Bronx, N.Y., July 23, 2002 — A tough night in Cleveland. Andy never got off well; Baez did. And unlike the two toe stubbings we experienced last week, this one was over early. Jorge left bloodied, but to all accounts will be OK. I’ve seen enough of Andy to believe that he will too. As our prospects for victory atrophied on the Jacobs Field vine, I began musing about the familiar drumbeats dominating the background of the coverage.
These guys have been beating those drums since this team played to habitually empty houses in the “mistake by the lake.” Even though I do thrill to the Yankee Stadium right field bleacher cowbell, I considered the din these “Tribe tom-toms” were making, and as a baseball rooting tool, I found them lacking.
A character named Napoleon XIV unleashed the mind-numbing They’re Coming to Take Me Away 36 years ago today on an unwitting American Bandstand-dominated teen audience who thought they were up for anything, no matter how silly. But the unending drone of
- They’re coming to take me away, HA HA
They’re coming to take me away,
HO HO HEE HEE HA HA
To the funny farm
Where life is beautiful all the time
And I’ll be happy to see
Those nice, young men
In their clean, white coats
And they’re coming to take me away, Ha-haaa!
convinced most otherwise, and quickly. (“With that beat — How do you dance to that?”) We had learned our lesson (long before Whoopie, Patrick and Ghost would come along and prove it) with Herman’s Hermits’ Henry the Eighth the year before, and if there was anything more remarkable than the skyrocketing course “Take Me Away” made shooting up the charts, it was the precipitous dive it took once the banality of it all had sunk in. I love a loud party, and a loud Stadium, but not noise for noise’s sake.
Ask anyone who knows me, or who has ever accompanied me to Yankee Stadium. I’m all about noise. I start games by accompanying the sign that appears on the Scoreboard right after the National Anthem has been sung with a booming vocal presentation, just in case anyone is not paying attention: “PLAY BALL!!!!”
And yes, I admit it. (Heck. I’m proud of it.) It doesn’t end there. There is a Yankee pitcher on the mound to start the game, and he needs our support. Also, there may be a few fans out there eager to cheer him too who aren’t sure of the name, so repeatedly yelling the pitcher’s first name (or nickname) is a service, one I’m eager to provide. Peppering it with the inevitable, “Strike One, all righ-ght!”, the hopefully fairly regular “out of there,” and the “Take a Seat!” reserved for opposition strike out victims keeps the commentary lively and vibrant, and avoids the predictability pitfall. All this is framed by a reference or two to the home plate ump’s name, perhaps a nod of recognition (or not) for the job he’s doing, and an all too rare appreciation for the defensive work of one of our guys in the field: “Throw a little leather at ‘em.”
And things do heat up when the offense joins the party in the bottom of the first. Starting with “C’mon Alfonso, little hit, Let’s Get It St-t-a-a-a-r-t-e-d” through “You can do it, You can do it!”, “C’mon Yankee, D-r-r-i-i-i-i-v-e it!” and “Little hit, Let’s go!” all the way to the hopefully prophetic “Give It a R-R-i-i-i-d-d-e!!! or even better, “Take ‘em downtown!“, I do my best to keep the starting ten, and everyone at least in my section, solidly in the game at all times.
I adapt my style to the game we’re playing, whether it’s a low-scoring thriller where the next hit could decide things; a back-and-forth battle a la the two games we just won in the three-game Red Sox series this past weekend; one of those “painless” losses (tonight) where we are out of the game almost before it is a game; or even those all too rare contests where we humiliate the opponent in a tsunami of well-executed baseball offense. I have favorite players, true, and those who are not, but I try to be objective with my yells, and I’m willing (make that eager) to be proven wrong about a perceived Yankee’s shortcomings.
I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I notice, and bask in, the murmurs of my fellow fans after I’ve unleashed a particularly effective barrage of loud, affirming and unrelenting banter, but the essence of a good cheer is not really about the fans. No, a cheer at its most effective is a call to my “teammates,” the men I’m trying to inspire to exploits of baseball heroism and derring-do. I believe they perform better when I’m rooting them on; if I didn’t it would be obvious to the fans around me, and in the negative results my half-hearted efforts would garner.
Other critical features: All negativity must be banished. I once saw Tony Fernandez ask for and accept high fives from teammates for getting a sac fly in the last inning of a game in which we were down by five, when he swung at the first pitch after their reliever had just walked two guys in a row, but I think this cluelessness is a huge exception. These guys know when they do well; they know when they fail. They don’t need me to tell them that. I don’t believe my “boo” or “hiss” will bring them any further down than they have already brought themselves. At the most, I’ll be somewhat instructive: “C’mon, pitcher, throw strikes.” They’re already cursing themselves under their breath(s), despairing of their ability in crucial situations. It’s my job to disabuse them of those contradictory and counterproductive notions. “If you can’t look into my eyes, hear my voice: You are not only good at what you do, you are the best, you are capable of playing “Yankee Baseball!”
Of course, for every believer there is the “Bah, Humbug” corollary. Sue just poked her nose in and asked about my subject here and my premise. Her take when I explained that I was illustrating how my Stadium efforts are so much more life-affirming, positive and conducive to success than guys just beating on a drum? “I don’t know. You both make a lot of noise.”
Well I never. I historically embrace one of my favorites, empathizing with Jimi Hendrix, and how he must have felt 35 years ago yesterday. It no longer mattered, I’m sure, that the money was good. Enough is enough. That was the day, you see, that Jimi quit his job as the opening act of the first-ever national Monkees tour. I got your back, Jimi. We artists have to stick together.