My New BFF?

Me and my new bff. Alex was engaging and receptive. I was astounded.

August 5, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – I love writing game reports. It – the game – is what this baseball craziness is all about, and not only that, it was truly huge that the Yanks broke recent custom by winning a series, this with a 6-2 win over the Mariners in steamy Yankee Stadium Sunday afternoon. Struggling to get his variety of offspeed stuff over through five innings, Freddy Garcia succeeded in getting the win, and the bullpen retired 12 of 13 to finish the Mariners off.

Backup catcher Chris Stewart had a big day with the bat, going 2-for-3 with a walk, and scoring his first three times to the plate. And not only did DH Raul (R-R-A-A-U-U-U-L-!) Ibanez clear the Yankee bullpen with a bomb once the visitors had closed the score to 3-2; he followed by lifting a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single over short after ex-Met Oliver Perez walked Mark Teixeira to bring him to the plate.

But the game is played by players, in a ballpark, and in front of fans. The story of this Sunday in the Bronx is about a unique confluence of those elements.

It’s been a tough slog for the team and the fanbase as we’ve all had to come to grips with the razing of the 86-year-old storied House That Ruth Built, and adapt to the slick, modern new digs across 161st Street. Season ticket holders have had to adjust, and some have happily, some considerably less so; some have discontinued their relationship with the team, at least on a financial level. The relationship is continuing apace, but the team felt it had to confront old wounds, and new ones, as in the disturbing drop in the price license holders can expect to get for the tickets they can’t use.

Sue and I on the warning track, with our seats about 500 feet or so behind us.

And confront the Yankees did. This was the first-ever photo day in the Stadium, perhaps in either Yankee Stadium, and holders of full season tickets were invited to congregate on the warning track from foul pole to foul pole in the outfield, with a double line of rope between us and the outfield grass. We were assembling from 9:45, knowing the players would be coming out at 10:45, and that we’d have 30 minutes (can you guess the player who broke the 30-minute rule?) to photograph, talk with, and share handshakes and fist bumps with them. It was hot with little, and decreasing, shade as the sun climbed in the sky. People grabbed the spots bordering the temporary lines, and had fun photographing themselves and their friends against the wall and elsewhere. I was one of many interviewed on tape and shown live on the big Scoreboard by a Yankee employee, and I could have babbled on about the coming experience – and some past ones – forever.

And then Mariano Rivera emerged from the third base dugout (players were coming at us from both directions from this point on) and one of the best half hours of my life was on. Joe Girardi and Rafael Soriano came from the Yankee dugout. Mo was terrific, as personable as a one-of-a-kind star as you could want. And after a while Alex Rodriguez followed. We were dead center, just to the right field side of the 408 mark on the wall, and I could see Alex coming for some time. You could see that he was taking his time, not rushing through. His right hand was carefully bandaged, but not completely enough to reveal how superbly tuned that arm, and the opposite appendange, are. Security people occupied the space between the two lines, which were only four or five feet apart, with the players making the circuit along the inside line. It was clear Alex was fist-bumping lots of fans, and that we’d be up soon.

Players, I’ve decided I can say now that I have newfound experience, are people. Some are outgoing (how’s that guessing about the guy who wasn’t done at 11:15 going?), some shy. Some were happy to be there, while some probably dreaded it. What I did not expect, however, was that a few would be as eager to break that “fourth wall” between players and spectators as we were, to discover what we thought about things, of the move, for instance, and how it affected the game. What I’m trying to convey you is this: My fist bump moment, cool as it was, ushered in a genuine, several-minute actual conversation with Alex Rodriguez.

It was Alex connecting with tens of fans, at least at the beginning. He came to a stop and turned and looked me in the eye and asked how long I had been a season ticket holder.

Doing my ''C-H-A-A-A-A-R-R-R-G-E'' call, which was shown on the big screen in center and broadcast through the stadium loudspeakers.

“Since 1987,” I replied, a number that apparently caught his attention. He asked where my seat was, then actually turned and scanned once I said we sat up top a little to the third base side of home, right under where the Washington Nationals banner flew, as the first-place team in the NL East. He asked if I liked the new Stadium better than the old place, and I admitted I missed the former view from on high, seemingly hovering right on top of the field. He admitted to me and others that the convenience of just driving into his job, parking underneath, was hard to resist, but once asked, also allowed that the crowd was louder across the way. The eye contact was reassuring; we had a connection, as I replied that that was because we were so much closer in Babe Ruth’s House.

Then Alex turned and indicated the right field line toward home, and said that the entire area behind the seats comprised the clubhouse. “The press has access to the first 20 yards (or did he say 10?) The rest, all the way to the foul pole is ours!”

Our back and forth took perhaps two or three minutes. And it was remarkable. Ten years ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with long-time Yankee organist Eddie Layton shortly before he retired [and then all too quickly passed away.] I talk to the newspaper guy every day (we’re both Dan’s!), and Kenny at the deli, although not a Yankee fan, respects that I’m one, and what that entails. I converse with a 153rd Street Station Metro North employee after every game. And today I talked with a baseball player, learning something real about his life, sharing something genuine about mine.

Alex continued along his way, assuring us as he did that he was coming back from his injury, and the event continued. There are 25 players on the roster, not to mention Girardi and the coaching staff (and Brian Cashman, who circled between the two lines, more available than anyone), so I can’t mention them all. Favorites such as Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson came from left field while I was looking right. Some were more engaging than others. Andy Pettitte led a group of starting pitchers that also included Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter bringing up the rear. It was a true blast. I assured Boone Logan that “it’s ALWAYS ‘Boone’ we’re yelling, never ‘Boo.’ ” And later during the game in which Chris Stewart had such a good day, I thought back with a smile how I yelled “Stewie!” as he passed.

And the answer to the quiz – are you ready? – is Nick Swisher, of course. Swish had not made it halfway around the loop when it came time to break it off, because he was literally speaking to everyone he saw. It was heartwarming watching him bring smiles to young and old alike. Security finally convinced him that he had to desist and go just before he got to us, but I yelled to him how much I like him as an actor in the few TV sitcoms he has appeared in, sometimes with wife Joanna Garcia, and he cracked up. I used the line in Spring Training a few years back, and offer it to anyone reading. You meet Swish? Talk about his acting and he will react.

On Sunday, the Yanks stopped a little bleeding, finishing the home stand just one game under .500, following a road trip where the losses came too often as well. They fixed losses with much of the fanbase as well.

And I found a new bff? (not, but it was fun)

BTW,TYW (by the way, the Yankees won)
And on this day, the fans did too.