We Need Our Yanks, Now More Than Ever

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

the sky.

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

dominate.”

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

Bronx.

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

a challenge.

“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.