Friday, August 31, 2007

September Eve

Everyone looks ahead on September Eve.

The final month of the season is about big games and pennant races and getting to October. It starts tonight with Phil Hughes.

The youngest member of the rotation got a good look at how veteran starters work. Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Chien-Ming Wang gave the team everything it needed against Boston. Hughes will try to do the same against Tampa Bay.

“The kid gets to learn from the best,” Javier said. “He has the talent and if he uses it like the big boys he’ll be a winner.”

He came out of the Stadium to a long “Huuuughes” chant yesterday. He will hear more tonight.

“Everyone looks forward to his starts,” Javier continued. “The kid is capable of anything so you get geared up for something special.”

Everything about baseball is special on September Eve.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Night And Day

The daily grind of baseball can start to wear in August, but the night and day nature of the game can provide a lift.

“We got beat up in Detroit,” Javier said outside the players gate last night, “but we came back the last two games. I feel better because this team is going to keep fighting.”

There’s more than a month of fight left and everyone will be bring their best game. This is the grind we’ve been waiting for.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Everyone is with Mike Mussina.

“I certainly know how he feels,” said Jon from Highbridge. “When things start going badly they seem to keep going badly and then you start expecting them to go badly.”

After his last start, Mussina said:

“When I release the ball I don’t feel that anything good is going to happen.”

“That makes two of us,” Jon said. “I don’t mean that as a knock on Moose. Sometimes it’s just not working so you try something different.”

Mussina will not make his next start.

“I’m mixed about that,” Jon said. “Moose has won so many big games for us, but I think some time off will help clear his head and get him back on track.

“I’ll admit that I’m excited to see Ian Kennedy,” he continued. “I’ve heard that the kid is poised and polished and has all the weapons to handle big-league hitters. I remember someone saying that he reminds them of a young Mike Mussina.

“Fitting, I guess.”


There’s really nothing left to say about how much Andy Pettitte means to this team.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Making Sense

Mike Mussina answered every question after last night’s loss, but he still couldn’t make sense of his last three starts.

“I don’t feel I can do much of anything right,” Mussina said. “I want to keep going out there and figure out what’s going on. I can’t believe in three starts that I forgot how to pitch.”

The guys gathered around Raul’s coffee cart tried to help.

“What else did he say?” Jose asked.

Javier snapped open the newspaper, scanned the page for Mussina’s quotes and started to read:

“Two weeks ago, I felt really good about the way I was throwing the ball and I felt good about what was happening with the team. We were playing some of our best baseball. Two weeks later, it’s completely at the other end of the spectrum.”

“That’s how is goes sometimes,” Jose reasoned. “Maybe they can skip his next start to give him break.

“Is there anything else?” Jose asked.

Javier read more from Mussina:

“When I release the ball I don’t feel that anything good is going to happen. It’s tough to pitch like that. You can’t play the game that way, to feel you have no control over anything, and that’s how I feel right now.”

“That’s not good for a ballplayer,” Jose said. “That’s how the rest of us feel. It really sounds like he needs a break. Even if he’s physically fine, a mental break can help a player, too. Maybe he can come back in a week or two and feel better when he goes out there.

“That’s what he needs.”

Monday, August 27, 2007

No Excuses

Mike Mussina knows there are no excuses in a pennant race.

He knows that his last two starts were not acceptable. He knows his team needs him to go deep into tonight’s game. He’s had five days to think about everything and he knows he can put it all in the past with one good start.

He’s been there before.

Mussina pitched seven shutout innings in a must-win, game three of the 2001 American League Division Series against the Athletics. The game will always be know for Derek Jeter’s “flip play,” but Mussina came through with one of the all-time greatest postseason pitching performances.

He knows he needs to dig out another great one against the Tigers.

He knows that better than anyone.

The great ones always do.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Few Words

Derek Jeter knows how much a few words can mean. That’s why he talks to the media when the people in this neighborhood need it the most.

“It’s a little nagging thing,” Jeter said after sitting out Sunday’s loss, “but it’s really not that big of a deal. You have a day off and hopefully it helps. I’ll be out there playing tomorrow.”

Someone asked him to describe the injury.

“Annoying,” he smiled.

The Captain will be back on Monday night.

Yes, a few words can mean a lot.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Take Back

The clock flashed 3:30 a.m. when Carlos Guillen ended it in the 11th inning. Everyone called it a “tough loss.”

Is there any other kind?

When you invest yourself in a baseball game – whether it’s two hours, three hours or a four hour and 24 minute, 11-inning marathon that also includes a four-hour rain delay – it hurts to lose.

Victory would mean nothing if there wasn’t pain in defeat.

The difference between them can be slight – one pitch, one bounce or one big cut – but the emotional swing is huge.

Detroit took it last night and it’s the Yankees’ job to take it back.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Torre Rules

The Bronx is full of broken rules, but the one most likely to get you a broken nose is running down Joe Torre.

“Who said something bad about the Skipper?” Jon shoots across the counter at the Crown Diner.

“Some guy on the radio,” Jose says. “He thinks Torre doesn’t know how to manage the bullpen.”

“Really?” Jon snaps. “I’d like to discuss the matter with him.”

Everyone laughs.

Torre starts this weekend with 1,150 wins as the Yankees’ manager – second only to Joe McCarthy – and he’s earned every one of them.

People have tried to cut him down from the beginning. It started with the famous “Clueless Joe” headline and has continued with the constant picking at everything from lineup decisions to bullpen moves to what kind of tea he drinks.

“You can second guess anything,” Jon says, “but Torre is the man for this job. There have been plenty of times when the whole thing could have fallen apart, but he’s always held it together. We were down by 14 games this year and now we’re back in it.

“I guess there are people that need to complain about something,” Jon continues. “I’d just advise them not to do it around here.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Radio Nights

Bobby Abreu drove a ball over the wall and into my apartment last night. It was the eighth inning of another close game against the Angels and I hung on every word until the ball finally cleared the reach of Gary Matthews Jr.

Listening to a game in the dark with the sheets pulled tight to your chin takes you back to basics. Back to a time when you had to be in bed by nine, but stayed up deep into the night.

It was always exciting and maybe a bit daring to listen to Yankees’ games from Los Angeles and Oakland and Seattle. I felt like the only one in the neighborhood still awake and the game was all mine.

My mother thought I would fade off to sleep, but that never happened. The road keeps you on the edge even if the end doesn’t come until 1:12 a.m.

Mariano Rivera ended last night by getting a lazy fly ball hit to Abreu. He caught it in the darkest corner of my apartment. I could really see it all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Chapter 2

Marc’s eyes were worn and heavy.

“Another bad one,” he said. “The guys battled back, but they just couldn’t stop them. It was a long night, but I hung in. I saw Jeter in the dugout until the end so I figured I could stay in front of the television.

“It’s frustrating,” Marc continued. “We are beaten by the Angels again and now I have to stumble through another day with almost no sleep.

“But I’ll be ready tonight,” he went on. “Pettitte will give us a good start. I hate to see him always have to carry the load, but he seems comfortable with it.

“I’ll be comfortable if we can take the last game of this series,” Marc said. “Three days without sleep will go down a lot smoother with a win.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Win Tonight

Marc’s stare cut across the 2 train.

“I’m coming off a bad night,” he said. “I stayed up until the end. I don’t really like West Coast games and I hate West Coast losses. Now, I’ve got to try and make it through the day on three hours of sleep.”

He works for the Sanitation Department out of a West Village garage.

“It’s cold and rainy so it’s a bad day to be a garbage man,” he said. “I wish I had a win to help keep me warm and dry.”

The Yankees’ extra-inning loss weighed heavily, but a new day brought hope.

“I’ll get through the day and Moose (Mike Mussina) will give us a good start,” Marc said. “I can deal with the cold and the rain and three hours of sleep, but I’d like to get a win tonight.”

Monday, August 20, 2007

Lost And Found

It’s easy to get lost in baseball. Every day is full of pitching forms and box scores and lineups and scorecards. Who’s in the bullpen and who can pinch hit? It’s wins and losses and standings and who’s pitching tomorrow.

But there are reminders that it’s not like that for everyone.

A boy chased his father down the ramp behind home plate at Yankee Stadium.

“When are they gonna have the Joba shirts?”

“Soon. We’ll get one when they’ve got ‘em.”

“And a picture for the wall, too?”

“We’ll get everything.”

“Joba’s really something isn’t he, Dad?”


Another boy pointed to a hat on a vendor’s cart and his father nodded.

A few hours worth of wages were adjusted and wedged snugly on the boy’s head.

“How’s that fit?”

There was only a smile as they walked to the 4 train.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

History Lesson

Everything from Roger Clemens is history. His 353rd victory and 4,661st strikeout are in the books. The numbers continue to build his case as the greatest pitcher ever, but they don’t touch what he brings on the field.

Joe Torre said that’s because “He still cares so much.”

Everyone at Yankee Stadium yesterday could see that he loves to win.

“I’ve never seen anyone better with a runner on third and less than two outs,” Torre said.

Clemens and Jorge Posada pulled off a slick double play by striking out Marcus Thames and catching Brandon Inge off third base to end the third inning. He left runners on the corners in the fourth and the bases loaded in the sixth.

It wasn’t easy, but Clemens helped the Yankees get another win.

“That’s what we’re all about here,” said Clemens.

One more for the history books.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Andy Pettitte controlled the game and Andy Phillips put it away.

Pettitte has been doing this forever: Delivering his best when his team needs it the most.

Phillips is just getting the hang of it. He drove a double into the left-centerfield gap that scored two runs in the sixth inning. It was more than enough for Pettitte.

Every win is big in a pennant race, but this one felt a bit bigger. Maybe it was because it came against the Tigers who knock us out last year. Or maybe it was more about having Pettitte back on the mound. Or maybe it was just watching Phillips pull into second base, clap his hands and stare into the belly of the Stadium on a night that belonged to him.

And to Pettitte.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sad State

Americas will believe just about anything.

Barry Bonds is bad. Check.

New Yorkers are following along.

Gary Sheffield is bad. Check.

The Bronx doesn’t buy it.

“I can’t believe Gary Sheffield was booed at Yankee Stadium,” Javier said. “He always played hard for us.”

He played hard and he played hurt and there were times when he seemed to lift the whole team on his shoulders. Mike Mussina once joked, “I think a piano would have to fall from the upper deck to get Sheff out of the lineup.”

Sheffield would have flicked a piano off like an errant sunflower seed. That’s how tough he was for this team and this city.

“The media is exploiting issues between Sheff and Joe (Torre) and people are eating it up,” Javier said. “Sheff speaks his mind and that makes him an easy target, but he gave us everything he had on the field and he shouldn’t be treated like this. It’s very sad.”

Very sad, indeed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

What Matters

Mariano Rivera strolled easily out of Yankee Stadium wearing a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers. He kept an arm around his son as he smiled and waved to the crowd at the players’ gate.

Moments before he answered questions about the loss to Baltimore.

“It hurts,” Rivera said. “Your team gives you an opportunity, they come back and you just have to be able to hold them and I wasn’t able to do that. It hurts a lot.”

Rivera is much too hard on himself.

“He’s the best,” said Raul from Tremont Avenue. “I want him in the game tomorrow because I know we will win.”

Roger Clemens once challenged a group of reporters. “Any of you can pick your two favorite superheroes and I’ll put Rivera up against both of them.”

Rivera sees it differently.

“I am just a simple worker,” he likes to say. “I’m nothing without my teammates.”

He felt like he let them down yesterday, but today will be different. Today is always different and no one knows that better than Rivera.

“You forget the past because there’s nothing you can do about it,” he always says. “The next game is all that matters.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Record Lives

“Take, my lad, what the great game gives,
For all men die, but the record lives.”
-Grantland Rice, New York Herald-Tribune

Phil Rizzuto – 1917-2007 – took everything from the game and gave even more back.

He was a seven-time World Champion and a five-time All-Star. He was the American League MVP in 1950 and the World Series MVP in 1951. He is a Hall of Famer and that’s all anyone really needs to know.

We’ve heard from his teammates and his friends and his family, but Rizzuto was so much more than that. He was a teammate and a friend to the Bronx and Manhattan and Brooklyn and Queens and he was family everywhere there were Yankee fans.

Everyone has a story because Rizzuto gave far more than he took and there is no greater complement you can give a man.

“For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks not that you won or lost,
But how you played the Game.”
-Grantland Rice, New York Herald-Tribune

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Another World

They gave Alex Rodriguez two paintings, a sculpture, home plate and an engraved silver tray. But they couldn’t give him the ball he hit for his 500th career home run.

That ball is all tangled up in the sorted tabloid tale of Walter “Sonny” Kowalczyk who caught it on a beautiful afternoon at Yankee Stadium. He opted for newspaper headlines and talk radio instead of a handshake and some autographed balls and bats.

The whole thing has turned into a string of ugly demands and bizarre statements. The most recent twist has Kowalczyk’s representative calling area newspapers asking for money to interview him.

This sorry episode made me think of a story in Peter Bjarkman’s book: A History of Cuban Baseball.

Bjarkman was in the Pinar del Rio Hotel after a 2002 game. He wandered into the deserted bar where he found – openly displayed – the game worn jerseys and Olympic Gold Medals of Pedro Luis Lazo, Omar Ajete and pitching coach Julio Romero.

Bjarkman wrote that they were not secured in any way, but were completely safe in a place where memorabilia profiteering is still a foreign notion.

Don’t try that around here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Game

Neighborhood legend places Javier’s age near 65. He could be younger and is probably older, but 65 is in the ballpark.

“It’s as close as any of you are gonna get,” he tells the group. “I’m the same age Satchel (Paige) always was.”

He limps and has a cannonball gut, but his pitching motion is still nearly perfect. “You shoulda seen me back on the Island (Puerto Rico),” Javier brags. “No one could touch me.”

He came set with a crumpled soda can in his right hand. After checking an imaginary runner on first he fired a fastball the clanged off a Grand Concourse trash can.


“Who are you kidding,” the group howled.

“I don’t kid about baseball,” Javier shot. “Baseball is serious business because every pitch can mean the game.”

That was certainly the case yesterday as Cleveland was set up for big innings in the seventh, eighth and ninth.

Andy Pettitte picked off Jhonny Peralta with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh and was able to escape with giving up only one run.

“I would say that was the game,” Pettitte said in the morning newspapers, “but then the eighth inning was the game. The ninth inning was the game, too.”

“Every pitch,” Javier repeated. “They can all mean the game.”

Sunday, August 12, 2007

That’s What We’re All About

Mike Mussina and Joe Torre said it all after last night’s win in Cleveland.

“It’s a different atmosphere around here,” Mussina said. “You’ve got the youth mixed in and everything seems to be working for us.”

Torre added: “Moose is feeling good about himself. I know he’s proud of this 100th win (as a Yankee), but the thing I know he feels better about is that he helped us win another ballgame. That’s what we’re all about right now.”


Saturday, August 11, 2007


It started with the kids – Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain – and ended with the man – Mariano Rivera – but last night was really about the whole team.

Derek Jeter always says: “Everyone needs to contribute.”

That was certainly the story last night in Cleveland.

Johnny Damon: A hit and a run.
Derek Jeter: Three for four with a run and an RBI.
Bobby Abreu: A hit, a run and two RBIs.
Alex Rodriguez: He was on base four times but they only let him swing once and that produced his 37th home run and 110th RBI of the season.
Hideki Matsui: A hit, a run and an RBI.
Robinson Cano: Two hits.
Wilson Betemit: A sacrifice bunt that set up a run.
Jose Molina: A RBI.
Melky Cabrera: A hit and a run.

That’s the team they are and the team they need to be.

Friday, August 10, 2007

They Shoot Heroes Don’t They?

Alex Rodriguez has no chance. It doesn’t matter how well he plays or how hard he tries to please. This society will take him down just like it took down Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds and anyone else who dared to be too great.

This country is divided a million ways against itself, but nothing pulls people together like bringing down an easy target.

Rodriguez has always been that.

He came with a “can’t-miss” sign on his back. Strike one.

He has grown into the best player in the game. Strike two.

He is paid like it. Strike three.

Everything about Rodriguez is examined. How he walks and how he runs and what he says and how he says it. And certainly what everyone else says about him.

That’s the way we should examine the people responsible for starting wars and rigging elections and disabling subway systems and allowing levees to break and steam pipes to blow up and bridges to fall down.

But Americans never do that. We just zero in on the easy target and blast away.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Alex Rodriguez is the greatest baseball player of his generation and probably the greatest of any generation, but he still has something to learn.

After hitting his 500th career home run last week he said:

“I’ve had my trials and tribulations in New York and I’ve learned from them. I’ve had some great times and I’ve had some good times and I’ve had some tough times. Today kind of brings it full circle. Maybe there’s a happy ending for me somewhere.”

Rodriguez needs to understand that there are no happy endings in baseball. There are just endings. Mike Myers got one the next day when he was designated for assignment. Miguel Cairo got one a few days later. Bernie Williams reached the end this past winter.

Rodriguez will get there someday because all ballplayers do. Then he’ll understand what Lou Piniella told him when he first came up as a teenager. “The climb ain’t most of the fun, kid. It’s all the fun.”

Rodriguez is the most perfect ballplayer I’ve ever seen and I only hope that he enjoys every minute because when it’s over, well, it’s over.

The End.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

756 In New York

People who don’t live in New York City can’t possibly understand this place. It is so different from the rest of the country that it should be its own country.

That’s why people on these streets view Barry Bonds so differently than most.

“I was really happy when he hit it,” said Carl from Highbridge. “I followed Hank Aaron to 755 and now Barry to 756. They are both great players and it’s been a disgrace the way so many people – especially the media and Bud Selig – have tried to play them against each other.

“That’s what they always do,” Carl continued. “Blacks against Whites. Blacks against Latinos. Blacks against Blacks. Everyone against ‘the terrorists’ and everyone against ‘the immigrants.’ It goes on and on and people keep buying it.

“The lies and witch-hunts they’ve been selling couldn’t stop Barry anymore than they could stop Hank. The same people shoveling the same garbage on the same men.

“They’re already trying to play A-Rod against Barry,” Carl went on “Things out there never change.”

He was reminded that something had changed.

“Yeah,” Carl smiled. “Barry Bonds is the Home Run King.”

And that’s something special on these streets.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Place In History

Mahamadou Soumare was born on Saturday in the Bronx.

The day was special for his family, but the rest of the neighborhood barely noticed because everyone was focused on Alex Rodriguez.

Mahamadou – 8 pounds, 3 ounces and 18 inches – came into this world near the time Rodriguez’s 500th career home run cleared the left field wall at Yankee Stadium.

His place in history is secure.

I used to think my place was secure. As a child I heard that Mickey Mantle hit his 500th home run on my birthday. I didn’t confirm the information and was comfortable taking it as fact for most of my life.

I carried my bit of history around like a good-luck piece. It was comforting when my father died because he was about the only other person who cared about the obscure fact.

I later found out that I was born close to the day Mantle hit his 500th, but not on it.

Mahamadou Soumare doesn’t need to worry about that.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Marc Fiore has never lived more than six blocks from Yankee Stadium. He could see the lights and hear the crowd from his bedroom when he was too young to go to the games. His first job delivering groceries bought him tickets and baseball cards and a thick scorebook that he used every day.

“I’ve always lived for the Yankees,” Fiore said.

He still makes about half the games, but his love of coaching is taking more of his time these days. “I never thought I get so hooked,” Fiore explained. “The kids take everything you teach them and use it. It’s amazing to see them grow.”

Yesterday, they all sat in the bleachers. “The kids are from the neighborhood,” Fiore said. “But some of them had never been inside Yankee Stadium.”

The day was full of home runs and peanuts and soda, but the coach was still working.

“There’s always something to teach the kids,” Fiore said. “I usually teach them how to play, but today I taught them how to be a fan.

“I told them that they would hear a lot of booing and yelling,” Fiore continued. “Some people think they know everything, but have never really played the game. I told them to remember how hard they work and how hard everything is. It’s no different in the Major Leagues.”

Well coached.

A Bronx Ripple

This country has seen two presidential elections stolen and no one has made a sound. Billionaires are becoming multi-billionaires off a war that continues to kill Americans by the thousands and Iraqis and Afghans by the hundreds of thousands and no one gets too upset. Bridges fall down, the lights go out, steam pipes blow up, the trains don’t run, there’s no money for school books or baseball equipment, politicians line their pockets and people just shrug their shoulders.

Yesterday, the Yankees brought a NASA astronaut on the field who is going up to work on the Space Station. They gave him a banner and some dirt from the pitchers’ mound to take with him. At least that sent a bit of a ripple through the neighborhood.

“Work on the Space Station?” Javier shot. “Who lives there? How about working on those parks we were promised? We can send people into space, but can’t build a bridge that doesn’t fall down.


Friday, August 3, 2007

Truth Telling

There are a lot of people with a lot of opinions on baseball these days. But the only opinions that really matter come from baseball people.

Bobby Abreu talked about batting slumps and losing streaks a few weeks ago:

“Everybody is going to struggle at some point in the season. The important thing is to work through it and stay together as a team.”

Roger Clemens addressed a second-inning error in yesterday’s game:

“Robbie (Cano) is playing his tail off, but that’s going to happen. You can’t worry about it. I need to take a deep breath and execute a pitch to get us out of it. I’m just disappointed that I couldn’t do it.”

Joe Torre discussed Kyle Farnsworth’s struggles:

“There’s a good arm there; he knows how to pitch. We just need to get him more comfortable. I still believe Farnsworth is going to be a contributor to this.”

There are plenty of people that think they know more about hitting than Abreu and more about pitching than Clemens and Farnsworth combined and everyone thinks they know more about managing this team than Torre.

I’m not one of those people.

I believe that the truth comes from those who play the game and not those who talk about it.

I’ll stick with the words of Abreu and Clemens and Torre.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


They stood in the heat waiting for the 2 train.

“Pettitte was great last night,” Jon said. “I was worried when he kept putting men on base, but he’s got a way of wiggling out of trouble.”

“I thought it might blow up in the fifth,” Carlos said. “Two on and no outs and then the bases were loaded. Some people think he’s one pitch from getting knocked out, but he knows he’s one pitch from winning the fight.”

It’s always been like that with Andy Pettitte. He was a tough kid when he came up in 1995 and he’s even tougher now.

“Who do you want pitching a big game?” Jon asked.

“Andy Pettitte,” Carlos answered. “But I’ll take Roger Clemens today.”

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Alex Rodriguez has a ballplayer’s face and a ballplayer’s swing and a ballplayer’s heart. He is everything that is good about greatness in this game.

The pursuit of his 500th home run is obscuring that greatness a bit these days. There are too many people with too many cameras trying to get a piece of every swing. It may be wearing on him only because that has never been his game.

Rodriguez is about winning. Period. Anyone that doesn’t understand that hasn’t been paying attention.

“I’m sure he doesn’t want this home run to get in the way of what the team needs,” said Javier as he waited outside the players’ gate last night. “I think he’ll be happy when it’s over and he can go back to just being the greatest player in the game.

“I can’t wait either,” he continued. “I was so charged up during his first at bat that I got to my feet and yelled for a fly ball. Man, that’s embarrassing.

“I’m a little jumpy,” Javier shrugged. “Maybe A-Rod is, too.”