Saturday, April 17, 2004

I Call Him Skywalker by Kip Yates

It was close to midnight, October 22nd 2003, game four of the World Series, the New York Yankees up two games to one, the Florida Marlins clinging to a tenuous two run lead, top of the ninth, two runners on and Ruben Sierra one strike away from ending the Yankee threat. A Marlins win would even the series at two games a piece. Sierra lines a shot down the right field line; two run triple, tie ball game. I remember it so well because that was when my wife, Jamie, announced, “Kip, it’s time!” At that moment, that particular game ceased to exist, for me anyway. I could hardly care less about what happened now. So what! The Yankees would somehow pull this one out and win either game five or six and yet another World Series Championship. I wouldn’t know until much later that the Marlins somehow hung on for the next three innings and won the game on a 12th inning Alex Gonzalez home run. Tied Series! I didn’t know until later that afternoon. I had more pressing concerns. My son River was born a few hours earlier and because of some minor complications, was staying in the hospital special care ward. The next few days were a blur and the World Series was an after thought. I witnessed the last two gut-wrenching innings of game five and then slept off my very busy day. River was getting better by the hour but had to stay in special care for five days. By the time, I had the inclination to care, The Marlins had defeated the Yankees 4 games to 2 and I missed it. I missed Josh Beckett’s near immortal game and series clincher. The Yankees, as in 2001 and 2002 were defeated. Then I started to think: the Yanks are 0 for River, meaning that since my son was born, the Yankees had not won a game. My lord, how long into April 2004 would this streak go? Thus I dubbed him Skywalker. For at his birth began the crumbling of the Evil Empire.

You could argue with me if you want to, but facts are facts. The Yankees we have known for the past decade are falling apart. They are older and have traded away younger talent for uber-expensive flavors of the month. George Steinbrenner is up to his old tricks. Joe Torre is on the hot seat as the season begins more than he ever has been. Don Zimmer was practically driven away to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The team’s biggest free agent acquisitions are over 35 years of age. They lacked a legitimate third baseman thanks to Aaron Boone’s off season basketball misadventures and obtained shortstop Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers with the intention of switching him to third. He is a mighty expensive band-aid. Their former MVP first baseman has shaky health. To top it all off, 60% of their 2003 staring rotation is gone and best of all, 40% of last year’s rotation will now call Houston home. My Houston Astros signed Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. The formerly hated Roger Clemens now revered Roger Clemens! (See my article in issue #7 and check out Red’s [Ed: Zisk contributor Lisa Alcock] current article, a defamation of my very character, in this issue.) Does it get any better than one of the greatest pitchers of our generation and another of the most consistent pitchers of the past decade suiting up for my team? Well, River smiled at me the other day so maybe it does get better. The Houston Astros don’t make off season moves like this all of the time. I thought signing Jeff Kent last year was an aberration but this winter has been off the charts abnormal.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks. I am aware of what I wrote last year about Roger Clemens and maybe Jerry Seinfeld is right when he says that we don’t cheer for players, but rather we cheer for laundry. Roger Clemens is wearing the right laundry and that is all that has to be said. He is Anakin Skywalker. He fought for the good guys (Texas Longhorns and Boston Red Sox) and was swayed over to the dark side (the Yankees). He is now that battle-hardened veteran we see at the end of the last Star Wars episode, though not dead and glowing lime green while Ewoks dance around. Remember the end of the movie when Luke pulls off the helmet Darth Vader wore and for the first time we saw the man he used to be before he became a machine? That is Roger! He was lulled out of retirement and will figure prominently among an already good staff with the Astros. He just makes them better. He makes them more formidable. He and Pettitte bring a winning attitude to their hometown team. They have joined the rebel alliance and we all know that the good guys win in the end.

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