It’s wrong, I know,
to pray for a baseball team to win. It’s selfish, too, given all that
the Yankees have attained, all the attention and riches and praise they’ve
gotten these last few years, for themselves, the franchise, the fans. Lou
Piniella deserves to win one year. I’m awed by the Curt Schilling–Randy Johnson
threat. The Mets, who after all are a New York team and have the hearts and
scars to prove it, need a turn at bringing home the trophy.
All of them should get their rings and parades and
multimillion-dollar endorsements and those glorious moments that come with
being the No. 1 team.
Just not this year.
I want this baseball season to end like the last three. I want it
to be the same. We need it to be the
same. I’m waiting for that moment, after Game 6 or 7, when Mariano Rivera
throws that last unhittable pitch and Scott Brosius comes running, and Derek
Jeter jumps up and down, and Paul O’Neill comes bounding in from right field
and throws his arms around Tino Martinez, and Bernie Williams does his quick
genuflection in thanks out in center field, and they all come together on the
pitcher’s mound, all piled up around Jorge Posada, and raise their gloves to
We need to see that same joyful photograph, with those same guys,
on the front page of the Daily News
the next day.
New York needs it. On Oct. 30, a beautiful, crisp, clear fall
day, walking to the subway on the way up to Yankee Stadium for Joe Torre’s
press availability, a reporter saw a city of downturned eyes. The women were,
appropriately, dressed in black, many with large fringed shawls wrapped around
them, like comfort blankies borrowed from their beds. The men looked sullen,
tired, intent. People paused at the corners, stared straight ahead, then walked
as the traffic passed with only a vague sense of purpose, almost as if they
woke up in Oakland or Seattle or even Boston, God forbid.
And on that No. 4 train, riding up to 161st Street in
midafternoon, the car was half-empty and silent, people staring at the floor or
dozing off, no one even reading a dirty novel or moving their mouths to psalms
in a prayer book. A gang of loud high-school students with boom-boom headphones
and energy to burn would have helped, but none got on.
We’re not even the same city we were in the couple of weeks after
Sept. 11. We’re not looking each other in the eyes anymore. We’re not sharing
condolences. We’re not sharing. We’re grouchy, exhausted, tapped out. We know
something else is coming, but we don’t know what. We know Afghanistan is a
mess, but we’re not sure what else to do. We know on Nov. 6 we have to vote
but, really, for whom?
We get into a cab and we no longer feel that smug satisfaction of
having opened our doors to strangers, to people with different dress and
strange accents and tastes in radio or tapes that make us feel alive in the
most eclectic city in the world. Frankly, we’re extremely pissed.
We get on the subway, and we don’t even want to complain anymore
about the crowding, the filth, the mass confusion that has turned underground
Manhattan into a stinking, puzzling maze. We’re just glad for nothing worse.
We’re glad for the familiar. For the routine. For family. And for
the Yanks. These are our guys. We need to see them one more time, to celebrate
again, before they-Luis Sojo, Paul O’Neill, maybe Scott Brosius, Chuck
Knoblauch, even Tino Martinez-leave us for good. Before age and greed and
opportunity break up this team, this dynasty, and bring a new crop of talent to
Yankee Stadium-one that might win, but that never can replace this brilliant
bunch of lads with good manners and a charged-up work ethic and a sense of New
York, New York to boot.
Up at the stadium, Joe Torre was not speaking of any of these
things. He was talking to a room full of reporters about the importance of
pitching, about his hopes for Roger Clemens, his memories of World Series and
come-from-behind victories past. His eyes-the whites, the rims-were red, raw.
He looked like he’d walked back from Phoenix, straight into that briefing room,
without a shower or a minute of sleep. Games 3 and 4 were still ahead.
“No question we need to win a ballgame,” he told the reporters.
He was wearing a blue cap with a police patch on the side and a blue Yankees
jacket. The backdrop said “World Series 2001.” “We need to pitch. We need to
The Yankees have come from behind before, and they’ve gone on to
win. There was Wade Boggs, rounding the field on horseback-on horseback!-in
1996, celebrating the comeback to victory from a 2-0 start against the Braves.
The stadium was so loud, even out in far left field, that you half-expected the
horse to bolt for River Avenue.
Walking out of the stadium that night, grown men-strangers-were
hugging each other, high-fiving up and down the street. Blacks, whites, Asians,
Hispanics, everyone full of joy. Riding up Jerome Avenue later that night,
under the el, you could see clumps of people standing out on street corners,
waving and cheering to passing cars. This was 1 in the morning, in the South
Two years later, there was Tino Martinez, in Game 1 of the World
Series in 1998 against the San Diego Padres, pounding that grand slam over
right field to put the Yankees ahead for good, winning by 9-6 the first game in
their sweep. I was with my daughter that night and I must have screamed for 15
minutes, she can tell you. I should be ashamed to admit this, but it was one of
the happiest moments of my life.
Joe-or Mr. Torre, as Derek Jeter still calls him-was talking
about the 1996 World Series, of going into the second game, behind 1-0 and
about to lose Game 2, and assuring George Steinbrenner that they’d win Games 3
through 6. “I might not be here,” he told reporters the day after this year’s
Game 2, if he hadn’t gotten that one right.
We need Mr. Torre to get it right this time, too. We need Roger
Clemens to pitch the game of his life. To act like the New Yorker he has,
amazingly, become and reach deep down and pull it off. Be Andy Pettitte and get
that look of determination in the eye, that hawk-eyed stare, and just do it.
Pitch after pitch after pitch.
“My body feels really good,” the 39-year-old Mr. Clemens said to
the room full of reporters on Oct. 30, “knock on wood.” That made him chuckle,
the first time he’d cracked a smile since walking into that interview room on
the day before the big game, and his blue eyes lit up. On his head was a cap
that said “FDNY.” On his massive chest he wore a blue hooded Yankees
sweatshirt. “I’m going to go as long as I can, and hopefully I’ll go longer.”
Winning Game 3 and then 4, and then two more, would definitely be
“We make it tough on ourselves, sometimes,” he said.
“This is sort of a war,” Joe Torre had told the sportswriters,
not even realizing the aptness of his metaphor. “We need to win. Otherwise, [ they’re ] going to win.”
Go Yankees. Go New York.