Bronx, N.Y., Nov. 25, 2002 — It was an offseason night like any other for a baseball fan. I had put in some long hours at work, and we had reworked the boat test graphic so many times that on my last look at the color laser I thought I saw the boat zip across from one side of the page to the other. Calling it a night, I grabbed a pizza with everything on it on the way home, deciding that I owed myself a treat. The night was cold and wet. And the cruel wind had the effect of increasing my resolve that tonight was a night devoted to Yankee Baseball.
I had spent most of my down time in the last few weeks reading about and discussing potential Yankee trades and free agent signings, and musing about how the Yanks would find a fiscally responsible approach in baseball’s new economic climate on the one hand, and capture World Championship No. 27 on the other.
Fixated on that, I pulled into the driveway, parked the car and bolted for the door. The videos were ready; the VCR was humming in no time. “Pride of the Yankees,” “Field of Dreams,” “Angels in the Outfield” (the original, of course), “Bull Durham,” “It Happens Every Spring,” “The Natural.” Washing the cheese, pepperoni, onions and sausage down with a few cold ones, I watched until bleary-eyed, gradually attaining a zen-like state where the movie, VCR, TV screen, viewer, and couch all melded from individual entities into a process that might be called “baseballing,” where all the elements had become intricate parts of a discrete whole. The mesmerizing video effects combined with the long day at work, the boat zipping across the page, the spicy food and fatigue and, before long, I found myself sitting in the stands of a perpetually warm and sunny stadium watching my pinstriped heroes do battle on fields of glory.
Though rare, the experience was not unknown to me. I remember the night many moons ago when first I became enamored of the game of baseball, and the moving pictures. My brother John and I used to love the movies, and between King Kong and Mighty Joe Young on Million Dollar Movie, and all manner of beasts enacting some form of vengeance on mankind at the local theater, we were in a perpetual state of fear and overexcitement.
And it all culminated that day we saw “The Mysterians” (released in Japan in 1957) three times at the old Strand Theater. We had buried the proceeds of weeks worth of newspaper delivery into our attack on the concession stand, loading up on popcorn, soda, Raisinets, Goobers, Sno-Caps and ice cream bon bons. Our excursion was so victorious as to make the visit and indecencies inflicted upon our planet by the space-traveling, cape-wearing aliens pale in comparison. We stayed in the theater all afternoon, laughing at the cartoon intros and watching our planet bend but not break under the stress of the alien invasion again and again and again. Our sugar-stunned imaginations were totally absorbed and it was with visions of the giant Mogera (think Gonzo the Great, but huge and with an edge), flying saucers, lasers, trees burning from the roots up and bridges crashing into river gorges hundreds of feet below that I attempted to sleep that night.
Concurrently, baseball idol Mickey Mantle was having glorious year after glorious year in the nearby Bronx, with back-to-back mvp’s, and the Yankees seemingly owned the postseason. So mixed in with those zapping lasers and caped creatures were visions of the Mick and 500-foot homers, with Whitey Ford dominating the opposition and, yes, me too, making headlong diving catches and coming up with the big hit just when it seemed all was lost.
I was deluded, I was nuts, I was hyper, and I was in love with a game and one of its stars. And here I was again some 40 years later, my body drifting into sleep on the comfy couch, with my overactive mind taking off on adventures and feats of derring-do.
It is bright, sunny and hot. I am seated down the right field line of Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg. It is a ballgame, but it is a dream too, with the sky melting in the hot sun and the masts of sailboats seemingly floating on air beyond the stands down the left field side. Brett Abernathy is cruising into second after doubling off Brandon Knight, having scored the tying and go-ahead runs. A failed mound outing in my first taste of 2003 baseball is a bit disturbing, but then it happens. Godzilla is wearing the Pinstripes! Striding to the plate with the tying and winning runs on first and second, I think I sense the creature bellowing as we all have so often heard the giant monster with the huge dorsal fin do, as Hideki meets the lefty reliever’s 2-2 delivery and drives it deep into the right center field alley. The speedy Yank base runners clear the bases and Mariano finishes the D Rays off.
Now it is much cooler, as the Yanks are in Toronto under the dome, and I’m watching from my couch. My earliest recollection of Godzilla was a film where he was seemingly dispatched by a substance added to the ocean that deprived the water of all of its oxygen. In a followup sequel, the Destroyer, a mutated creature spawned in this death-to-oxygen-breathers milieu, unleashed its fury on Japan, just as Carlos Delgado did to Clay Parker in his start last April, crushing a grand slam in his first at bat. The Destroyer starts 2003 in the same manner, and we find ourselves down three in the late innings with time running out. Gigan Giambi (a cyborg from the Hunter Nebula in a much later film) parks one with two on, but we are almost out of outs when Matsui mashes a high hard one and sends me to the refrigerator with a smile on my face.
It’s a week later, and it’s frigid in Tier Box 603 for Opening Day. The Champs of the Eastern and Central Divisions are meeting in the Bronx and Manda (god of the ancient — and honorable — civilization of Mu) Mussina and Radke have brought their “A” games. To the joy of shivering fans, the game zooms along with no score, but no one is happy when David Ortiz clears the 314 mark, giving the Twins a one-run lead in the eighth. To many, Minnesota closer Guardado is “Everyday Eddie,” but to me this day he comes out as Eddie Ebirah, a huge lobster-like creature somehow able to adapt itself not only to locomotion on land, but to tossing round spheres in the most deceptive of motions, and all with his left claw. With 50,000 people cheering his name rather than running from him in terror, Godzilla swats a low outside floater off the loge facade, sending Alfonso Soriano on base before him, and all of the Bronx faithful, home in a delirious celebration.
Skip to May 18 in the Bronx, I’m in Tier Box 622, and the Texas Rangers, with the usually benevolent lion-like god King Seesar (Arod), are in town. The teams have a good old-fashioned donnybrook as Alex homers three times, including one into the upper deck in left, and Raffy Palmeiro pitches in with a singleton. Bernie, Jason and Hideki have gone yard too, but the back-from-injury Zimmerman hasn’t blown a save yet and he goes up 0-2 on Hideki, who hasn’t lifted the bat from his shoulder in an 11-9 bottom of the ninth. The ubiquitous Jeter and Soriano are manning the corner bases. Many will claim Godzilla actually points over the 385 mark in right center with his bat, but after the 1-2 pitch clears the mark in a nanosecond for the game-winner, no Yankee can be found to endorse that claim. The fame is growing.
In the 1969 thriller “Invasion of the Astro Monster,” aliens from Planet X try to conquer the earth by controlling King Ghidorah, Rodan and Godzilla, and the alien NL Central Houston Astros try to take control of the Baseball Cathedral on Tuesday, June 10. The visitors are ecstatic when Gigan Giambi and Godzilla are whiffed back to back their first time up. By the time the “Astros” fly out of town after Thursday’s game, that pair have accounted for seven homers and 13 rbi in a three-game sweep.
But the Astros are followed into town by the St. Louis Cardinals led by Tino Titanosaurus Martinez, a dinosaur that has survived the past, and has come under control of a mad scientist named LaRussa. Tino humbles Gigan and Godzilla, but the Yanks manage two out of three on the timely hitting, defense and base running of the robot Jaguar, aka Jeter.
Having survived that one-two punch, the Yanks are next confronted in June with the anti-Godzilla robot Mogera Vaughn and the crosstown Mets, and then a home and home with the Boston Red Sox. Pesky battlers as usual, they’ll fight the Yanks for first place all year behind the likes of Manny Mothra Ramirez, Nomar Rodan Garciaparra, and Pedro Hedorah Martinez (a monster born of man’s pollution of the environment). The Yanks eventually prevail by the superhuman help Gigan and Godzilla receive from teammates Bernie, Derek, Alfonso, Moose, Weaver, Boomer and Mo.
But 2003 is no different than any other season; it’s all about the postseason. And in the new Millennium that means beating the teams out West. In August we have a third — and deciding — series with the forces of Megalon, the god of the city of Seatopia (aka Seattle). Behind the “bat” of Edgar “Battra” Martinez and the arm of Freddy Gaborah (an ogrelike monster) Garcia, Seattle challenges the Yanks, and their western counterparts, but the Yanks win the season series, and it’s the last time they’ll face Seattle in 2003.
August is also the month that finds the Yanks playing the third of three regular-season series against the Oakland A’s. The lefty-heavy Yanks behind Gigan and Godzilla are baffled by Barry Monster Zero Zito all year, and August is no exception. But the preponderance of chances finally catches up with Zero, and the two-headed Yankee monster finally dispatches him in the Wild Card Series in October, where the Yankees prevail to face the team that ended their 2002 season so unexpectedly.
It seems to bode ill for the Yanks that two of the three series (and six of the nine times the Yanks and Angels will face one another) are slated for what we like to call Monster Island, though the entertainment conglomerate behind the Angels calls it Disneyland. And truth be told we lose two out of three out there in April, largely due to the exploits of Troy Glaus (in this dream he is Gigantis, the Fire Monster). Threatening to inch ahead in the season series by sweeping three at home, we lose the third game on Thursday night, May 15, when Scott (Spiega the poisonous spider) Spiezio homers late. We lose two of three in Anaheim again in July, and when the two teams face in the ALCS, the Angels and their fanbase are as confident as the Yanks and their fans were this past October.
And that makes all the difference. That — and the fact that a Godzilla that has been clubbing our opposition all season long brings his whole game when the Angels try to duplicate their 2002 heroics. The red that Matsui sees is not just the red of Angels fans’ garments and their ThunderStix, as the crowd rises as one to cheer on another late-inning rally. No, Godzilla recognizes an age-old adversary when the Disney people spring what they think is their ultimate weapon in the Rally Monkey. I see it as a sad ploy to get a clueless crowd off their feet and into the game, but Hidecki sees his oftentime costar King Kong, and Godzilla thinks it’s time to settle up. Covering right field like a monster possessed, he crushes a ThunderStix (and an unfortunate fan’s arm) as he throws himself against the right center field wall to flag down a Garret Anderson liner. In successive plays he notches assists when Jeter relays of his throws nail first Epstein and then Erstad on the basepaths. And in the top of the ninth of the deciding game he puts the game away, wielding a “Thunderstick” of his own as he drives in three to open the Yank lead to five runs off a wilting Troy Percival.
The Dodgers surprise both the Phillies and the D’backs in the NL playoffs, and they are the Yanks’ opponent in the fall classic. But having dispatched the greatest of his rivals in King Kong in Anaheim, Matsui and the Yanks have little trouble with the overachievers from Chavez Ravine. Godzilla overwhelmed the Smog Monster in their 1972 film, and even though the air in LA has come a long way in the last three decades, the monstrous Yankee juggernaut prevails in five.
It’s dawn when I awaken on the couch. I’ve slept funny, and I have a bit of headache, but I’m in a great mood. Slowly remembering a detail here and there of the previous night’s musings, I feel better and better. I guess it makes no sense. I mean, you don’t believe the stuff you see in the movies, and in your dreams, do you?
I’m not so sure about that. I sure believed in Mickey Mantle…