Attempt at writing exhaustively on a single subject

I grew up four train stops over from Yankee Stadium, which equals to about 20 blocks, which equals to a very short walk if you are an excited six-year old. My dad would randomly announce if I wanted to go to a game and the answer would always be “Yeah!”

*

The first game I remember was stopped midway through because of a rainstorm and that should be a signal to go home or find shelter in the interior hallways of the Stadium. We did neither. We had two bleacher tickets in hand and that means survival of the fittest out in the back part of the stadium. You got to get there early, grab the best seat you can, and watch it like a guard dog for the whole rest of the game if you don’t want somebody trying to lay claim on your seat.

So as the rain keeps coming down, but still no official word if the game is called of or not, we find shelter under the DiamondVision black and yellow light-bulb screen where the rest of the Stadium gets to see scores, lo-res graphics and assorted trivia. The ledge underneath the screen is partially blocked by a fence, so I know we aren’t supposed to be there but that doesn’t stop anyone from getting in there anyways. There isn’t much room on the ledge and I have to climb a bit to get up. Pretty sure my Dad pushed me up there along a bunch of strangers also refusing to give up the ghost (and the search for better seats) who dragged me up and kept my shivering ass company for the harrowing few seconds it took my Dad to get himself up there. He finally did and then tried to keep dry, make sure I didn’t get knocked off the narrow ledge and help other folks find protection from the still pouring rain.

*

There is an art to heckling at a baseball game. If you do it wrong- you may get booed by those around you. If you do it really wrong- you will get escorted out by security.

*

I’m home watching TV alone in the living room. Everyone else has decided to go hang out by the front stoop of the apartment building– the home to bonchiche, card games, dominoes and other assorted urban dusk festivities. For me, I’m going to nerd out on a good library book, munch out on a mayo sandwich and watch the Yankee game. The only twist in the game plan is the memorial for the late Thurman Munson. Munson was the backbone of the Yanks on the field; he was the catcher, the position that takes the most physical toll on a ball player, the position where your almost always on TV but you wear a mask the whole time, the position where you have to know the habits of every pitcher on your team and every hitter on all the other teams, where you can talk mad shit to the batter and have to be able to back it up should the batter decide he ain’t having it.
Munson backed everything he ever did; from taking the hard bump defending home, to hitting hard and running fast to get on base, to calling Reggie Jackson on his primadonaness. For this he was made Captain of the Yankees, the leader of the most storied franchise in sports but that didn’t mean jack when his plane hit the ground. The Captain was dead and everyone paid their proper respect.

For some folks, its JFK or Malcolm or Pearl Harbor or 9/11 or Martin or Elvis but for me the death of Thurman Munson was when I first bowed my head with a collective mass. It would be years later before I really felt death up close but this would be the closest it would come.

*

Some might say that the guy who used to walk around the Stadium banging a pot with a spoon was the great Yankee rally fan but anyone who knows anything knows it was that Spanish guy in the bleachers with the cowbell.

*

Mr. October. Reg-Gie, Reg-Gie, Reg-Gie. Everywhere you looked in New York, it was all about Reggie, the power in his arms, the way his uniform buttons where bursting when he would take that step, then send the ball screaming into the bleachers and right into the waiting public’s arms. If you couldn’t get your fill of #44 on TV, you were sure to find him gracing the front AND backcovers of the tabloids, and if that wasn’t enough, you could find him on the corner store shelf in his trademark swing pose gracing the wrapper of the new Reggie bar. Damn if I remember what was in it- chocolate (probably), peanuts (maybe), caramel (could be), all I knew was that I wanted to be Reggie especially when I found it wasn’t just Reggie Jackson, it was Reginald Martinez Jackson. Palabra.

*

The only thing better than being at a game, is hearing the game on the radio. When the Yanks beat the Texas Rangers to advance to the next round of the playoffs in 96, my best friend and I are so jubilant over the announcer’s call that we hug. No big deal except I was driving down the West Side Highway at the time.

*

Any desire I had to ever play baseball went right out the window the day I got beaned with a ball dead in the nose during a game of local street ball. Folks tried to figure a way to get me over my new found phobia of round hurled objects by assuring me I was ok and even trying to fashion some kind of catcher’s mask with a milk crate but it wasn’t happening. They didn’t know that I wasn’t worried about me as much as I was worried about the guy I saw a week before in the Yankee bleachers. He was trying to catch a homerun ball with his mitt and instead caught it with his cheekbone. The bleachers let out a collective groan and it was back to business as usual as the runner finally crossed home and it was time to give him his just due. Me, I still can see that poor dude getting carried away with a bloody t-shirt over his face still looking in his hands for a phantom ball.

*

Ken Griffey Jr of the Seattle Mariners steps up to the plate in the middle of a Sunday afternoon game. The whole time he is at the plate the sun is blocked by grey clouds.

*

I always wondered if the guys who owned the row of stores on River Avenue ever had other jobs or if they just collected enough during the long baseball season to make it through the whole year. Does the guy from Stan’s make enough selling prize authentic jerseys to have a fly vacation in November? How about the dude who makes a mean gyro with cucumber dressing? Or the ever-present scalpers? Does anybody visit that bowling alley with the Yankee graf in the front? Are all those dudes zillionares or what? Cuz whatever happens in the offseason aside, they always have a crowd when a home game is happening. Tell ya one thing, nobody gave a damn about them when the strike hit. Forget that the Yanks were finally emerging from the doldrums of the late 80s and finally had a squad worth talking about or that Paul O’Neil was on his way to batting title, the real tragedy of the strike was the loss of income to the local business.

*

Third base is known as the hot corner and no one dominated it like Craig Nettles. You could always count on seeing him stretch out, in an almost horizontal pose, on the regular basis.

*

Things went bad after the Yanks lost the series to the LA Dodgers. Names that I knew and loved started leaving the sports section, one by one, This is before ESPN and the net so once a player left New York, you had to wait to catch him come back as part of a visiting (opposing) team. You would think that this would lead to larger boos and bigger heartbreak but it didn’t. It sure did lead to a lot of hate towards George Steinbrenner, the man who was sure any problem could be fixed through a pay stub or a pink slip. Steinbrenner is the reason why Reggie, Catfish Hunter and Goose Gossage were around. I’m also pretty sure he was able to unite the Niekro brother: Gaylord and Phil. (Gotta love sports names.) He was also able to make all those guys go away as soon as he felt his investment was over.

The most famous of the hiring/firings is Billy Martin, beloved by all true Yank fans, hated by every umpire and a real darling of the sports talk show circuit. Martin was famous for getting in Reggie Jackson’s face one game then hugging him the next and that passion passed over into every way he dealt with the game. Even crying when faced with another early exit.

*

Bernie Williams will always be one of my favorite Yankees of all time mostly cuz he was able to give my little brother a batting and fielding lesson one afternoon. If I think of my brother’s childhood smile, I have to think of Bernie being right there with him as I take the picture.

*

The Kansas City Royals were probably the anti-Yankees of the 70s. A hard nose team from a small market that didn’t need superstars to make a run for the pennant but it didn’t hurt that they had one in George Brett. A player in the Munson-mold, he just went out and did his job on the field and hit homeruns like no one’s business. Just like he did one afternoon (back in the day, there used to be a lot of afternoon games) up in the Bronx. Then the pine tar incident happened– Billy came out of the dugout not to yell at an ump but to alert him to an obscure rule in the books, a brief conference follows, the ump looks at the Royal bench and throws the “You’re out” thumb signal to Brett.

If you ever wanted to know what a crazed brute looks like right before he’s going to bite your head off and spit down your spinal cord, just YouTube a replay of the Pine Tar Incident.

Some time later, the controversy would settle down and the final innings of the game were replayed before an actual KC-NYC game. The Yanks ended up losing.

*

The war on TV.
Howard Cosell tells America: “The Bronx is burning.”
*

Nobody was a Yankee fan during the October of 1986. The New York Mets had acquired Gary Carter, a catcher like Munson, in the beginning of the year and combined with hotshot outfielder Darryl Strawberry, sensation pitcher Doc Gooden, heartthrob Ron Darling, and hard-as-nails players like Ray Knight, Lenny Dykstra and Keith Hernandez (who would smoke cigarettes between innings), the Mets became an unstoppable force.

The only reason this is worth mentioning is because they were also able to hand the Boston Red Sox one of the most humiliating defeats in sports history.

Addition to greatest sports names: Mookie Wilson.

*

Steinbrenner has been threatening to move the Yankees for years but none of the fans ever took him seriously. C’mon now, the Jersey Yankees? The Paramus Bombers? Pleeze.

*

I live my whole life in the Bronx knowing that it wasn’t New York City. It was something more. It was where hip-hop came to be and where the Yankees called home. It was never anything to be ashamed of until I started working in Manhattan for an upscale catering shop. A customer is asking me questions about gorgonzola cheese and North Atlantic Grav Lox in the same Yankee cap and jersey I wore to work. He mentions something about Deion Sanders playing football and outfielding for the Yanks and about Dominican pitcher Pasqual Perez’s flashy jewelry, (Yeah, it was the bling era for the Bombers.) I reply with some anecdotes and he then asks me where he could get something to eat around the Stadium. While the Bronx is not a place to be ashamed of, I also know it’s not a place for an Upper East Side Yuppie to be wandering around either. I direct him to a pizzeria a half a block away from the Stadium. He looks at me like if I just told him to go to Beirut.

*

The last time I was in the bleachers, Mike Mussina was pitching. I explained to my friend that his nickname is Moose. He’s never been to a game but wanted to come down for the tourist experience before he leaves NYC so I show him what I mean as Mussina throws a strike I let out a cry of MOOOOOOOOSE. The Stadium answers back.

*

Gene “Stick” Michaels also had fine sports name but a lousy record as Yankees manager. On his watch, the Yanks suffered a last place finish for the first time in their history. Things got so bad that they lost a game 2-0 even though their pitcher secured his place in history by throwing a no-hitter.

Between this and the residual glow of the Mets 86 series victory, which was fading day by day and the team was suffering from an internal collapse that made the 70s Bronx Zoo seem tame, the Yanks were becoming a blight in the Bronx. The upside was that tickets were cheap and good seats became easy to find. Win some, lose some but I was enjoying games more and more so the Yanks were still tops in my book.

*

Oscar Gamble had the best ‘fro in baseball. Maybe even all of sports.

*

The last time my Dad took me on an impromptu game was the time he bought the most God ugly couches in the history of man. My mother had shown particular disdain for the burgundy and ochre floral pattern and had sworn this monstrosity would never enter her home. I know, I heard her say it along with a lot of Spanish curse words.

Imagine my ten-year old surprise when the movers are stationing said couch in our living room. My Dad invites me to sit alongside him and I refuse in fear that might make me complicit. Even as I am shaking my head, my Mom walks into the house and I could see her face turn the same deep purple as the sofa. To her credit, she didn’t yell or curse but the look in her eye told me that her 4’10” self was going to find a weapon to help speak for her. When it was time to punish me for something I did wrong, an electric extension cord or a big hairbrush would do the trick but I had a feeling that for my Dad she would get something much bigger. Dad also sensed this as he quickly asks me if I want to go to a Yankee game. “Yeah,” I say.

“Then let’s move it,” he says as we run out the apartment, I did get a chance to look back over my shoulder to see my mom armed with a dust broom and yelling out Spanish curse words in the air.

*

My best friend sends me a text message ten days ago: “The Scooter is dead.”
We’re going to have a lot to talk about tonight.

*

My family eventually moved but we were still close to the Stadium. So close you could actually see the Stadium from my bedroom window. Some nights I would wait until they turned off the lights. I can still see myself waiting there.

*

When talk of a new stadium in the Bronx started then you knew it was serious.

Last time I was in the Bronx, I saw the start of the new construction, right over the fields that use to house local soccer games. I know that a lot more stuff happened in that field but it will always be about organized games of soccer between local South and Central American immigrants. Up until last year, you could also have added African immigrants to that mix but not no more.

Parkland may be the most lucrative real estate in a place like New York and the Bronx is no exception. Soon kids are going to be without a local sports haunt which will lead them either to drugs & crime or to the Net & Wii but the bottom line is that the next great Yankee player will probably not be coming from the Bronx.

*

Don Mattingly doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. His numbers just aren’t good enough and he happens to have the bad luck to come in and out of Yankee history during the time of their playoff drought.

For some players, that could be really heartbreaking but Mattingly will go down in history as a true Yankee and that is more than Alex Rodriguez will ever have.

*

Roger Clemens is also a pretender.

*

There used to be a guy who would play a cowbell in the bleachers for the home games. He wouldn’t just play the cowbell, though. He would play it in Salsa guanganco ritmo. I know that white people around us would be mad confused as we would cheer on the Yanks by dancing on the two-step but hey, what else can ya do. They are the Bronx Bombers after all.

Author: Oscar Bermeo

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is the author of the chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below, and To the Break of Dawn. He lives and works in Oakland, CA.

3 thoughts on “Attempt at writing exhaustively on a single subject”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *