Thursday, May 31, 2007

Culture Shock

Conversation moved quickly at the Crown Diner.

“The guys looked good last night.”

“Yeah, this is the start.”

“Two over. Home fries. Whiskey down.”

“A-Rod came up big in the ninth.”

“Yeah, huge RBI and being heads up on the bases put the game away.”

“Order up!”

Alex Rodriguez is more than “heads up.” And he is more than the most talented baseball player of his generation. He is also the smartest and the most determined.

People can flip, fold and cut that anyway they want.

Rodriguez said it best, “I couldn’t care less what they (the Blue Jays) or anybody else thinks. I know what people in here (the Yankee clubhouse) think.”

And I know what I think: Rodriguez plays the way I was taught, which is why there is no one I’d rather watch now that I can’t play anymore.

The winning team held the field in my neighborhood and the loser went to the back of the line. Winning is what baseball is all about and our system drove that home. As a third baseman, I learned to block the view of a runner trying to tag and score on a fly ball to right or center, I learned the hidden ball trick, I learned that you never let them double up your teammate, and most of all I learned that you look for every advantage on the field.

Rodriguez found one last night. It made me smile because it helped win a ball game.

Winner holds the field and the loser goes to the back of the line. Those who don’t understand shouldn’t be in this neighborhood.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Summer Run

The frustration train ran through the Bronx and down the west side of Manhattan. Workers climbed on at every stop and slumped on gray benches as the rattle carried them downtown.

“What’s next?” Carlos asked.

“14th Street,” Jon chucked.

Carlos glared. They both laughed.

“We’ll get ‘em tonight,” Jon said. “It’s all going up from here.”

“I guess it’s got to,” Carlos shrugged.

“You guess?” Jon demanded. “We don’t guess around here. We know things are going to swing and whoever is on the other end is going to be sorry.”

Carlos’ lips curled. “Yeah, it’s going to be a good summer.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Just Win

Derek Jeter is in Toronto, but he knows the feeling in the Bronx.

“I think people are annoyed,” Jeter said. “I don’t want to speak for everyone, but it looks like people are bothered by it (losing). People show their emotions in different ways; not everyone throws things or bangs things around, but it still bothers them.”

Jeter was talking about his teammates, but he could have been talking about people on the Grand Concourse or at Ball Park Lanes or in the Crown Diner. This isn’t a 25-man effort. There are over a million people in the Bronx and over four million will stream into Yankee Stadium this year.

They all want better.

“There’s no secret formula; we just have to win,” Jeter continued. “That’s it. Period. You have to hit better, pitch better, do everything better. There’s no secret recipe to turn things around.”

No secrets. Just win. Tonight.

Monday, May 28, 2007

In The Trenches

Yankee fans are a singular tribe. Above – or below – all others we are a driven lot. There are no breaks in the Bronx. No Memorial Day getaways. No vacations. No days at the beach.

Life here isn’t always perfect, but in the summer we play baseball and that’s all that really matters.

People came into our neighborhood over the weekend in crisp red shirts and hats. They were obnoxious and there were fights.

My friend Javier and I faced off with a group of Angels fans yesterday. There were four loud ones behind us who started up in the seventh inning and didn’t quit until the final out when they aimed a racial jab at Derek Jeter.

There is nothing that will touch off a war in the Bronx quicker than a knock on The Captain.

“Shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you,” Javier shot.

“Jeter’s overrated,” one of them giggled as he kicked Javier.

Javier lunged and the giggler crashed back into his seat.

“If you want to step outside we’ll go,” Javier challenged. “There’s four of you and two of us so you might want to go back to Disneyland and get some more guys.”

Javier set his shoulders in a manner that showed he held victory in his fists.

The Angels scattered and Javier carried himself out of The Stadium the same way the Yankees will carry themselves into Toronto: Knowing that victory in their hands and their bats.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Raised To Be Razed

Jason Giambi was raised right and it’s turning out all wrong.

Giambi’s problem is that his parents taught him to be too honest, too decent, too trusting, and far too nice. Nice guys are easy targets in our society.

The big lefty can handle fastballs in, curveballs away, diving splitters, exploding sliders, and scoops at first. But he’s overmatched by the nastiness of Bud Selig and his band of billionaire owners, who are only looking out for themselves.

Giambi cares about people and he can’t hide it. His lawyer and agent have probably told him a million times not to comment on anything but the game. They understand the danger that lurks on Park Avenue. They know how mean and spiteful Major League Baseball can be if anyone threatens their bottom line.

Giambi was still determined to push the game in the right direction. Baseball pushed back with all its underhanded might. Confidential tests landed on the front page and he was called in for a sit-down.

I hope Giambi now understands who he’s dealing with, but I fear he doesn’t. His parents did far too fine of a job. They raised a good person who is being sucked into a system that’s manipulated by bad people.

It’s a dangerous situation for Giambi, but it’s even more dangerous for the game.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I love poetry, but can’t write. I love baseball, but can’t play anymore. Now I have a blog. My last two posts reminded me of some of my favorite verse.

On Tuesday, I wrote about what the Yankees mean to Mahamadou from Highbridge and what people like Mahamadou mean to the Yankees. It got me thinking about these lines from The Death of the Hired Man, by Robert Frost:
Home is the place where,
When you have to go there,
They have to take you.

Yesterday, I was forced to address the sorry state of Major League Baseball’s confidential drug testing program for amphetamines. We now know there is nothing confidential about the program and it is really little more than an extortion racket run out of the Commissioner’s Office on Park Avenue.

It reminded me of Martin Niemöller’s famous and often altered words:
First they came for the Socialists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left
to speak up for me.

I would tweak it to say:
First they came for Barry Bonds, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t Bonds.
Then they came for Jason Giambi, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t Giambi.
Then they came for those opposing them, and I didn’t speak up,
because I was afraid.
Then they came for the game, and there was no one left
to speak up for any of us.

Baseball deserves better from all of us.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Truth And Consequences

That should teach Jason Giambi. Tell the truth and they will take you down.

Their new weapon of choice is the “confidential drug test.”

Barry Bonds was the target this winter. A “confidential drug test” for amphetamines was leaked to the media during his contract negotiations with the Giants. They wanted to push him out of the game and they almost succeeded.

Now, Giambi’s “confidential drug test” for amphetamines is leaked to the media just days after he told USA Today:

“I was wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago was stand up – players, ownership, everybody – and said: ‘We made a mistake.’

“We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward… Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it.”

Giambi dared to speak out and challenge the game to do the right thing. Now he will pay. The bill came on the cover of the Daily News: “Flunked! News learns Giambi failed test for amphetamines.”

A strategic shot.

The game is controlled by people with a lot more money and power than Giambi or Bonds or any player or all the players. The message is certainly clear: Step out of line or speak out of turn and there will be consequences.

They can get to anyone at anytime. And none of it has anything to do with the integrity of the game or the health of the players. It is all about money and power.

Those who own the game will do anything to protect their investment. They will decide how it is investigated and how it is displayed. They will redefine the word “confidential” and leak information in gross violation of the collective bargaining agreement. They will steal people’s privacy and smear them at will. They are above the law and above us all.

Giambi, Bonds, Integrity, You and Me are all expendable for the good of the bottom line.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The Yankees belong in the Bronx and they belong to the Bronx. These streets are home to people from around the world. They speak a hundred different languages and bring a thousand different customs, but they all draw something from their baseball team.

While the Bronx remains the poorest borough in this city and one of the poorest urban areas in this country, the Yankees fill it with a sense of worth. Some of newest to the neighborhood have never been inside the Stadium, but they understand what the Yankees mean.

Mahamadou never saw a baseball game in Nigeria. He’s lived in Highbridge for almost two years and walks past Yankee Stadium every day. He watches South Bronx High School and Hostos Community College games, but he hasn’t seen the Yankees, yet.

“I can’t wait to go,” he says. “I’m saving my money. I always listen on the radio, but I’m glad when they are home because I can see the lights from my window.”

Chien-Ming Wang lit up the Bronx with a gutsy performance last night. He battled into the seventh inning and left to a standing ovation.

“I can hear the cheering from home,” Mahamadou smiles. “Sometimes I turn down the radio and just listen.”

The sounds of home.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Clip Job

There aren’t as many clip joints as there used to be and the term has been gentrified as a clever name for suburban hair salons, but Tyler Clippard slipped into Queens and swiped a win for the Bronx with old-fashioned speed, skill and deception.

“He’s got a live fastball, kind of a herky-jerky motion,” David Wright told Peter Abraham of the Journal News. “He kind of comes at you with a lot of elbows and legs and he was throwing strikes. When you’ve got those kinds of off-speed pitches with that kind of control, his fastball would sneak in.”

It may not have been the greatest heist in New York history, but it was a big win from a big kid who couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

“This is the greatest night of my life,” he said.

It got a little better when Yankee fans started with: “Tyler Clippard, Tyler Clippard, Tyler Clippard…”

“Yeah, the greatest night of my life…”

The first line of Clippard’s scouting report in the 2007 Baseball America Prospect Handbook is: “In his third full pro season, Clippard did what he has done every season – get better.”

His first start at Yankee Stadium will be electric, but it’ll be hard to top the effort he gave last night.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Fight Time

No one in the South Bronx dares to back down from a fight. Everyone within 10 blocks who wasn’t asleep or drunk would know the moment it happened and then the problems would really begin.

This is a tough neighborhood in a tough borough in a tough city. Our baseball team is the same. They play to win every day and always comeback stronger tomorrow. Any less would mean big problems around here.

The Yankees have had it rough so far, but that doesn’t change today or tomorrow or the next day. They will come out ready to fight.

And win.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Climb

Brian from Washington Heights sank into a seat on the 1 train this morning and asked, “Are the Yankees going to climb out of this?”

Of course.

New Yorkers climb and climb and climb. There are stairs everywhere: Subways, ballparks and walk-ups.

Jimmy Breslin once said, “No story in New York happens under the fourth floor. You climb stairs and all the stories are at the top of the stairs. You get into trouble when you get there using an elevator. All the news business starts with your feet.”

The baseball business, too.

It’s hard to appreciate the game without the climb. Baseball is as hard as the streets and the tunnels and the stairwells. That’s why baseball is so much a part of New York and New York is so much a part of baseball.

Up and down the same stairs every day never gets old because New Yorkers know that the climb is all the fun.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Usual

Coffee and eggs – over easy – rice and beans and flour tortillas is the best way to start a day. A win is the best way to end a doubleheader.

They say doubleheaders are hard to win and easy to lose and you usually split. The Yankees took the usual in the nightcap behind a strong start by Chien-Ming Wang, who was nominated for mayor over breakfast at the Crown Diner.

Ultimately, it was decided that he was far more valuable to this city as a pitcher.

“He always gives us a chance to win,” said Javier between bites of his omelet. “When they give him some runs he locks it down.”

Taking the series today would be a big step for this team. Matt DeSalvo has been very good and the bats are coming alive.

Winning two of three with the occasional sweep will become the usual in the Bronx.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Something Better To Talk About

The first game didn’t go well, but it’s better to win the nightcap of a doubleheader if you can only win one.

New York needs something better to talk about.

Something To Talk About

They need to play this doubleheader in Chicago because New York is running out of things to talk about.

The moment last night’s game was rained out and rescheduled as part of day-night doubleheader, people started debating starters for Sunday. “Will Moose or Wang go on short rest or will they call up Clippard or Wright or Steven Jackson?”

Mike Mussina stuck a fork in it. “I haven’t pitched this game yet,” he said. “Why don’t we worry about (today’s) game before we worry about Sunday?”

Even that shot of reality won’t stop the talk.

Yeah, let’s play ball.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Win Today

A day off has turned New York into a city of mathematicians and scientists. I was cornered this morning by some guy in a suit that burst onto the 2 train at 34th Street and started assailing me with winning percentages and batting slumps.

“Keeping Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano in the lineup is troubling,” he said.

“No,” I countered. “It would be troubling if you and I were in the lineup. You've gotta be getting off at Wall Street.”

Everyone has a theory and a formula. And everything is in play: Roster moves, batting order, pitch selection, bullpen use, travel schedules and pre-game meals. A 24-hour-a-day, 9 inning baseball reality show.

But baseball reality seldom enters the equation.

You’ve got to dig around in a pile of old quotes to find the words of noted baseball realist Mariano Duncan, “We play today, we win today. That’s it.”

That is it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Day Off

Is this an “off day” or a “day off?”

From what the team has said, yesterday was an “off day” and today is a “day off.” Getting away from the ballpark will make everyone feel better. It should help get the hitters rolling and keep the bullpen fresh.

Tuesday will be the test, but fans on the downtown 2 train had no doubts this morning.

“They will get themselves turned around in Chicago,” said Barney from Hunts Point.

People who ride the trains early – before 7:00 a.m. – are believers and they never quit. They are tough and expect the same from their team.

“They can’t give up any more ground,” said Mahamadou from Highbridge. “They need to fight through every game and when it’s over they will be on top. I know how good this team is and now they need to show everyone else.”

“They’ve got a big run in them,” Barney chipped in. “It doesn’t matter who they’re playing because they are good enough to beat anyone.”

It starts after a day off.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


You don’t spend much time on some games. They move fast and end quietly. You shrug them off as a bad night or a good pitcher. It’s usually a bit of both.

They don’t matter for long. Matt DeSalvo goes tonight and he is coming off a great start against the Mariners on Monday.

The New York Times has an interesting story in today’s paper about how much DeSalvo reads – he is currently working on Confucius – and how he is able to apply it to life and baseball.

The story sparked a memory of a Spring Training piece written in the Journal News by Peter Abraham. Back in March, DeSalvo was reading the English translation of “The Book of Five Rings,” which is a 362-year-old manual written by Miyamoto Musashi on military strategy and sword fighting.

It begins: “Strategy is the craft of the warrior…”

Every lesson applies to pitching. The battle between pitcher and hitter is pure and beautiful and violent and nasty.

DeSalvo will have a ball and a glove, but the strategy is the same as it was 362 years ago.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Chains Of Freedom

I thought I knew everything about Yankee Stadium. I haven’t missed a game in years and can almost walk to my seat blindfolded – sorry about that soda, sir – but I learned something yesterday.

The New York Times ran a story called “Patriotism, Defined and Enforced.”

This is what it taught me:

“Seconds before ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and ‘God Bless America’ are played, police officers, security guards and ushers turn their backs to the American flag in center field, stare at fans moving through the stands and ask them to stop. Across the stadium’s lower section, ushers stand every 20 feet to block the main aisle with chains.”

I sit in the Tier – which is “chain free” – and I don’t get up during the game because, well, I’m watching the game.

I also don’t stand for “God Bless America.” I haven't stood since reading about Carlos Delgado’s principled idea to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the years my decision to sit has developed into a personal statement for peace and justice.

I believe George Steinbrenner’s intentions are good. He has done so many fine things like providing free tickets to soldiers and inviting cadets from West Point to attend games.

But standing for a song has nothing to do with honoring soldiers or the “way of life” they are supposed to be defending. Plenty of those who stand and thump their chests as patriotic, drive to the Bronx in SUVs that have more armor than the vehicles we force our soldiers to ride and die in. If we want to honor our soldiers we should start by providing them with proper equipment and decent healthcare and adequate pay.

To me, standing for “God Bless America” is supporting wars that have sent too many kids back to the Bronx in body bags. It is a symbol of New Yorkers without arms and legs who will never be able to live normal lives because of the horrors we have put them through. It stands for racial profiling and extraordinary rendition and Guantánamo Bay and every other mistake this country has made since September 11, 2001.

The treatment of our soldiers and our citizens and people around the world is shameful. Songs and chains can’t change that and Americans shouldn’t stand for it anymore.

Maybe that starts with keeping your seat in silent protest.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Short Stack

I rushed through breakfast and tore through the newspapers on the train. A day game after a night game is always a rush.

Compressing a normal work day into a four-hour dash can take more out of you than, well, a normal work day. But it is always a relief to sink into a seat on the train in the middle of the day and get ready for a baseball game.

This is summer in the city.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Melky Play

This thought was buried in the midst of Chien-Ming Wang’s bid for a perfect game on Saturday, but now is a good time to bring it up because there is never a bad time for a fun baseball story.

In that game, which was dominated by Wang’s sinker, Melky Cabrera hit a slow roller up the first-base line in the third inning. As always, he was running like a pack of wolves was snapping at his heels and got to the bag at the same time as Richie Sexson and Jeff Weaver. Cutting between them he stumbled, collided with Weaver and landed in a heap. Safe.

I worried for a moment, but then I saw Melky smile and hop to his feet. Around the neighborhood he has been tagged “Rubber Man” for his bouncy style and fearless play. Later in the inning the scoreboard flashed:
Scorer’s Decision
Melky Play: Base Hit

Everyone should play like Melky.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Understanding The Game

Scott Proctor was pinched by the man and raked over the coals by people who know nothing about baseball.

Everyone knows the story: It started on Friday night when both dugouts were warned after Kei Igawa knocked down Ichiro Suzuki. Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez were both hit on Saturday. Then things boiled over on Sunday when Josh Phelps leveled Kenji Johjima on a play at the plate and Jarrod Washburn hit Phelps in his next at bat. Proctor then buzzed a fastball behind Yuniesky Betancourt.

Proctor was thrown out of the game, words were exchanged and the dugouts and bullpens emptied. That should have been the end of it. But that’s never the end of it these days. The etiquette police from Major League Baseball’s Park Avenue offices gave Proctor a four-game suspension and broadcasters have been criticizing him for the last two days.

Proctor did exactly what a baseball player should have done and so did Washburn and Phelps. There are too many people analyzing baseball that know nothing about the game.

Baseball isn’t about being nice, polite or even rational. Baseball is about winning and about being tougher than the other guy. Anyone who doesn’t understand that should stick with more gentile pursuits like golf and yachting.

Major League Baseball is played by tough men. They weed out the softies on the playground and send them off to be broadcasters or commissioners.

Proctor may get locked up and criticized by people who aren’t tough enough to do his job, but in the Bronx we appreciate the way he plays and so do his teammates. That’s all that really matters.

Monday, May 7, 2007


A lot can change in a day. The Yankees were hoping for a good start from Darrell Rasner on Sunday and they got a great one. They have been trying to patch up their starting rotation and they got some encouraging news on Phil Hughes.

And, oh yeah, they signed Roger Clemens.

That’s a big change. Clemens is the greatest pitcher of his generation, and probably the greatest pitcher of any generation. No one doubts that he will do the job. On the mound there is no give, no quit and no fear in the man.

No one in the Bronx ever wanted him to leave and everyone has wanted him back since the day he signed with Houston. Clemens was born to pitch here. Born to pitch where every out is as important to the people as it is to him.

His first start at Yankee Stadium will light up the borough. The tension was already building outside the players’ gate as Clemens threw in front of 55,000 empty seats yesterday afternoon. No one knew for sure what was taking him so long, but there was speculation.

“He’s probably working out,” someone said. “That would be just like him.”

And that’s why we love him.

The Rocket is back where he belongs.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Fresh Start

The Yankees need a fresh start. There were plenty of positives last night – the gutsy performance of Mike Myers, the great hitting and the never say die attitude – but ultimately it was a disappointing loss.

Chien-Ming Wang is the best man for a fresh start because he always gives a good start. The first month of the season has had its rough spots, but Wang will get things rolling with his bowling-ball sinker.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Grind

The Yankees broke the rules.

When it comes to doubleheaders, it’s said: “They are hard to win and easy to lose and you usually split.”

The Yankees took two from Texas yesterday.

“We had some extra aggression,” Doug Mientkiewicz said. “We went out there with a bit of an attitude. We just need to keep it going.”

It’s not as easy as it sounds. One tough game is an emotional drain. Two close ones will make you want to sleep for a week.

The team got back to New York just in time for breakfast and they need to be ready for Seattle tonight.

It won’t be easy, but this team is ready for the grind.

Speak Easy

Melky Cabrera provided a post-game highlight yesterday. He did a radio interview in English after going 3 for 4 in the opener of a doubleheader.

It was reported that Cabrera worked on his English at the urging of Mariano Rivera and Robinson Cano. He sounded great and inspired me. I am embarrassed that my Spanish isn’t better. I vow every year that I’m going to start with Spanish an make myself multilingual just like this city and this country.

I can certainly do better if a young ballplayer with the weight of the world on his shoulders can dedicate himself to the task.

Being an American means understanding and communicating with everyone.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

It’s A Beautiful Day…

…In New York. But the Yankees are in Texas so let’s play two on the radio and maybe the television, too.

That’s what today’s split doubleheader means to me and everyone else in the city. Hunkering down with a radio to hear Andy Pettitte today and rushing home between games to catch Mike Mussina’s return tonight.

I’m glad they’re back in the Bronx tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Back To Work

Phil Hughes now knows that everything can turn on one pitch. That knowledge will make him better whether his next start comes in four or six weeks.

Last night was thrilling and disappointing and promising and frustrating. The ride in the Bronx was a buzz and a blast and a break. Many believe the televisions flickered and the radios crackled in the seventh inning.

Hughes commanded the game until he threw a 0-2 curveball to Mark Teixeira with one out in the seventh. He was everything promised and more. A pulled hamstring will delay his future, but nothing can stop him.

I don’t see anything stopping this team either. The rotation is strong even with the injuries: Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Kei Igawa, and Darrell Rasner or Matt DeSalvo or maybe Tyler Clippard.

Hughes’ future has been pushed back to June or maybe July, but the Yankees’ future is tonight.

Andy Pettitte goes back to work.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May Day

Today – May 1, 2007 – will be the start of something special for the New York Yankees, New York City and the United States.

Phil Hughes will take the ball and try to get the Yankees headed in the right direction while millions of workers will take to the streets to try and get this country headed in the right direction.

May Day is a symbol of international labor solidarity and it is a rallying point against the unjust treatment of immigrant workers in this country.

The Yankees represent a city and a borough and a neighborhood that was built and is fueled by immigrants.

Our baseball team is a common bond for everyone. While resting our feet after a hard day we will watch Hughes go after his first Major League win.

Today brings us one step closer to a just society and an American League pennant.

The start of something special, indeed.