It was almost laughable when the Yankees were a cool10 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East standings on July 18, but right now, there is nothing to laugh about. July 18 is practically a lifetime ago, and the Yanks are now only a slim 1.5 games up on the O’s with just nine games left in the 2012 regular season.
Now, the Yankees and Orioles in a nose-to-nose race, the AL East Division will more than likely come down to the last day of the season – the winner claiming the East and the short straw punching a ticket to a one-game Wild Card playoff.
On a positive note for New York, the Yankees have caught some late-season magic, never more evidenced than by Saturday afternoon’s thrilling 14-inning, 10-9 victory over the Oakland A’s at home.
Locked up at 5-5 in the 13th inning, Oakland managed to plate four runs to untie the game on the strength of three home runs. Trailing 9-5 in the bottom of the frame, defeat looked imminent for the Bombers.
But they made sure to make it interesting.
In a stroke of sheer resiliency, the Yankees scored four runs to knot the game up, highlighted by a huge two-run home run off the bat of Raul Ibanez. The next inning, Eduardo Nunez reached on an error allowing Ichiro to come home for the win.
It wasn’t the cleanest victory of 2012, but it was probably the most meaningful. All season long, the Yanks have fallen when they trailed after the eighth inning but on Saturday afternoon they proved they can win in the face of a sure loss; they gave us a taste of the old days of 2009.
While the Yankees were experiencing a radical win, I was experiencing something just as fun – meeting pro wrestling and pop culture icon, Hulk Hogan.
The Hulkster was signing autographs and making an appearance at a wrestling show at Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, N.Y. – the same Stadium I spent most of my summer nights this year, covering the Hudson Valley Renegades.
My cousin Joe and I patiently waited on line for several hours, but it was worth it. Once we got to the front, I shook Hulk’s hand, which is about as large as a tree trunk, and told him what an honor it was to meet him. Hulk was as nice as can be about it.
“Oh, the pleasure is all mine, brother! It’s good I got you protecting me now, you’re a young guy!”
Joe was mesmerized, being a huge “Hulkamaniac” (or in other words a fan of Hulk’s) since he was five years old. We each gave Hulk a “bro-hug,” if you will, after we took pictures with him. He joked for a minute with Joe, nearly hip-tossing him, and then we were on our way.
I have to say, meeting Hulk was pretty cool; a nice little memory I’ll hold onto. During the show he went face-to-face with one of his old foes from back in the day, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. It was pretty surreal; almost felt as if we were thrown into a time machine and sent back to 1985, the year Hogan and Piper headlined the first WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden.
On a side note, super heavyweight wrestler Vader also made an appearance. From the front row, I led the crowd in a Boy Meets World chant, as he held a recurring role as Frankie’s dad (for fans of the show who would know that). In fact, he wrestled Jake “the snake” Roberts in an episode, on the night of Topanga’s Sweet 16 party.
Vader saw me yelling Boy Meets World, smiled and shook his head. Then he looked at me from the ring and simply said,
“Ok, Ok. We got it, we got it…”
As far back as I can remember I have always loved the New York Yankees. But in the fall of 1996, a new form of sports (or sports entertainment, I should say) piqued my interest.
November 17, 1996 is when I watched my first World Wrestling Federation Pay Per View, a match called “Survivor Series.” The event took place at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden in New York City, some eight or nine miles away from Yankee Stadium.
MSG is a venue the WWE frequents and if you talk to any wrestling fan, they will agree that The Garden is to the WWE what Yankee Stadium is to the Bronx Bombers.
As a 9 year-old it was a crazy experience. I watched in awe as wrestlers like The Undertaker, Mankind, Bret Hart, The British Bulldog, Rocky Maivia (who later became The Rock and is now in the movies known by his real name Dwayne Johnson) and Shawn Michaels battled it out in the squared circle for glory, honor, and respect.
Ever since then, I have found wrestling and Yankee baseball to be two of my greatest interests; two sports that have kept me involved for a long period of time. In recent times, it’s been easy to make connections to the world of pro-wrestling and the Yankees.
Some Yankee players have openly admitted that not only do they watch wrestling, but they are fans of the WWE. In the WWE, the wrestlers have oftentimes referenced the Yankees–in both good ways and bad–in order to generate a reaction from the live audiences.
What some people do not understand is that pro wrestling, although considered by me and many others to be a real sport, is what is commonly known as “sports entertainment.” While there is a sheer amount of athleticism that goes on in each and every match, the storylines and a large majority of what happens on the TV shows (a la Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown) is scripted.
In laymen’s terms, it’s a soap opera with body slams. Yet wrestlers still get injured during matches and they put their bodies on the line to satisfy the crowds, which is why, to me, pro wrestling is in fact a real sport. People can say whatever they want to about wrestling being “fake” but as Bret “The Hitman” Hart once said,
“Wrestling is far more real than people think.”
As it relates to the Yankees, there have been a few moments that stand out to me which connected the WWE and the Yankees. One instance was January 28, 2008. WWE was at The Garden for their annual Royal Rumble Pay Per View.
Santino Marella, a comedic character who is known more for his outlandish demeanor rather than his in-ring ability, came out to address the New York crowd. Being a heel, wrestling’s terms for a bad-guy (or a wrestler disliked by the crowd), Marella proceeded to put down my favorite team.
“The Yankees,” he said. “Chokers! Help, it’s a mosquito! I am going to blow the playoffs!”
Of course he was making reference to the infamous 2007 postseason- Joba Chamberlain “Bug Game.” Watching the PPV at a friend’s house, Marella’s remarks got me really angry; especially since the Boston Red Sox went on to win the World Series that year. I even remember rising up out of my seat and walking towards the TV set because he had hit a raw nerve of mine, as if I could do anything about it.
Over a year later, Marella (upon becoming a baby face, or a wrestling good guy) wore a Yankee jersey when the WWE returned to MSG for a show.
And that’s the beauty of wrestling sometimes–that it commands emotion. A wrestler can say things that just want to make you reach through the television set and strangle them, but at the same time, you love what they are doing.
Another great Yankee-WWE moment was back in either late 1999 or early 2000. Two wrestlers known as Edge and Christian (who like Marella were also heels) were the tag team champions. The WWE was in Atlanta for their Monday night television program, Raw.
The tag champs went out to the ring and did what they liked to call their “Five Second Pose,” A.K.A. they stood in the ring, told everyone in the audience to get their cameras out for a photo-op, and they mocked the sports teams of whatever city they were in at the time. The Braves were coming off their 1999 World Series loss to the Yankees and had also been beaten by the Yanks in the 1996 fall classic.
Edge said to the capacity crowd, “The Atlanta Braves are known for one thing–being the New York Yankees’ personal b*****s.”
Christian then put on a Braves jersey, while Edge sported the Yankee pinstripes. Christian got down on the canvas of the ring, hugging Edge’s ankles while Edge stood proudly with an evil smile on his face and gave a thumbs-up.
The Atlanta faithful responded with a boisterous chorus of boos.
As a Yankee fan, yes, it was hilarious and unbelievably entertaining. But I know that every Braves fan in attendance that night was furious; I believe they all felt the same way I did when Marella put down the Yankees, and more likely than not wanted Edge and Christian’s blood.
Again, wrestlers have the ability to command emotion. They can make you feel happy or so mad you want to beat them up.
Although the WWE wrestlers are known for making references to the Yankees, it works both ways. Numerous Yankees these past few years have admitted their admiration of wrestling.
Johnny Damon, a Yankee of four years, guest hosted Monday Night Raw in December following the Yankees’ 2009 World Series Championship. Damon, although an excellent baseball player, was not the best host for the show. I noticed throughout Damon’s tenure with the Yankees that he stuttered a lot during his postgame interviews; he never really gave the best sound bites for the media.
His stuttering, and in a lot of ways bad acting skills, did not come off looking any good on Monday Night Raw. I can remember saying one thing to myself after the show ended that night:
“Stick to baseball, Johnny. Stick to baseball.”
Wrestling has evolved over the years and has gone through a number of huge changes. These days the WWE’s most popular superstar is a man by the name of John Cena, who has been in movies, has guest starred on TV shows, and has done a lot of charity work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Basically Cena is the WWE’s top man and its hottest commodity.
In February of 2009, Cena joined Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods (obviously before the controversy), Reggie Bush of the New Orleans Saints, and Denny Hamlin of NASCAR to help launch a new razor–the Gillette Fusion Gamer.
WWE interviewed Jeter and he said he told Cena that he needs to find the time and get out to a WWE show. It was funny to me, simply because I cannot picture in my mind Jeter, the classy captain of the New York Yankees, sitting ringside in an arena alongside a bunch of howling wrestling fanatics.
However, I would love to see it happen. As a person who has attended countless WWE live events, it is quite an experience. I highly recommend going to a WWE show, so I do hope Jeter can eventually “get out to one.”I guarantee he will have fun.
In 2009, the Yankees brought the spirit of WWE to their clubhouse. Pitcher A.J. Burnett’s son gave Damon a replica WWE Championship title belt to keep in his locker. From there on out, the Yankees awarded the belt to whoever was the hero of the game.
For example, Damon hit a walk-off home run on May 17, 2009 vs. the Minnesota Twins. After the game, the team declared him the champion and he got to hold the belt until the next hero was named.
WWE caught wind of this, and as it turned out, they rewarded the Yankees for it. CC Sabathia is good friends with WWE Hall of Famer, Jerry “The King” Lawler, stemming back to his days as a member of the Cleveland Indians–Lawler’s number one favorite team.
According to reports in June 2009, Lawler sent Sabathia an upgraded version of the WWE title. The report also mentioned that instead of the WWE logo, the belt featured the interlocking NY to fit the Yankees.
From what I read, the Yankees eventually signed their original WWE belt and auctioned it off, with the proceeds going to charity. Knowing the WWE and the amount of charity work they undertake on a yearly basis, they were probably very happy with the actions of the Yankees regarding the belt.
To me, wrestling will always be a wonderful art form. Good guys, bad guys, drama, athleticism, high-risk action, exhilaration, and laying it all on the line–the WWE has everything.
Other than football, I can’t think of any other sport that interests me more in the baseball off-season than wrestling. And when the WWE and the Yankees collide, as they have in the past, it is the best feeling in the world for me; it is two of the greatest sports in the world coming together.
And it is my hope that the Yankees and the WWE maintain a great relationship in the future. Perhaps Wrestlemania, WWE’s version of the World Series, could be held at Yankee Stadium.
Talk about a dream come true.