I was holding my nephew in the standing room behind the right field wall.
We were on Yankee Stadium’s main level, looking down at Carlos Beltran. The Bombers were getting slaughtered by Tampa Ray late in the game. The Rays were on the verge of avoiding a sweep.
“Someday, we’ll be watching you down there, buddy,” I told him.
That’s what my dad said to me at my first game.
Do you remember your first time?
Maybe it was with your dad in the 1950s, when you walked into the old Yankee Stadium. You saw Mickey Mantle get on his horse and chase down fly balls in the outfield, only to later have that topped by watching him smash a 500-foot home run.
Perhaps, like this writer, it was with your family sometime in the 1990s, when you excitedly marched into the House that Ruth Built. You witnessed Don Mattingly make web gem after web gem at first base, and were then treated to his grandiose power with the bat.
Whichever game it was, you’ll never forget it. That game likely got you hooked as a Yankee fan for life.
That type of journey began for someone very close to me yesterday. That would be my 4-year-old nephew, Ryan.
My sister sent me a text message around 10:30 p.m. Friday night.
“You want to go to the Yankee game Sunday? We’re thinking of taking Ryan for his first game, and I’m sure he would love it if his uncle was there.”
Of course, I obliged. I’m not one to pass up a Yankee game, especially one so meaningful.
Ryan was very excited I was joining him, his mom and his dad (his mom and dad being my sister and her boyfriend) for the day. The excitement began in the car, long before we arrived in the Bronx.
But, we eventually got there without wearing ourselves out too much.
We walked into the Great Hall. I held Ryan’s hand as we walked towards our seats in the left-center field bleachers. We sat down and right away Ryan was cheering.
“Go Yankees!” he shouted.
In short, I thought the Yanks might win this one. I had that “we’re going to win today” mentality. What better way to introduce him to the Yankees than by a win?
Those high hopes were dashed pretty quickly, however.
Starting pitcher Michael Pineda got two quick outs in the first inning, only to get absolutely shelled thereafter. Just when it appeared it would be a fast, 1-2-3 frame, he fell apart and let up two two-run home runs and an RBI double. The hitting barrage gave Tampa Bay a 5-0 lead after just one half-inning.
Pineda finished the day having allowed 10 hits in five innings. Four of those 10 hits ended up in the seats.
The Yanks mustered just one run in the form of an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth off the bat of Alex Rodriguez, as the Rays avoided the sweep and took an 8-1 win from New York.
Despite the loss, I think Ryan enjoyed himself and wasn’t so concerned with the final score.
He took in the little things.
In particular, he was fond of how the stadium plays the “Stars Wars” theme during the lineup introductions — as we all know, the Imperial March for the visitors and the main theme for the Yanks.
In fact, I tried to use Ryan’s love of “Star Wars” in order to show him which team we were rooting for.
“The Yankees are the team in white. The team in grey – they’re the bad guys,” I told him.
Not saying it backfired, but he then thought Tampa Bay had Darth Vader-like evil status.
What I was most proud of was his behavior. There were other children his age in our section, moving all over the place and misbehaving. Ryan, on the other hand, sat still for most of the game and drew the attention of some of the other fans.
They complimented him on how well-behaved he was.
For the future, we now know we can take him to a game and can expect good conduct from him.
And hopefully, his good behavior can be rewarded at his next game with a Yankee win.
Ever since 2009, the Yankees have put on what they call HOPE Week.
Hope. Helping Others Persevere and Excel.
One week out of the summer, the Bronx Bombers spotlight individuals, families or organizations worthy of support and recognition. Each day during HOPE Week, honorees share their inspirational stories with the Yankee players, the fans and of course the media.
They are then treated to a special day courtesy of the Yankees — almost becoming like full-on members of the team, participating in team activities, in addition to the Yankees’ outreach. The experience is complete with a ceremony at Yankee Stadium before the start of the game. The Yankees have yet to announce when HOPE Week will take place this season.
Whenever HOPE Week happens, it impacts everyone. The interviews with the honorees and players alone are enough to tug at your heart strings.
Yankees.com says “all (HOPE Week) events are designed to generate attention and raise the profile of serious social issues affecting our nation and the world.”
We all have problems. A bad day. A career not going in the upward direction you may want it to. A breakup with a significant other. Trifles with paying bills. Whatever it may be.
Then you take a look at the folks involved with something like HOPE Week, and it puts everything into perspective. Take for example the first-ever HOPE Week honoree: a United States Army veteran who lost the use of his arms and legs to Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Imagine how hard this hero has to battle every day.
My experience in terms of putting everything into perspective came nine days ago.
As part of my job, I covered the figure skating event of New York’s winter Special Olympics. That day, I was battling a lot of pain from an agonizing toothache. I had been toiling with a long feature story I was working on, and recently I’ve been coming to grips with the loss of someone I care about.
It’s been challenging. And not so fun. Enough to get me feeling bad.
Then I met a few of the athletes of the Special Olympics. Young men, women older than me. All with difficulties. I watched as some of them struggled to just get out onto the ice and perform. A few of them fell down, but when they did, they regained their vertical base, brushed off the slush and kept skating.
I wound up interviewing a skater from Rochester, New York. I could tell she had a hard time getting through the interview. She seemed a little overwhelmed talking to a reporter, but within a few minutes she got the words out as articulately as she could.
She never gave up. That’s what I was most impressed with.
Whatever problems I have, I now know first-hand there are others with difficulties that surpass mine. Others who have to handle those difficulties in everyday life and in everything they do, yet they still find courage to do the things that make them happy, like figure skating.
And even when they fall down doing what they love, they get back up and finish.
They persevere. They excel.
I can only guess the Yankee players feel the same way during HOPE Week every year. They likely gain that same perspective. They hear stories and meet folks who make an 0-for seem quite inconsequential.
As for me. The toothache? I went to the dentist. I’m no longer in pain. The feature? It got done. You can read it here. The loss of that person I care about? Eh. That remains to nag me day and night.
But then I consider that figure skater who never gave up. How she competed then got through my interview with her, despite it clearly being an obstacle.
If she can keep going, so can I. So can all of us.
Frank William Abagnale, Jr. Does that name hold any meaning to you?
If you’ve seen the movie “Catch Me If You Can” you know who I’m talking about. At an early point in the film, Frank Abagnale, Sr. poses a question towards his son:
You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?
Frank Jr. gives the obvious answer: because they have Mickey Mantle.
No. It’s ’cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.
Perhaps those vertical navy blue stripes are overlooked. Or, at least not thought about a whole lot.
The pinstripes are an important part of the Yankee tradition, as the team has been wearing pinstriped uniforms dating back to as early as 1912. The Yankees’ road uniforms have been the same since 1918: plain grey with NEW YORK across the chest (although from 1927-30 “NEW YORK” was replaced with “YANKEES”).
Consistency in every sense of the word. The Yanks have worn same home uniforms for roughly 104 years and the same road uniforms for 86 years.
In an age of alternate home and road apparel and a time when teams change colors and logos seemingly every year, the Yankees have been the aberration. The one team that hasn’t conformed to change.
Think about it. The Arizona Diamondbacks have only been in the league since 1998. They are going on only their 18th season in existence and have changed their uniform colors from teal, copper, purple and black to Sonoran sand (a shade of beige) and Sedona Red while maintaining black.
Not to mention when the Diamondbacks first made their Major League Baseball debut, they had three different logos for their cap: one for home games, one for away games and an alternate.
The Yankees, on the other hand, have had the same cap design — the solid navy blue hat with the interlocking “NY” — since 1922.
Ninety-four years with the same cap. Again, consistency in terms of fashion in the truest sense.
Save for spring training, that is.
As most fans know, the Yankees only don the pinstripes for their spring opener — which, as a friendly reminder, spring training begins in a few short weeks. After their first exhibition, the Yankees wear navy blue road and away jerseys in spring training games. This year, the Yanks and other teams across MLB will get snazzy new unis for spring training.
The Yankees’ new spring training jerseys come complete with designs inside the numbers on the back, as well as an “FL” inside a blue shield on the sleeve and on the side of the cap.
Seeing as how the Yanks are in Florida’s Grapefruit League for the spring, perhaps the image of a fruit would have been more clever as far as a special character for the uniform.
But hey. Maybe that’s why I blog and don’t design baseball unis.
Notwithstanding, it’s refreshing to see a team in the modern age uphold its tradition, and prove the point that swapping colors and changing logos frequently are unnecessary practices.
Sticking with something and going with it usually works out just fine.
It would almost be too easy to sit here and write about how Saturday’s 8-5 win over the Minnesota Twins was easily the best victory of the 2015 season for the Yankees.
It was. It was a statement win. A statement of resiliency.
How can anyone say differently?
Down by five, with CC Sabathia serving up meatballs, Alex Rodriguez decided to put on a hitting show. Actually, more like a hitting clinic. Two days before his 40th birthday, Rodriguez smashed three home runs. Each was spectacular, but his first tater traveled a remarkable 452 feet and into the third porch in left-center at Target Field.
Now that was a bomb.
Rodriguez’s third home run tied the game at five in the ninth, but it was the young J.R. … sorry, John Ryan Murphy who put the exclamation point on the comeback. Murphy belted a three-run homer over the big wall in right field later in the ninth, helping the Yankees snatch a win in the face of defeat.
But not to be underscored, closer Andrew Miller came in and set the Twins down in order to complete the come-from-behind victory. It marked Miller’s 23rd save of the year, and the 23rd he has converted – yes, he has yet to blow a save.
Despite a stint on the disabled list, Miller has been all but automatic this season. The 6-foot-7 southpaw has 54 strikeouts in just 34 1/3 innings pitched, with an earned run average of 1.57.
Miller has made Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman look good. Cashman’s critics can look at last year’s closer, David Robertson, and his five blown saves on the south side of Chicago for the White Sox. The GM opted to sign Miller over Robertson in the offseason, and so far, it appears Cashman knew what he was doing.
Maybe the signing of Miller was a statement of its own, and it’s silencing the haters.
And as predicted by absolutely no one, it’s now July 26, and the Yankees are in first place in the American League East. Entering Sunday, the Bronx Bombers are 5 ½ games up on the second place Toronto Blue Jays, and 6 ½ ahead of the third place Tampa Bay Rays. The Baltimore Orioles are in fourth, seven games out, and the lowly Boston Red Sox are in the cellar, 12 off pace.
“At the beginning of the season, I called it!” – Nobody.
The Yanks are winners of seven of their last 10, and are 13-5 in the month of July.
During the recent string of success, this writer got an opportunity to catch the Bronx Broskis live and in-person on Sunday, July 19 – a game that ended in a 2-1 pinstriped victory over the Seattle Mariners.
Felix Hernandez pitched well, but ultimately Mark Teixeira got the last laugh. The Yankee first baseman clubbed an eighth-inning solo home run, which was the game’s decider.
On second thought, everyone in attendance, including yours truly, got the last laugh. When you’re in the building and you get to watch Robinson Cano strike out twice and finish 0 for 3, you do tend to get a chuckle or two.
Like tonight, Miller came in to shut the door. And I noticed his entrance music.
Miller jogs in and warms up to “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” by Johnny Cash.
God’s gonna cut you down. Now that is one heck of a statement. Perhaps enough of a statement to induce fear into opponents.
One can’t help but think of Mariano Rivera, and how his entrance music also sent a message. One might also say Miller is pitching a lot like the legendary closer this season, not giving an inch when it comes to sealing the deal.
After they wrap up in Minnesota Sunday, the Yankees go to Texas to take on the Rangers. Following four games in Arlington, the Bombers will head to the windy city to take on their old friend Robertson and the White Sox for three-game set. Then it’s home for three games against Boston and three against the Blue Jays.
The Rangers, White Sox and Red Sox are each playing sub-.500 ball. The Blue Jays are only one game above .500. Therefore, the Yankees have an opening to take some series and pull further ahead in the AL East.
Putting everyone far behind in the rearview mirror by mid-August? Now that would be a statement.
There was a nostalgic feeling in the air. The old lions of the Yankee Dynasty of the late 1990s – many of the key players – were on hand.
It brought me back to the days of my childhood and I relished every minute of it.
Bernie Williams Night last Sunday was one of the most amazing and invigorating experiences I’ve had as a Yankee fan. I’d say it was on the same level as the World Series ring ceremony I attended in 2010.
I felt the need to be there, given my past history with this great man.
The great number 51 at long last took his rightful spot in Monument Park behind the wall in centerfield, where he patrolled for 15 years in pinstripes.
Obviously I could go on and on forever talking about Williams’ accomplishments as a New York Yankee. Instead of that, however, I’ll muse about and share some pictures from his special night.
Thank you Bernie
Even before stepping foot into the ballpark, you just knew this night was going to be all about number 51.
Stopping to capture a moment from 1998
While walking to my seat, I happened to stumble across this picture in the concourse of Williams high-fiving third base coach Willie Randolph in a home run trot. Even though I’ve seen it before, having been to the stadium countless times, I had to pause and capture a picture. What with it being his night, I felt it necessary.
Little did I know Randolph would later appear as part of the pregame festivities.
On a side note, in 1998 Williams high-fived Randolph 26 times during the regular season and three more times in the postseason, rounding third in home run trots.
All fans received this neat collectible card after making their way through the turnstiles.
They brought the good guys.
Roy White, Williams’ first base coach for a huge chunk of his career. He was there.
Gene “Stick” Michael, who became the Yankees’ General Manager the same year Williams made his Major League Baseball debut, 1991. He was there.
Joe Torre, Williams’ only manager throughout his career. He was there.
Randolph, and former teammates Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez. They were all there.
David Cone, Williams’ teammate from 1995-2000 and Yankee Yapping shout out artist. He was there.
The great closer, Mariano Rivera, made the drive in from New Rochelle.
And the Yankees saved the biggest surprise for last.
The return of the Captain
I still kick myself to this day. Sure the tickets were criminally expensive. Of course they would be. It was Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25 of last year.
The price of admission would have been worth it given the way that game ended. Jeter heroically, as he had done many times before, won the game with a clutch hit.
Understandably, I was disappointed I wasn’t there to witness it live. And I was saddened I would never see Jeter at Yankee Stadium again.
But lo and behold, the last guest at Bernie Williams night was Jeter. The captain incarnate. Admittedly, I did not think Jeter would make an appearance so soon after retiring, for that very reason – it was too soon. Jeter always struck me as the type who would wait awhile to return to big ballpark in the Bronx for a special night of this kind.
But, I was wrong. Not only was Jeter there, he strutted out like he owned the place. With the top couple buttons of his shirt unbuttoned underneath his sport coat, he looked like a million bucks.
What made it better, I thought, was the comment from a fan behind me, once Jeter was announced:
“Suit ‘em up!!!!!” the fan yelled, loud enough for everyone within a 10-mile radius to hear.
Not a bad idea, considering his heir at shortstop, Didi Gregorius, had six errors on the season entering Saturday night’s game against the Athletics in Oakland.
Overall it was such a wonderful, indescribable feeling, seeing Jeter at the game. I may not have been there for his last hurrah, but I can say I was there when he made his triumphant return to New York to pay respect to his old friend.
It was outstanding; maybe the best speech from any of the players that have been honored since 2013, when the Yankees reintroduced retiring numbers and nailing plaques to the hallowed Monument Park walls.
He was sure to thank everyone and spoke directly from the heart.
Williams tossed out the honorary first pitch – a pretty good throw – to boisterous cheers from the crowd.
Unfortunately no magic from number 51 rubbed off on the Yankees. The visiting Texas Rangers had their way with starter Chris Capuano. Texas touched him up for three runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings. Capuano finished with four strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter – but also didn’t impress anyone.
The Yanks only plated two runs, both of which came off the bat of catcher Brian McCann. In the bottom of the first McCann singled home Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez, but that was all the offense the Yankees could muster.
It continued. You know the trend I’m talking about.
The Yankees losing on special days. At the end of 2013, the San Francisco Giants beat the Yankees on a day the pinstripers exalted their own Mariano Rivera.
Tino Martinez, Goose Gossage and Paul O’Neill suffered the same fate in 2014. They were honored with heartwarming pregame ceremonies and Monument Park plaques, but the team just could not finish the job. The Yankees lost each of those games, most of the time without putting up an offensive fight.
The trend was bucked on Aug. 23 of last year when Joe Torre had his day. The Yanks put an end to the special day losing streak, beating the Chicago White Sox 5-3.
But on Sept. 7 – Jeter’s big day – they went right back to losing. The Kansas City Royals came in and put up two runs.
Two. The same number Jeter wore on his back his entire career. And the same amount of runs it took the Royals to beat the Bronx Bombers. It ended 2-0.
With special days lined up for Jorge Posada (Aug. 22 vs. Cleveland), Andy Pettitte (Aug. 23 vs. Cleveland) and Willie Randolph (June 20 vs. Detroit, also Old Timers’ Day), the Yankees at least have the chance to turn the tables.
But the offense will have to wake up in order for that to happen.
The Yankees have been outscored 29-9 on special days from Rivera’s day in 2013 up to Williams’ day last weekend.
The final thought
Was it disappointing the Yankees lost on Bernie Williams Night?
No doubt. It would have been nice to see a win.
Is it the end of the world for the 2015 Yankees as we know it?
Not at all.
The Yankees are lucky. Fortunate in the sense that the American League Eastern Division is so poor, that even with a record that barely hangs above .500, they’re in first place. The Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays all have problems.
Each team is struggling, and into the month of June it’ll be interesting to see which team – if any – heats up and pulls ahead in the race.
In the meantime, as I sat in the bleachers and watched the Rangers beat the Yankees after Williams’ nice ceremony, I had this image in my head.
Almost a clear vision.
I pictured the old Yankees who were in attendance. Jeter, O’Neill, Martinez, Cone, Williams, Pettitte, Rivera, Posada and even Torre. All of the dynasty players and their skipper, I imagined, in a luxury suite, watching the current Yankees.
Watching the current Yankees, and laughing. Laughing at how bad they are. Snickering to one another and saying,
“Can you believe they can’t beat these guys? We would’ve won this game in the first inning.”
Which is true. They certainly would have beaten the Rangers down. The Rangers came in at 20-23, and the Yankees of my youth generally never lost to a team of that below .500 caliber.
Then again, the dynasty Yankees could likely have taken down the 2015 Yankees, had they been matched up against one another. In fact, they probably could have beaten any team currently in the league.
They were that good. It was nice to relive those glory days for a night.
These past few days have been reminiscent of another era.
The old days of Roger Clemens beaning Mike Piazza in the head came to mind. I couldn’t get the image of Piazza standing up to Clemens after he chucked that hunk of broken bat at him during the 2000 World Series. Even my personal memory of attending the very first Subway Series at Yankee Stadium during the regular season in 1997 echoed through my brain. The battle for bragging rights in New York was on this past weekend.
And for the first time in quite a few years, this Yankee fan felt it.
Whether it was in the Poughkeepsie Journal newsroom, listening to sports talk radio in the car, or going on Facebook and Twitter, talk of the showdown between the Yankees and Mets in the Bronx this past weekend dominated my life. Mostly I was forced to listen to how the Mets had won 11 straight games entering the Subway Series, how they are currently the team to beat and how Matt Harvey is the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Believe me, I took it all.
What most folks who talked up the Mets might have overlooked was the fact that, prior to the Subway Series, the Yankees had won seven of 10 on the road. They had taken one from the Baltimore Orioles, swept the Tampa Bay Rays in three games and took three of four from the Detroit Tigers.
Perhaps the hot start the Mets got off to was more impressive, and thus they got a little more ink than the Yankees.
But there the Yankees were on Friday to remind everyone who they are. In particular, Mark Teixeira and Michael Pineda made their presence felt. Teixeira clubbed two home runs of Jacob deGrom, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, while Pineda tossed 7 2/3 strong innings, giving up one run to the Mets on five hits. Pineda also struck out seven and kept the ball around the plate, walking just one batter.
It brought the Mets’ winning streak to a screeching halt, though it didn’t stop the orange and blue loyalists from reminding the pinstripers that Harvey (excuse me, Jesus Christ) was starting the following day.
Yet, their yapping was backed up and Harvey delivered Saturday. The ace silenced the Yankee bats, giving up just two runs on five hits over 8 2/3 innings. Harvey struck out seven Yankees and walked two en route to his fourth win of the season, proving that yes, he has a bright future and is a bona fide stud.
That brought us to Sunday: The rubber game. The game that decided who got the bragging rights until September, when the Yankees and Mets hook up at Citi Field.
For the first time in a long time, I really wanted the Yankees to win this game. Not that I don’t want them to win any other games; in fact, I want them to win every game, like most passionate fans.
This one, however, I truly wanted. The voices of the trash talk that was spoken, posted and tweeted at me by Mets fans ringed over and over, almost as if they were taunting me. That feeling was only fueled when ESPN opened its broadcast with a shot of a Mets fan holding a sign that read “A-Rod wears Matt Harvey underwear.”
Cute. But, not really that creative. I’m almost certain I heard that one back in 2005, when Chuck Norris “Facts” were a thing.
Alex Rodriguez, me and the Yanks got the last laugh, as it was. Rodriguez homered off Mets starter Jonathan Niese, his 659th career tater, as he continues to creep up on Willie Mays for fourth place on Major League Baseball’s all-time home runs list. Rodriguez finished the series finale 2 for 4 with two RBI and a run scored.
Now, the Empire State Building is shining in Yankee colors because the Bombers took the series.
The feeling is great, I’ll admit — not just the feeling of the Yankees winning, but the feeling of caring about the Subway Series again. Getting caught up in the rivalry was, in a word, fun this weekend. It’s what baseball is all about.
Maybe the players got wrapped up in it, too. It’s possible. Rodriguez even told the press after the game, “The buzz was incredible. I just felt a lot of energy in the building. It was fun … To feel that energy, it was cool.”
Whomever the social media directors are for both clubs also got enveloped in the cross-town rivalry.
Which, if I’m not mistaken, is a first.
The Mets are a team that, for at least right now, is competitive. Like 2000, the year they captured the National League pennant and faced off with the Yankees in the World Series, they have good players. More specifically the Mets have solid, young pitchers, and the organization probably feels this is the time to turn it around and return to relevance.
I can say for sure, that’s how Mets fans feel, and in a lot of ways they have the right to feel that way.
At the same time, it’s still April and there are still 143 games remaining on the schedule. Plus, the Mets clearly have other facets of their game to work on. Case and point, their defense. A team usually cannot commit four errors in a game and expect to win.
I can only hope that when September rolls around and the Yankees go to Flushing, it’s just as competitive and the rivalry is once again at a peak.
Not to mention if both the Yanks (11-8) and Mets (14-5) are racing towards a division pennant or a playoff berth when they next meet, it’ll be even more riveting.
Everyone remembers the 1998 Yankees for being winners. Winners during the regular season, winners during the postseason and of course winners of the World Series.
The ’98 champions get a lot of credit for what they accomplished on the field, but not enough credit for being feisty and gritty — which, I think, is why they were so successful.
I can recall watching a game with my family on a September night in 1998. The 11th. Just three years to the day before tragedy struck our nation. Yankees vs. the Toronto Blue Jays in the Bronx. Roger Clemens, who a year later would become a pinstriper himself, beaned third baseman Scott Brosius with a fastball.
Afterwards, madness ensued.
The Yankees’ ’98 fight with the Baltimore Orioles is one of the most remembered melees in the Bronx Bombers’ history, but this fight deserves some props: