Results tagged ‘ Derek Jeter ’
The Yankees made it two in a row tonight, winning a decisive 8-3 game against the Royals to take the series two games to one. The Bombers received their second straight brilliant outing from the returning Andy Pettitte, who walked one and struck out eight over seven innings of work. The crafty lefty only made two mistakes, solo homers served up to Billy Butler and Mitch Maier.
Other than those two hiccups, Pettitte twirled a gem. (Stands, applauds)
The Yanks finally saw some production out of Alex Rodriguez, who hadn’t homered since May 6. Tonight Rodriguez smacked two long home runs to help push himself out of his slump. Curtis Granderson also homered, his 14th round-tripper of the year and his first in a week.
It’s funny how after being read the “Yankee Yapping Riot Act” the bats came alive. The trick for the Yanks will be to keep those bats alive and kicking when they begin their series on the west coast Friday night against the 22-23 Oakland Athletics.
While it’s nice to see the Yanks slowly but surely come out of their funk, something caught my attention over the weekend that I didn’t get a chance to write about, as reporting about the High School sports scene here in the New York suburbs for my newspaper is occupying a lot of my time these days.
This past weekend the Yankees played the Reds, losing their first interleague series of the year, 2-1. Cincinnati has a third baseman by the name of Todd Frazier, who played in the Little League World Series in 1998 – and won.
Frazier, a New Jersey native, was on the Toms Rivers squad that beat Japan in the ’98 LLWS, and once they mentioned that series it was almost as if a spark had gone off in my head. I actually remember that Little League World Series, all because of one memory.
1998 was the first year I played Little League, and at the end of the season each Little Leaguer in the country was issued a newsletter. In the newsletter was an article about the Toms Rivers team winning the LLWS; in fact I vividly remember the picture that came with the article of the team celebrating and the Little Leaguers walking out of South Williamsport, PA with the trophy.
There were also interviews in the newsletter with Derek Jeter and Pettitte – and they talked about their experiences in Little League, which was cool to read about. I recall reading about how Pettitte was an opponent of Little League pitchers throwing curveballs, for fear of ruining their arms at a young age.
Whenever someone mentions Little League, I get this warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling inside; it brings back a flood of memories. The Little League I played in was located in Beacon, NY, and I still feel to this day we had one of the best programs in our area at that time.
Our teams were named and fashioned after actual MLB teams: there were the Mets, the Red Sox, the Indians, the Giants, the Dodgers, the Pirates, the Cardinals, the Orioles (although the second year I played they became the Blue Jays), and the Athletics, among others.
As fate would have it, I wound up on the Yankees. Believe it or not, this was my uniform…
Little League was a struggle at first, but I learned as I went along that hard work pays off. Basically the entire first season I played, I only reached base if I walked. I also had to watch each one of my teammates receive the game ball after every game we won for their efforts, always having the feeling I would never be given the game ball because I struggled so mightily.
It was enough to get down on myself and get dejected. But I didn’t quit. I kept trying.
Gradually my swing got a little better; I started making contact. Eventually I recorded my first base hit and first RBI off the Indians, a sharp line drive single to center field which drove in a runner from third.
After the game my coaches awarded me the game ball; my first hit and my first RBI. It felt incredibly good to finally do something positive offensively and even better to be recognized for it. I still have the ball and I will probably hold onto it forever.
The second year I played I was given the game ball after a win over the Dodgers. I drove in what turned out to be the winning run by laying down a bunt, and reaching second base on the throw. Because of my hustle I got the ball – and yes, I kept that one, too.
My Little League years are a cherished time in my life; they were sweet and innocent. I was just a kid who loved baseball, I got to play, and even enjoyed a little bit of success. Obviously not to the degree that Frazier did, but it doesn’t matter. Only a small amount of Little Leaguers do get to enjoy success at the Major League level.
To all the Little Leaguers playing out there this season: my message is to enjoy yourselves. I hope you love taking the field day after day as much as I did when I played.
If you were to ask me to describe my Little League experience in one word, it would “fun.” And that’s what baseball is supposed to be.
Yesterday night the Yankees snapped a three-game losing streak, beating the Kansas City Royals, 3-2. In typical fashion as of late, the Yanks didn’t make it easy on themselves, putting the tying run on third in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Yankee Universe held its collective breath as Rafael Soriano got Alcides Escobar to ground out, just missing an infield single that would have tied the game.
Yes the Bronx Bombers won, but claimed victory in the ugliest way ever: on a wing and a prayer.
Lately the team has struggled overwhelmingly on offense, getting outscored 36-18 over the last week. The Yankees have lost seven of their last 10, good enough for fourth place in the American League East. Barely keeping their heads above water, the Bronx Broskis are 22-21, just a game above .500.
It’s not as if the other teams are necessarily winning these games. On the contrary, the Yankees are losing them; beating themselves by not cashing in on chances they create. The team seems to fail at every opportunity with runners in scoring position; in fact, in Monday night’s 6-0 loss to the Royals, they went 0-for-13 with RISP.
Plenty of players need to be held accountable for this recent string of sucktitude.
It’s pretty unfortunate when arguably the best hitter on the team can be read the riot act.
On Saturday the Yankees trailed the Reds 6-3 entering the ninth inning. They fought back however, pulling to within one run with the tying run on third base and two outs. Curtis Granderson worked the count to 3-0, but made some of the worst decisions a hitter could make as the at-bat progressed.
On 3-0, he swung, fouling the ball off to the right. Still in good shape on 3-1, he check-swung at an inside breaking ball that dipped out of the strike zone, a pitch that would have undoubtedly been called ball four to keep the line moving.
Then, with a full count, Granderson beat the payoff pitch into the dirt, grounding out to first to end the game. Yankees lost 6-5, the resilient magic running out of power at the last minute.
Right after I watched them lose, one thought entered my mind: “In 2009, they would have won this game.” Not only that, but it killed me to see Granderson not take a pitch, being in a hitter’s count for basically the entire at-bat.
Granderson is batting .250 for the year, and his BA with runners in scoring position is just .219. He is still leading the team with 13 home runs for the year but hasn’t homered in a week, cementing the Yankees’ slumping status.
The Yankees’ first baseman has been battling some sort of bronchial infection, and he did not start this past weekend’s interleague series vs. the Cincinnati Reds – a series the Yankees lost, two games to one.
Teixeira has only collected 35 hits in 153 at-bats this year, with five homers and 20 RBIs.
I don’t want to say Teixeira is on the decline, because he’s hit 30 or more home runs every year he’s been in the majors since his rookie year – and even in his rookie year (2003) he hit 26. Yet, if Teixeira isn’t hitting a home run, he only seems to pound the ball into the infield shift for a groundout.
Last night he got lucky, weakly squeaking a hit through the shift for a single.
Right now Teixeira’ batting average is at a miniscule .229, his on-base percentage is just .281 and his slugging percentage is only .386. In key spots, when Teixeira is up, the Yankees have to be cringing.
It’s obvious an adjustment has to be made. Whether it’s his batting stance, his swing, his bronchial ailment, or a mental block, Teixeira has become a hitter that the Yanks can’t depend on at the moment.
There’s an old saying about catchers: if a team has a catcher that can hit, it’s a bonus. For a long time the Yankees had that bonus in Jorge Posada, and it continued for them when they signed Russell Martin.
Lately however, Martin must have forgotten that he is a hitter because he’s on the interstate at .179, with only 19 hits in 106 at-bats. He’s smacked four homers and has driven in 10 runs.
Martin isn’t having the worst offensive season; it could be worse. But like the rest of the team, he is not coming up with hits when chances are created. His groundball percentage is 70% with runners in scoring position for the year.
What also puzzles me is that Martin is known for calling a good game behind the plate, yet when the ace of the staff pitches, he is on the bench. Chris Stewart is CC Sabathia’s personal catcher, and unlike Martin, Stewart poses virtually no offensive threat, whatsoever.
In a nutshell, not only is he almost as useful as a screen door in a submarine at the plate, he can’t catch when the Yankees’ number one pitcher is on the mound.
On Monday night Alex Rodriguez struck out in the ninth inning, getting blasted by a deafening chorus of boos and jeers as he walked back to the dugout. After the game the press questioned him about getting booed at home. Like a true professional however, he owed up to it, saying he deserved it for his lack of production.
What’s scary about A-Rod’s slump is that he has stated his physical condition is fine. Usually when he struggles offensively there is more to it; a lingering injury or some soreness.
But it’s not the case.
He was recently quoted as saying that he’s fine physically, capable of hitting for power. Obviously that statement has not exactly gone well-founded, considering he hasn’t hit a home run since May 6. With RISP, A-Rod is scuffling just as the rest of the team is, with a groundball percentage of roughly 61 and a .154 average.
Not so good for a player who claims to be in perfect health.
The 37-year-old starter certainly hasn’t been what the Yankees had anticipated, as he currently leads the majors in losses with six. His latest defeat came on Monday when he surrendered three earned runs on seven hits to the Royals, striking out four and walking three in 5.1 innings pitched.
Although the stat column for his last start doesn’t sound incredibly poor, Kuroda was absolutely shelled on May 16 in Toronto. The Blue Jays lit him up for seven earned runs on eight hits in just five innings. Kuroda served up three home runs in the loss, and is now 1-3 over his last four starts.
What I can’t understand is his position in the rotation. Clearly he isn’t pitching up to his potential, and it’s costing the Yankees. Maybe a move from the number two slot in the starting five could help him; perhaps Joe Girardi should push him down to the fourth hole and see how it goes.
Either way, something needs to be done.
In 2010 Phil Hughes won 18 games, pitching extraordinarily well throughout the first half of the season. After the All-star break he seemed to just fall off the face of the earth; he hasn’t been the same, consistent pitcher since the first half of ’10.
Lately Hughes has been making a case to change that, winning three of his last five games – but those three wins on his ledger are deceptive.
Hughes beat the Seattle Mariners on May 12, a team that has been no-hit this year. He then followed it by beating the Royals, a team eight games below .500, twice. In between he was beaten by the Blue Jays and also lost to the Orioles – two of the three teams in front of the Yankees in the East.
Last night Hughes gave up a home run to Jeff Francoeur and is now the first pitcher since Runelvys Hernandez (2006) to give up at least one homer in each of his first nine starts of the season.
Possibly Hughes’s biggest Achilles Heel has been his pitch count. I lost track last night of how many hitters fouled off his pitches, but I do know that he was up over 70 in the fifth inning. It’s pretty much the story of his every start: the opposing hitters just put good swings on his flat, straight fastball and his pitch count steadily climbs.
Now that Hughes is on a bit of a good streak, I think this is the perfect opportunity for the Yankees to see what they might be able to get for him on the trade block. For awhile now, I’ve heard a lot of chatter about how his value is down and nobody would want him.
But since he’s pitching well at the moment – and he isn’t even signed for next year – I say the Yankees should cut their losses and say goodbye to him. As nicely as Hughes is pitching now, I don’t expect it to continue late in the season against teams like the Rangers, Tigers, and Rays.
Odds are his arm will tire, as it has these past two years, and he will crack down the stretch.
There are so many other players that deserve to be called out.
Dewayne Wise has only collected three hits in 23 at-bats, and yet is in the starting lineup.
Nick Swisher is batting .239 right now.
Robinson Cano had 31 RBIs on May 23 last year. He has 17 on May 23 this year (barring any RBIs in tonight’s game).
CC Sabathia has lost his last two starts.
Ivan Nova’s ERA is 5.69.
The bullpen is about as makeshift as ever without Mariano Rivera and backup closer David Robertson, not to mention third string closer Rafael Soriano came dangerously close to blowing the save last night.
The whole team is contributing to this mess.
Some serious changes need to be made if the Yankees want to pull this sinking ship from the depths of the ocean that is the AL East. Because the way they’ve been playing, it’s crazy to even put the words “World Series” and “Yankees” in the same sentence.
After one of the recent losses, Derek Jeter made a declaration:
“I don’t see anybody popping champagne in May.”
While the Captain is right, he should heed that currently there are a lot of teams better than his at this point in the season. If the Yankees, for whatever reason, don’t make the playoffs, it will be the second time in Jeter’s career (2008) he won’t be popping champagne.
And for the first time in his career the Captain will be eating crow.
Andy Pettitte made his long-awaited return to the Yankees yesterday, doing relatively well for a pitcher who hasn’t been in a live MLB game since Oct. 18, 2010. The veteran lefty tossed 6.2 innings and let up four earned runs on seven hits. He walked three and struck out two in a 6-2 series finale loss to the Seattle Mariners.
Pettitte really only made two mistakes – a pair of pitches he left out over the plate that Justin Smoak and Casper Wells were able to get around on, each clubbing two-run home runs. Other than showing that little bit of rust, he was his normal self.
But I’m not ready to pass any judgment on his performance. In fact, the subject of this entry has absolutely nothing to do with Pettitte.
Roughly two weeks ago I was on Twitter (might as well call me the “Titan of Twitter” these days) and one of my dear friends, Micheal Robinson, tweeted this:
Right after I read his tweet, I realized how fortunate I am to cover the game of baseball as a member of an exclusive club – the press. Last year the editor at the previous newspaper I worked for covered most of our local High School baseball teams, as I took on the task of basically becoming the girls’ lacrosse beat writer. (I did however cover a small amount of baseball last season).
This year my new editor has given me more baseball games to cover and only a select amount of lacrosse games. It’s easy to say this spring season has been a lot of fun for me.
The only thing I ever wanted to be was a baseball player. I had the opportunity to play at the High School level, but not beyond that. For awhile it bothered me, but lately it’s dawned on me that, albeit right now it’s only at the level I played at, it’s the next best thing.
I might not get to actually play the game organized, but I get to be around it as much as possible.
And as a reporter who’s covered the game at the High School level, I figured I would share some experiences and things a cub reporter can expect covering baseball; the sights, the sounds, and what you pick up on as a journalist.
So for Micheal, and everyone else aspiring to be a baseball writer, this is for you.
Baseball’s National Anthems
Of the dozen or so baseball games I’ve covered this spring, in between innings two songs are usually always blaring through the speakers: Centerfield by John Fogerty and Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen. Both of these tunes represent the spirit of the game, and fittingly, I am usually expecting to hear them at every game I go to cover.
“Balls in, Comin’ Down!!!”
The average baseball fan knows that before each inning begins, the defense is allowed to warm up. The pitcher tosses to the catcher to get his arm loose, the infielders take grounders, and the outfielders play catch to stay limber.
What the average fan may not know is the terminology used at the end of each warm-up routine. The catcher will yell out the phrase, “Balls in, comin’ down!”
The infielders and outfielders must then throw their warm-up baseballs back to the dugout, and the catcher (on the last warm-up pitch) throws the game ball down to the second baseman – as a practice throw for when a runner tries to steal second base.
If you were to attend a Yankee game, you wouldn’t be able to hear the catcher yell it out, sitting in the stands. But attending or covering a High School game, you hear it all the time, easily.
I remember first hearing the phrase in Little League, and since then, every time I go to a Yankee game I quietly utter it to myself. It’s nice hearing it again whenever I cover a baseball game; it gets me very nostalgic.
As a reporter, you need materials to cover a game. It should come as no shock that generally a pen and a notepad are required, and a good reporter usually has a recorder, perfect for postgame interviews.
A journalist must keep a good eye on the game and write down everything they see. While covering two games this season, I have been asked the same question; once by a student spectator and once by a parent:
“Are you a scout?”
Both times I just chuckled and replied, “No, I’m just a reporter, here to cover the game.”
I was later told I must have the look of a scout. But I was surprised I was asked the question, especially on more than occasion. After all, I didn’t have a radar gun, an essential tool all scouts bring to baseball games – and reporters don’t.
Just because the players I report on are in High School doesn’t mean they aren’t incredible athletes and humble kids. Last year I witnessed something at a High School baseball game that I’ll probably never forget.
On May 7, 2011 I covered an event called the Sorrentino Cup – a game played between Yorktown High School and Lakeland High School here in New York.
A senior pitcher by the name of Jonathan de Marte of Lakeland absolutely shined; he struck out 14 batters, didn’t issue a walk and took a perfect game into the last inning.
He retired the first batter and got himself into a 3-2 count on the second-to-last batter, a player named Jake Matranga. De Marte left his fastball up in the zone and Matranga blasted it, connecting for a solo home run to break up the perfect game bid.
When the ball flew over the centerfield wall, I couldn’t imagine at that moment what he was thinking; I know I was left in sheer disbelief. He was literally staring the perfecto right in the eye, and with one pitch it was over.
Afterward I interviewed him, expecting him to be down on his luck, even though his team won the game 4-1 to capture the Sorrentino Cup. I had no choice but to anticipate the worst, thinking he would be in a foul mood; losing his perfect game when he was so close to it.
Totally the opposite. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow.
De Marte had preserved his perfect game the inning before when one of the Yorktown hitters hit a weak ground ball in front of him. He pounced of the mound and made a spectacular play, almost hiking the ball through his legs like a football center to get the out.
“I’d rather lose the perfect game on a home run than on a weak ground ball like that,” de Marte said of the situation. “I’m not too upset about it, I’m just glad we won.”
Words I never thought I’d hear from him. A High School pitcher, yet as professional as Derek Jeter.
De Marte went on to win New York State’s Gatorade Player of the Year – becoming the only player in history to win the award twice. Lakeland was eliminated in the playoffs, falling short of a sectional title. I wrote a story about him winning the Gatorade award, and again, he was just as humble as he was the day he lost the perfect game.
“It’s exciting to be the first player in New York to win it twice in a row, back to back,” he said. “It’s proof that hard work pays off, but I’d trade it in to still be playing.”
In that same interview he told me Tommy John went to one of his games to see him pitch, and even went to his house after the game to give him advice on what to do should he get drafted.
I hope it happens for him.
This year de Marte is pitching at Richmond University in Virginia. Sometime down the line I look forward to hearing about which team he gets drafted to. What he showed me that day – everything from the athleticism and dominant pitching to the dignity and class after the game – he has the makings of a big leaguer.
Some of baseball’s most unbreakable records include Ted Williams batting .406 for an entire season, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, and Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs.
Believe it or not, High Schools keep records, too. And on May 4, at a game I was covering, a pitcher broke one.
At Byram Hills High School in Armonk, N.Y. (the same school I met Bernie Williams at) senior pitcher Scott Rose broke the school’s all-time strikeout record by fanning the last batter of the game – his 89th career strikeout to claim the record. He pitched his team to a 7-4 win over visiting Horace Greeley High School.
Funny thing was, he wasn’t even thinking about the record until the last batter.
“I didn’t have it in mind because I wasn’t getting a lot of strikeouts until that inning,” he said. “But once I got that first one in the seventh, it was definitely on my mind for the second. It was cool, but more important that we got the win.”
If Rose goes on to bigger and better things, I’ll be able to say, “He broke his High School’s strikeout record…and I covered the game.”
There is so much more that meets the eye in baseball, more so than any other sport. In 1990, Ken Griffey, Sr. and his son, Ken Griffey, Jr., became the first father and son duo to play on the same team, the Seattle Mariners. That same season, on Sept. 14, they became the first father and son tandem to hit back-to-back home runs.
Crazy to think about.
On April 28, I covered Valhalla High School’s game at Croton-Harmon, two local teams with strong baseball programs. A senior pitcher named Matt Cassinelli started for Valhalla, while his brother, Justin, started at second base.
In the top of the fourth Justin legged out an RBI triple, lacing the ball to deep left-centerfield. The 3-bagger gave Valhalla a 4-0 lead, and they wound up winning the game 4-3.
Justin wound up giving his brother Matt just enough offense to pick up the win.
I asked Matt after the game what he thought about his brother driving in the deciding run, and his response left me in hysterics.
“I think I’ll be cooking a big dinner for him tonight.”
Only in baseball would I have gotten an answer like that.
Right now, the hottest hitter in the majors is undoubtedly Josh Hamilton. Currently the Texas Rangers’ outfielder is batting .402 with 41 RBIs, and is leading the bigs in basically every offensive category.
Hamilton has 18 home runs in this young season, four of which came on the same day. On May 8 he smacked four home runs in one night, dismantling the Baltimore Orioles’ pitching.
Although none of the baseball players I’ve covered have hit four homers in a game, one player crushed two in one day.
The first game I covered this season was a game played between Horace Greeley High School and John Jay-Cross River. John Jay has a strong, well-rounded fundamental squad whereas Greeley possesses a good amount of talent, but really only one power hitter: a senior catcher named Andres Larramendi.
Larramendi will be catching for Princeton University next year, and I quickly found out why he is going to such a great college. On Opening Day he showcased his power, blasting two home runs in his first two at-bats; bombs deep over the left field wall.
I asked him about Princeton after the game, and he told me he couldn’t be more excited to go to a school with such a strong baseball program. As for his multi-home run game:
“I saw two fastballs,” he said. “I was just able to get around on them and put a good swing on them.”
Who knows. I may have covered the next Josh Hamilton that day.
Typically when a player records their first base hit, the baseball is sent back to the dugout. The team will take it, polish it off, and present it to the player as a memento. As a matter of fact, I remember in my first year playing Little League, I recorded my first hit and my first RBI in one of the last games of the season.
After we won the game, the coaches presented me with the ball, which I still have.
When I got back to the dugout my teammates were so happy for me; they practically jumped on me, whacking my helmet and patting me on the back. Such was the case on April 5 when I covered Briarcliff High School’s Diamond Classic, a tournament they host at the outset of each season.
Briarcliff’s left fielder Spencer Kulman blasted his first varsity level home run, a shot that carried deep over the left field wall. His team retrieved the baseball from behind the fence and gave it to him, but not before they came out of the dugout and congratulated him after he crossed the plate.
He was moved by their gesture.
“It was really nice for them to come out for me like that,” he said. “I’ve hit a couple home runs in practice but never in an actual game. It’s a great feeling.”
The only thing I ever wanted to do was play baseball. I am fortunate enough that, even though at a small level, I was able to.
But now, although I’m not playing anymore, I have the next best thing: being around it and involved in it as much as humanely possible. I hope that everyone who loves the game as much as I do can be as lucky as I am, covering such a wonderful sport.
The Yankees have begun somewhat of a winning streak, beating the Royals 10-4 on Sunday and following it up with a 5-3 win last night over the Rays. David Robertson nailed down his first save of the season, giving the Yanks their first taste of life without Mariano Rivera.
Although he didn’t make it easy on himself – and he never does – Robertson slammed the door.
Andy Pettitte is set to make his return to the Bronx on Sunday, as he will start against the Seattle Mariners. Pettitte hasn’t exactly been dazzling in his minor league warm-up starts. Nonetheless, he will look to aid the inconsistent and banged up rotation.
Tonight David Phelps will take the hill vs. Tampa Bay, hoping to roll the Yankee win streak over to three games – that is, barring a rainout.
Yes, it’s been a soggy day here in New York.
While things are OK in Yankee land, something happened on Sunday that was all over baseball; something dirty. Something that I just had to write about and express my opinion on.
The Washington Nationals hosted the Philadelphia Phillies, and lost 9-3. In the first inning, Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels beaned 19-year-old rookie outfielder Bryce Harper with a 93 mph fastball, right on the back between the “3” and “4” on his jersey.
Harper recovered and eventually made Hamels pay for it, stealing home plate straight up later in the inning. The Nationals also received retribution by retaliating, plunking Hamels in his first turn at bat in the third inning.
After the game the media questioned Hamels about the HBP. His response:
“I was trying to hit him,” he said. “I’m not going to deny it. That’s something I grew up watching, that’s kind of what happened. So I’m just trying to continue the old baseball because I think some people are kind of getting away from it.”
Basically the message Hamels sent was, “Welcome to the big leagues, kid.”
I’m sorry, but that’s just not a good enough reason to intentionally hit someone. It’s a classless act of shameless unsportsmanlike conduct. The way it appeared, Hamels almost seemed proud of himself after the game; happy he got a piece of the new kid everyone is talking about because of his ability and talent.
Unlike Hamels, Harper showed some class afterward. He called Hamels a good pitcher and in a lot of ways brushed the bean ball off his back, not making much of the situation. Harper proved he has a lot of, I’ll say, Jeterian qualities.
Now in certain circumstances, intentional HBPs are…I don’t want to say “acceptable,” but understanding. A hitter can be plunked but for a good reason, such as last year in David Ortiz’s case. He flipped his bat, showed up the Yankees, and as a result CC Sabathia hit him with a pitch later in the Yankees’ series vs. Boston.
It’s just business. And even I have been guilty of such actions, when it was called for.
In fifth grade I played CYO basketball. I was on a travel team and we had a long season; not a lot of my teammates had ever played organized ball before and we took our lumps pretty hard. As a matter of fact we didn’t win a single game that entire season.
One game we were getting absolutely pounded, losing by a significant margin. Late in the fourth quarter, the other team didn’t bench its best player; he was still in the game, knocking down 3-point field goals like it was nothing.
I contested one of his last shots from outside the arc, trying my best to throw him off-balance so that he would miss the basket. It didn’t faze him, though. He put the ball up through my arms and into the net for another 3-pointer, following it by pumping his fist in celebration.
His team and its supporters went bananas for him, cheering and hollering as loud as they could.
As any player with pride and an ego would, I didn’t take kindly to it at all. There was absolutely no reason he still needed to be on the floor with his team winning by that much. Not to mention he came off about as conceited and cocky as any player I had ever faced.
When the final buzzer sounded and the beatdown was over, our teams lined up to slap hands, as all teams do following a game in honor of sportsmanship. I made sure to be the last player in line – he was lined up first on his side.
I figured that would be the best way to execute my little retaliation scheme.
When no one was looking, I hocked the biggest loogie of my life, and then spat it into my right hand. I smeared the matter all over my palm, making sure it was saturated with my slime.
He looked at me with a huge, egotistical ear-to-ear smile on his face as I approached him.
“Good game!” he said to me, with enthusiasm.
As he received a handful of my snot and saliva, I grinned back at him.
“Yeah. Good game.”
Right away he became angry, as any player would after being spat on. He tried to confront me, but my teammates separated us before any other kind of altercation ensued.
He may have shown me up on the court, but I got the last laugh.
It wasn’t long after that I quit playing organized hoops and started playing baseball. The next season I began my Little League career and played baseball through my second year in High School – and never again did I spit on my hand and slap an opposing player with it after a game.
Yet at the same time, I never again faced an athlete as full of himself as that one basketball player.
Was it the nicest way to get retribution? Absolutely not. It was disgusting, actually.
Did it need to be done? In my mind, yes. He had to dish what he served.
As a competitor, you can’t let someone get away with being a show-off. The same way the Yankees couldn’t let Ortiz get away with the arrogant bat flip, I couldn’t let that kid get away with making me and my team look like a bunch of losers.
A message had to be sent – and I made sure to send it.
But going back to the topic at hand, and to bottom line it, Harper didn’t deserve to be hit by Hamels. He didn’t show-off; didn’t show-up the Phillies. In no way did the situation call for a bean ball, and for Hamels to openly admit he hit Harper simply as a so-called “welcoming” to the majors is absurd and nonsensical.
Had Harper crushed a 450’ homer off Hamels, and then danced his way to home plate – the way that kid remained in the basketball game and hit a 3-pointer when his team was already up big, and then reacted as if he had just won the NBA Finals – I would understand it; the situation would call for it.
But the way Harper has conducted himself so far – as a gentleman – it was totally unnecessary. I can only hope the next time he faces Hamels, he does take him deep.
Hamels deserves it. The same way that player deserved a handful of my slobber.
The Yankees scored a total of six runs the last four games, the offense looking about as alive as a rotten cadaver. Tonight, the Bronx Bombers looked like their usual selves though, scoring six runs (yes, in a single game) to beat the Kansas City Royals 6-2 to snap a three-game losing skid.
CC Sabathia played the role of stopper, capturing his fourth win of 2012. Derek Jeter remained hot, blasting a two-run homer in the seventh, his fifth of the year, helping his cause to upkeep his .404 batting average.
While that is all nice to hear, the Yanks’ worst nightmare manifested itself before yesterday’s game.
Mariano Rivera, shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice, was tripped up between the grass and the warning track. He landed awkwardly; his right leg torqued, and the all-time saves leader fell to the ground in agonizing pain.
Manager Joe Girardi raced to Rivera, as did his teammates and the trainer, as he clasped his right knee – a scene that left Alex Rodriguez in disbelief. The 42-year-old Yankee closer was taken off the field on a cart and brought to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a torn ACL.
Superman lost his cape.
Or, in maybe a more fitting comparison for this evening, Thor lost his hammer.
According to the Yankee beat writers via Twitter, the clubhouse had a morgue-like ambience; it felt as though the Yankees lost a postseason series. At the very least, Rivera will be sidelined for the rest of the season.
After yesterday’s 4-3 loss to the Royals, Rivera – overwrought with emotion – stood in front of reporters, teary-eyed. They asked him whether or not he would ever pitch again, to which he replied, “I don’t know.” It seemed as though an unfamiliar uneasiness swept over the Yankee team.
They’ve never been in this position before.
For the first time in 18 years the man they call “Mo” won’t be there at the end of the game to slam the proverbial door in the collective faces of the Yankees’ opponents. During that span the Yanks have never been without Rivera for an extended period of time; a few short DL stints here and there, but never for an entire season.
This opened up the floodgates for a barrage of questions.
Rivera cannot be replaced, but who fills the void at closer?
Rafael Soriano? David Robertson?
What do the Yankees do as far as another bullpen arm?
Pull the struggling Phil Hughes from the rotation and put him in the ‘pen?
Can the Yankees win without Rivera?
Most of these questions remain unanswered, but tonight, they did win without him, albeit in a non-save situation. Robertson was brought in and sealed the deal in Kansas City. He is looking like the logical choice to supplant Rivera, at least at the moment.
Today Rivera vowed to come back from his torn ACL, saying, “I’m coming back. Write it down in big letters. I’m not going out like this.”
I hope he is right. His Hall of Fame-worthy career just can’t end that benignly.
It’s not as if players haven’t come back from torn ACL injuries in the past. In fact in May 2008, starting pitcher Yovani Gallarado of the Milwaukee Brewers tore his ACL and returned before the playoffs began. However, Gallardo was 22 years old when he suffered the tear.
I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV, but I’d venture to guess it is a little easier bouncing back from a torn ACL at 22 than it is at 42. Age catches up with everyone, and I don’t know of many athletes who have come back from such a devastating injury at that age.
When it happened, the first thought that crossed my mind was the scene in Friday Night Lights when the Permian Panthers lost their star running back James “Boobie” Miles at the start of the football season to a bone-crunching knee injury.
It’s almost the same situation – the Yankees lost a key player, and the rest of the team is left having to find ways to win without him, a la tonight.
Right now, I’d like to heed Rivera’s words that he will indeed come back. Always an honest person, I have no doubt in my mind Rivera meant what he said and he will do anything and everything in his power to get back to the top.
It won’t be easy; in fact there may even have to be some divine intervention. But I believe in Rivera’s ability to rehab his knee, work hard, recover, and ultimately end his career on the mound at Yankee Stadium, rather than the warning track at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
Thor will get his hammer back.
I can’t even begin to imagine what life was like 100 years ago. People my age were getting ready to fight in the First World War, the Titanic sank like a stone to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and gas cost 7 cents per gallon.
Oh, and Fenway Park opened. And while many things have changed a century later, the home of the Boston Red Sox has not. Fenway has such a rich history and what some people may not know is that the 100-year-old ballpark once belonged to the Red Sox most hated rivals.
That’s right. The Yankees once owned Fenway Park.
When the Yankees signed Babe Ruth, the deal included a $300,000 loan backed by a mortgage on Fenway Park. Ergo, not only did the Yanks receive Boston’s best player, they owned Fenway Park at the time.
But the Red Sox eventually gained back ownership of their home. And yesterday Boston’s favorite sons honored their ballpark’s centennial with a beautiful pregame ceremony – and to a Yankee fan like myself – an even more beautiful 6-2 loss to the Bronx Bombers…or should I say the New York Highlanders.
A lot to go over here. First of all…
The Red Sox celebrated Fenway’s 100th year with a wonderful ceremony before the game. Countless players from the days of old were brought back and honored, not unlike the last game at the old Yankee Stadium in September, 2008.
I have to admit, watching it gave me goosebumps. The Red Sox fans are just as passionate and as sentimental about their players (past and present) as the Yankee fans are. The history is another comparable aspect of both teams. Obviously a comparison can be drawn, considering the long and storied existence of the Red Sox and Yankees.
Personally, I got a little teary-eyed when I saw legends Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky in wheelchairs, being wheeled out to the field by recently-retired Red Sox Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek.
Doerr and Pesky mean so much to their franchise, and it was nice to see them get the ovation they did.
It seemed the loudest reaction of the afternoon went to ex-manager Terry Francona. Tito came out and Fenway became unglued. I think the Boston faithful truly miss him, and would rather have a smart leader at the helm of the team (like him) rather than what they have now in Bobby Valentine.
Towards the conclusion of the ceremony, the Red Sox offered (an awkward) toast to the fans and to the ballpark. Longtime Yankee nemesis Pedro Martinez saluted the crowd, then he and Kevin Millar grabbed microphones, and had some words while everyone went bottoms up.
“Who’s Karim Garcia?” Martinez asked, referencing the Game 3 brawl the Red Sox had with the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS.
“One more time,” Millar shouted. “Cowboy up!” – his catchphrase during the ’03 and ‘04 playoffs.
After that bizarre exchange of words, the ceremony ended. And with the Red Sox sporting the uniforms the team wore in 1912 – and the Yankees donning the vintage Highlander outfits, the game began.
What can you say about this young stud, other than that he has been the Yankees’ most consistent pitcher thus far. Ivan Nova tossed six strong innings and gave up just two earned runs on seven hits.
He didn’t issue a walk and struck out five batters.
Nova has really done a lot of good for himself, only three starts into this young season. It’s obvious he is locked in and focused; mixing his pitches, attacking batters with his slider, fooling hitters with his curve, and getting them to groundout with that tricky sinkerball.
What’s more, he isn’t killing himself with walks. He’s only issued two free passes this season – and both base-on-balls came in the same game (last Sunday vs. the Angels). He isn’t going out there and beating himself, to say the least.
With the win, Nova has now been the winner in his last 15 decisions, going back to last June – he hasn’t lost since June 3, 2011. His streak is the second-longest in Yankee history, behind Roger Clemens who won 16 consecutive decisions back in 2001.
Now at 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA for the year, Nova will have at least one more start this month (Wednesday April 25 @ Texas). If he manages to beat the Rangers, who are one of the hottest teams on the planet right now, I think it’ll be safe to say Nova is undoubtedly going to go on to have a wonderful year; possibly a Cy Young Award candidate when it’s all said and done.
It never hurts a pitcher to get off to a great start.
Derek Jeter reached base on an error by Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia in the top of the first; as a matter of fact, “Luis Castillo” trended on Twitter because of the miscue. Alex Rodriguez came up later in the frame, smacking a single to bring Jeter to the plate.
But from that point on, it was a home run derby, Highlander-style.
Nick Swisher took Boston starter Clay Buchholz deep in the second inning, an opposite field homer over the Green Monster. Later in the frame Eric Chavez took Buchholz’s offering over the centerfield wall.
And he wasn’t done.
Chavez homered in his next at-bat, another shot that just cleared the wall in center. It marked the first time since Sept. 18, 2005 that Chavez smacked two home runs out of Fenway Park. He previously accomplished the feat as a member of the Oakland A’s.
After Chavez’s homer barrage ended, it was Rodriguez’s turn. A-Rod absolutely slaughtered a ball over the Green Monster, out of the park and onto Landsdowne Street. It marked Rodriguez’s 631st career homer, and with it he passed his old teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. on baseball’s all-time home runs list.
A-Rod is now in fifth place on the all-time homers list. In front of him? Now, only Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds.
You’d think that would be enough taters for one day, but it wasn’t.
In the top of the sixth, Russell Martin got a hold of one, smacking a home run over the monster and hitting the Sports Authority billboard. It was Martin’s first home run of the year, and it was all the Yankees needed to beat Boston.
What surprised me the most was that each home run the Yankees hit today was a solo home run; not one runner was on base when each hitter went yard.
Buchholz gave up all five solo blasts – and it wasn’t the first time this year a Boston starter surrendered five round-trippers in a single game. Josh Beckett gave up five home runs to the Detroit Tigers on April 7.
It’s encouraging to see the Yanks hit some bombs, but there’s an old saying about “living by the home run and dying by the home run.” They cannot be reliant on the long ball all year, but I suppose if you get an exemplary start, as Nova gave them today, it doesn’t matter.
This was a big win for the Highlanders…Yankees today. Beating the Red Sox the day they celebrated their ballpark’s centennial: that’s huge.
Imagine if the Yankees had hosted the Red Sox instead of the Baltimore Orioles in the final game at the old Yankee Stadium – and the Red Sox had beaten them. What kind of feeling would every Yankee fan have had?
Probably a very sick feeling. And that’s probably the feeling the Boston fans had today. As for the Yankee fans…it’s just another reason to gloat; another notch in our belts.
It was a major battle won for the pinstripe patrol, but the war is far from over. In fact, the soldiers will be right back out on the battlefield today at 4:00.
Freddy Garcia (0-1, 6.97 ERA) will lead the Yankees into battle, facing off with Boston starter Felix Doubront (0-0, 5.40 ERA).
This afternoon I found myself organizing a bunch of documents on my laptop. School assignments from my College years, newspaper articles from the school paper, and all of my recent work assignments were stockpiled in my computer folder.
I came across a personal experience story I had to write for my feature writing class in May of 2009. It should come as no shock that I wrote about my experience from the first trip I took to the new Yankee Stadium.
Reading this back, I felt like a little kid. It was priceless. I figured it might be nice to share it on here; put it on the blog. Most of the pictures in this entry are ones I shot that day.
I was exhausted as I looked out the window on the train ride home. As a die-hard baseball fan, I had just been through an absolute whirlwind. The day of my baseball-loving life.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009 was a very special day for me. I was privileged enough to make my first trip with my friends and family to the new Yankee Stadium.
In only the sixth regular season game at the new ballpark, the New York Yankees hosted the Oakland Athletics in an afternoon game.
Wearing my pinstriped Mariano Rivera jersey on my back and one of my many fitted Yankee caps on my head, I met up with my friends, Brian and Jenn, and my cousin Joe for what would be a memorable day.
On the train ride to the Bronx, we really did not know what to expect, other than a great time. I, for one, was not sure if the new Stadium would live up to the hype.
Sure, it looks incredible on television and in the newspapers, but how is it going look in-person? Will it be the same feeling as enjoying a game at the old Stadium? I couldn’t help but think.
We walked off the number four subway in the Bronx to an overwhelming site: The new Yankee Stadium in all its glory.
As we approached the building, we did not know what we were in for.
“The Kingdom of Heaven!” I exclaimed, while I was glaring at the building.
“This place looks absolutely amazing, and we are not even inside yet.”
The first thing we had to do was take pictures. I reached into my bag and pulled out my camera. I shot the façade of the stadium. I snapped pictures of the new Babe Ruth Plaza outside the Stadium.
And I got a picture of the new electronic game day board that read, “Oakland Athletics vs. New YorkYankees Today1:05.”
With seats in the bleachers, we were unsure of where to enter. If you had seats in the bleachers at the old Stadium, you could only enter through the back of the building. But we wanted to see everything in the new stadium. We walked up to Gate Six, and asked where to go.
“As long as you have your ticket, you can enter at any gate,” the gentleman informed us. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the bleachers. We treat everybody equally at this Stadium!”
We happily entered the gate, right into the Great Hall. What I saw left me in disbelief. Yankees everywhere I looked.
“Wow,” I said in amazement. “I…I just can’t believe this. This place is unreal.”
Of course we had to take more pictures. My friends got a shot of me standing in the Great Hall with all the Yankee banners behind me.
Reggie Jackson. Paul O’Neill. Thurman Munson. Me. What a picture.
After walking around and snapping a ridiculous amount of photos, we finally settled into our seats. Left field bleachers, Section 236, row five, seat 16. That was mine.
It was about11:00 a.m.by the time we made it to the seats. The A’s were out on the field, stretching and taking batting practice.
I noticed so many baseballs fly out of the park. One flew right over our heads, landing about 20 feet away. Not long after that, one came within ten feet of Joe’s seat, landing directly in the glove of the kid next to him.
“Holy cow,” I said. “Pretty close!”
I then took a few minutes to take it all in. I looked at the frieze which now surrounds the top of the entire stadium. I looked out at the field. I looked at the flags around the top of the stadium, indicating the league standings.
“We are in second place right now,” I noted. “Right behind Toronto.”
And then I beheld the press box, which is located in the mezzanine behind home plate.
“I’ll be there someday,” I quietly said to myself.
“I just need my journalism degree, which I’ll be getting very soon, and a little bit of time to work my way up. I’ll be sitting up there with the rest of the writers, eventually.”
It had started to lightly rain during batting practice, and I began to feel very skeptical as to whether or not the game was going to be played. There was rain in the forecast, and I was not certain they were going to get it in.
But the grounds crew thought differently. They did not come out to put the tarp on the field. They chalked the lines and the batter’s box, raked the mound, and put the bases in, as if they were starting the game on time.
Then I noticed CC Sabathia chug from the dugout to the outfield to play long toss with the bullpen catcher. Pitching Coach Dave Eiland and Jorge Posada soon followed Sabathia out to centerfield.
I felt a little more confident now that the pitcher was warming up.
“If the game was not going to start on time, they would not have CC out there throwing,” I thought to myself. “We’ll see some baseball today.”
It got to be 1:00, and the P.A. announcer gave us the starting lineups. Oaklandfirst. The visitors are always announced first. Then the home team.
“…And for the Yankees: led by their manager, number 27, Joe Girardi. Batting first, the shortstop, number two, Derek Jeter!”
I could not contain myself as each Yankee was announced. I am a passionate Yankee fan, and I marked out for every single Yankee in the lineup.
“YAY, Derek! YAY Johnny! YAY BigTex!” …and so on.
Then came the National Anthem. And after the on-the-field warm-ups, the start of the game.
The first pitch was so exciting. Everybody was up and cheering. The roar of the crowd gets to you, even as a fan. I don’t know how the players handle it, but as a fan, it’s extremely intense.
After the first pitch, which was ball one from Sabathia, we heard it.
“Bald Vinny,” the main bleacher creature who always sits in right field, started the Yankee roll call. He did this for every game in the old Stadium and apparently the tradition lives on.
“Some things will never change,” I said with a smile on my face.
I watched as the fans standing in the bleachers cried out for every Yankee until they were acknowledged. I could only laugh as I watched right fielder Nick Swisher turn around, face the bleacher creatures, and salute them, as if he was an Army soldier.
In the top of the second inning, Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki slaughtered Sabathia’s offering to left field. Brian, Jenn, Joe and I all stood up as we gazed at the ball flying out to left field.
It carried far enough for a fan sitting in the front row to snatch the ball. He closed his glove and caught the ball for a three-run Oakland home run.
As the boos reverberated throughout the Stadium, Girardi came out to argue that the fan interfered.
“Here we go again,” I said. “Just like Sunday against Cleveland – bring on instant replay!”
The umps went into the tunnel for what seemed like only five minutes to decide whether or not the ball was a home run.
“Here come the umps,” Brian said to me as they walked from the third base tunnel out onto the field. “I hope it gets overturned!”
Third base umpire Brian Gorman twirled his index finger, signaling that the ball was indeed a goner. The Yankees were now down, 3-0.
A little depressed, we knew the Yankees needed a spark. Being down 3-0 early on in the game never puts any fan in a good mood.
But the bottom of the second inning lifted our spirits in a great way.
Hideki Matsui stepped up to the plate, and cracked a long, solo homer into the right field seats, putting us back within two runs.
“YES! I joyfully cried out. “We’re back in it!”
After Matsui’s blast, I high fived everyone around me, including two Yankee fans I had never met.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the other fans when a Yankee hits a home run. We’re all Yankee fans, which makes us family at the game.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” one of the fans said to me as I slapped his hand.
The next batter was Melky Cabrera. We had just seen one Yankee home run, and Cabrera made it two.
Back-to-back jacks – the first set of back-to-back home runs in the new house, in fact. Cabrera clobbered Oakland starter Brett Anderson’s offering into the area right below us.
Again, I yelled out, “YES! 3-2!”
While Cabrera rounded the bases, I borrowed Yankee announcer John Sterling’s cheesy catch-phrase and shouted, “The Melk-man always knocks twice!”
With the Yankees now trailing by only one run at the end of the second inning and the rain pouring down rather steadily, we had no choice but to leave our seats and take cover.
One of the best facets of the new stadium are the standing rooms. You can leave your seat, and still view the on-the-field-action.
Now protected from the rain and perched over the centerfield gate with Monument Park beneath us, we stood and watched Sabathia and the Yankees give up another run in the top of the third, making the score 4-2.
“Are you kidding me? This just is not right,” I told Joe while shaking my head in confusion.
Down 4-2, the Yankees received a much-needed lift in the bottom half of the third.
With Posada on second and Teixeira on third, Robinson Cano was able to push Teixeira across the plate for a run, bringing the Yanks back within one.
Soon after Nick Swisher came up and singled to drive in Posada, knotting the game at four runs apiece.
“Alright, we’re making some progress here,” I said as I peered out onto the field at the end of third inning.
“I have a gut feeling we’ll be on top when this game is all said and done.”
In the bottom of the fourth inning, we were treated to yet another Yankee home run. This time it was the Captain.
Jeter came up and blasted a solo home run directly below us in centerfield, taking the ball into Monument Park. If you looked closely enough on the replay, for a split second, you could just see the group of us cheering on the home run from the standing room platform above centerfield before it landed.
“Way to go, Captain! He did it again,” I gleefully exclaimed.
According to the scoreboard, Jeter was playing in his 2,000th career game. A home run must have been a nice way to remember it by.
Oakland would get a run back off Sabathia in the top of the sixth, as Mark Ellis singled to score Jack Cust.
I could hear the other fans’ disgust at Sabathia’s pitching.
“Why does this guy suck? He’s terrible,” I heard one upset fan say.
“Go back toMilwaukee, you waste of money,” I heard another disgruntled fan cry out.
The bad feelings towards Sabathia temporarily evaporated in the bottom of the sixth, as the Yankees re-took the lead.
Tied at five, Jeter doubled to score Cody Ransom, and Teixeira singled to score Jeter, giving the Bronx Bombers a 7-5 edge.
“This is real Yankee baseball,” I thought to myself. “It doesn’t matter how bad CC is, as long as the offense does its job.”
With the Yanks up by two at the end of six, we decided to leave the standing area and see the rest of the palace.
The new stadium offers so much, and there’s a lot to see and do. We heard that there was museum inside the ballpark, open to the fans. We asked around, and found out that we had just enough time to visit the museum before it closed.
So we went.
We walked in the Yankee museum, and just as I had been blown away coming off the subway, I was taken aback by everything in the room. There was so much to see.
We took pictures with the World Series trophies from the 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 Championship years. The years I fell in love with the Yankees and with baseball.
I couldn’t help but think of the great teams of those years, and how much I loved watching them at the old Stadium.
“I remember when Tino Martinez crushed that grand slam into the upper deck in right field in first game of the ’98 series,” I said to Brian.
“Tino was one of the greatest players to ever put on the pinstripes, and my favorite during the dynasty.”
Then we made our way to the “ball wall,” an incased shelf of baseballs autographed by practically every player ever to wear a Yankee uniform.
I was amazed, saying to my friends and cousin, “Hey, look here’s Yogi! Oh man, it’s Jeter’s ball. And here’s Tino’s! And the greatest player to ever live: Babe Ruth.”
After viewing the ball wall, we journeyed over to the replica clubhouse locker. You can type your name into the computer, and it will appear above the locker, as if you are in the Yankee clubhouse as a player.
I typed my name in, and it appeared.
“A.J. Martelli” appeared above the locker, much to my delight.
I thought to myself, “This is what it feels like to be a Yankee. It feels pretty good.”
Of course, I got a picture of me in the locker with my name posted over my head to remember it by.
As all this was going on, we noticed on the high definition television screen that Sabathia was blowing the lead.
Ex-Yankee and current Athletic Jason Giambi grounded out to short while Bobby Crosby scored, and Matt Holliday singled to score Ryan Sweeney, knotting the game again, this time at seven.
Sabathia exited to a mixed reaction from the Yankee faithful, and those bad feelings toward him from the sixth inning came back.
We made our way out of the museum, and back to a standing area, this time by first base.
We could only look on as the Yankees and A’s could not get anything offensive going. With the game still knotted at seven heading into the top half of the ninth, we watched Mariano Rivera come in to pitch.
As Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared through the new stadium speakers and Rivera dashed in from the bullpen, it all looked so different to me.
“It’s so weird to see him enter from right field,” I said. “I’m so used to seeing him come in through the left field gate.”
The new Stadium features the Yankee bullpen behind the right field fence, in contrast to the old Stadium, where it sat behind left-center.
Rivera mowed through the A’s in the top of the ninth. The Yankees could not generate a winning run in the bottom of the ninth, and the game went into extra innings.
The 11th. The 12th. The 13th. After awhile we found ourselves completely wiped out.
With our legs tired and already harboring a seven and a half-hour day at the stadium, we contemplated whether or not to stay or hit the subway back to Grand Central.
“If they don’t win after the 13th, you want to head out?” I asked.
“We are all really tired, I don’t care what we do,” said Brian.
“I just hope they win, either way!”
With sore legs from walking, a horse voice from cheering, and a tired mind, my friends, my cousin, and I made our way back to the subway.
Many others had the same idea, as the subway was crammed with Yankee fans.
“Was this your first game at the new stadium?” a man wearing a Yankee hat sitting across from me asked.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“How’d you like it?” he followed up.
“It was amazing. I can’t believe how stunning the Stadium really is. The television does not do it justice. You have to come down here and physically enter the building to really appreciate it,” I again replied.
He agreed with everything I said.
When we reached Grand Central, we found that the Yankees were still playing in the top of the 14th inning.
We finally boarded the train back home, exhausted and worn out. However, I was not going to rest until I found out if the Yankees had won or lost.
Strangely enough, I looked out the train window as we passed the Stadium on the way home. Staring in awe at the ballpark from the train, I received a text message from another friend, Micheal.
“Melky just hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the fourteenth. Yankees win!”
As I was glaring at the “Kingdom of Heaven” from the train, the Bronx Bombers were celebrating at home plate, mobbing Cabrera in a 9-7 Yankee victory. The first walk-off home run in the new Yankee Stadium. History.
I smiled, and knew that even though we didn’t exactly see the game-winner, it was like I did.
I was satisfied knowing that I’ll always remember my first trip to the new stadium. I was just an infant when my parents took me to my first game in the old stadium. I can’t exactly remember that first visit to the old ballpark vividly.
But now I’ll have memories that will last for the rest of my life. Memories from my first trip to the new Stadium that I’ll remember forever.
Exhausted and staring out the window as we passed Dobbs Ferry, I finally shut my eyes.
The Yankees won. Now I could rest easily.
When Jorge Posada made his Major League Baseball debut on Sept. 4 1995, he got to Yankee Stadium early. The 24-year-old switch-hitting second baseman-turned-catcher walked from the clubhouse down the tunnel to the dugout to soak in what would become his home for the next 17 seasons.
Posada looked around at the majesty of Yankee Stadium. Tears of joy filled his eyes. In the years that followed he afforded the Yankees and their fans countless unforgettable moments, and basically became the Bronx Bombers’ unofficial co-captain.
A leader, a gamer, and one of the most intelligent and fiery Yankees to ever don the pinstripes, Posada, 40, is expected to announce his official retirement from baseball in the coming weeks. The Yankees will lose one of the “Key Three” members of their Championship Dynasty of the late 1990s.
Off the top of my head I can come up with a number of Posada’s best moments as a Yankee. Here are some of his most memorable achievements; a few of his accomplishments that made him such a special Yankee.
Breaking Out and a Perfect Day
Although Posada got the call to the show in 1995, he didn’t become a full-time player until later on in his career. In ’97 he replaced Jim Leyritz as backup catcher to current Yankee manager Joe Girardi, who was filling the position as the Yanks’ everyday backstop.
Posada started 52 games behind the plate in 1997 and played in a total of 60 games for the season. He only managed to smack six homers and knock in 25 runs for the season, but had a sort of “coming out party” in 1998.
An old baseball adage suggests that having a catcher that can hit is a bonus – and the Yankees had that bonus. At the plate Posada crushed 17 homers and batted .268 while recording 68 RBIs in ’98, but arguably his best feat of the year came defensively, on May, 17, 1998 when he caught David Wells’ perfect game at home against the Minnesota Twins.
When a pitcher throws a perfect game, sometimes it gets overlooked that the catcher is the one calling the signs, and most of the time the first person the pitcher credits after notching the perfecto is the catcher. It takes the battery of a pitcher and a catcher to complete a perfect game and Wells recognized that, rewarding Posada and the rest of the team with diamond rings when it was all said and done.
Before the Yanks moved into the new Stadium in 2009, Posada was asked what his favorite moment in the old Yankee Stadium was. His answer was simple.
“Catching David Wells’ perfect game was probably (the best moment) for me. It was just a day that…nothing went wrong. We were in sync from the get-go. He had a bad bullpen session but he got stronger and stronger as the game went along. I get chills, still.”
A Sweet Moment before the ‘02 All-Star Game
Posada and the Yanks capped 1998 with a World Series title, their second in three years. In ’99 he appeared in 112 games and hit 12 homers, knocked in 58 runs, and averaged .245 at the plate. The Yankees once again won a World Series title in ’99 and again in 2000 – which to that point was Posada’s best year numerically: 28 homers, 86 RBIs, and a BA of .287.
For his outstanding numbers he was selected to his first of five All-Star games in the year 2000. In 2002 Posada started the Midsummer Classic and during player introductions a Posada took the field – but it wasn’t Jorge.
Well, it was, actually. Posada’s son Jorge Luis, who has craniosynostosis (a bone condition which affects the skull of an infant), dashed out onto the baseball diamond when Posada’s name was called. The short man was playfully wrangled by Yankee nemesis and then-Red Sox player Manny Ramirez, who presented Jorge Luis to his proud father.
You Talkin’ to Me, Pedro?
Posada pieced together one of his best seasons in 2003, clubbing 30 homers to become only the second Yankee catcher along with Yogi Berra to ever hit 30 home runs in a season.
He also drove in 101 runs, batted .281, and scored 83 runs. At the end of the year he finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting, showing just how important he was to his team.
But all of that was basically overshadowed by the biggest rivalry in sports.
In ’03 the Yankees and their archenemies, the Boston Red Sox, played in some heated games. Over the summer Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano were beaned with fastballs by the hated Boston ace Pedro Martinez. Roger Clemens, the Yanks’ outspoken number one hurler, plunked Kevin Millar in retaliation.
As fate would have it, the Yankees and Red Sox met in the 2003 American League Championship Series; the winner would go to the World Series. Both squads were not shy about their feelings towards one another, as they exchanged words in the media. You couldn’t open a newspaper or turn on ESPN without hearing what the Yanks and BoSox were saying about each other.
The ALCS was tied 1-1 and with tensions running high, all Hell broke loose in Game Three.
Yankees’ right fielder Karim Garcia was hit on the back by what looked like an intentional bean ball thrown by Martinez. Garcia didn’t take kindly to Martinez’s throw – and neither did Posada, who began to mouth off to Martinez from the dugout.
Some serious jaw-jacking ensued between Martinez and Posada, and eventually Martinez began to make seemingly threatening gestures at Posada from the mound. He put his index finger to his temple as if he was saying to the Yankee catcher, “I’ll hit you in the head.”
Things settled down and the game resumed after awhile, only for another fracas to begin in the next half-inning. Clemens threw a pitch high and tight to Ramirez; clearly no intent, yet the Boston left fielder tried to charge the mound and the benches cleared.
Don Zimmer, the Yanks’ 72-year-old bench coach, was tossed to the ground by Martinez in the brawl, proving just how ugly emotions between the two teams really were.
The ’03 ALCS was forced to a Game Seven, and with the Yankees trailing 5-2 in the eighth inning, it looked as though it was Boston’s time to “reverse the curse.”
But after a single by Bernie Williams that scored Derek Jeter, and a ground-rule double by Hideki Matsui, Posada stepped up to the plate in a huge situation: runners on second and third with one out.
And he was as clutch as can be.
Posada popped a blooper into shallow centerfield, a hit which no Boston outfielder or infielder could come up with. Williams and Matsui came to the plate to tie the game while he wound up on second base. Fired up, Posada clapped his hands together and pumped his fists in jubilation.
The game-tying bloop double set up Aaron Boone’s glorious home run in the bottom of the 11th, sending the Yankees to the World Series for the 39th time and the Red Sox home for the winter.
If it weren’t for Posada’s gritty, “never say die” attitude and his piece of late-game clutch hitting, Boone never would have had the chance to swing his bat in the 11th; the Yankees may have been doomed in the ‘03 ALCS.
As far as the Martinez-Posada feud: the two publicly expressed how they felt about one another: they both said they disliked each other. However aside from the argument in the ’03 ALCS, nothing physical ever transpired between the two.
Unless you count the four career home runs Posada hit off Martinez.
On a side note, over the course of his career Posada hit 275 home runs. The most he smacked off a single pitcher: five off another Red Sox hurler, Tim Wakefield.
A Wild and Crazy Tuesday vs. Texas
On Wednesday May 17, 2006 – exactly eight years after Posada caught Wells’ perfect game – I got up and went to class. Nearing the end of my first year in college, I was amazed at what I had seen the night before. Everyone knew what a huge Yankee fan I was, and when I got to class I was asked the age-old question from one of my classmates:
“Did you see the game last night?!”
Of course I had. It was one of the most improbable and incredible comebacks ever.
On May 16, 2006 the Yankees had been getting creamed by the Texas Rangers at home. In fact, through the first two and a half innings the Bombers were losing 10-1. But they never gave up, slowly chipping away at the deficit. The Yanks were able to knot the game at 12 before the ninth inning, only for Texas to plate a run on a Rod Barajas double and take a 13-12 lead going into the Yanks’ final set of at-bats.
When it looked as though the rally was for naught, Posada clubbed a game-winning two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth off Rangers’ closer Akinori Otsuka to complete the comeback and give the Yankees a serious come-from-behind, 14-13 win.
Posada drove in five of the Yanks’ 14 runs and also showed off his strength, as he survived a collision at home plate with future teammate Mark Teixeira. Posada nailed Teixeira at home plate for an out, but after the game admitted it was the hardest he had ever been hit.
“I never played football in my life,” Posada told the press after the game.
“But I think that’s what it feels like.”
One could argue that by age 35 most catchers are reaching the so-called “downhill side” of their careers. Their offensive numbers seem to dwindle and they just aren’t the same players they were at, let’s say, age 25.
That never happened to the Yankee catcher.
In 2007 Posada recorded the highest batting average of his career, securing a BA of .338. He also posted the highest slugging percentage of his career with .543 and for the first time since 2003 he made the All-Star team.
The rest of his numbers also looked solid: 20 homers, 90 RBIs, 91 runs scored, 42 doubles, and he even stole two bases.
With his ’07 power show he became the first catcher in MLB history to average .330 or better, record at least 40 doubles, hit 20 homers, and knock in at least 90 runs in a single season.
2007 was a renaissance year for the backstop, and you might say Posada turned 35 into the new 25.
Even the Red Sox Want to be Yankees
In a little comic relief, Posada starred in an ESPN commercial with hated Yankee killer David Ortiz.
When I first saw this, I couldn’t get enough of it.
The First Home Run
After the 2008 season wrapped, the Yanks moved from their beloved cathedral to their new house across the street. They started the 2009 season on the road, but on April 16 it was time for Opening Day in the new ballpark in the Bronx vs. the Cleveland Indians – and it was a day of firsts.
Babe Ruth hit the first home run in the old Yankee Stadium, and in the fifth inning Posada became the first player to homer in the new Yankee Stadium. He took a pitch off Cliff Lee deep to centerfield, a poetically just shot that landed in the netting above Ruth’s monument.
Unfortunately the Yanks had a bad day, dropping their first game at home 10-2. After the game Posada was proud to have done what Ruth did in terms of christening the ballpark, but was unhappy with the final score.
“I’m going to remember the home run, no question about it,” he told the press. “But right now it’s a little disappointing.”
Yankee manager Joe Girardi could not have been happier that his successor was the first player to homer in the new Stadium.
“For Jorgie to hit the first home run…he’s been here a long time and he’s meant a lot to this franchise. I was extremely happy for him.”
Resiliency (noun) - the ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, change or misfortune.
Resilient (adjective) - the ability to withstand, or recover quickly from, difficult conditions.
There is no better way to define the 2009 New York Yankees.
‘09 was a magical season for the Bombers. Solid pitching, all-around hitting, and if the score was close late in the game, you could almost be certain the Yankees were going to win.
The Yanks played the LA Angels at home on May 1, and squandered away a 4-0 lead when the Halos plated six runs in the sixth. They added three in the seventh and it seemed as though the Yankees were well on their way to an inevitable loss to the Angels, the only team in baseball with a lifetime winning record against the Bombers.
Not on Posada’s watch.
The Empire struck back in the eighth scoring four runs, setting the stage for one of their many comeback victories. Posada came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with Teixeira and Angel Berroa aboard, and whacked a two-run game-winning single to finish the game, his first walk-off hit of the year.
When it was all said and done teammate A.J. Burnett gave Posada a whipped cream pie to the face, a tradition that became custom after every walk-off Yankee victory.
And there were more pie orders to fill.
On July 4 the Yanks hosted the Toronto Blue Jays and played them to a 5-5 tie into extra innings. In the bottom of the 12th Posada came up and singled home Alex Rodriguez, giving the Yanks a 6-5 walk-off win on America’s (and George Steinbrenner’s) birthday.
Another win, another pie.
The game-winner may have been huge but it wasn’t all Posada did in that game. In the fourth he smacked a solo round-tripper, which at that point in the game gave the Yanks a 3-2 lift over the Jays.
A Cushion in Game Two
The Yankees’ resilient nature brought them to the World Series in 2009 for the 40th time and the first time since 2003. They squared off with the Philadelphia Phillies and in Game Two (after dropping the first game of the Fall Classic) the Bombers needed a win at home.
Facing a familiar adversary, Pedro Martinez, the Yanks trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth. Teixeira came up and knotted the game at one with a solo homer. Hideki Matsui followed suit, breaking the tie with a solo home run of his own in the sixth.
Clinging to a small 2-1 lead in the seventh, Posada gave the Yanks a little breathing room. He hit a seeing-eye single off reliever Chan Ho Park to plate Jerry Hairston, Jr. and the Yanks went ahead, 3-1.
They would win Game Two by the same count.
The Texas Two-Step
In June of 2010 Posada had a chance to flex his muscles.
On June 12 in an interleague matchup at home vs. the Houston Astros, he clubbed a grand slam off Wandy Rodriguez in the bottom of the third, breaking a 2-2 tie to give the Yanks a 6-2 lead. They went on to win 9-3 on the strength of Posada’s go-ahead trip to granny’s house.
And he was just getting warmed up.
The very next day, June 13, he crushed another grand slam in the fifth inning off Brian Moehler, giving his team a sizeable 7-1 lead. The Bombers once again were en route to another win, a 9-5 decision over the Astros.
With his two slams in two days, Posada became the first Yankee since Bill Dickey in 1937 to homer with the bases loaded in consecutive games. Ironically enough, Dickey was also a catcher.
A Bittersweet Home Run
On Aug. 22, 2010 vs. the Seattle Mariners at home, the Yankees practically had the game won in the fourth inning. Austin Kearns hit a solo homer in the fourth, which was pretty much all the offense the Bombers needed because CC Sabathia was in shut-down mode, setting down the Mariners hitters one by one.
The game turned into a stinker for Seattle in the fifth when Robinson Cano clubbed a grand slam. The Yanks added three runs in the sixth to distance themselves even further from Seattle, who did not put up any runs in the game.
The Mariners eventually called on Brian Sweeney, a relief pitcher whom I have interviewed, in a mop-up situation.
Posada came to the plate to face Sweeney and took his changeup for a ride into the right field seats, giving the Yankees a 9-0 lead. The Bombers would add another run in the eighth on an RBI single off the bat of Marcus Thames, winning by a knockout score of 10-0.
For this writer it was bittersweet. I was happy for Posada; that he hit a home run for my favorite team, yet at the same time I was unhappy and I felt bad. I would have liked to see Sweeney maybe get a strikeout, being that he and I both came from the same college.
From the experience, I can say this: it feels weird wanting to simultaneously root for both the pitcher and the batter.
The Last Stand
2011 was a rollercoaster of sorts for Posada. There were ups and downs, lefts and rights. He was removed as the Yanks’ everyday catcher and made to be the team’s designated hitter. Everyone knows about the mountain made of the molehill when he took himself out of the game on May 14 against the Boston Red Sox, and he was limited at best when it came to playing.
On Aug. 13, his first start since the benching incident, he was 3-for-5 with a grand slam and six RBIs. It marked the 10th slam of his career and with it he passed Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra on the all-time Yankee grand slams list.
Later in the month on Aug. 25 Posada played second base for the first time in his career, fielding the position in the ninth inning. He recorded the final out in the Yanks’ 22-9 win over the Oakland Athletics, cleanly taking a grounder and completing the 4-3 putout.
He might have had a perfect frame at second base, but on Sept. 10 against the LA Angels he returned to familiarity. Russell Martin was injured behind the plate by a foul tip and Francisco Cervelli was unavailable to catch due to concussion-like symptoms. Girardi had no choice but to allow Posada to catch – and he made it count, throwing out Howie Kendrick attempting to swipe second base in the third.
The Yankees made the postseason for the 16th time in Posada’s career and for his last playoff series, he performed extraordinarily well. He recorded six hits – one of which was a triple – scored four runs, drew four walks, and at the DH position notched a .429 batting average with a .579 on-base percentage.
Not bad for his last hurrah.
The Yankees and their fans will never forget Jorge Posada. He spent his entire career in pinstripes, somewhat of a rarity these days; not a lot of players in this day and age remain with one team their entire career.
Girardi, who has always been close to Posada, credits him for a lot of the strength the Yankees showcased throughout the years.
“He’s been a big part of the Yankees since really 1997, and (a big part of) the success that we’ve had here.”
Truer words were never spoken.
Friend and teammate Derek Jeter once said Posada would make a great baseball manager someday.
Who knows. Posada succeeded Girardi once in his life – as the Yankees’ everyday catcher. Maybe in the future he will succeed him as Yankee skipper.
I’m not going to try and argue right now about whether or not Posada is worthy of the Hall of Fame. It doesn’t matter to me; whether he makes the Hall of Fame or not, he’ll always be a real Yankee soldier in my eyes.
Yankee Yapping would like to thank Jorge Posada for all the memories and congratulate him on a wonderful career. I don’t know if the team will be the same without him, but nonetheless, we love him.
THANK YOU, JORGE.
Famed martial artist and actor Bruce Lee once said, “Always be yourself, express yourself, and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”
One could say any professional athlete is successful at what they do. If they were not, they wouldn’t be where they are. Whether it is starting shortstop for the New York Yankees or starting quarterback for the New York Giants, pro athletes are where they are because of their capabilities.
But what about their personalities? Should they be allowed to express themselves on the field after they accomplish something or reach an achievement?
A lot of critics these days are saying no.
When Joba Chamberlain was first called up in the summer of 2007, he was a flame-throwing middle reliever who tossed fastballs clocked in the high-90s and he sometimes struck triple digits on the speed gun. Usually after he fanned a batter to end an inning Chamberlain would wildly pump his fists in pride as he gleefully marched off the mound.
Fist pumping is defined as, “A celebratory gesture in which a fist is raised before the torso and subsequently drawn down and nearer to the body in a vigorous, swift motion.
The fist pump is sometimes carried out in parts of the Western Hemisphere, Europe, and Japan (where it is known as guts pose) to denote enthusiasm, exuberance, or success and may be accompanied by a similarly energetic exclamation or vociferation. The gesture may be executed once or in a rapid series.”
Knowing that, a big strikeout can call for a little fist pumping. So why exactly did critics jump all over Chamberlain and call him on his jubilation, turning his joy into a topic of debate?
Some analysts and sports pundits suggest that getting overly excited and expressing it is a way of “showing up the other team” or in other words rubbing it in their faces after they have failed to some capacity.
I don’t happen to see it that way. I see it as a player simply being honest and outwardly showing how they truly feel after they have done something noteworthy.
And it can work both ways. When a player is on the other end of it – losing – should they be allowed to express it?
I think so.
Think back for a moment to Oct. 16, 2003: Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, otherwise known as the famous “Aaron Boone game.”
When Boone crushed that home run in the 11th inning sending the Yankees to the World Series – and broke the hearts of every fan in New England – the Red Sox were, for the lack of a better term, crushed. I specifically remember the reaction of one Boston player, namely outfielder Trot Nixon.
On his way to the clubhouse, Nixon took his frustration out on a Gatorade cooler, picking it up and then slamming it to the dugout floor in what looked like unadulterated anger.
Nixon and every other Red Sox player were well within their rights to be frustrated in terms of the outcome of that game and the series overall – and they had the right to express that frustration after it was all over.
These days expression in sports has gone to a new level. Looking outside the world of baseball for a minute, ESPN and every other form of sports media seem to be on the case of a young quarterback by the name of Tim Tebow.
After the Denver Broncos’ stud scores a touchdown, or when his team wins, he takes a knee, bows his head and offers a prayer of thanksgiving to God. In fact, the pose has taken on a life of its own and people have turned it into a verb: “Tebowing.”
Everyone and their mother has put Tebow under the microscope and criticized him for this particular pose after a TD or a win. Tebow let it be known when he played football at the University of Florida that he lives his life a certain way (I.E. he has chosen to remain chaste until he gets married) and strongly holds onto what he believes in.
Is it wrong of him to show it when he does something good?
In my view, no. I think it is perfectly fine.
If Tebow feels taking a knee and praying is how he wants to express his happiness when his team wins, I see nothing wrong with it. In fact, I view it as a more civil way to show a good feeling when something positive happens.
A lot of people have made claims that, because it’s a sort of religious action, it’s wrong and should not be permitted. But it’s not as if Tebow is constantly projecting his beliefs onto other people; he isn’t standing on the sideline with a microphone in hand and trying to get every fan who attended the game to convert to Christianity.
If that were the case I’d be opposed to it – and probably feel Tebow is out of his mind.
What I find strange about the criticism of Tebow expressing his faith is that other athletes also express their faith – yet nothing is said about it, or even mentioned.
Before Derek Jeter steps into the batter’s box, he makes the sign of the cross. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, a one-time Yankee and journeyman catcher always makes the sign of the cross; as a matter of fact, he crosses himself before every pitch during his at-bats.
Where is the barrage of criticism and religious outrage directed at Jeter and Pudge?
Nowhere to be found. It just doesn’t sound very fair to me.
All Tebow is doing is expressing his true personality and incorporating it into what he loves to do – just as I incorporate my personality sometimes when I write these blog entries, with funny inside jokes and obscure references.
As good as it for an athlete to show off their personality, it can get out of hand. It doesn’t happen so much in baseball, but in football and other sports it can certainly be brought to a whole new level. The NFL has banned touchdown celebrations, and if a player crosses the plane, scores, and expresses it, that player’s team will be penalized.
In my view, that’s fair. It’s fine for a player to be happy, and to express that positive energy when they score a touchdown; maybe leap up and bump their teammates’ chests. But spiking the ball and dancing around just makes the player look like a fool, and the NFL did the right thing by outlawing such unprofessionalism.
Perhaps in football things are a little different because there is more contact and physicality; maybe more “heat of the moment” moments. But that’s not to say it hasn’t happened in baseball.
In 2007 former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon began to exhibit a different side of himself when he Irish step danced at the conclusion of the American League Championship Series. After Boston defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games, Papelbon danced around the Fenway Park infield like a loon celebrating the win.
There was no need for that. It’s fine to be happy and celebrate a pennant, but do it in the clubhouse with your teammates. There is no reason to run back out onto the field and commence dancing like a ballerina.
The bottom line is, it’s fine to express yourself as an athlete. Be creative and be yourself; incorporate your personality into your playing style and do it in a respectful, professional manner.
If you’re excited, pump your fists.
If you’re mad, body slam a cooler or two.
If you have a certain belief system, feel free to show it, without projecting it onto to others.
If you want to dance though, become a Rockette not an athlete.
It’s OK to wear your heart on your sleeve.
“What a mix we have goin’ on for the last two innings.
Sitting alone upstairs, owner Gary Wheeler…reportedly has already sold his ball club, the Tigers, to the corporate group in the box to his left.
Now an unconfirmed report beginning to ripple the water…that the corporate’s first business…would be to trade Billy Chapel when the season is over.
So as so often happens in a ball game, there are so many other undercurrents; so many more things that meet the eye.” – Vin Scully in “For Love of the Game” (1999)
The biggest move the Yankees made last off-season was the signing of Rafael Soriano – and some might argue that it wasn’t even a big signing at all. Aside from that and maybe the minor acquisition of Russell Martin, the Yankees who are normally alive during the winter meetings were basically dormant.
The same can be said about this off-season, thus far.
Baseball’s winter meetings kicked off this past Monday in Dallas and there has not been much to report on as far as the Bronx Bombers are concerned. The Yankee brass has not yet signed or agreed to terms with any of the top free agents.
It doesn’t mean they haven’t tried however, winning the bidding to first negotiate with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. The 29-year-old middle infielder possesses a lifetime batting average .302 with 149 career home runs, 664 RBIs, and has stolen 134 bases in his career in the Far East.
How that will translate in the United States remains to be seen – as does whether or not the Yankees will sign him. Sources at the meetings said the Yankees may not even land him, despite winning the right to talk with him before any other team.
I mean really, what’s the point of signing him anyway? Unless they believe Nakajima is Derek Jeter’s heir, then why negotiate with him and attempt to sign him in the first place, especially when starting pitching is more vital to the Yankees than another infielder.
If they do sign him, it could mean the end of Eduardo Nunez’s Yankee tenure, one way or another. They could potentially package Nunez in a trade for a starter, then utilize Nakajima as a backup infielder.
Speaking of starting pitching, Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson are both off the market, as they have signed lucrative deals with the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. Buehrle followed his former manager Ozzie Guillen to South Beach for a contract worth four years and $58 million.
Meanwhile Wilson left the Texas Rangers for the Angels, a division rival. I suppose five years and $77.5 million will make him a richer and happier man – along with having Albert Pujols as a new teammate.
Pujols is coming off statistically his worst season: 147 games played, 37 home runs, 99 RBIs, and a .299 batting average. He is probably the only player in baseball who could call that his worst season, because any average player would kill for that kind of “off year.”
Yet he recovered with a remarkable postseason; five homers, 16 RBIs, .356 BA, and his second World Series ring. And after all that, “Phat Albert” took his talents to the west coast.
It surprised me, considering Pujols is basically the face of the Cardinals’ organization. He will probably be considered a legend in St. Louis for years to come, despite his abrupt and rather unceremonious departure. He now has the opportunity to make himself a legendary name in Anaheim.
Remember: Reggie Jackson’s number is retired in both New York and Oakland.
But I digress; back to the subject at hand: the Yankees and starting pitching. They may have lost out on Buehrle and Wilson but the Bombers may have one last chance to make a splash and sign a big ticket free agent starter:
The 25-year-old phenom holds a professional record of 93-38 with an ERA of 1.99, and has collected several accolades in Japan including the Pacific League MVP twice (’07, ’09).
Last year I interviewed Brian Sweeney, a former Seattle Mariners reliever who played with Darvish in Japan on the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. Sweeney called Darvish “a classy individual” and “an excellent player.”
Any team could always use a classy and excellent player. He’ll most likely fit in wherever he lands.
ESPN insider Buster Olney reported earlier today that the Yankees feel “lukewarm” about bidding on Darvish. Rightfully so, considering the Yankees have had bad luck with highly-regarded Japanese starting pitchers in the past.
Hideki Irabu was thought to be a one of the best hurlers in the Far East, having led the Pacific League in wins (15) in 1994 and ERA in 1995 (2.53) and 1996 (2.40). He also led the PL in strikeouts in 1995 and 1996 (239 in ‘95 and 167 in ‘96).
Those league-leading numbers didn’t help him when he went 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA in the U.S. – and those nice stats were far from everyone’s mind when then-Yankee owner George Steinbrenner called Irabu a “Fat, p***y toad.”
Kei Igawa was another pitcher the Yanks had on their radar and eventually signed for five years and $20 million. They had such high aspirations for him, taking his numbers in Japan into account: 86-60, a 3.14 ERA, and 1,174 Ks.
His overall numbers at the MLB level in the U.S., dating back to when the Yanks signed him prior to 2007: 2-4, 6.66 ERA and just 53 strikeouts.
Igawa obviously did not turn out to be what the Yankees had hoped for. In the eyes of most Yankee fans, the team spent $20 million for two wins and a minor league starter.
That being said, anyone can understand the Yanks’ reluctance to go after another Japanese starter in Darvish. If the Bombers do go after him and he happens to land in the Bronx he will be expected to accomplish a lot. Maybe not 20 wins in his first season, but a convincing winning record and a low ERA are not out of the question.
And that can be said of whatever team he goes to, not just if he goes to the Yanks.
We probably won’t know for a long time where Darvish will go – and we’ll have to wait even longer to find out if he lives up to the hype.
I don’t usually agree with people associated with the Red Sox – very rarely does that ever happen. But Boston manager-turned-baseball analyst Terry Francona said probably the smartest thing an analyst can say about the winners and losers of the winter meetings:
“Winning the winter meetings doesn’t mean winning the pennant.”
Francona should know that better than anyone. Looking at last year, the Red Sox won big at the winter meetings and didn’t even make the postseason, suffering a gigantic September collapse.
The Red Sox spent a fortune and signed big ticket free agent after big ticket free agent, only to choke worse than Mama Cass did on that…ham sandwich.
Bottom line: on paper does not win ballgames. I hope the Angels and Marlins both understand that.
As for the Yankees: they have a chance to make a splash – and even a chance to make a blockbuster trade – before they head to Spring Training.
But at least for now, like last year, all is quiet on the Yankee front.