Thursday, October 11, 2012

Of Legends, Heroes and A-Rod

We stood on lines, four deep, waiting for our respective turns at the urinal. In the background, the piped in ruminations of John Sterling, the team's radio announcer, advised of another futile at bat by a player whose multiple post-season failures seemed piled on his shoulders. "Who would you rather have on your team, A-Rod or Manny on steroids?" The question posed by the person standing on my left wearing a number 7 Yankee jersey reflected the hostility and frustration of those throughout the stadium. With the inevitable third strike,  the herd in the men's room let out a collective groan.

I have been a Yankee lifer for well over half a century. In that time I have been eye-witness to compelling moments both during the 162 game grind  (154 in an earlier incarnation) and in the heightened atmosphere that accompanies the post season. Seared in my brain are images of the home run by Chambliss with the crowd pouring on to the field to celebrate his playoff winner against Kansas City, Mr. October and the three magnificent swings against the Dodgers with the balls exploding off his bat, Mr. November and the extra inning home run into where else but right field, a fading Doc Gooden completing a no hitter against a  powerful Seattle line up that included a very young Alex Rodriguez, and a bloodied Jeter emerging from the stands after making "The Catch". I have been around the block a few times.

But last night was possibly more compelling than all of the others. In the giddy aftermath, it certainly felt that way.  Down by a run with 2 outs to go the season, if not hanging in the balance,  was certainly on its way there. When my host  tapped me on the shoulder, pointed to the on-deck circle and merely said "Look", it took a moment for the gravity of what my eyes were telling me to sink in. There was a 40 year old man standing where A-Rod should have been. Years past, in a post season meltdown, the 600 plus man had been unceremoniously dropped to the bottom of the lineup for a World Series game. But even that seemed a less searing indictment than this. This man with the quarter of a billion dollar contract, this man who was supposed to be more than others could be, this man was not out there in the most crucial of times.

With the crack of the bat, Giradi's ability to manage and to make the toughest of decisions, was elevated to almost mythical heights. As the line drive reached the stands and the crowd roared in a combination of disbelief, joy and validation of its lack of  faith in A-Rod, a bald and aging Ibanez became part of Yankee lore. Forever attached to this at bat, and to the quarter billion dollar man.

But still, the game was only tied, and the possibility of this extraordinary event being minimized by a loss in extra innings loomed large. And so we settled in. As the 10th and 11th innings passed without consequence, and Wednesday inched ever closer to Thursday, we waited for Mr. Ibanez to stand once more in the batter's box.

Often we say things almost in jest, knowing the probabilities make the chance of hope turning into reality virtually nonexistent. And so it was as the battle of lefty pitcher against lefty hitter unfolded. The man who replaced A-Rod standing there, in all likelihood hoping for a first pitch fastball. There is a sound that comes from a well struck baseball that resounds. Even in a crowd of over 50,000 animated people, it is a distinct noise. The arc of the ball left no doubt, from the moment it began its transcendent flight, that the game was now concluded. Ibanez rounded third base and flung his helmet far into the night air. His bald pate gleamed and he was soon devoured by the frantic gathering awaiting him at home plate. He was now an official hero.

Somewhere among that throng pounding Ibanez on ever inch of his body in congratulatory ritual was A-Rod. I wonder what he was thinking.


Anonymous said...

Great story you tell about a great evening!


tom hom said...

a perfect account of an absolutely
unbeleivable nite, and everyone will swear they were there in person to share in that joy!
where's that fat lady?

Robert said...

Hopefully warming up in the bullpen.

Anonymous said...

And you will see tonight, Robert, that Joe Biden can save the race for our other hero...don't despair.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it was merely my own perception, or projection, but as the cameras kept panning to A-Rod's face on my big screen during the 9th inning transition of Ibanez going to the plate in his stead, Mr. Rodriguez did not look pleased. I could not blame him, even though in light of his poor post season performance yet again, I felt it was the right move on Girardi's part. And of course it did not take very long for Ibanez to make Joe look like the greatest baseball genius of all time, only to get confirmation thereof in the twelfth.

After the first home run the cameras kept focusing on A-Rod during the dugout celebration, and I, like you, could not help wondering what was going on in his mind, although he was jumping for joy. When I finally put my head on my pillow, too excited to sleep, I couldn't help wondering how the media would be responding if Ibanez had struck out and the Yankees went on to lose the game. I suppose some may have crucified him while others would have defended him, but we'll never know. It was an incredible finish to an incredible game. Tonight they have to go out and do it again