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      F I E L D  T R I P S

June 3, 2001

May 13 , 2001: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium
Oh, Mama!

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 delight.

A spiky-haired 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 my ballpark?"

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."

Immediately after 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.

Carol's derision 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 remark.

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.

Final score: 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******* ass. BOX SCORE