretty late in the day so I did him a favor and ripped it off.”

Javier pulled the slip of paper from his pocket, unfolded it and cleared his throat.

“These are the words of second baseman Jerry Coleman,” Javier explained. “‘The Yankees were not our team, they were our religion.’”

Pudge Rodriguez feels the same way.

“I love to play in New York,” Rodriguez said on his first day as a Yankee. “It’s a dream for me to be here.

“This is a big deal for me and my family,” he continued. “It’s a thrill and an honor for me to wear this uniform.”

Jerry Coleman got it right.

The Yankees are a religion.