Heather Goes to the Playoffs

I love the Yankees. If you’ve spent more than five minutes with me, you have figured this out, either from the Yankee sticker on my car, my Yankee iPod cover or the fact that I speak about Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte like they are my close personal friends. My desk is covered with Yankee paraphernalia – my Bernie Williams cup holder, a post-it dispenser with a photo of the stadium, a Jason Giambi mouse pad, etc. I have traveled with the team on multiple occasions, planning my vacations to Seattle, Florida, Cleveland, Chicago and Baltimore around when the Bronx Bombers are going to be in town. When I briefly considered getting a tattoo, one of the images I kept coming back to was the interlocking N-Y that makes up the Yankees logo (don’t worry, mom – I didn’t do it). It is absolutely no stretch to say that Yankee Stadium is one of my favorite places on Earth.

After a very dramatic end of the regular season, the New York Yankees finished as the American League East Champions and were going to the playoffs. I managed to score myself tickets to the first two rounds of games: Game 3 of the American League Division Series (against the Baltimore Orioles) and Game 1 of the American League Championship Series (against the Detroit Tigers). The way the schedule fell, that meant that I was going to two baseball games in four days. While that sounds like heaven to me, the fact that I live three hours from Yankee Stadium meant that I was going to be spending a lot of time riding the rails of Metro North.

Up until last year I had never been to a playoff game. I finally was able to get tickets to the 2011 ALDS series, but Mother Nature threw me a curve ball by postponing Game 1 after one inning because of rain. This meant that I had to go to the Bronx and back two nights in a row, which dampened (ha!) the experience a bit. It was still a lot of fun, but I was hoping that the games this year would be dry and without so much hassle.

What I love about playoff games is that there is just so much excitement in the atmosphere. Obviously there are big games in the regular season, but it is hard to live up to the drama that surrounds playing games with your season on the line. You can’t really slump in the post-season; lose the series and your season is done. The threat of elimination gives the games a significance that makes everything more electric. Teams are within sight of their ultimate goal – the World Series – but have to get through some of the best teams in the league to get there.

I also love going to night games; there is just something about the illuminated ballpark that adds to the majesty of the occasion. I don’t get to go to a lot of night games – most are during the week or Sunday nights, which are hard for me to do without taking a lot of time off work – so I relish in the opportunity to watch some baseball under the stars. Because playoff games are scheduled to try and get the biggest ratings, more often than not they are in the evening when people would be home from work/school and able to tune in.

Game 3, ALDS – Wednesday October 10, 2012 (Best of 5)

The first playoff game that I had tickets to was the first home game for the Yankees in their battle with the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees had already played two games in Baltimore and the series was split – each team had won one game. Whichever team won three games first would progress to the next round.

The night was off to a successful start when I finally accepted that I need to allot more time for the drive from Albany to the Poughkeepsie train station. All year I’ve had it in my head that I can get there easily in 90 minutes, which isn’t exactly true; while it is doable, any amount of traffic or construction or other minor inconvenience will throw the whole thing off. On more than one occasion this year, I have pulled into the station either just as the train I wanted was pulling away or have had to do a crazy mad dash with seconds to spare. Neither option is a very relaxing way to start the day. So I finally left earlier and not only got there without having to rush, but I even made an earlier train than the one I had planned to take. It’s amazing what happens when you work around the facts as they are, not what you wish they were.

It was a beautiful night when I arrived at the park; warm enough that I could get by without having to put my jacket on. I like to get to the stadium early so I can walk around, use the bathroom and get all my food. I generally don’t get up during games; once I’m seated, I tend to stay seated. If I’m in the middle of the row, I hate having to bother everyone else by getting up a lot. It’s a hassle for them and distracts everyone from what is going on during the game. But the real reason I don’t get up is because I don’t want to be seen eating on camera during the game; for this game I was sitting in the very front row of right field, so I the likelihood that I would be on camera was pretty high. And even though I know the chances of it are negligible, I live in fear of this happening to me:

The game in and of itself was kind of slow; neither team was scoring many runs, but for very different reasons – while Yankee pitcher Kuroda seemed to have trouble finding the strike zone, the Yankees were giving him good defense; The Orioles, on the other hand, were benefiting from the fact that almost the entire Yankee organization forgot how to hit a ball. Cano, A-Rod, Swisher, Granderson, Teixeira – everyone was coming up empty. Baltimore was ahead by one run going into the 9th inning and it didn’t look like the Yankees were going to pull it off. I’ll admit that I was very nervous – I thought my streak of seeing them win at home was about to be broken. I haven’t seen the Yankees lose at the Stadium since 2006 and I wasn’t looking forward to that coming to an end.

They say that legends are born in October; for some reason, there tends to be some player who rises to the occasion during the playoffs and does something to instantly make himself a legend. Reggie Jackson became “Mr. October” for his clutch hitting during the World Series; Derek Jeter became “Mr. November” in 2001 for his late inning home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Someone at some point steps up, throws the team on his back, and keeps them alive in the series through some key hits or effective defense.

I was about to see it happen in person.

In the bottom of the 9th, manager Joe Girardi decided to pull the struggling Alex Rodriguez from the game. This was a somewhat bold move, because to the best of my knowledge A-Rod has never been pinch hit for before in a post-season game. In doing this, Girardi was admitting that he didn’t have faith in A-Rod, who has a huge contract with the Yankees and who is supposed to be one of their big hitters. Instead, Raul Ibanez would be batting in A-Rod’s place. If this worked, Girardi would look like a genius; if it didn’t, he’d be raked over the coals.

Luckily for Girardi, it worked. Ibanez hit a home run that went flying into right field, two sections over from me. The Yankees had tied it up and we were headed into extra innings. I was pretty excited about all this, except for the fact I had to be at work at 8 am the next morning. While I was jumping up and down and cheering, I was mentally doing the math as to how late I was going to get home. As the game stretched into the 10th and 11th innings with no one scoring, the amount of sleep I was going to get continued to dwindle.

It was the bottom of 12th and I was beginning to think that if the game lasted much longer, I might as well just stay up and go to work rather than trying to get some sleep. There was no way I was going to leave the game early – when it comes to baseball, I’m a bitter-ender. Plus I had paid enough for these tickets that I wanted to make sure I got my money’s worth.

Once again, Raul Ibanez steps up to the plate. And all he needed was one pitch. He hammered his second homerun of the night, this time for the win.

And the stadium erupted.

I have been to a lot of games and I have NEVER seen the celebration like I saw Wednesday night. People were going out of their minds. Total strangers were hugging one another. Peanut shells and other debris rained down on us from the upper deck like confetti. It felt like the Stadium was actually shaking. Even the workers in the concession stands, who usually just look happy to be going home, joined in – they were banging pots and pans and twirling towels over their heads. It was absolutely everything I had hoped for in a playoff game and more.  I didn’t even care that I was only going to get 3 hours of sleep; it was totally worth it.

Game 1, ALDS – Saturday October 13, 2012 (Best of 7)

Unfortunately, my luck ran out with this game. Though Ibanez once again game through with heroics that sent the game into extra innings, the Yankees ultimately came up short in their opener against the Detroit Tigers. This game was really exceptionally fun for about 20 minutes; the Yankees were able to score 4 runs in the 9th to keep themselves alive and after the magic of previous games, you couldn’t help but hope that they were going to find a way to win again. Once again something dramatic would happen in the 12in inning, but not what we hoped. On what looked to be a fairly routine play, our beloved captain, Derek Jeter, broke his left ankle. While Wednesday I saw the Stadium at its most raucous, Saturday night it was eerily quiet as we watched in stunned disbelief as Jeter had to be carried off the field. All the air went out of the building, taking with it what faith we had that the team could pull it off. The Yankees’ anemic offense had no miracles this time and the Yankees lost, killing my streak and starting them off in the hole for the series. They would also lose the next game.

Some other thoughts:

  • Being a Paul O’Neill fan paid off on Wednesday – the people at Steiner Sports announced that anyone that came into their store at the Stadium with any O’Neill gear would receive a mystery gift card. I ran over there and showed them my O’Neill jersey and received a card that was worth $25. Not enough to put a dent in the item I have my eye on, but still a nice gesture.
  • I thought I knew just about everything about the Stadium, but Saturday night I discovered that they have deep fried Oreos and Twinkies. Of course, I had to have one. So this was my dinner:

  • The security guards at the Stadium are no joke – you will totally get yelled at for resting anything on the ledge in the front row – even if the game won’t start for another 30 minutes and batting practice is over.
  • Yankee Stadium has a small farmer’s market. I’m dying to know if anyone ever buys anything; I know when I think fresh produce, I’m thinking about a ball park.
  • If you plan on jumping up and down in celebration of a home run, you should probably not have a belly full of said deep fried Twinkie, a hot dog with sauerkraut and hot chocolate. I spent the 10th inning focusing on trying not to throw up.
  • I went all out for the playoffs – I even painted my nails Yankee blue.

  • Saturday was the latest I’ve ever been at the Stadium for a game or a concert – I didn’t wind up leaving until 1:10 am and didn’t get home until 4:40 am.
  • If you have been following the Nick Swisher controversy, I was sitting in the sections that were heckling him (though I didn’t participate – I’m not a big fan of booing your own players) and I didn’t hear anything that was that bad. Certainly nothing that mentioned his family or insinuated that he caused Jeter’s injury. I like Swisher, but he’s kind of being a baby. Jackie Robinson put up with some hateful stuff and you didn’t hear him complaining. You know what will shut people up? Hitting the ball or making some pretty routine catches.
  • One of the highlights of Wednesday’s game was seeing Mariano Rivera throw out the first pitch. I’m not going to lie, I teared up a little when I heard the opening chords of “Enter Sandman.” I miss him so much.

The series has now moved on to Detroit for three games and I’m not very confident that the team will make it necessary to play two more games in New York. I think they’re cooked. It’s too bad we can’t send our starting pitching – which has been outstanding – and Raul Ibanez to the World Series. They deserve to be there. So it looks like I’ll have to wait a little longer to cross that item off the bucket list. But it was a whirlwind few days of baseball and I’m so glad I got to experience it.

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