The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, April 06, 2007

 

Open Season (Part II)

(continued from here)

Prior to stepping out on Wednesday night, I touched base with Alex Belth, and we mutually derided anyone insane enough to sit through the cold weather of early-season contests. "I'm happy to tough it out in October..." declared Alex. Agreeing, I completed his thought: "But now? Fuck it."

I was quickly forced to contemplate eating my words when Jonah Keri offered me a bleacher ticket to Thursday night's Yankees-Devil Rays tilt. Not knowing that temperatures would graze the freezing point and that snow (!) would be swirling throughout the stadium in a sloppy, disheartening affair that saw the Yankees blow two leads and squander a valiant comeback in Andy Pettitte's abbreviated first appearance in pinstripes since 2003, I readily agreed. After all, attending a ballgame with a friend from out of town, particularly a witty and perceptive fellow writer like Jonah, is a rare treat. So what the hell, right?

Bundled up with a winter jacket (with broken zipper, alas) scarf, gloves, and counterfeit Yankees logo ski hat, I randomly wound up in the same 4-train car as Jonah at 59th Street, and we talked career moves, book proposals and Scoresheet drafts on our way up to the Stadium. Funny thing about that is that last year, on the way out to the Yogi Berra Museum for Baseball Prospectus' big panel appearance, our BP posse missed our New Jersey Transit stop because of a lengthy conversation centered around Jonah's various drafts, and I've been mock-badmouthing him ever since, my motto -- "nobody wants to hear about your fantasy team" -- amended to "nobody wants to hear about your fantasy draft." Be that as it may, Jonah is the one who invited me to fill his slot in this league (NL Neifi), which was organized by Salon's King Kaufman. More of my own words to eat.

The line to enter the bleachers more or less stretching back to the 149th Street/Grand Concourse subway stop, we missed the anthem, the lineups, the ovation for Pettitte and the entire top of the first, but arrived in time to see the Yanks put the first run on the board. Robinson Cano, batting leadoff in the absence of Johnny Damon, reached on an infield single off Jae Seo and then scored on a two-out double off the rightfield wall by Alex Rodriguez. The Rays tied the score in the second when Akinori Iwamura, Tampa Bay's Japanese-imported third baseman, worked a two-out walk off of a very labored Pettitte, advanced to second on an infield single by B.J. Upton (Cano bobble the ball, but it was ruled a hit), and scored on a single by Josh Paul. The Rays nearly got a second run when Upton took third on a wild pitch (the first of what felt like seventeen on the night but was officially tallied at four plus a passed ball), Carl Crawford walked, and then Upton was thrown out at home when another pitch bounced away from Posada, who threw to Pettitte at the plate in time.

The Rays took a 2-1 lead in the third when Ben Zobrist reached on a Derek Jeter error, advanced to second on Posada's passed ball (you getting the idea yet?), stole third, and scored on a single by Delmon Young. The Yanks delivered a body blow to Seo in the fourth. They'd been swinging at first pitches and getting burned into making meager contact thus far, but here they got a break. Hideki Matsui hit a sharp grounder that required first baseman Ty Wigginton to make a diving stop; Wiggy's throw trailed Seo and produced a collision that found Matsui safe. At least I think that's how it happened; sitting in the unfamiliar territory of the bleachers, where the action is so far away, I always feel half a second behind whatever is going on.

Posada followed with a sharp single to left, and Doug Mientkiewicz, of all people, dunked an RBI single into shallow center as Jonah and I made light of his offensive contributions (including my sushi bet with Steven Goldman). A Melky Cabrera groundout put two runners into scoring position; Cano picked Posada up on another dunked single to center, and then Stinky Minky crossed the plate when Derek Jeter beat out a potential 5-4-3 double-play grounder. Jeter was promptly caught stealing to end the threat.

Pettitte had recorded his first and only 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, but the Rays juggernaut stormed back in the fifth. Crawford beat out an infield hit to first, and took second on a bunt single by Zobrist, with a throwing error Minky tacking on a base for the speedy Crawford. That ended Pettitte's inefficient evening after just 83 pitches (I later learned that he was on a pitch count of 90 given the cold and his recent back spasms). Scott Proctor came on, and after the Yanks conceded a swipe of second base to Zobrist so as to hold Crawford at third, a Wigginton sacrifice fly brought the speedster home. He was followed in short order by Zobrist when Proctor uncorked a wild pitch, and after Young reached on a throwing error by Jeter, he was nabbed stealing second on a questionable call. Tied at four, with all of the runs charged to Mr. Pettitte's room.

Elijah Dukes, who homered in his first major-league at-bat on Opening Day, hit another one out to open the top of the sixth, this one a frozen rope -- and I do mean frozen -- that barely cleared the fence. Singles by Iwamura and Paul chased Proctor in favor of Mike Myers, who yielded a single to Crawford to give the Rays a 6-4 lead.

The falling temperature thinned out the bleacher crowd. Struggling to keep warm, Jonah and I compared notes on numbed extremities (literally; from Jonah's writeup for ESPN Page 2):
Second inning: Really, really cold
Fourth inning: Teeth chattering, knees knocking
Sixth inning: Lost all feeling in toes
With obstructing the views of fans behind us no longer an issue, we at least were able to stand up, thereby removing our frozen asses from the metal benches, but the departures also removed the bodies who buffered the worst of the wind. Though we threatened to leave after every half-inning thereafter, the potential for column fodder continued to grow; we shifted into martyrdom mode as stray snowflakes began fluttering.

Snow. At the Stadium. In April. On the out-of-town scoreboard, noting that the Tigers-Blue Jays game in Detroit had been called off earlier in the day due to cold weather, we questioned the fortitude of the defending AL champions. "Pussies," we agreed.

The Yanks tied the score in the seventh on a pair of one-out singles by Jeter and Bobby Abreu (the first of which chased Seo in favor of Ruddy Lugo), a two-out walk to Jason Giambi (who yielded to pinch-runner Miguel Cairo), and then a two-run single by Matsui. Frigid despite the excitement, I wondered aloud as to the propriety of setting a trash fire in the sparsely-populated bleachers. With the wind howling, it seemed like a bad idea.

Luis Vizcaino came on in the eighth and promptly stank up the joint. A double by Iwamura, a single by Upton, and then ANOTHER DAMN WILD PITCH put the Rays up 7-6. As Vizcaino escaped without furthering the damage, snow began swirling, blanketing the stadium in an eerie, surreal atmosphere. I snapped a few pictures with my cellphone's Crappicam(TM), but they don't do it justice:





Meahnwhile, the Yanks looked as though they were doing the voodoo that they do so well. Stinky walked but was erased on a bad bunt by Melky, but Cano followed with a single. Jeter grounded back to reliever Brian Stokes, who inexplicably threw -- wide -- to third, loading the bases with just one out and the heart of the order coming up. Lunchtime, right?

But no. Abreu grounded meekly into a fielder's choice that forced Cabrera at home, and then A-Rod popped out meekly to second. The remaining Bleacher Creatures, who'd cheered Rodriguez's RBI double in the first, turned into boo birds, predictably speculating about the third baseman's recent sexual congresses and future in pinstripes. The crowd thinned.
Eighth inning: Horizontal blowing snow!
Ninth inning: My friend Jay died from exposure. I ate him for warmth.
Reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated; it was the Yankee offense that perished in the cold. Former Yank Al Reyes, who missed nearly all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery but improbably nabbed the Rays' vacant closer role, set Josh Phelps, Matsui and Posada down in order in the ninth inning. Just the type of game the Bronx Bombers almost invariably steal from the Rays, but on this night, the blue plate special was a cold dish of revenge.

All in all, a brutal SufferFest of a night for baseball that only a masochist could endure. Even the rightfielders drectly in front of us, Abreu and Young, were visibly struggling, wth the latter keeping his right hand in his back pocket whenever possible (a source of much colorful discourse from the bleacher crowd). And I have to admit that with the exception of watching a ton of bad baseball and losing the circulation in my toes, I had a blast. Joe Sheehan, replying to my quick summary on BP's internal mailing list, summed up my evening in less than 20 words:
"Sitting in the Yankee Stadium bleachers watching the Devil Rays in the snow" is basically the gold standard for "baseball fan."
Kiss my ass, Murray Chass.

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