13 , 2001: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium
As a bachelor whose
mother lives a far cry from Yankee Stadium, I did not register the coincidence
of a ballgame on Mother's Day when choosing my Yankees tickets this winter. So
it was ironic that my accompaniment to the ballpark on Mother's Day was anybody's
mother, let alone a new mom. But my friend Julia is a diehard Baltimore Orioles
fan, and I'd planned to treat her to a ballgame. So I randomly grabbed tickets
for a Sunday game in May.
If Julia was aware
of the date's significance, she hadn't mentioned it in accepting my invitation.
I knew she hadn't been to a game in almost two years (her son Owen's arrival last
May had preempted her ballpark visits). Perhaps she wanted the opportunity to
see Cal Ripken Jr. in the flesh one last time. Perhaps she needed a break between
Pampering and being pampered. Any of these made more plausible theories than a
mere chance to see the down-and-out
Orioles play ball.
A little history:
Back in February 1998, Julia had joined me in a five-person ticket group for a
partial season ticket plan. A minority shareholder (and avowedly not a Yankees
fan), she concentrated her efforts on the Orioles' visits, even taking her non-fan
husband along to a game or two. From that vantage, the Yanks-O's rivalry was a
bitter one, outstripping the visceral appeal of the Yanks' traditional feud with
the Boston Red Sox. The Yanks had beaten out the O's for the 1996
American League East flag, and ousted them in the AL Championship Series en
route to returning the World Championship to the Bronx. That ALCS was the one
in which young fan Jeffery Maier preserved a key home run by snatching it away
from an Oriole outfielder. The O's narrowly won the AL
East in '97, but both they and the wild-card Yanks met their demise at the
hands of the Cleveland Indians.
As we had prepared
for the outset of that season, our friendship carried the buzz of the rivalry--the
needling, the deprecation of the other team's stars ("Does Ripken need a walker
yet?"), the shared sense of anticipation for two hungry teams ready to rumble.
Of course, that was before the Yanks reeled off their magical
125-win season and the Oriole franchise plummeted into the dismal state in
which it now resides. Julia's domestic plans prevented her from a repeat investment
in the ticket package, but with her team's declining fate, it was probably just
as well. Anyway...
On this sunny but
cool day, we found ourselves among a less-than-capacity crowd skewed more to the
female gender than usual. With Julia on my left, three women to my immediate right,
and two women behind me (one with a husband, the other a son), I found myself
in unfamiliar territory for a ballgame. I thought nothing of it until Julia began
to draw strange looks for cheering the Orioles. The Yanks had scored three off
of O's starter Jose Mercedes in the 3rd, but the Orioles mounted a rally in the
next half-inning. Julia called attention to herself over the outcome of a freak
play in which Jeff Conine's one-hopper richocheted off of Orlando Hernandez and
into foul territory. Tino Martinez chased the ball down and threw to El Duque,
covering first, but he was beaten to the bag by Conine, much to Julia's vocal
woman two seats over from me, clad in a pinstriped Tino Martinez jersey, pinched
her face in disgust. Looking past me, at Julia, she whined in an unmistakable
Long Island whine "And who are YOU rooting for?" as if to say "How dare you in
I sensed trouble.
"She's an O's
fan from way back," I summarized to the spiky-haired woman. Flying the team colors
(Yankees cap, midnight-blue practice jersey), I hoped to convey a message of tolerance,
as if to say, "I'm a Yankees fan, and I'm okay with my friend the Orioles fan."
the Conine play, Chris Richard tied the score with a three-run homer to left-center.
Julia kept her cheering somewhat muted, but the woman (whose name, I later learned,
was Carol) leered at her and accelerated into a steady diatribe about the propriety
of a fan of a visiting team rearing her head in Yankee Stadium. Julia was out
of earshot, more or less, but I was not, and Carol began to get on my nerves.
She found an alliance with one of the women behind me, a leather-lunged Noo Yawker
I mentally christened "The Songbird." Bonding over beers and blabbering about
everything from their jobs to how much Brady Anderson sucked (I'll spare you all
the part about how Carol made the Songbird guess her name), Carol and the Songbird
grew louder and louder, dominating the discourse of this cluster of seats.
continued, even as I defended my friend's right to root for the team of her choice.
"Ya pays your ticket..." I offered, but she wasn't buying. But it wasn't until
she noticed the back of my jersey that the situation got really ugly. "Ooooh,
Cone," she announced to her new best friends, demonstrating her reading prowess.
"No wonder. You guys both rooting for the other team? Where is David Cone now?"
she continued, drawing her "now" into three syllables, with the familiar lilt
of a schoolyard taunt.
"Boston," I muttered,
rolling my eyes behind my sunglasses and thinking to myself, this is going to
get worse before it gets better. "The Red Sox," chirped the Songbird's friend
(we'll call her "The Other Songbird"). "He's in A. A." Funny, but that wasn't
the type of rehabilitation assignment the papers reported.
"Has he pitched?"
asked Carol, the loathing still apparent in her voice.
"He's on the disabled
list," I sighed, calculating the trajectories this conversation could head.
"He's a loser.
I am SO glad he's gone. That guy stinks."
I could feel my
face begin to redden as I cocked my head sharply towards her. "Listen," I snapped,
"Do you want to give back those four World Championships we won while he was a
Yankee? I think most of us would beg to differ."
"Oh yeah?" she
retorted in her accusatory schoolyard tone. "And what part of that did HE have?"
At this point I
realized our so-called "true Yankees fan" had her head so far up her ass that
I was wasting my time. I don't care how much or how little you followed the Yankees
over the past five years. If you're a Yankee fan of even the narrowest pinstripe,
you know this: David
Cone was hardly an inconsequential part of their success. Even with his dismal
4-14 season last year, his overall record of (70-41 including the postseason,
a winning percentage of .631) clearly attested to the fact that he was not, by
any stretch of the definition with regards to his performance or his character,
a loser. What planet was she from?
"Well, he won twenty
games in 1998," I sputtered incredulously. "He pitched a perfect game. He won
World Series games. He came back from a career-threatening arm injury to give
the Yankees his best years..." My head throbbed. My mind raced. My blood boiled.
As she squinted at me, I wanted to smash her in the mouth. I wanted a World Wrestling
Federation folding-metal-chair riot on her head. I wanted Tony
Soprano's crew to bust a few caps in her ass.
I was livid with
rage. Question my Yankee fandom, fine--who gives a shit? But for someone who acted
as if she knew so much about "her" Yankees, she clearly had absolutely no idea
of what the hell she was talking about. The scoring pencil in my hand disappeared
into a fist as I pounded my scorebook and turned back toward the game.
[Let me add here
(and not trivially), that I abhor violence against women, and that whatever part
of myself had the urge to do her actual physical harm was well short-circuited
by my higher brainstem functioning. I would no sooner have taken a swing at her
than I would have removed all of my clothing and run onto the field asking Derek
Jeter to marry me. Still, I was unsettled by the depth of my rage long after the
game had finally ended.]
I was done arguing
with Carol, but the cacophony continued, as she and the Songbirds continued to
chirp. When El Duque surrendered a two-run homer to Greg Myers a few minutes later,
breaking the tie, a small sense of relief came over me: I now had something new
to pout about. I stopped shaking and became absorbed in crafting a witty parting
The Yanks, however,
forestalled my delivery. Leading off the bottom of the ninth, down by two runs,
Scott Brosius struck out looking and was tossed from the game for arguing with
the umpire. As soon as he started waving his arms, there was no doubt Scotty's
afternoon was over. It seemed a moot point as the crowd channeled their collective
frustration into a Bronx cheer for Brosius' outburst. But then Chuck Knoblauch,
as he always seems to do, dodged a pitch, then came from behind in the the count
and worked Ryan Kohlmeier, the O's young closer, for a walk, thus bringing the
tying run to the plate. Countless times over the past four years, when the Yankees
have absolutely, positively need a baserunner, the Lil' Bastard has delivered.
Derek Jeter hit
a high fly ball to right and the crowd screamed, but it was obviously not long
enough for a home run. I noted in Carol a certain desperation to her shrieking,
and secretly enjoyed the pout on her face as she cradled her chin against the
railing in front of us. But then Paul O'Neill almost single-handedly wiped away
the ill tempers with a true shot to right, tying the game. Julia was devastated,
I was laughing, and it seemed the afternoon was not beyond salvage.
Until the top of
the next inning, at least. Mariano Rivera came out to start the eleventh, a curious
move given that the game was tied, the bullpen still relatively full, and Torre
had decreed a day off for the Yankee closer. The Songbird, who had repeated Torre's
decree, nonetheless demonstrated her own intimate knowledge of the team by referring
to Rivera over and over as "Mario." Puh-lease!
Rivera struck out
Melvin Mora, then allowed back-to back singles to put runners on first and third.
Disaster seemed averted when Jerry Hairston hit a sharp grounder to Jeter, playing
close to second base. An easy double play... but Jeter, plagued by an iron glove
lately, bobbled the ball and only got the force at second. The run scored. Rivera
came unglued, walking Deshields, allowing another single, and then yielding a
three-run dinger to left-center by Conine.
Disgusted as I
was with the Yankees play, I was happy to see Julia's spirts buoyed. She has so
little time for baseball, and Oriole fans have so little to cheer about these
days, that losing one to them on this day didn't seem so harmful. A secret part
of me enjoyed seeing the sullen look on Carol's face, her spirit obviously crushed.
She could now go back to her job as a postal worker and start hating Mario Rivera
because he sucked, because he was a loser.
As for my retort,
as Carol's party geared to go, I pondered leaning over to Carol's mother and wishing
her a Happy Mother's Day. "You must be so proud to have a daughter who is the
most obnoxous fan in the park," I would tell her calmly, "And the dumbest Yankee
fan I have ever met." In the end, I either didn't have the guts or else rose above
the occasion. I stifled my rage, balling it up until it stole sleep from me deep
into the night.
Orioles 8, Yankees 3. One beer, one handful of Cracker Jacks (no peanuts,
alas), one happy mother, and one correspondant ready to kick some mother*******