Just When I Thought I Was Out

For all of the ranting and raving within — and about — my last two posts regarding the 2007 Yankees, I still find myself holding a handful of tickets to their ballgames. Between that fact and the obligation I have to stay on top of the team for my various BP and radio duties, I can’t shake this debacle in progress so easily. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

My problem, I realized as I was heading up to Monday night’s game, is that my disappointment with the current edition’s predicament is dwarfed by my disappointment with the quality of the Yankee Stadium experience, which has been in freefall over the past few year. heavy-handed “security” thugs have made entering and exiting the stadium increasingly difficult. The backpack/briefcase ban is completely unnecessary; if you were going to smuggle, say, a tactical nuclear weapon into a New York area venue, Shea Stadium, which allows backpacks and briefcases, is much closer to an international airport and therefore a more desirable option. The concessions continue to rise in cost; premium beer prices on Becks, Heineken and Fosters appear to have risen in-season. And beyond the modest upgrade provided by Nathan’s hot dogs the last few years, the ballpark continues to offer third-rate food — go to Camden or Miller Park or Safeco Field and you can get a much more appetizing set of options, barbecue, bratwurst, what have you.

It’s all come to the point that I plan to reduce considerably my annual expenditure on all things Yankee, new stadium be damned. I can’t envision buying a walk-up ticket again, and beyond my ticket plan, I’m not about to submit to the online rape via Ticketmaster; I just don’t care for the experience enough to submit to additional gouging. The Yankees won’t miss me so long as they continue to draw upwards of four million fans, but that only points to the steps they’ve taken to alienate a significant portion of their customer base to appease a more casually interested crowd.

So as I headed to Monday’s game, the combination of these feelings and those about the 2-9 slide which had the local media reaching the same conclusion I reached last week gave me an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I didn’t even pack a scorebook, something I’ve done for every Yankees game since 2001. That’s alienation.

Mitigating all of that was the fact that I’d be attending the game with my friend Nick, seeing him for the first time since his return from his honeymoon. What could be better than catching up with a good friend over a few beers at the ballpark on a beautiful night? Nothing, really, though since Nick actually left his ticket at home and required some creative, um, acquisition to enter the ballpark, the cameraderie was delayed until the second inning or so, by which point the Yankees had squandered the first-inning lead they netted when Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera started things off with a pair of singles.

Nonetheless, once Roger Clemens got through the second, he was absolutely stifling. I’ve seen almost none of the Rocket’s work since he signed, and with a 5.32 ERA coming into the game, I was hardly thrilled to do so; memories of booing him for most of 1999 — at least until he sealed the deal by clinching the World Championship in my presence — added to the aforementioned stew of unhappiness on my trip to the park. But after allowing Michael Cuddyer’s second-inning single, Clemens would only surrender one more hit for the night, pitching eight solid innings to short-circuit a shaky and poorly managed bullpen.

After netting their first-inning run, the Yanks threatened several times against Twins’ starter Boof Bonser. Not until the fifth inning, when he struck out Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada in succession did Bonser keep the bases spotless, and from that high-water mark it was all downhill. Andy Phillips sparked a sixth-inning rally with a one-out double, followed by a single from Robinson Cano. That chased Bonser in favor of Juan Rincon, who walked both Damon and Cabrera, forcing in a run. Jeter broke the game open with a two-run single through the left side, and suddenly the stadium crowd of 53,036 roared with a zeal that recalled happier times at the stadium. That mood was quickly replaced by concern when A-Rod tumbled after colliding with Justin Morneau at first base, having legged out a fielder’s choice and avoided the double play, summoning trainer Stevie Donahue. When Posada walked, Rodriguez again called for help, and he was removed for pinch-runner Miguel Cairo. Hamstring was the upper deck diagnosis, and though Rodriguez would wind up back in the lineup the following night, this was a scary moment.

Scarier still was watching Nick’s consumption of Yankee Stadium concessions. Earlier he had confessed that he was just emerging from an end-of-honeymoon bout of food poisoning, suffered at the hands of some unscrupulous Morrocan kebab tyrant. You’d never have known; in procuring his new ticket, Nick had downed a foot-long hot dog (even while admitting to a Ned Flandersesque unease about the thing), and he chased this with a bag of Cracker Jacks, a regular-sized hot dog, and a beer. Reminded me that on the day of my wedding two years ago I watched him down a Wisconsin triple threat of nachos, fried cheese curds and frozen custard within a 90-minute span; when asked how he was doing in the wake of this binge, he’d recounted the menu while moaning, “Of course I’m not OK.”

In any event, though Brian Bruney warmed up for the Yanks in the seventh, Joe Torre was content to let Clemens cruise, and he did so by throwing just 97 pitches through eight. He only struck out four hitters, but his ability to throw strikes and generate ground balls (13, versus seven flies) kept him well out of danger against the contact-happy Twins. Mariano Rivera came on in the ninth and though he allowed a pair of one-out singles, a nifty double play by Cairo, who got the force at third and then fired to first, wrapped things up. It was Clemens’ 350th win, a level not seen since Waren Spahn reached that milestone on September 29, 1963 in a game caught by some Brooklyn kid named Torre.

Victory and all, in the face of those sobering numbers, the Yanks face a dreadfully uphill climb just to win the Wild Card; for me, believing they’ll make it is like believing Little Timmy the Orphan’s whooping cough is going to go away without medication. But for one night, everything seemed right at Yankee Stadium, a delightful midsummer night spent among friends, downing beers and cheering victory. Here’s hoping they can keep the good times rolling.

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