“Start spreading the news…” Their season’s over today.
It sure was fun watching the Orioles mathematically eliminate the Yankees from post-season play right in the middle of Derek Jeter’s going away party at Yankee Stadium. Now if only he would just go away. I was explaining the phenomena of the season-long, prolonged farewell to some relative laypersons in graphic detail, when the Yankees were here for Jeter’s last games in town a couple of weeks ago. “They’re lining up from the statue of the Babe all the way to Pickles to kiss his ass,” I said, and then I heard two women walking in the opposite direction having the exact same conversation. I’m not sure if anyone actually kissed Jeter’s ass while he was in town but Boog Powell did give him the crabs and an oversized mallet made out of Louisville Slugger wood in an on-field presentation before his last game here in town. While I do think the ongoing celebration has been a bit over the top I couldn’t resist the temptation of going to New York to see the Orioles play the Yankees in Jeter’s final home series at the Stadium and to exorcise some two-year-old demons.
I don’t like the Yankees and I don’t like Yankee Stadium, the last time I was there I had such a bad time that I never wanted to go back. It was game three of the American League Championship Series; the “Rauuuuuul” game. The upstart 2012 Os were on a roll enjoying the team’s first winning season in 15 years and appeared poised to finally slay their rival beast of the American League East. And so with a trepidatious swagger I sauntered into Yankee Stadium in full Orioles regalia, accompanied by my girlfriend Shannon also wearing an Orioles cap and orange scarf and my friend and upstairs neighbor Damien, a Yankees fan who got us the tickets. On the subway ride from Manhattan and upon entering the Yankees dungeonesque concrete fortress, I was well aware that I had broached hostile territory. My sexuality was questioned because of the briefcase I carried over my shoulder and three old guys sitting behind us at the game kept hitting the top of my hat with the metal button on top of theirs anytime a Yankee batter reached base or a fielder recorded an Orioles out. It was a tense and close affair with the Orioles clinging to a 2-1 lead through eight-and-half innings and when Raul Ibanez hit a moon shot off Jim Johnson to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth (which was the beginning of the end for Johnson) and another majestically arced, gut-wrenching, walk-off blast off Brian Matusz to end the game in the bottom of the twelfth. It fucking sucked. The walk of shame back to the subway was like being in an eternal nightmare; heckled and ridiculed to the tune of Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York,” from the moment the game ended until we finally disembarked the train in New Jersey. I took it all quite personally and felt nothing but contempt and rage for Yankee Stadium and Yankee fans, (except for my buddy Damien). I never wanted to hear that song again.
But what a difference a couple of years make.
Arriving at Yankee Stadium the Orioles were already champions of the American League East, a fact which I proudly displayed on my t-shirt. I wore a bright orange and white printed long-sleeve, button-down shirt over the top and fluorescent orange Brooks sneakers stopping first for a beer at the Dugout bar across the street from the ballpark. I was one of two or three Orioles fans in a crowd of about 400 people in the room and was booed when I approached bar, but there was no wind behind it and it lacked luster. This season has been a humbling experience for the Yankees, more of a farewell tour for Jeter than a pennant race for the team.
Jeter received a standing ovation and everyone was snapping pictures of him on their cell phones before he grounded out to short in the first inning and again before he struck out in the third. The Yankees moved out to a 3-0 lead after three innings, knocking two home runs off Orioles starter Bud Norris but as it has gone for the team this year I knew it was just a matter of time before we would catch up with their starter, Shane Greene, which happened when the Orioles batted around the order scoring six runs in the top of the fourth, it was very therapeutic and relaxing. During the lengthy rally I began to acknowledge the comfort of the cushiony $90 seat I was sitting in just to the fair side of the foul pole on the lower level in the right field corner and the $15, 25-ounce of can of Becks was still icy cold in my souvenir New York Yankees 3-D cup. The Orioles scored three more runs in the top of the eighth, the last on a beautifully placed run-scoring bunt single by Adam Jones. When the Yankees scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth and Jeter grounded out weakly to first base in his final at-bat of the game going hitless in four at-bats, it was all over but the gloating. This time when “New York, New York” started pumping through the P.A. system I started singing along and a stayed until the ushers started ushing me from my section and I pleaded with them to let me take just one more picture. I really didn’t want to leave. I puffed out my chest to reveal my AL East Champions t-shirt and sought out the few other Orioles fans on the concourse for high fives. I proceeded to get drunk and shat my pants on the train ride home (actually it was more of a shart). But overall it was a great day and I’m looking forward to going back the next time the Orioles open up a can of whoop ass on the Yankees at the Stadium.
Author Charlie Vascellaro has written three books, including a biography of Hank Aaron, a young reader’s biography of Manny Ramirez, and a limited edition historical volume commissioned by the U.S. Department of Commerce called Baseball in America. His writing on spring baseball training has appeared on MLB.com, in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Sun Times, and annually in the U.S. Airways in-flight magazine since 2005. He is invited regularly to speak in regional and national forums about the history and lore of America’s pastime. His next book is At the Ballpark: A Fan’s Companion, an interactive and engaging hardball handbook for young and new baseball fans.