Saturday, November 15, 2003

The Year in Baseball: 2003 As Seen by the Faloon Family by Mike Faloon

Me: What do you think of this article?

My wife, Allie: I like it, but I wonder if other people will get it.

Me: Good point. I hope they do. Here's a sentimental, if somewhat indulgent, look back at the 2003 baseball season through the observations, emails, and conversations of the Faloon clan, a poor man’s This America Life, if you will.


Part 1

While on vacation in July, I got wind of the annual Cape Cod League All Star game. The Cape League is comprised of college players from around the country. I made a compromise with my wife, trading an afternoon of shopping for attending the Cape’s All-Star game. My brother Pat joined us, and I was indulged in a full nine innings.

I try to soak up as much of the atmosphere as possible. My first impression is that this tiny amateur league has developed the “hey, we’re you’re buddies” aura that MLB wants to project. And then some.

The game is held at a local high school field. As we pull into the parking lot, we’re greeted by a sea of hand painted parking signs. Admission is a mere three dollars, and even that is but a “suggested donation.” Making our way to the third base bleachers, I notice smoke from the nearby snack shack. Apparently, the food is cooked on site. What a quaint notion.

The home run contest gets underway while I scan the program, reading over the list of former Cape League players now in the big leagues (there are dozens, including Nomar, Jeff Bagwell, and Barry Zito). Glancing up at the dinger derby, I’m struck by the sight of a patch of Astroturf covering home plate, giving off the putt-putt golf atmosphere that home run derbies so richly deserve.

When the game gets underway, the setting seems too old fashioned to be true. It’s the sort of place that would have Kevin Costner reaching for one of his cell phones and begging someone, anyone, to get “Blitzkrieg Bop” blasting out of the stadium’s p.a. system ASAP. A hush falls over the stadium with each pitch as everyone tunes into the game. There are nearly 6,000 people in attendance, yet it’s so quiet that not only can you hear the ball smack into the catcher’s mitt, but you can also hear the sizzle of the grass as a foul ball burns down the third base line. And each ball fouled out of play sends a pack of kids off in pursuit, even though they know all balls have to be returned. A row in front of us, two grandparents try to coax their grandson into becoming a catcher. (Grandmother: physically it’s the toughest position.” Grandfather: “Mentally too.”) Scanning the crowd I conduct an unofficial poll with the following results: 50% of the fans have white hair and 67% of the fans have Thoreau on their bookshelves.

By the third inning, however, reality has returned. Aerosmith plays between batters, people are talking more during the action, and the grandfather is more Grumpy Old Men than Fields of Dreams (“If I was the dictator of baseball, there’d be no long points. They look like pajamas!”) At this point, I consider reconducting my poll.

Still, most of the evening is a time dash. The stat sheet is littered with Ruthian ERA’s, the highest being Garrett Mock’s 2.42. The West goes up 1-0 in the bottom of the first. The East waits until the top of the ninth before responding, taking a 3-1 lead. No one scores for seven inning and aside from Joey Metropoulos’ RBI double in the first, there are no extra base hits.

While warming up, Mock waves over a pair of 10-year-old boys. Their faces light up with “who, me?” then Mock hands each of them a ball. A grand gesture by any measure, all the cooler when you realize Mock probably has to pay for the balls.

But none of that compares to my favorite part of the game, perhaps of the entire season, which happens shortly after the last out is recorded. The stadium announcer comes over the p.a. with the following: “Plays and coaches, there’s burgers, chip and soda at the concession stand for you.”

Part 2

In early August a large part of my family finally gathered for a long-discussed trip to Fenway. The Red Sox beat the Orioles 6-4 that night and the trek renewed our collective desire to see the Sox stick it to the Yankees.

Through the rest of the summer and into the fall, we kept in close contact as Boston alternately surged and wheezed their way into and through the playoffs, but there were no phone calls following Aaron Boone’s devastating game 7 home run in the ALCS; nothing needed to be said on the subject. That is until my uncle Steve broke the silence with the following email, sent out to the family in the midst of the World Series. (Note: Steve and his family reside in Lowell, Maine. The other character with whom you should be familiar is my 14-year-old cousin Dustin.)

“For as long as I can remember, a fellow named Ned Martin announced Red Sox games on radio. He retired a few years back, and actually passed away suddenly this summer, but he was a great announcer. With an obvious love of language, history, and literature, he would weave these obscure (at least to me) and often funny quotes into his on-air patter which always seemed just perfect for the moment, never pretentious or phony, just a sincere and perfect description of the moment. In signing off the last broadcast of his 30 plus year Sox career, following another season-long 7 month roller coaster ride of triumph and post-season tragedy, he chose this slightly less obscure quote from former baseball commissioner Bart Giammati to say good-bye and describe his feelings for the game. In its entirety it’s really quite wonderful, in part it goes:

‘It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the Spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chilly rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the cold of fall alone.’

“Current announcer Joe Castiglione followed Martin as ‘voice of the Sox,’ and last night continued the tradition (with credit and tribute to Martin) of signing off the last broadcast of the year with Giammati’s quote. Castiglione is a sincere, corny in a good way, non-show biz type whose home run calls, as much as anything, are the soundtrack of summer around here. He’s called a Sox game pretty much every day since spring training started in February, and he lives and dies with this team in a most endearing way. To sit beside the radio in the wee hours of the night, following last night’s game, and finally hear him say goodbye with Giammati’s words, well, it really was the sound of a broken heart. It really was quite a memorable moment.

“Shortly after our trip to Boston, Dustin decided that he’d rather watch or listen to anything instead of those awful, boring, awful, Red Sox games. Because they always suck and lose in the end anyway. The other night he wanted to use the TV to watch a movie rental (which we had for several more days) instead of a playoff game, and got all hot and profane (I’ve actually come to enjoy short sharp bursts of teenage profanity in the home) when I told him I really didn’t have a choice, I had to watch the game. In case you’ve forgotten (which I had) the 14 year-old mind operates in a fairly concrete way. In his mind it was totally ridiculous, I’m sorry, TOTALLY RIDICULOUS!!! That I really had no choice in the matter. I told him that some time between 1967 and 1986 something had happened. Whether it was countless late-night hours sitting with Dad on the porch at camp listening to Ned Martin, or countless crushing defeats at the hands of handsome, talented, but nonetheless evil New Yorkers I couldn’t say, but something had happened. This had become my team. A bond had been created that no man nor judge could break, and that I was certainly powerless to change. I told him that is he showed me a kid at school who claimed to be a Yankees, Lakers or Cowboys fan I’d show him a total phony who didn’t know the first thing about what it’s like to actually care about something other than their pitiful selves (I’ve found this to be an effective method of communicating with today’s young people). I told him this was about DNA, about the stuff that runs in your veins. That this wasn’t choosing the flavor of the week, instead this was about being chosen. And no matter how crushing the end of a season is, you can’t wait to do it all over again next year.

Before last night’s game, Dustin came to me and asked if we could watch the game together. I wept openly and embraced him. O.K., I didn’t weep and embrace, but I do consider that my work here as a parent is largely done. Literally as I was writing this part of the email (truth) Dustin came through the door, home from school saying “I want to knock this kid flat on his ass for talking Yankees all day. I told him his mother and I would support his decision to kick a child’s ass at school even if it took place over a portion of the day, much less the entire day. And why? Because that person is a phony. And deep down even phonies want to be good people, and we can’t help them in their goal to become better people unless we kick their ass and then tell them why we kicked their ass (I think I’m finally getting the hang of this parent stuff). In short, I think there may be hope for our potty mouthed young man.

“From Dustin, to our extended family, to the Red Sox, and ultimately to a theory. 2003 represented the first time this team had won 6 or more post-season games since 1986. 2003 also represented the first year this family sent an entourage of support to Fenway Park to cheer or at least observe their efforts. Coincidence? I don’t think so. I think the data clearly demonstrates a direct connection between the success of the Red Sox franchise and this family’s willingness to share their “essence” (if you will). In fact I will go one step further and extrapolate from the data that had all members of the family attended that August game, a World Series title would have been attained. I’m calling all members, and you know who you are, to join us in Boston next summer. Not just for a game, but a Yankees game. By showing Steinbrenner, and in fact the world, what we think of his little band of evildoers, I believe we can effectively change the legacy of this rivalry. We can no longer dip our toes in the waters of indifference (yes I actually made that one up.) It’s time to gather in Boston as one, and do what we must. If we’re to see the Yankees we’ll need to be on the phone the first hours that tickets go on sale. A simple yea or nay will signal your intent. We have only begun to fight, and I believe we the Yankees exactly where we want them.

Part 3

Over the past two years my brother, Casey, has finally caught the baseball bug. I have been trying to indoctrinate him since the late 70s, but only recently have such efforts taken hold. As two guys who hate the Yankees and love underdogs, we were ecstatic over the prospect of a Cubs/Red Sox World Series. When both of those teams collapsed we considered surrender. We finally caught up by phone while watching game 6 of the World Series, Casey in Syracuse, me in Brewster.

Mike: Were you watching the game while you were out earlier?

Casey: Oh yeah, I was getting shit for it too. I was the only person in the place clapping [for the Marlins]. I got a lot of bad looks because I said out loud, “Bobble head Jeter? No, bobble hands Jeter.

Meanwhile, the FOX TV broadcast of the game shows Josh Beckett striding to the mound to start the ninth.

Mike: Holy cow.

Casey: What?

Mike: Josh Beckett is going to go for the complete game.

Casey: You got that before me.

We realize that our televisions are slightly out of synch, mine being about two seconds ahead of Casey’s.

Mike: It must be that delay again. Oh man, someone’s just shot Jeter!

Casey: What? Jerk.

Bernie Williams comes to the plate.

Casey: This guy’s dangerous. Every time he’s been retired I’m like, go sing me a song, Bernie.

Williams flies to left.

Casey: Did you see Pettite yelling into his glove earlier? He put his glove over his face and you could see him swearing. He’s just screaming. And obviously he might have been saying, “Cheese and rice, golly willagers, hootenanny,” or something like that.

Matsui flies to left.

Mike: Two outs.

Casey: One away, oh my God. How’s that burn in your Cheerios, Steinbrenner?

Mike: Who’s going to make the last out?

FOX cuts to Jorge Posada in the on deck circle.

Casey and Mike: Ooohhh!

Mike: Posada’s going to make the last out. The chinless wonder. He looks like the weasel from the Emmet Otter special.

Casey: [sings “Brothers” from the Emmet Otter Christmas special] Brothers…

Mike: [laughing] Stop, I’m hyperventilating here.

Casey: Brothers….

Mike: Twenty-six outs. The only, the only good thing about the Yankees in the World Series is the possibility of watching them lose.

Posada grounds out to Beckett.

Mike: There it is, how sweet is that?

Casey: Holy crap. Look at them [the Marlins]!

FOX cuts to the Yankee bench.

Mike: Zimmer, maybe you should have run out and tackled Beckett.

Casey: Holy shit. For a club whose farm team had a better attendance last year…I can’t believe Beckett did it. Three days rest and he pitched a complete game.

Mike: A shutout. In Yankee Stadium.

Casey: I would love to be in a fenced-in cage outside of Yankee Stadium right now, telling all the Yankee fans to stick it.

Mike: Like a shark cage?

Casey: Yeah, exactly. But those Yankee fans, they know a guy. Next thing I know I’d be on the back of a tow truck slung around the boroughs of New York City.

FOX shows a replay of Juan Pierre charging in from centerfield.

Casey: Look at that, that is the best look on anyone’s face ever. I could watch that forever.

Mike: Right, and none of the Yankees would react with that amount of joy. For the Marlins, it’s a group of guys winning it for the first time, not a bunch of smug bastards racking it up for the seventeenth time. Sure, the Yankees would be happy, but it’d be more of a sense of entitlement they have.

FOX cuts to a weeping Jorge Posada.

Casey: Poor Jorge.

Mike: And right now the Yankees know they’re going to be in the playoffs next year. There’s no drama.

Casey: I wish I had a DVD-R so I could record this. I’d print it out and put it all over the office.

Cut to the Marlins locker room. Bud Selig readies himself to present the World Series trophy to Marlins owner Jeffery Loria.

Mike: It’s about now that it sinks in: we’re rooting for a Florida team. It’s good, but it could be better.

Casey: Did you see Loria’s shirt the other night? He looked like an Easter basket.

A reporter serves the inevitable “you have to hand it to the Yankees” set up to Jack McKeon.

Mike: What he really wants to say is, “The Yankees and everybody else can kiss my 72-year-old ass.”

Then, after lapsing into a barrage of crass (but obvious) anti-Yankee exchanges, things end on a pensive note.

Casey: You know what kind of depressed me Mike—and I’m sure you’ll be really happy to hear this—I pull into the driveway, and I’m listening to the radio, and I go, “There’s only six more outs of baseball left in the year. Period.”

Mike: Wow, you’re going to miss the season. We can commiserate during the off-season drought.

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