Aquarian Weekly 11/15/00
A Subway Series Memoir (Part I)
After ten years of covering baseball in one form or another, and entering my third consecutive season entertaining a journalistic meandering at the World Series, it is easy to see from the moment I glide off the Deegan Expressway toward Yankee Stadium that these will not be games, but times. These are times that this cathedral of baseball has known for nearly 80 years. Times from Harlem and the Polo Grounds to times in the friendly band box in Brooklyn called Ebbets Field, where the hated Yankees took 11 of 14 Subway Series building an impossible resume of winning. This was long before the times in the 60s’ when the National League came back to New York in the form of the hapless, but lovable NY Mets.
Thousands of people, hundreds of vendors and little walking room in the expansive courtyard surrounding this building, where the air is unseasonably warm, but thick with smoke and voices and music. Rock concert and a professional wrestling buzz cuts through a sport better suited for picnics and beaches, an urban, bucolic flavor that is both tense and uplifting the way Manhattan can be on any given night. It is the core of New York City when New York City embraces being the center of the world.
Inside the ballpark, down in its bowels with the sporting press and grunts and celebrities groping for a glimmer of the spotlight backwash, the atmosphere is even more cramped. The makeshift interview room is mobbed to listen to Yankees manager, Joe Torre. He is looking eerily calm despite the weight of four worlds on him. His team is attempting to do something only four other teams had done previously; win a third consecutive world championship. And his team will be asked to do it by beating another New York team in the first such a World Series since 1956.
The owner doesn’t like losing to the Mets in exhibition games, much less the grandest stage. George Steinbrenner was so worried he might give the Mets locker room fodder through a rankled slip of the lip he didn’t even attend the Yankees pennant celebration a few days earlier. Despite his team’s recent success, this is for all the cards in the deck. Torre knows this well. He says he doesn’t like people comparing this series to ones in June or July or any Mayor’s Trophy. His shortstop, Derek Jeter told me after the Yankees won the pennant a few days ago, “Forget that other stuff about rivalries, this is for the championship.” Secretly, the people upstairs didn’t want any part of the Mets. My friend, and general manager, Brian Cashman assures me that I don’t want to be any part of him over the next ten days.
Mets manager, Bobby Valentine also appears relaxed. He doesn’t carry the same pressure as Torre, save the millions of Mets fans who are sick and tired of surrendering the Big Apple to the condescending Yankees fans and the inevitable band-wagon chic who don pinstripes to feel a part of something. But Valentine’s team didn’t even win its division and it is the first time the franchise has been in one of these in 14 years. In fact, he spends most of his press conference defending his team’s right to battle history. “The Yanks are not as good as they once were,” says Mets eclectic reliever, Turk Wendell. “We’ll win in five,” Hawaiian born, left fielder, Benny Agbayani tells Howard Stern and Regis Philbin. No one wants to lose a Subway Series, but no one wants to feel they don’t belong. “We’re good too,” Valentine tells us.
From the moment the capacity crowd begins its crescendo of noises with the seesaw chants of “Let’s go Yankees” and “Let’s go Mets”, the opening game is as tight as a sealed drum. The Mets take a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning. The Yankees win in the twelfth. One young man repeatedly stabs another young man in the chest in a sports bar eight miles from my house over a baseball argument. But at nearly 2:00 am in the Bronx there are still hundreds of people waiting for the players to get in their cars or board the buses pointing toward Queens. The city that never sleeps goes overtime.
The next night there is talk of the Mets’ star slugger, Mike Piazza’s beaning at the hands of the Yankees’ newest villian, Roger Clemens earlier in the season. Even though the pitcher is from Boston and the catcher is from L.A, this is a NY thang.
Piazza’s teammates want to get Clemens back and the macho posturing reaches epic levels by game time. This brings rolling eyes and pooh-poohs from the veteran press, who think it beneath them to scour such depths of sensationalism when just playing a World Series entirely inside one town is enough. They convene for hours in the print room, literally rubbing elbows while tickling laptops, downing gallons of coffee and tearing off miles of chewing gum. Buried under a barrage of literature, stats and numbers, never to be used by anyone not acting as a nerdish, baseball actuary, they rumor, they curse, and they write anything twice. This is their turf.
In the first inning of game two, amid the flashbulbs and squeals, Piazza’s bat cracks in half and the splintered barrel fatefully skids toward Clemens’ feet. The pitcher whips it at the Piazza’s feet. Defacto commissioner and emissary of Satan, Bud Selig sees riot flashing before his eyes from his box seat as the Fox people call Los Angeles and tell them to run post-game polls. Organist, Eddie Layton plays a soothing tune. Piazza screams. Clemens points. The benches empty, but nothing happens. Yanks enter the ninth up 6-0, as Clemens did the rest of his intimidation, 2-hit shutout routine with the ball. Mets rally late against the Yankees bullpen, but lose again 6-5.
Clemens tells us he thought the bat was the ball, and more about never seeing anyone or “no intent.” Boston writers attack him and Torre with spiteful, if not useful, questions. Torre, forced to defend this lunacy, threatens to walk out of the press conference. Later, Piazza laughs and says something about it all being “bizarre.” Valentine claims to be the only man in NYC to not see anything. Mets utility man, Lenny Harris wants to fist fight Clemens right there in the hallway below the Stadium. “We have to go to their house now,” says Yankees centerfielder, Bernie Williams. “We’ll see.”
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