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Thursday, November 20, 2014

2015 - My Season With the Yankees - Chapter 7

My law practice had been a very local one throughout the years. Travel was almost exclusively limited to vacations, and such was the long established rhythm of my life. I was definitely not used to living out of a suitcase, going from place to place, never quite settling in before I was gone. But this year, this odyssey, meant that I was always coming or going. Never at rest.

After the wedding on Saturday night, the fatigue seemed to settle into my bones. I was very happy that the homestand was not finished, and that my next journey would be to Baltimore (and back to my cousin's) on the following Friday. Best of all, both Monday and Thursday were off days for the team, but more importantly, for me.

I felt I needed to replenish, revitalize, if I was to stand even a remote chance of continuing this trek for another 100 games or more. I now knew the fuller meaning of the phrase, as prevalent as any saying in the game: "baseball is not a sprint, it is a marathon." Yes, its application was in never counting your team out in June, for the race, as they say, did not necessarily belong to the swiftest. But in reality its truer meaning was in relation to the physical and emotional stress that must permeate to the core of every ballplayer's soul. He cannot but grow tired of the routine, of the monotony, of the Sisyphean task of pushing himself and his team up a very large hill for a very long time. If a runner hits the imaginary wall at the 20 mile mark, then I had run headlong into a brick barrier at about 10 miles into the race. And the Yankee players, mired in last place and going nowhere, must have encountered the same demons.

I spoke with my wife and children at length about whether I should just give up the chase and return to a more sane and sanitary existence. I was, after all, no longer chasing the dream of seeing every pitch. Now I no longer would even be able to say I had been present at every game. I was lonely on the road. The thrill of going to the park, day after day, had disappeared, and it seemed more work than play at this point. The team was bordering on pathetic, the future looked dismal, and I missed my wife, my children, my friends, my life. I was as close to miserable as someone could be whose main task was merely to show up to watch major league baseball.

My family told me to do what I wanted. That, unlike the wedding of my niece, I would not look the fool if I decided that enough was too much. But that what I was doing was something special, something unique, and if I did not see it through to its conclusion, I might look back with a great deal of sadness on my decision to abandon the chase. They were, as I said, a very bright group of people and very sage in their advise. I decided that I would carry on, at least for now, and see where the road led.


So I trudged to the stadium on Sunday and the Yanks again spanked the Angels. On the off day on Monday, I caught up with my most pressing work needs, visited my mom, and had dinner with my wife and both of our children. I felt a little stronger, a little more focused on the task at hand.

Tuesday I arrived  earlier than usual at the ballpark  for a night game against the Nationals. As I was waiting on line to go in, there was a tap on my shoulder. It was the cousin whom I was going to visit later that week. He was an avid Nats fan, and had driven up to catch the two games at the house that Steinbrenner built after he tore down the house that Ruth built. We spent most of that night talking baseball, speaking of its great joys and great moments. I mentioned little of the woes that had beset me, of my uncertainties. I suddenly felt foolish even harboring the possibility of leaving this all behind. 

And then there was Bryce Harper. He was a stud, and having a monster season for the Nats. That Tuesday night he made a diving catch in the outfield, threw out a runner at third base, legged a single into a double and clubbed a massive home run deep into the right field stands in the upper deck. He reminded me of why I was there.

As the homestand closed, and after another off day on Thursday, I headed out on a short five day road trip, ready to take on all challenges. Even if the Yankees weren't.




2015 - My Season With the Yankees - Chapter 6

I was a New York Giant season ticket holder in the 1980's. This had been a franchise of greatness in the late 1950's and early 1960's but had fallen on a generation of hard times since then. I even attended a dinner of like minded unhappy fans in the late 1970's who ended up protesting their displeasure by having a plane fly over the Stadium with a banner that read something like "19 years and we're not going to take it anymore."

Thus, when the 1986 team reached the Super Bowl, there was boundless joy. And when my friend and I, through a lottery, obtained two tickets to California to attend that year's extravaganza, it was like, well, winning the lottery.

The game took place on January 25, 1987, the Giants won and all was right in the world. Except for one small matter. January 24, 1987 was my son's sixth birthday. And I was not home for the celebration. Even now, twenty eight years later, I am reminded that I voluntarily chose to be 3000 miles from home on that day.

So, I get that milestones in one's life, even if not particularly important to me or my wife, do have far greater meaning to much of the population. Thus, Saturday, June 6, 2015 was circled in my calendar with a big exclamation mark. It was the evening my niece was getting married. And the California Angels were in town to play the hapless Yankees.

I love my niece. She is a great kid, not so much a kid anymore as she had just turned 31 earlier in 2015. She was bright, pretty, a young lawyer of some renown, and best of all she treated her uncle with the respect he (I) deserved. She was my one and only sister's only daughter, and she was very special. Except that she was interfering with my plans.

That Saturday's game had a 4PM start to accommodate the television gods. The Yankees had broken their 14 game losing streak two weeks earlier, and had now settled into the pattern of alternating wins and losses with a metronomic regularity. They were 12 games out of first place on June 6, and the stands were half empty. Those who came spent more time directing their venom at the home team than rooting for them.

But I had not missed a game, missed an inning, missed a pitch of the entire season. And pictures for the family were called for 3PM on that Saturday, with the ceremony to begin promptly at 5:30 PM. How could I tell my niece, my sister, that I would not be able to appear, thank you very much, because I was an absolute moron?

While milestones might not mean all that much to me, family does. I live and die each day by the joys and sorrows that attach to my children's lives. I have spent most of my marriage within arm's length of my wife. And my mom, dad and sister have been like idols for me. My dad passed away when he was 61, more than 35 years ago, and not a day goes by that I still don't miss him and wish he was here. My mom, who thankfully had another of her amazing recoveries from recent back problems and was still with us in body, if not mind, was someone who spoiled me from the first day of my life to the last coherent conversation I had with her. And my sister was a wondrous person, caring not only for herself and her crew, but for my family with equal depth and sincerity. She was generous with her time and of her spirit. I adored her, and all those in her family.

Could my idiotic mission, coupling myself for no good reason with the gang that couldn't hit straight, trump all that? Could I really let them know that I was giving my regrets, that I was certain that the day would be spectacular, that she should take a lot of pictures, and be sure to give me every detail, but my first allegiance was to be at my appointed round at the appointed time? Was I like the postman, only rain, sleet and snow was substituted with balls, strikes and broken bats?

I sought counsel from my wife and my children, whose understanding of the human condition I greatly respected. They were universal in their dismay at my even considering putting my self appointed obligation over my duty to honor and respect my niece. So much for my trusting in their judgment.

On June 4, 2015, still tortured by my indecision, I picked up the phone to call my sister and discuss what was going on in my head. After she initially laughed, thinking I was making a very bad joke, she told me to call my niece. If I was thinking of doing what I was thinking of doing, she said, I should at least have the courage to call my niece and explain it to her. If I couldn't do that, she told me, then I should just get dressed up early Saturday afternoon, show up at the predetermined hour at the appropriate venue, and make believe this conversation never took place.

And so on June 6, 2015, I broke my vow to myself to see every inning of every game of the 2015 Yankee season. The wedding was spectacular, my niece and her husband looked astounding, and I hoped that my sister could one day forget the call that had taken place two days earlier.

And oh, by the way, the Yankees played their best game in over a month that day, beating up on California 11 to 1.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

2015 - My Season With the Yankees - Chapter 5

On the evening of Monday, May 4, 2015, David Robertson was pitching in the bottom of the ninth inning against Toronto. The team was holding on to a two run lead. One out, and three runs later, the game was lost.  The next night, a one run advantage, two outs, no one on base. A single, a double, a wild pitch and a bloop hit later, Robertson had blown another save.

It is a funny thing that after being a student of the game for six decades, it is hard to tell exactly the moment when things are truly falling apart. May 4th, it turns out, was the beginning of an epic journey to the depths of Yankee lore.

The franchise had been in existence since 1903, first as the Highlanders, and then, beginning in 1913, as the Yankees. In all that time, the longest losing streak had been 13 games. That meant that come lousy pitching, worse hitting, bad coaching and terrible karma, even the most horrendous accumulation lacking talent or luck had found a way to snatch a solitary victory from the jaws of defeat before a  baseball fortnight had passed.

Robertson complained of a dead arm after the second debacle. In truth, he was probably hurting for some time.  Two days and one MRI later, he was done for the season with a torn rotator cuff.
If I had been at home watching the games on the tv between May 4 and May 19, I  would have undoubtedly informed my wife I would be willing to watch anything, anything else in which she was interested, even re-runs of Project Runway.

It was a train wreck playing out in slow motion. Except for a four game series at the Stadium with the Orioles, I spent those 15 days in Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Kansas City, squirming in my seat every night and day. Every possible way of losing was demonstrated and then repeated. The team, and I, were trapped in a cycle of misery.

By the time we reached our last stop, the streak was at 11. The local press was funny and brutal. Kansas City, which had forever been a downtrodden baseball town was now home to the AL champs. The axis of the world had shifted. "Yanks Make Reservations on Hindenburg" one headline exclaimed. Indeed this $200,000,000 mistake was going down in flames. It was only the middle of May and this was already a collection of the walking dead.

I was depressed. My son called me after defeat 13 to check in. "You are watching history" he told me, as if that would provide solace. He could sense the quiet desperation in my words. "Are you ok?" I was touched by his compassion and felt an overwhelming desire to get home on the next flight out. But there were still two more games to be played before that could happen.

This had to be a humiliating experience for the team. So many of them were accustomed to nothing but success, surrounded forever by sycophants, full of obsequious praise. Now they were being ridiculed, publicly flogged day after day and privately criticized relentlessly. Overpaid and underperforming was not a happy combination.

In the middle of this maelstrom was Joe Girardi. He of the marine style haircut and the look of a man who was forever ready to do battle. But this was more than even he could explain away. His job was on the line. He received the obligatory vote of confidence from those on high, meaning he was close to the unemployment line. Like the good soldier he was, he answered questions with stock responses night after night. And he prayed that his name would not soon be in the record books as the captain of the Titanic.

May 16th brought consecutive loss 13 and then the record for futility was cracked on Sunday May 17th with a national audience watching in collective delight. The mighty Yankees, the team of 27 World Championships, the home of everything strong and powerful, were mocking symbols of past glory. This was as bad as it gets.

That is until I twisted my ankle leaving the plane on the flight back to New York Sunday night. Talk about limping home. I was mentally and physically a wreck.

And then it got worse.

2015 - My Season With the Yankees - Chapter 4

I gained four pounds the first month of the season. At that rate, by October I would have to add the cost of an entirely new wardrobe to the price of my adventure. I had decided that, even when home, I would dine at the ballpark. Something about purity of experience.

But living on at least one fast food meal a day, and more on the road, was definitely not what the doctor ordered.

So, beginning in May, I cut back on the bread, the pasta, the fried foods and the desserts. I would exhibit self restraint. It is not easy walking past the cheese fries, the ice cream swirls, the pepperoni pizza and settling in for a meal consisting of a piece of grilled chicken on top of some green stuff. It felt like I had removed one of the essential underpinnings of what made baseball so enjoyable. My pleasure meter dropped precipitously.

I spent Friday morning before the start of the Boston series in the office. I had a 2PM flight. But at 10 AM I received a call from a court of an emergent application to be heard at 1:30. My presence was required. I considered advising that this would not do as I had an away game that night, but thought better of it. I worried that my consecutive inning streak, as important to me as Ripken's  consecutive game was to him, was already in jeopardy.

But good fortune shined on me. The judge was actually on the bench at the appointed hour, my case was the second heard, I spoke quickly and concisely, which is not my normal manner, and by 3:10, I was on my way to the airport. I was somehow able to get a seat on a 4PM flight and arrived at Fenway with 30 minutes to spare. Disaster avoided.

The Sox, having gained early season momentum with their sweep in NewYork, were playing the best ball in the majors. The Yankee winning streak came to an abrupt end that night and they once more fell below .500.

My hosts for the weekend were good friends, the daughter and son-in-law of our next door neighbors. They had two adorable kids, 8 and 4. My wife and I babysat for the older child once and she promptly fell headlong into the corner of a table. We had not been asked to babysit since.

They lived in a beautiful house in a Boston suburb. As I settled into my room that evening, a surprise awaited. The entire room had been filled with Red Sox paraphernalia. My favorites were a bear wearing a Sox uniform and hat and  a blanket with a huge logo of the team dominating the bed.
But I was tired, the bed was very comfortable and I lacked the energy or the will to put up a fight.

I fell asleep only inches away from the autographed photo of the "Splendid Splinter", Ted Williams. The kids had drawn a picture of a World Series trophy, below which it merely read "2004." It was nestled underneath my pillow. 

And so I spent the evening sleeping with the enemy.

The weekend brought unexpected good times at Fenway. On Saturday, Michael Pineda, he of the sticky substance on his neck, threw a beauty, limiting Boston to three hits, all singles, and not allowing a runner past second base. Sunday was even better as the Bombers won in a rout and Brett Gardner hit for the cycle. It was the first time I had ever been eyewitness to this feat.

Gardner's last hit was the hardest one to achieve, the triple. He lined a ball into the right field corner and took off from home plate with what appeared to be fierce determination and amazing speed. He threw himself headlong into third base, seemingly beginning his ascent shortly after rounding second, and slid in just ahead of the tag. A huge grin crossed his face and for a moment all seemed well in the Yankee universe. Back over .500 at 12 wins and 11 losses and heading on to Toronto.

And that is when it happened.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2015 - My Season with the Yankees - Chapter 3


My mom turned 97 on January 8, 2015. Most of her last decade had been lost to ever advancing dementia. Her interaction with this world was connected by a thread, and my visits with her consisted of a pantomime in which I pretended that she could hear and see me and that the words which occasionally came out of her mouth made sense. It was heart wrenching and seemed as if it would last forever.

If my back was bad, my mom's was many multiples worse. While her constitution seemed impenetrable, her achilles heel was her back. The pain, at some moments, was great and it would be the painkillers keeping my mom comfortable, that would be the most likely culprit in her demise. But for each battle, each turn for the worse, there was a corresponding minor miracle. She was still alive, and if not wholly intact, at least she was amazingly resilient.

As I returned from my time on the road, I made a visit to my mom's apartment in the early afternoon hours of April 24, 2015. Several days before, the discomfort had returned with a vengeance. She was all doped up, and completely out of touch when I arrived. Her caretaker told me it had been worse than before. If she didn't respond within the next few days, there was fear that she would just drift away. I kissed my mom's forehead and told her of the adventure on which I had embarked. I left out any mention of my own issues, for it seemed it would be ludicrous to do so. Even if she couldn't hear me, and understood nothing of what was being reported, she was still my mother. I squeezed her hand, and I think she squeezed back.

On June 16,1997 the two New York metropolitan teams met for the first time in a regular season game. It was a ticket as valuable as the World Series. There was a fervor and excitement that belied any particulars. It was at a moment when the Yankee engine was in full force, all the young talent resulting in the 1996 World Championship, the beginning of that memorable five year run. In contrast, the 1996 season had been yet another disaster for the Mets, as the losses piled up and their final record was a dismal 20 games below .500.

Throughout the years, the teams had continued to meet during the regular season and once in the post-season, in the 2000 World Series. I was at the game, sitting along the third base line, when Roger Clemens threw the shards of Mike Piazza's bat in his direction. But time and repetition had dulled the senses. As the crowd wandered into the Stadium for the first game of this year's version of the rivalry, it was hard to even imagine the level of intensity from that first encounter.

The innings moved along without much notice until I realized that it was the bottom of the 6th and the Yankees were still hitless. The 7th produced the same results as did the 8th. The one and only time I had been present at a no-no was on May 14, 1996. It was thrown by a pitcher at the tail end of a career that had started out with the promise of unimaginable greatness and then dissolved, largely due to a series of bad choices. The name of that pitcher was well known to Met fans: Doc Gooden.

I remember the stands literally swaying as the last out was recorded that night. The opponents were the Seattle Mariners, led by Ken Griffey Jr. and  a young phenom named Alex Rodriguez. It was an emotional experience, as Gooden was struggling at that point just to remain on a major league roster. It would prove to be his saving grace and allowed him to extend his dreams a little while longer.

Now it was Jacob DeGrom's chance at baseball immortality, at least for one day.

The colors in the crowd may have been evenly divided, but the noise generated by the Met contingent was overwhelming as the first Yankee went down on strikes to start the bottom of the ninth. Jacoby Ellsbury was next to arrive. On the second pitch, fooled by a slow curve, he stuck out his bat and hit a  dribbler down the third base line.  The no hitter was gone, and the last remaining shred of Yankee dignity was saved.

But, as this is baseball and momentum goes only as far as the next day's pitcher, the weekend belonged to the Yankees and they limped on to a return engagement with the Rays at 7 wins and l0 losses. It was April 26 and the middle three hitters in the lineup had exactly one home run among them. Murderer's Row it was clearly not.

My wife seemed to be doing just fine in my absence, thank you very much. The sad truth is that I am more hindrance than help to her, like the child she never bore but was saddled with for the rest of her days. She had been able to keep up with her portion of the workload in our office in my absence and had been freed of the other responsibilities that my inept presence demanded. In fact, she was probably looking at the calendar to see when my next road trip began. If she was happy to see me arrive, she was equally as happy when the door closed behind me.

The baseball gods suddenly cast their light upon the home team in the next series. Home runs came from everywhere, 28 runs were accumulated in 3 days, and after the last game in April the Yankees suddenly found themselves in equipoise, 10 up and 10 down, and the proud owners of a five game winning streak. May, the second road-trip, and the Red Sox, awaited.

2015 - My Season With the Yankees

CHAPTER ONE


November 17, 2015



It is one year from today. I have recently finished an endless summer. Strike that. I have just endured an endless spring, summer and fall. This can all be laid at the feet of two people, my daughter and a person whom I have never met.


It was November 16, 2014 when the plot began to hatch in my brain. On that day, more precisely that evening, my daughter announced she was planning a trip in the coming months. She had recently told us of her frustration with not having been attentive to her inner voice asking, no demanding, she satisfy her need to explore. She had seen friends abandon the security of their jobs, their lives and go on adventures to places far and wide. She had been envious of their freedom, of their pictures, of their stories. And she knew that she would always feel a sense of frustration and more than a tinge of unhappiness if she did not follow in their footsteps, if not literally, then figuratively.

She had a friend who had recently embarked on his own journey of discovery, seemingly on a moment's notice. He had an itinerary, she had accumulated vacation days, sick days, personal days and if they could all be squeezed together, maybe she could fit a square peg of an everyday job into the round hole of an extended trip to somewhere new, somewhere intriguing.  She emailed her friend to see how and when she could meet up with him.

The following morning, today to be precise, I read a piece in the New York Times about a 31 year old lawyer who had abandoned his profession (okay, he had gotten fired from his job) and decided he would spend the 2014-15 basketball season following his beloved team, the seemingly hapless and hopeless Knicks of New York.  82 games would be chronicled in a blog describing, one can only assume, the highs, the lows, the food, the lumpy mattresses and the eternal question of how Phil Jackson could have come out of retirement for this.


I have a little, actually a lot, of obsessive compulsive disorder in me. One of my many focuses is numbers. How many miles until I get to my destination, how many steps from my car to the door, how many times 31 (the stranger's age) goes into 62 (my age) or 82 (the length of an NBA season) goes into 162 (the number of games played by an MLB team). The mathematical symmetry was almost perfect, far too obvious to ignore. This stranger was a lawyer, as am I. He liked to write, and  had an apparent need to advise the entire universe as did I (ok the five or so people who actually read my writing) on his thoughts profound or insipid. This man, this random article in the paper, the timing of this piece and of my daughter's decision to stop suppressing her desires, all of this could mean only one thing for me: I was about to make the worst decision of my life.


I rationalized it this way: there were only 81 away games during the Major League season, spread out over seven months. Almost all weekday games were at night, which meant that when I was home it would not interfere with my work schedule, and even on the road I could attend to my law practice remotely and barely skip a beat. The weekends were not for work (or so I told myself) and thus games played from Friday night through Sunday afternoon would have little if any impact on my giving needed attention to my clients. The travel would be compacted into no more than a dozen trips, and never more than 10 days or so at a clip. All in all, it was eminently doable.

And then there was the small issue of informing my wife of 37 years of my impending plans. She had never attended even one of the approximately 500 Yankee games I had seen with our children over the past decades, and for the 1000 or so Yankee games I had been to during my lifetime, she could counter with a number that would certainly fit neatly on all her fingers, without need to resort to use of her toes. She did not discourage my interest in the sport or my time away from her. Rather, as our law office consisted only of the two of us, and had been that way for three decades, she was glad to be rid of me. In fact, we joked we had been married for 75 years if you added up all the waking moments in each others presence.

Yet, there was still some trepidation as I approached her with my thoughts. I would be turning 63 during the first month of the 2015 season and wasn't this idiocy something that should be the product of a much younger brain and body? Wasn't this the time in our lives where I should be focused on her wishes instead of thinking only of my own unfulfilled dreams? Wasn't it time I grew up?

But my wife is not built that way. She understood that whether it was something that burned inside a 29 year old daughter, a 31 year old stranger, or a 62 year old husband, it was not to be summarily ignored. "You owe me big time" would be her tongue in cheek response and about as close as she would come to putting up resistance. She truly did want to make my life happy, and I don't think I ever fully understood that until the moment we had finished our discussion and she had given her blessing to my journey to nowhere (and everywhere).


I could barely have chosen a worse year to follow the trials and tribulations of the Bronx Bombers. I had been weaned on Mickey, Whitey and Yogi. I was a child of the 1950's and early 1960's, the time of Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob, Dobie Gillis and of course, annual trips to the World Series. There was an inevitability to greatness, to success. I still recall 1958 as a tragedy, when the Chicago White Sox appeared as the American League champions in the Fall Classic. Those were days of transistor radios, Mel Allen and Red Barber. Those were times I woke up in the morning, rushed to the television set to learn if my mood was to be good or sour. If the Yankees had won the night before, I listened to the sports report as often as I could before heading off to school.

Mantle was my hero, my first and most enduring. No matter the revelations in later years, the women, the booze, the dark side that should have diminished my respect and reverence. It was a first love, and as the songs tell us, there can be little better. He will forever have that impish smile, the Bunyanesque power and that little hitch in his gait caused by an infamous drain in the outfield.

In contrast, 2014 marked the end of the Fab four plus one (I understand that Bernie Williams preceded Derek, Andy, Jorge and Mariano but they were all five fingers of a glove). The 2014 season came to a close not with the final out of the World Series between two teams I have already forgotten but with that line drive to right field that brought home the winning run in the final at bat for number two at the Stadium.

What remained at year's end was a group without an identity, a seemingly random collection of has beens, never wases, and question marks. Hitch my star to a returning A-Rod? Please. Sell my soul for another dead pull hitter like a Teixeira or a McCann, both of whom seemed overwhelmed by the shift and the shifting tides that brought their averages and their swagger down to that of the most pedestrian of back up performers? Find a diamond in the rough ready to be polished? Apart from Betances and his resurrection, there was a paucity of talent throughout the system. Hamstrung by overblown salaries for the geriatric generation and the departure of Robby Cano, this was a ship that was listing and ready to sink.

But this was the squad, come hell or high water, that I was going to give my time and a good deal of my money to follow. And money would prove another uncomfortable part of the equation. I am neither rich nor spoiled. I do not need the finest accommodations or the best of meals. The Holiday Inn and Chipotle are more than suitable for my needs. But even so, this would take some planning to fit within my budget. What was my budget? After all, I was nearing that age where I should at least give contemplation to retirement, and instead of being frugal I was going on a scavenger hunt for a meaningful October.

In putting together my game plan, I was the fortunate recipient of a general manager who made Theo Epstein look like a helpless child. My son is the absolute master of taking a nickel and making it look like a quarter, of locating every bargain, every gimmick and giveaway. If there was a deal to be had, he knew it. If there wasn't one there, he could create it. And so he studied the airfares, the hotels, the car rentals. He found friends within the area, and put notices out on the internet to help an old man in an odd and improbable dream. He looked to see what bargains could be found at the various ballparks, and devised the best strategies for the places where the games were always sold out in advance. This was my version of "it takes a village."  If I was the orchestra, my son was the maestro.

The pitchers reported to camp in late February of 2015, and the full team shortly thereafter. As they went through their paces, I had to get ready for the rigors of the baseball season in my own life. Clients were contacted, explaining what I was about to do, and assuring them that though I would be out of the office for periods of time, my work would not suffer and the level of attention I would provide would remain unchanged. Some were skeptical, some business was undoubtedly lost, but for the main part, I think those who knew me trusted in my intentions. I did get some humorous presents, like the client who sent me a Yankee uniform with my name and number 62/63 on the back. I was not to be deterred and thus tried to defuse all possible bombs during the latter part of the winter. By mid- March, I was in good shape, as if I had performed well during spring training and made the squad headed to the Stadium for opening day.

The same could not be said for the 2015 version of the Bronx Bummers. A-Rod looked more and more each day like a 40 year old man with bad hips and only the most distant relationship to the steroid induced monster of the previous decade. Losses piled up throughout spring training, nothing new or unexpected, and certainly not with the same implications as in the days that King George ruled. But still, the expectations heading into this season were reminiscent more of the Horace Clarke days, then the recent glorious era. And thus was the state of affairs as I tidied up my desk, only several weeks short of my 63rd birthday, and began my spring, summer and fall tango with the boys down on the field.


 CHAPTER TWO


It was 41 degrees at 1:07 PM on April 6, 2015 in New York City. The sky was a gray, heading towards black. The drizzle was constant, the cold was penetrating, the forecast was ominous. I took my seat in the upper deck just past the left field foul pole, the best seat I could get in my pre-determined price range for the full season package. I had decided that I would try not to miss a pitch, to be part of the process from first moment to last of this my season as a Yankee. And I would do this alone, without companionship or divided attention. My dates were the nine men who had stood at the ready on the diamond. Even though they had no idea, we were going to be joined at the hip for better or worse til game 162 do us part. As they took off their caps to give honor to America, it began.


The Toronto Blue Jays were the opponent, but as I would learn throughout most of this season, they were virtually irrelevant. This would not be a study of the hits and errors, the pitch-outs and strike-outs, the do's and the don'ts, the trials and tribulations or even the wins and losses. This would become a study or perseverance, of dedication to a task at hand, of the ability to move forward on days when it was hard to get out of bed and harder to go to the ballpark. It would be a parallel universe occupied by ballplayer and fan, as we both somehow found the inner reserve to do whatever it was that needed to be done.


The rain descended with a vengeance in the top of the fourth inning and the water soon ran off the tarp in torrents. On most other days, good sense would have dictated an end to the battle, but this was not most other days. It was a 97 minute rain delay and I stood shivering in the third floor concourse, running into the bathroom as often as I could for shelter from the storm.  The lounges, the restaurants, the places of creature comfort, were not available to those like me who had not ponied up the requisite dollars for our seats. It was stark reminder of the class war that had descended even into the bowels of Yankee Stadium.

When the game renewed, the starting pitchers were gone, the outfield was sloppy and the play even sloppier. When all the crooked numbers were added up, it was a glorious start for the home team on an inglorious afternoon. The Yankee record was a clean one win and no losses.

As I left the Stadium and headed home to New Jersey by public transportation (the cost of parking a car would have blown a huge hole in the monies allotted for this endeavor) I wondered how I would have the stamina to withstand the rigors of April, and somehow survive until the warmth descended from the heavens.

The next day, Tuesday was an off day and Wednesday the cold rain started early in the morning and would not stop until deep into the dark of night. The first rainout of the season allowed me two uninterrupted days in the office. Thursday night's game brought an end to a very short winning streak and the Blue Jays and Yankees finished their initial tug of war all even. On deck, the Red Sox.

For so many years the Red Sox were enemies in name only. We had to have rivalries, and even though the Yankees always prevailed in the end, Boston was our favorite target. But as much as we hated them, they despised us for our winning ways and our haughty attitude. That would all change in 2004. I was eye witness to one of the worst losses in Yankee lore, and the future pinstriper, Johnny Damon was among the chief culprits on that terrible day when the world changed forever. The Yankees were out of the playoffs and the team that was forever not good enough, suddenly was. With the World Series victory that year, the dynamic was altered and the level of animosity escalated.

Now, in 2015 it was possible that these were the two worst teams in the American League East. The Sox had been bi-polar in the past several seasons, alternating from worst to best, and no one was quite sure whether Jekyll or Hyde would surface this year. And the tension and drama was therefore somewhat muted on yet another unusually cold evening on April 10. I was bundled in my ski underwear, ski hat, ski gloves, ski sweater and ski jacket for the first pitch, and I was still cold. I took out the hand warmers but the chill had already descended into the core of my being.

CC Sabathia had been a dominant pitcher for the first decade or so of his career. Huge, at six foot seven and almost 300 pounds, he had a fastball that matched his size. Now he had trouble finding 90 on the radar gun, and had become a finesse pitcher, relying more on a change-up and guile than a dominating repertoire. It was not an easy transition and it had not gone smoothly over the past season or two. He was now the number three starter and fading fast.

The Red Sox were very happy to deal with this diminished version. They battered him around for six runs in less than four innings. Game one of this series to the Bahston crew. Yankees fall below the .500 mark.

The weekend proved sunny and warmer, but the results were no different. By late Sunday, April 12, 2015, the team had fallen to one win and four losses, was the embarrassed owner of a four game skid and had sunk to the bottom of the standings. As the Red Sox left town feeling pretty good about themselves, the Yankees slinked away for their (and my) first road trip of the year.

I would be away for 10 days, on a journey that would take me to Baltimore, Tampa and Detroit.Accordingly, I packed for cold weather, warm weather and colder weather. I would have one scheduled off day during this time to give full attention to the rest of my life, but other than that, my world would mainly revolve around the first pitch, and the last.

As much as I had been a lifelong fan of the game, I had visited very few stadiums. Apart from Boston and Oakland,  I was a virgin when it came to an insider's knowledge of these diamonds and most of these locales. I had the good fortune to be friends with a family that had done what I only had dreamed of, going to games in every major league park, American and National. They had, if not an encyclopedic knowledge of the good, the bad and the ugly of each stop along my path, at least a working one. And so I enlisted their aid. I learned of places to go during the day, foods to eat once at the game and what to anticipate from the local crowd if I started to root for my team in a foreign venue. It would prove a resource of great value.

I flew down to Washington and stayed with my cousins for the Baltimore series. I was already noticing that my back was beginning to tighten. Several years before I had undergone surgery for two herniated discs. I had religiously avoided taking care of my back since then, ignoring the problem at every opportunity until pain reared its ugly head. And so, I began a season in which getting in and out of a car, sitting cramped in a plane, and moving around fitfully in my seat at the games, became an increasing issue. If I had been a player I might have opted for the 15 day disabled list at various points along the way. But that was not an option in my quest. Once I reached my cousin's, after greetings and gentle hugs were exchanged, I asked for the heating pad.

The road proved not much friendlier to the Yankees than home cooking had. Each of the teams along the way seemed to have more depth, more power, more consistency than the pretenders in pinstripes. The glory days seemed a very distant memory and at the end of the time away from home, the team and I were both dragging. With one more rain-out, nine games had been completed during this stretch and the Yankee record stood at a wholly unimpressive five wins and nine losses as we boarded our separate planes back to New York. The team batting average was a ghastly .235. A grand total of 11 home runs had been hit by this punchless crew. I was exhausted already and there was still one week to go in April.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

(D)amnesty



So this was an election where immigration was one of the "more hotly debated issues"? Last I looked, this was an election about nothing more than the Republican chant of "we're not Obama" and the Democratic response of "well, maybe we're not either." For the 36% of eligible voters who bothered to exercise their right to press a lever, push a button, or hang a chad, this was a determination predicated on virtually no substantive debate.

And if Mr. Douthat is so offended by the "Great Betrayal" was he equally aggrieved when the Democrats held sway in both Houses and the Oval Office but were thwarted time and again in effectuating policy that the majority of this country appeared to favor?  "Just say no" was no longer a slogan of the war on drugs, but during the Obama years became the Republican mantra to undermine every position that the party in "power" attempted to effectuate.

The President, as even Mr. Douthat admits, has the authority to move forward on an executive action that is consistent with an immigration policy both humane and realistic. In the Republican universe, we can make life less tolerable for 11 million people living among us, but we are not going to deport them one by one out of this country. In that world, we may contend we would be better off without any of them, but that is merely a fiction.

Mr. Douthat surely favored political maneuvering when it suited the purpose of the party with whom he cast his lot. With Mr. Obama now flexing his remaining muscle, there is the faux cry of outrage from the Republican side of the aisle. Don't seem so shocked that the President would have the audacity to stand up to his opposition and not merely cave to the will (and the won't) of his adversaries. Mr. Obama is not betraying his principles or those of his party, he is merely asserting them.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Spread of Ebola

("The Ethics of Infection")


In what manner did Kaci Hickox, Craig Spencer and Nancy Snyderman act irresponsibly? What known risk did they ignore? Was their crime anything other than not supporting mass hysteria?

Their trial and conviction was nothing more than the result of force-fed fear and discarded scientific fact. There is no basis for Dr. Brewer finding "small cost" in deprivation of individual liberties in exchange for some greater public good. Rather, if the benefit sought was calming frayed nerves, then the approach should have been to support positions based on knowledge not hyperventilated political denunciations.

Today's story is of Kaci Hickox and her partner announcing they are leaving Maine for parts unknown, trying to rebuild their lives. Guilty for speaking up, guilty for trying to educate, guilty for taking on the politicians and platforms predicated not on protecting the public but securing votes.

'The Ethics of Infection" is not the story of the possibility of a disease spreading from improper behavior of those few who have come face to face with Ebola but of the many others who have negligently or intentionally misstated its dangers, thus impugning the integrity of three individuals and infecting 300 million more with the terrible disease known as chaos.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Republican Party in Power

Maybe it is the second term mid-term curse, maybe the confluence of so many destructive forces in foreign lands that threaten our emotional welfare, maybe the inevitable shifts in the political landscape. But what appears clear is that the Republican party which seemed bent on self destruction in 2008, turned out to be the party of know.

They devised a strategy, a platform which has proved immensely effective. Rather than re-brand themselves, as seemed the obvious response to voter dissatisfaction in 2008, they doubled down. They would not admit their shortcomings but would embrace them. They would not reach across the aisle with an olive branch, but would repel any attempts to join forces. They would not speak of what could be done but what shouldn't be done. They would not build, they would destroy.

Now, it is their turn to play on the swings. For the next two years they will be the ones who will have to prove their merit, or face the possibility of a stinging reversal of fortune in 2016. They will be the ones who are vulnerable, who must convince their Democratic brethren to forget the last 6 years of animosity, to  make amends with a President who they have denigrated and tried to destroy. They will be the ones who must do what has seemed anathema to them, govern.

We understand how good they are at exploiting others' weaknesses. Now we will find out if they know how to locate their own strengths. Or if there are any.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Governor Christie, Sit Down and Shut Up

AN EDITED VERSION OF THIS POST APPEARED IN THE RECORD (THE BERGEN COUNTY NEWSPAPER) ON NOVEMBER 2, 2014

Governor Christie, sit down and shut up. The man who loves to castigate, denigrate and humiliate has reached new lows. With his bombast on full display, he insulted the Federal government, Kaci Hickox and Jim Keady in rapid succession this week. If you thought that Bridgegate would have any lasting impact on his oversized ego, you would have been mistaken.

He is a lousy governor. He has responded to fear rather than fact on the Ebola crisis, has refused much needed federal monies to help build the tunnel to somewhere, has overseen the mismanagement of Sandy relief funds, has watched as his state's unemployment numbers increased to among the worst in the nation, has witnessed the state's credit rating cut more times than a porterhouse steak, and has led New Jersey on a journey to a place where its poverty rate is at record highs and foreclosures still move forward in abundance.

Along the way he has embraced an even worse persona. He has attacked, often without cause or on the mere hint of provocation, teachers, legislators, reporters and even the President. He confuses haranguing and insulting with civil discourse. His belittling those who refuse to fall in line, who challenge his mandates and proclamations, is a despicable and oft-repeated demonstration of hubris.

It is a troubling time when someone of this caliber, who has shown himself politically and personally to be so lacking, can entertain serious thoughts of a run for the presidency in 2016.

I would suggest that Governor Christie, for once, listen to the advise he so eagerly handed out to Mr. Keady. Governor, there is a chair in the corner of the room that is waiting for you and a saying that I think you should now fully embrace: silence is golden.