Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Captain Cleanup

Marco was settled in at the back of the 2 train this morning. He had the newspaper folded over and was scribbling lineups in the margins with a stubby pencil.

“We’ve got the players to make this work,” he said. “It’s not gonna be easy, but we can get it done.”

Marco was looking ahead to tonight’s game against Detroit and the next few weeks without Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada.

“I think you keep Damon at the top and move Melky to second,” Marco said. “Melky has been our best player all year and he should be near the top of the lineup. Abreu stays the number three hitter and Derek moves into the cleanup spot.”

Marco waved his hands to warn against any argument.

“This team is built to have a righty in the cleanup spot,” he explained. “We need The Captain there because Alex is gonna be out for awhile. He protects Abreu in front of him and the lefties – Matsui and Giambi – that follow.

“Derek is now our biggest right-handed bat,” Marco continued. “And that’s how I’d make out the lineup card tonight: Damon in left, Melky in center, Abreu in right, The Captain at short, Matsui at DH, Giambi at first, Gonzalez at third, Cano at second and Molina behind the plate.”

Marco paused and considered.

“It’s a good lineup,” he said. “The whole thing hinges on Captain Cleanup and I’m comfortable with that.”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Finding A Way

Joe Girardi says the same thing every day:

“We have to find a way to win.”

The Yankees have found their way through injuries and suspensions and endless road trips and cold days and rainy nights.

“We have to take it (a 14-13 record, one game out of first place) because that’s where we are,” Girardi said after last night’s win in Cleveland. “I’m happy with the effort, but I think we can play better.”

The hitters did have some better luck and scored four runs in the sixth inning with just one ball getting out of the infield.

“We took some big swings and got some soft rolls,” said Mike Mussina, who picked up his 253rd career victory. “The breaks went our way and we’ll take it.”

Morgan Ensberg had a slightly different view:

“We’ve tried hitting the ball hard,” he said. “But that doesn’t seem to work. Robbie (Cano) knows it and Jason (Giambi) knows it, too. I guess we need to start dribbling balls and rolling balls over. That’s how we got our runs tonight.”

Ensberg smiled.

“I think of that as: Justice.”

Monday, April 28, 2008


Chien-Ming Wang wasn’t on the newspaper covers and neither was Melky Cabrera. Bigger stories than seven shutout innings and a game-winning homer bumped them off, but they were still the lead conversation on the 2 train this morning.

“Wang and Melky made my day,” said Carlos from Tremont Avenue. “Wang has led this pitching staff all season and Melky has been our best player. They don’t get as much attention as they should because they do things so quietly.”

Quiet excellence has always been the mark of Wang’s career. He is now 5-0 with a 3.23 ERA and has the best winning percentage in the big leagues since the start of the 2006 season.

“He’s been rock-solid from day one,” Carlos said. “The wins keep coming, but he never says anything or does anything to grab the spotlight.”

Cabrera – hitting .291 with five homers and 11 RBI – also stays in the shadows.

“Melky just keeps helping us win games,” Carlos said. “Still nobody talks about him or writes about him either.”

Carlos stopped and smiled.

“The headlines and newspaper covers don’t really matter,” he said. “They don’t help win any ballgames and that’s all these guys care about.

“That’s all I care about, too,” Carlos continued. “And that’s why I care so much about Wang and Melky.”

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Not Happy But…

Ian Kennedy spoke for everyone after yesterday’s game.

“I’m not happy but I wasn’t too discouraged,“ he told Peter Abraham in the Journal News. “It really was only that one inning.”

That inning led to another disappointing loss for the Yankees.

“This is going to turn,” Joe Girardi promised after the game. “If we keep having good at-bats, it’s going to turn.”

Chien-Ming Wang takes his turn on the mound today.

Everyone in the Bronx is behind this team.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Looking For Justice

Everyone came to Harlem looking for justice this morning. They came up Lenox Avenue and down Fredrick Douglass Boulevard and across the 145th Street Bridge from the Bronx.

The old Yankee Stadium peered across the Harlem River with the new Yankee Stadium in its shadow as people passed Crown Fried Chicken and Famous King’s Pizza and filed into a storefront wedged between Royal Rose Furniture and the 145 Grocery & Tobacco.

Reverend Al Sharpton spoke about change and justice at the headquarters of the National Action Network the day after a judge acquitted three New York City Police Department detectives who had been charged in the shooting that killed Sean Bell and wounded Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield.

“We are going to change policing in this city,” Sharpton said. “Justice can be achieved if we all work together.”

Everyone wants to believe him because justice is hard to find.

That’s why Khiel Coppin was killed by the NYPD in a hail of 20 bullets outside his Brooklyn home just under a year from the day that Bell was killed in his Queens neighborhood by 50 more NYPD bullets which came seven years after Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times by the police outside of his Bronx building.

Broken justice keeps killing and killing and killing.

It’s easy to blame the shooters, but this has more to do with brutal police policies than brutal police officers.

The real problem is with a Mayor and a Police Commissioner who have made no attempt to change a system that ended the lives of Coppin at 18 years, 20 bullets and Bell at 23 years, 50 bullets and Diallo at 23 years, 41 bullets.

This is not what any of us want our city to be. But we still don’t speak up enough or stand up enough or protest enough or march enough.

Sharpton is the only one who stands up for everyone and it’s time for more of us to stand with him. Then maybe someday people won’t be gunned down in the streets.

I will always remember Sean Bell as a right-handed pitcher at John Adams High School in Ozone Park.

And I will never forget the 50 bullets that killed him because there will be 50 more with another name on them if we don’t start speaking up and standing up and protesting and marching for justice.

Friday, April 25, 2008

That’s Baseball

Joba Chamberlain always ends up sitting next to Mariano Rivera in the bullpen.

“It just works out that way,” Chamberlain once said. “I asked him questions the first night and I haven’t stopped, yet. It’s the chance to learn from one of the greatest pitchers ever and I’m going to use it.”

Rivera’s most important lesson is the line he uses after a loss:

“That’s baseball,” he always says with a shrug.

It’s simple, but it’s really all you need to know.

Sometimes Sandy Alomar hits a clutch homer and sometimes Bill Mueller singles up the middle to tie a big game and sometime Luis Gonzalez bloops in a hit and breaks your heart.

That’s baseball.

Sometimes Scott Brosius snares a grounder and sometimes Chad Curtis catches a pop up and sometimes Mike Piazza’s deep drive lands harmlessly in Bernie Williams’s glove.

That’s baseball, too.

Joe Crede’s ninth-inning single tagged Chamberlain with his first Major League loss last night.

“It’s not the last time it’s going to happen,” Chamberlain said. “The disappointing part is letting my teammates down and not giving them a chance to win.”

But that’s also baseball.

“I’ll get back on the mound tomorrow,” Chamberlain promised. “Then I’ll pull my hat down and go back to work.”

Yeah, that’s baseball.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Answers

Mike Mussina can solve puzzles because he has the answers. He knows the score and the count and the situation and the 11-letter word for 60 Across - Easily set off, as a temper: HAIRTRIGGER.

That is how many reacted to Mussina’s start against Boston last Thursday. For six days he was peppered with questions from critics.

“People have always doubted me,” Mussina said. “If you throw bad games, they doubt you. That’s part of it when you’re over 35 years old. Every time you step on a mound and give up two hits in an inning, that’s just how it is.”

Mussina gave the Yankees seven strong innings – two runs, four hits, one walk, three strikeouts – and a win in Chicago last night. He used the answer to 6 Down - English: SPIN.

“I had really good movement on my pitches,” he explained. “It seemed like I jammed a lot of guys. They were diving out over the plate and the ball ran back in on them. The movement was my biggest asset today.”

Mussina keeps piling up the numbers: 252 wins – that moves him by Bob Gibson and into 42nd place on the all-time Major League list – and 2,763 strikeouts. That is 68 Across - Mucho: LOTSA.

“I think all these things will settle in more when I don’t play anymore,” Mussina said. “Wherever I stop at, I’ll see who I have been able to pass. Bob Gibson is a pretty big name. Whitey Ford (236 wins) was a pretty big name, too. There are some guys that I’ve been able to get by who are pretty well known and have been able to do a lot in this game. I’m just lucky people keep giving me the chance to pitch.”

It’s because of what he does to hitters. That is the answer to 43 Down - Tied up: INKNOTS.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Still Standing

Mike Mussina unfolded his career and spread it out for everyone to see yesterday.

“I’ve never had that ability (to dominate hitters with a fastball like Joba Chamberlain),” Mussina admitted. “But I’m still standing here 18 years later. I figured something out. I hope 18 years from now, Joba’s still standing here, too.”

Mussina has already pitched a lifetime in the Major Leagues and has the numbers to prove it: 251 wins and 2,670 strikeouts.

He has stood on the mound in plenty of big games. There were the seven shutout innings against Oakland in the 2001 American League Division Series and the game-saving relief effort against Boston in the 2003 American League Championship Series.

Mussina has won 18 games in a season three times and 19 games twice. He was one out from a perfect game, too.

None of that buys him anything in Chicago tonight.

“I have to go out there and prove that I can still pitch,” Mussina said. “I don’t mind getting pushed.”

No one pushes Mussina harder than he pushes himself. He is still standing in the big leagues because he has adapted to all the changes and overcome all the challenges. He knows exactly how he won every one of those 251 games and how he came up big in the playoffs against Oakland and Boston and everyone else.

He may be a different pitcher these days, but he’s still standing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Noise For Nothing

Traffic buzzed along the Grand Concourse and a jackhammer fired a burst up the block and the new Yankee Stadium rumbled in the distance.

“There are no quiet days in the South Bronx,” said Javier from Walton Avenue. “Yesterday was noisy and there wasn’t even a game.”

It started with Hank Steinbrenner pushing Joba Chamberlain into the rotation. Brian Cashman placed him firmly back in the bullpen by lunchtime. And then Steinbrenner and Cashman reaffirmed the Yankees’ plan before dinner.

“We’re on the same page, 110 percent,” Cashman told Peter Abraham of the Journal News yesterday evening. “Hank believes the same thing we all do, and I think that’s what he was trying to say. Whether he was misunderstood or it didn’t come out the right way, I don’t know. But everything is fine.”

Steinbrenner agreed.

“It would be nice to have Joba in the rotation right now, that’s all I’m saying,” Steinbrenner explained. “He’s going to be great, and that’s where he should be. Obviously it’s not going to be tomorrow.”

Javier smiled and shrugged.

“So that was a lot of noise for nothing,” he said. “There was an error and they had to throw some extra pitches, but the result was the same. A double play: 6-4-3. If only all the noise was that harmless.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Beginning

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart in the Bronx took some swings at a question this morning.

“Was that the beginning?” Javier from Walton Avenue asked. “Can yesterday’s game be the one that gets this team on the kind of roll we know they’re capable of?

“Their record is 10-10,” Javier continued. “Are they ready to start climbing the ladder?”

Everyone nodded.

“So what got it started?” Javier asked.

Everyone had something to offer.

“The back-to-back doubles by A-Rod and Matsui,” someone said.

“It was Damon’s two-run homer that stretched out the lead,” said another.

“The Captain,” someone else shot. “He put the game away with that three-RBI double in the ninth.”

They all considered those points before Javier moved to the mound.

“It really started with Andy Pettitte,” Javier said. “He held them down until those guys put up some runs. The starters need to do more of that. We are gonna win a whole bunch of games if they pitch up to their ability.”

The next beginning starts with Chien-Ming Wang.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Not Perfect

Sometimes all you need is a new day even if it isn‘t a perfect day.

The Yankees played through thunder and lightning and downpours and rain delays and got a win in Baltimore today. It was better than the first two games of the series and they’ll take it.

“It could be better,” Joe Girardi admitted, “but I’m a the-glass-is-half-full guy.”

And that’s what the Yankees are at 10-10.

There have been some rough games for the young starters, but Girardi is standing behind Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

“I believe in those guys,” Girardi said. “This game is hard, but I’ve seen the talent. We are going to get were we need to go and they are going to be a big part of it.”

Andy Pettitte showed them the way today with seven strong innings.

“Andy was outstanding,” Girardi said. “His stuff was sharp from the start and he gave us exactly what we needed.”

They didn’t need Alex Rodriguez coming out of the game in the sixth inning with a stained quadriceps muscle, but he seemed confident about a quick return when speaking to reporters after the game.

“I don’t plan to miss any time,” Rodriguez shot. “We’ll see how it feels in the morning, but that’s the hope in a perfect world.”

It wasn’t perfect today, but it will have to do.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


The guys were sifting through the newspapers around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart earlier today. They were looking for something to pull them through the rest of the afternoon and into tonight’s game.

“I’ve got it,” Javier shot. “This is from Phil Hughes.”

Everyone turned as he folded back the sports page and passed on a message from The Franchise:

“We want to win games, but it’s good that I pitched better and that there’s something I can look back on that’s positive. I was able to command my fastball. I was in better counts. It’s tough because usually improvement means you win, but the way things have gone, you take any positives you can.”

They all nodded.

“I also heard that Joba might be back tonight,” Javier said. “I think we’ve got all the positives we need. Let’s get a win tonight.”


Friday, April 18, 2008

An Easy Target

Tom Farrey was out for blood and it didn’t matter how he got it. He lured Miguel Tejada into an ambush that will air on ESPN’s E:60 program next week.

The objective of Farrey’s interview was to embarrass Tejada with a birth certificate that shows him being two years older than he’s listed in the Houston Astros’ media guide.

Mission Accomplished: Tejada admitted to claiming the wrong birth date when he was a teenager.

“I’m a poor kid that wanted to be a professional big leaguer,” Tejada said as he discussed his reasoning for claiming he was 17 instead of 19 when signing with the Oakland Athletics in 1993. “I was thinking that was the only way that I could help my family.

“It was never because we wanted to do anything wrong,” he continued. “The scout just did it because at that time I was two years older than I (told them). And to play in the Dominican Summer League you’ve got to be like 17.”

So all Farrey and ESPN really did was become the latest to take a shot at Tejada.

He has been an easy target over the last few months for George Mitchell and Henry Waxman and Tom Davis and everyone else on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

He was also an easy target for the Athletics who signed him for next-to-nothing and sent him to their Dominican academy where dozens of players fought for spots because baseball was their only chance at a decent life.

The target remained on Tejada’s back even after he grabbed one of only a handful of opportunities to come to the United States and start at the bottom of the minor leagues. He broke his hand playing for Modesto in the California League and lived in fear that the Athletics would pull his work-visa and send him back to the Dominican Republic.

He survived the fear and the exploitation to become one of Major League Baseball’s best shortstops. He overcame more than Farrey and Mitchell and Waxman and Davis and the whole House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform combined. He is a far better person than all of them, too. But none of that matters when the powerful decide to take you down.

Tejada will remain an easy target because he will always be that guy who grew up in a one-room house in Bani. These people will hold power over him no matter what he does in baseball or how much money he makes. They can take away the game and the wealth and embarrass him on television. They can deport him and maybe even put him jail.

This is what our county and our game have become and we should all be ashamed.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shouted Down

The day after baseball honored Jackie Robinson we were reminded why there won’t be another like him anytime soon.

LaTroy Hawkins tried to pay tribute to Roberto Clemente – a man who dedicated his life to helping people and was killed in a plane crash trying to bring relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua – and he was booed and mocked.

Carlos Delgado tried to bring attention to a war a few years ago – that war has now killed hundreds of thousands of people including over 4,000 Americans and 89 New Yorkers – and he was booed and mocked.

Gary Sheffield has tried to speak about racial issues – ones that continue to hamper baseball and cripple this country – and he was booed and mocked.

Hawkins changed his number yesterday and Delgado now stands for a song in the seventh inning and Sheffield just plays ball. They did their best and it was as good as anyone has done since Robinson. But it still wasn’t enough to overcome the angry mob of a society that we have become.

Robinson spent his life trying to open people’s minds and overcome hatred. He spoke out against everything from social and economic injustice to the Vietnam War. His voice gave baseball a conscience and a heart, but his legacy is soiled every time players like Hawkins and Delgado and Sheffield are shouted down.

Jackie Robinson deserves better from this game and this country.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An Honor

Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano and Joe Girardi wore number 42 yesterday and so did every Tampa Bay Ray. It was Jackie Robinson Day – the 61st anniversary of Robinson showing America and world the possibilities of just society – and all of baseball paid tribute.

Mariano Rivera – the last number 42 – finished the game and said he was “honored and deeply humbled to wear it every day for Jackie Robinson.”

No one will wear 42 after Rivera because Major League Baseball retired it throughout the game in 1997. It was a nice gesture toward Robinson, who was as honorable as any man and stood up for everyone.

But honoring Robinson is only part of our responsibility. Continuing his quest for justice is the most important part. He fought the good fight – the best fight any man has ever fought – until the very end because he knew it was far from won.

It’s still far from won and there are some that worry about the day when Rivera takes off the 42 and it permanently goes under museum glass. Years from now, will people only remember Robinson for a day or two like we increasing do with Martin Luther King?

We should always carry 42 on our backs and our sleeves and in our hearts. It should be carried by Major Leaguers and Minor Leaguers and Little Leaguers. It will always be carried by kids in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and Harlem and Highbridge and Washington Heights who write 42 on their T-shirts and dance off third and steal home.

Hundreds of players wore 42 yesterday. One will wear it today. We should all wear it every day and continue Robinson’s quest for justice.

Now that would be an honor.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

All Smiles

Carlos slumped in a seat at the back of the 2 train this morning.

“Are you alright?” someone asked.

“Sure,” Carlos answered. “I’m just recovering from a late night.”

Then he smiled and added:

“But it was a great game.”

Ian Kennedy started it with six strong innings. Robinson Cano salvaged it with a pinch-hit homer. And Mariano Rivera finished it with a strikeout.

“It was tighter than I wanted at the end,” Carlos admitted, “but a win is a win and they’re all nice. I think the smiles in the dugout were equal parts joy and relief.”

No one had a bigger smile than Cano.

“Robbie really needed that,” Carlos said. “He’s been struggling, but I bet that’ll get him going. We need his bat and his glove and his smile, too.”

Carlos slumped back in the seat and flashed his own smile – Cano style – as the 2 train rumbled on.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rise Above It

The 2 train was being held at 72nd Street. People started to stir and sigh and some were even grumbling. Carl from Mott Haven stood in the back and read the newspaper.

“There’s no sense in being worked up about it,” he explained. “It’s out of our control so you just need to relax and do your best getting to work on time.”

Carl was inspired by Jorge Posada’s words.

“We have to keep battling,” Posada told reporters after the Yankees lost last night’s game and Jose Molina to a hamstring stain. “There will be nine guys out there scratching to win a ballgame. It’s going to be tough, but we have to try and rise above it.”

Posada was probably just getting to Tampa with the rest of the Yankees when the doors finally closed on the 2 train and it lurched toward downtown.

“You have to stay patient and focused,” Carl said. “This train will get us to work and the Yankees will get us some wins. We all have to rise above it.”

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Derek Jeter took batting practice and gobbled up a few ground balls, too. He also did some running and spent the whole game pestering everyone in the dugout.

“He is bored to death and he’s dying to get back out there,” Joe Girardi said. “You just take it day by day to see how he’s progressing, and now we are trying to increase his activity.”

It worked wonders in the Bronx.

“It’s great to hear,” said Jon from Highbridge. “Alberto Gonzalez is doing a great job, but the team just doesn’t seem complete without Derek at shortstop. Everyone around here hopes he gets back real soon.”

Jeter agrees.

“I don’t like not playing,” he said. “If it was up to me, I’d play. But I understand you have to be smart.”

Jon focused on that as he sipped coffee in Joyce Kilmer Park this afternoon.

“I know the Yankees have to be smart about this,” Jon said. “A few extra days in April can make all the difference because it’s a long season. But it’s still tough for people in this neighborhood to live without Jeter. He’s the benchmark for the Yankees and the Bronx.”

And he’ll be off the bench soon enough.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Move Your Feet

The Bronx moved smoothly along the Grand Concourse this morning.

“Everyone is walking on air,” said Javier who lives over on Walton Avenue. “A win does that to us.”

Chien-Ming Wang gave the neighborhood what it needed with a complete-game victory in Boston last night.

“He was great,” Javier said. “It was a tight one, but he was in control all the way.”

Wang smiled at reporters after the game when he passed on some advice from pitching coach Dave Eiland.

“Make the hitters move their feet,” he said.

Command was also a key.

“I could control the ball on the inside and outside of the plate,” Wang said. “Sometimes the slider would run, but the sinker was good. This was the kind of game I wanted. It was my best so far.”

Those words made it back to the Bronx.

“I loved it when Wang said: ‘It was my best so far,’” Javier explained. “He expects to be better every time out. We are lucky to have him.

“He makes us move our feet,” Javier shot as he turned and melted into the surging crowd on the Grand Concourse.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Her Favorite Shirt

They buried my great aunt in her favorite Yankees shirt.

I didn’t go to the funeral because I don’t go to them anymore. My father’s memorial service was the last one and Aunt Joyce understood. She didn’t want to be there either.

But bad things happen to good people and they closed her up in a casket with a big Yankees logo on her chest and a lifetime of memories left behind.

She – like her eight brothers and sisters – was a product of a different generation.

She lived through the Great Depression and World War II.

She married another Yankees fan and raised a family.

She held steady through farm foreclosures and food lines and rationing and shortages and economic recessions and factories closing their doors.

She helped build this country and shape this society.

She survived the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War and every other war since.

She outlasted the administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and almost George W. Bush.

She loved Jimmy Carter even though he is an Atlanta Braves fan.

She loved Mickey Mantle because he was a Yankee.

And she loved Derek Jeter because he is Derek Jeter.

It was mentioned in her eulogy that her favorite trip – from her Buffalo home – was to New York City to see the Yankees play a couple of years ago.

I went to those games with her and my Uncle Gary. We watched the Yankees beat the Orioles and ate burgers at Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant.

It’s a good memory and it was the last time I saw her.

She was wearing her favorite Yankees shirt.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Something Different

Some good news from a bad night in Kansas City brightened the mood around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart this morning.

“So much was riding on Jorge Posada’s throwing shoulder,” explained Javier from Walton Avenue. “I was very happy when they said it was nothing serious and that he will only miss a few days. It was almost like we’d won the game.”

But the Yankees lost to the Royals and manager Joe Girardi started reliever Brian Bruney because he feared losing starter Ian Kennedy – who ended up pitching the last three innings – to an early rain delay.

“The game had a strange feel,” Javier said. “The weather and field conditions worried me all night. I’m just glad that no one got hurt.

“That’s an odd way to watch baseball,” he continued. “The whole thing was, well, different.”

Bruney and Kennedy felt the same way.

“It was definitely different,” Bruney said. “The first inning was weird because I’m never out there that early.”

“I’m not used to coming into a game that’s already started,” Kennedy explained. “It was really different.”

That’s the best way to describe a loss that felt like a win before the first pitch was thrown.

“The most important thing is that Posada is going to be okay,” Javier said. “But tonight I want something different: A win.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Unknown

The guys gathered around Juan Carlos’s coffee cart were dealing with the unknown this morning. They looked lost after ripping through the newspapers searching for bits of information on Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada.

“Everyone has got the same stuff,” said Javier from Walton Avenue. “There isn’t much news no matter how many times I read these stories. I really need to know what’s going on with my team.”

Posada feels the same.

“We need to know what’s going on,” Posada said about his throwing shoulder after yesterday’s game. “It’s really early in the season, and we’ve got to be smart about it now. I don’t want to be back there when I’m not helping the team out.”

He will have an MRI today.

“I’m hoping for the best,” Posada said, “but I don’t know. A catcher is like a pitcher, you need your arm. If you are an outfielder or a shortstop you can play through it, but a catcher throws as much as a pitcher.”

The guys sipping coffee in the South Bronx chewed on that for a moment.

“I’m with Jorge,” Javier finally said. “I’m hoping for the best, too.”

They all nodded.

“How’s Jeter?” someone asked.

Javier flipped through the newspaper and found something.

“I don’t feel it walking around,” Jeter said about his strained left quadriceps muscle, “but I haven’t run.”

Everyone shrugged.

“We’re not gonna find out anything until later,” Javier reasoned. “I guess we ought to go to work then.”

“Sure,” everyone said as they wandered into the unknown.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Wave And A Smile

Derek Jeter’s importance could be felt in the crowd gathered around the players’ gate last night. They waited in the cold for a glimpse after he came out of the game with a strained left quadriceps muscle.

Jeter was one of the last to leave the Stadium and board the bus, but he gave the crowd what they wanted: A wave and a smile.

“He’s not limping or anything,” someone said.

“It sounds like it’ll just be a few days,” someone else explained. “Now we can all sleep tonight.”

“Yeah,” everyone said.

The bus rumbled up Ruppert Place and down East 161st Street toward the airport. The team would be in Kansas City by dawn, but Jeter’s importance will never leave the Bronx.

“It’s hard to explain how much he means,” someone said. “The best I can do is: If he’s okay then we know everything else is gonna be okay, too.”

It takes a strong 25-man roster to win games and a strong 40-man roster to win pennants. Jeter can win over the Bronx with a wave and a smile.

There aren’t too many baseball players more important than that.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Maybe This Year

My great aunt died on Saturday. She lived in Buffalo and I hadn’t seen her too much recently, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t know her.

She was as tough as New Yorkers come and as loyal as Yankee fans can be. The first thing she said last summer when she got sick was:

“Maybe they’ll win a World Series for me this year.”

That didn’t happen and she took it hard for a few days. But then her attention turned to this year even though doctors said she would never make it to October.

Her last days weren’t good because last days never are. She refused to let anyone visit, but I’m sure the Yankees were there. They were always important to her.

Family legend says that she once went to see the Yankees play in Cleveland and got into a scuffle defending Mickey Mantle’s honor.

The last time I saw her was a few years ago at Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant in Manhattan. It was a Saturday and she had a hamburger and french fries and talked about the Yankees win over the Orioles that afternoon. It was a good day.

The Yankees gave her a lot of good days and some bad ones, too. She died on Saturday and the Yankees won on Sunday.

She would have said:

“That figures.”

But then she would have laughed and said:

“Maybe they’ll win a World Series for me this year.”

Yeah, maybe this year, Aunt Joyce.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Everybody Loves Derek

Keisha wanted the perfect souvenir from her first Yankee game of the year. After the last out she rushed down from the upper deck and staked out a spot near the players’ gate.

“I’m looking for Derek Jeter,” Keisha said. “My grandmother gave me a camera for my birthday and I told her that I was going to get a picture of Derek. She said ‘Get me one, too.’”

Everybody loves Derek.

“My mother and sister will also want one,” Keisha explained. “And so will all the kids at school even though they tease me about Derek being ‘my boyfriend.’

“I may not get an autograph,” she continued. “Of course, a kiss would be too much to hope for, but I want a picture to show off.”

Jeter was one of the last to leave yesterday, but a huge roar went up as soon as he emerged from the Stadium. He flashed a quick smile and waved to the crowd as he always does.

Keisha zoomed in and pushed the button. The digital image popped up on a little screen as Jeter disappeared into the parking lot.

“He’s waving at me,” she screamed. “I can’t believe Derek is waving at me in this picture.”

Jeter was already long gone, but Keisha yelled:

“I love you Derek!”


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Turning The Page

Everyone at Yankee Stadium took a moment to reflect on the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There wasn’t enough time to consider all the work of the most important social leader in this country’s history, but it was a nice moment. Then they played the National Anthem and played ball.

LaTroy Hawkins came in to pitch the eighth inning wearing number 21 to reflect on the work of another social leader and one of baseball’s greatest players: Roberto Clemente.

Hawkins had a bad night. The six earned runs were the most he’s ever allowed as a reliever. Some in the crowd booed and some did even worse. It was a bad moment for them.

Hawkins focused on doing the best for his teammates and then he stood in the clubhouse and answered every question about a bad night.

“It happens like that sometimes,” Hawkins said. “All you can do is turn the page and get ready for tomorrow. The bullpen did a good job of keeping us in the game and I let it get away.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he continued. “I’ll keep the memory short and bounce back.”

Dr. King spent his life bouncing back and so did Clemente. Negro Leaguer and baseball lifer Buck O’Neil may have bounced back better than anyone.

“Buck went through an awful lot,” Hawkins said recently. “But he never had a spiteful bone in his body about how he was treated. That’s a guy you have to respect.”

LaTroy Hawkins is a guy you have to respect, too.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Hughes Game

Marcus from Tremont Avenue removed his coat in the first inning to show off a new Phil Hughes T-shirt. He started clapping when the count ran to one ball and two strikes on Matt Stairs and then let loose with:

“Huuughes, Huuuuuughes, Huuuuuuuuughes.”

A blazing fastball. Strike three.

“Yeah,” Marcus shouted. “That’s the way you do it. Huuughes, Huuuuuughes, Huuuuuuuuughes.”

Hughes struck out Alex Rios to end the inning and Marcus cheered him back to the dugout.

“Huuughes, Huuuuuughes, Huuuuuuuuughes.”

Marcus slipped the coat back on and rubbed his hands together to warm up after a one-two-three inning.

“I’m just supporting the kid,” he explained. “I heard so much about him when he was drafted and coming through the minors that he seems like my own son.”

Marcus was down to his T-shirt for every pitch of six strong innings.

“It’s the least I could do,” he explained. “Hughes gave us his best tonight.”

The Yankees put together two late-inning rallies and pulled out a 3-2 win against Toronto.

“Hughes didn’t get the victory,” Marcus said. “But this was really his game.”

He let loose with one more:


Thursday, April 3, 2008

21 Forever

LaTroy Hawkins wears number 21 out of respect.

“It’s for Roberto Clemente,” Hawkins explained. “The man died trying to help people. How can you not respect that? He has this cool quote: ‘Anytime you have an opportunity to make things better and you don’t, you’re wasting your time here on earth.’”

Clemente was killed more than 35 years ago in a plane crash – trying to bring relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua – but he still lives with Hawkins in the Bronx and with Carlos Delgado who wears the 21 in Queens and with Paul O’Neill who used to wear it in the Bronx and in Cincinnati, too.

Clemente will always live with every Major Leaguer and Minor Leaguer and Little Leaguer who asks for the 21 jersey. He will also be with the kids in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and Highbridge and Washington Heights who write 21 on the backs of their T-shirts.

There is a fascination with retiring numbers these days. There has even been talk about permanently retiring the 21 throughout the Major Leagues for Clemente.

Hanging a numbered sign in every big-league ballpark doesn’t seem like much of an honor for a man like Clemente. He understood that empty promises can’t change things, but people can. I think he would rather have those people wearing 21 and doing the work that he never got to finish.

The 21 can live forever on the backs of people like Hawkins and Delgado…

Clemente would appreciate that kind of respect.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Little Things

The Bronx flashed a smile this morning because our baseball team turned the little things into a big win last night.

The only way to beat a pitcher like Roy Halladay is to make the most of the small stuff because he doesn’t allow much else.

It started in the opening inning when Bobby Abreu scored from first base on Alex Rodriguez’s two-out double.

Melky Cabrera ran down everything in centerfield. Then he went toe-to-toe with Halladay for 10 pitches before taking him just over the wall in right to tie the game in the sixth.

Jason Giambi was sharp in the field scooping throws and snaring liners. And it was his slick base running to stay out of a double play in the seventh that led to the winning run.

Those little things added up because Chien-Ming Wang came up big. He out pitched Halladay through seven innings and then turned it over to Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera who nailed down the win.

That meant big smiles in this little neighborhood.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

It’s Time

I finally broke down and put the tattered ticket where it belongs: In the trash.

I’ve been carrying it since the Cleveland Indians ended the 2007 season in game four of the American League Division Series. I thought about tossing it on New Year’s Day and then again at the start of Spring Training, but it stayed tucked in my wallet as a reminder.

I wanted to remember the wins and the losses and the struggles and the comebacks. Mostly, I wanted to remember the stories. There were some good ones and some bad ones. But even bad baseball stories are good.

There was: The Captain and A-Rod and Joba and The Franchise and IPK and The Big Lefty and Mr. New York and Hip-Hip Jorge and Melky and Robbie and Bobby and Hit-eki and Shelley and The Rocket and The Big G and Mo in the ninth.

Moose fought out of a corner like all the great ones have to do and Chien-Ming Wang was simply great, as usual.

It ended too soon, but the best things usually do. That ticket stayed with me through the winter and into the spring, but the memories will last forever.

Now it’s time to make some more.