Take Me Out To The Ballgame

It is so good to have baseball back in my life.

Even though the Yankees are probably going to be pretty terrible this year, I’m still excited for the new baseball season. I like other sports just fine, but there is something about the crack of the bad and the calmness of baseball that just centers me. Watching a baseball game – ANY baseball game – tends to bring me an inner peace and tranquility that I just don’t get from anything else. There is just something so comforting about it.

While I was away on vacation a few weeks ago, I was able to pretty fully submerse myself in America’s pastime. In the span of 7 days I watched 4 Major League Baseball games – 3 spring training games and then the home opener at Yankee Stadium. Other people may assume my more relaxed and happy demeanor is because I just came back from sunshine and relatively warmer weather and was out of work for six days, but I know that while those were contributing factors it was my immersion in baseball again that has made me so darn pleasant to be around lately.

I actually was only able to see one Yankee game while I was in Florida, a concession to our location. The Yankees spring training home is in in Tampa, approximately 2 hours from our home base in Ft. Myers. We were also in Florida toward the end of spring training, when presumably the temperatures would be warmer and more actual starters would be playing. That logic turned out to be slightly flawed, as we rolled into Tampa to much frostier temps and wind than we anticipated. It was still warmer than back home, but I had not really planned to be sitting outside on a cool evening and didn’t really have the wardrobe for such a situation. Add to that my pigheaded stubbornness that I was on vacation and therefore was wearing my flip-flops and Capri pants, regardless of the forecast, and it was a very chilly evening indeed. Not how I had pictured my first trip to Yankee headquarters, but it couldn’t be avoided.

Not was this the Yankee squad that I envisioned seeing. The Yankees have been ravaged by injuries as of late, one of the unfortunate side effects when you have a team that collectively closer to retirement than in their prime. A lot of the Yankee players are close to my age, and while I still think of myself as pretty young (and apparently look young – I can still occasionally get away with being mistaken for under 30) even I have begun to notice a general slowdown in my physiology. So a baseball team on the wrong side of the big 3-0 is not exactly desirable. A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Phil Hughes were all on the disabled list for the game that we went to. That’s a lot of holes to fill on a ball club; in fact, the Yankees had acquired two new players earlier that day that would be making their debut that evening: Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay. I had been put in charge of our seats for that game and my selection behind the first base line was definitely made pre-injury spree; had he been playing would have had an excellent view of Teixeira. Thank goodness for Robbie Cano, Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner and C.C. Sabathia or there wouldn’t be many familiar faces out there.

I was also intrigued to get my first look at Kevin Youkilis, a divisive signing for many Yankee fans as he was a long-time Red Sox player. I’m pretty pragmatic, so seeing Youkilis in pinstripes wasn’t really that big of a deal to me. I thought most Yankee fans were overreacting to his signing – we were a team that needed a lot of help and he was one of the best players available that could address some of our needs. He wasn’t my first choice, but that is more because of his age and the fact that he is prone to injury rather than his past. There are several Red Sox players over the years that I wouldn’t want the Yankees to ever sign – Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez top that list – but I really have no beef with Youkilis. He was one of the few players that provided the team any semblance of offense during spring training, so I think a lot of Yankee fans are just being short sighted babies on this count. Unsurprisingly, he received a mix of cheers and heckles when he took the field.

The game in and of itself was pretty uneventful other than all the new faces; Sabathia is a notoriously slow starter in cold weather so there were more walks than one would normally expect to see from him. The Yankees managed to rally in later innings to make the game more exciting (though it would end in a 4-4 tie after ten innings), but the real excitement came from the player that unexpectedly made an appearance in the sixth inning. C.C. was leaving the game and a lot of people were craning their necks to see who would be coming in from the bullpen. I had no sooner finished saying “Calm down people. Boone Logan isn’t worth all this hoopla.” when the opening chords to “Enter Sandman” blared over the speakers. After his unexpected injury last season, we were going to see Mariano Rivera back in action!

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Now, I have no idea why he was pitching so early in the game; I assume they wanted him to get some time in as Opening Day was fast approaching and perhaps he had plans for later in the evening. Regardless of reason, it was exciting to see him again and he looked just as lights out as always.

The next two games found us closer to home, but behind enemy lines as we went to check out the Boston Red Sox’s spring training facility in Ft. Myers. They were playing the Minnesota Twins both games, who train just around the corner, which meant that I wasn’t all that excited about either team. We did, however, manage to have fantastic seats for both outings. Jet Blue Park is a replica of Fenway Park in Boston, so our first night we sat in the front row of “the Green Monster” (the high wall in left field). Those tickets are hard to come by in Boston, so it was a very cool experience. I was a particular fan of the little ledge that we had in front of us, which made it easier to eat and drink and keep all our stuff together. However, the leg space should have been a little deeper; I whacked my knees on more than one occasion and I’m five foot nothing. I can’t imagine what it’s like for tall people.

We had even better seats for the second game that we attended – front row, right behind home plate. These are pretty much my dream seats, though I should have been clearer in my dream that I wanted them for teams that I was more interested in. In fact, I felt a little guilty sitting in the seats because as great as they were, I knew I didn’t fully appreciate them like a Sox or Twins fan would have. But I tried to get as much out of the opportunity as I could and the seats provided me the proximity that I needed to basically stalk Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who just so happens to be ridiculously good looking.

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Someday I will be able to afford those seats at a Yankee game, though it might involve having to sell a kidney. It would totally be worth it.

Things I learned at the Red Sox/ Twins games:

  • The Red Sox, as a team, are pretty short. Both the umpire and Joe Mauer towered over a lot of their players. That’s not a shot at them – I’m always pro-short people and that means a smaller strike zone. But they are generally pretty tiny.
  • Everyone was very nice at Jet Blue Park, except for the usher for our section who told me my ticket was for the wrong game (they were not). Not really funny in any situation, but especially not funny when I was clearly struggling to balance multiple beers and hand him a ticket at the same time. He kept me there for several minutes before he finally let me go to my seat and after I had already spilled most of a beer all over myself. I was not amused; maybe he could just sense I was a Yankee fan (I wasn’t wearing any identifying clothes one way or the other). Or he was just a mean old man. But that dude owes me a beer.
  • I am always very conflicted at Red Sox games when they play “Sweet Caroline” in the 8th inning. I have strong emotions attached to that song, as it was one of my sorority songs, but, you know, it’s the Red Sox. I usually sing along, but I don’t feel good about it. And please note that I knew what inning the song would be played when the Red Sox fan in our group did not.
  • Snot rockets by the outfielders seemed to be a pretty common thing. Maybe the players had a lot of allergies.
  • If you are going to be a parking lot attendant that helps people park their car, you need to have some personality. We are still talking about the guy who parked us the first night, as he yelled out catch phrases and was generally very entertaining.

I returned from Florida on Easter Sunday, but my vacation wasn’t yet over. Monday morning I was Bronx bound to see the Yankees play the Red Sox for opening day of the regular season. This was the third time I was seeing the Red Sox in five days, so some fatigue was setting in. Plus, based on what I saw at Spring Training, I wasn’t too optimistic that the Yankees were going to prevail. The Red Sox just looked a little more cohesive in Florida, so I wasn’t super surprised that they jumped out to an early lead. Everything about opening day felt a little off – there was no parking at the train station, I spilled stuff all over my jeans before going into the stadium and my favorite hot dog stand must have brought in a lot of new people because it took me almost 15 minutes to get a dog. Opening day also coincided with spring break for a lot of schools, so there were more kids in the stands than one normally sees. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does have a definite impact of the mood of the crowd. People generally drink less and are less rowdy, but you also have a large segment of the population that gets bored and had to be entertained, which can be distracting. Case in point: I listened to the two kids behind me debate for THREE INNINGS whether they wanted to get ice cream or Chinese food. They opted for ice cream. They also spent two innings debating what the LL stood for in LL Cool J, which I thought was weird because a) 11 year old kids know who LL Cool J is? and b)this is still a mystery? At one point I just wanted to turn around and say “Ladies Love Cool James,” but they seemed to be having too much fun coming up with possibilities. Large Lasagna was my personal favorite.

The game even got off to something of a depressing start, as both teams paid tribute to the victims of the Newtown, CT shootings. There was a moment of silence and the names of the victims scrolled on the jumbotron. Newtown first responders were involved in the presentation of the flag before the game. All the players wore a special patch to honor the lives lost.

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Then the Yankees paid tribute to former player Bob Turley, who passed away over the weekend. I got a little misty during player introductions, as it dawned on me that this was Mariano Rivera’s last opening day. He’ll retire at the end of the season, so I shed a few tears thinking about it. Thankfully this was hidden behind my giant sunglasses, as I may have been on TV when this was happening. ESPN was in our section getting crowd reaction and more than one person has told me that they thought they saw me. I was also almost moved to tears during the national anthem, but that was mostly because it was so terrible. Constantine Maroulis, former American Idol contestant and Tony nominated Broadway star, was the singer and it was just dreadful. You could tell that people wanted to boo, but since it was the national anthem that didn’t seem appropriate. All I know is that was a loooooong three minutes.

However, I think the saddest moment came for me during roll call; I kept my usual seats in section 106 (right field) or as I have taken to referring to them, the Nick Swisher memorial seats. Now, I have absolutely no issue with Ichiro, who shifted over to cover right field, nor do I disagree that it was probably time for Swisher to go. However, I do have to admit that I absolutely missed the “Swisher salute” during roll call and Swisher’s generally jovial interaction with the fans. It just wasn’t the same; I’d gotten used to his silliness over the years and Ichiro’s businesslike demeanor kind of threw me off.

Move along - nothing to see here

Move along – nothing to see here

 

The game seemed to be a continuation of the problems the team had in the post season last year: not a lot of offense. If you could win games by hitting pop flies into the infield, I would feel better about the Yankees season but alas that is not how it usually works. Mother Nature apparently is also not particularly bullish on the 2013 Bronx Bombers, as somewhere in the 8th inning the temperature dropped at least ten degrees. I was comfortable most of the game in my jersey and jeans, but by the end of the game I was wrapped up in my hoodie and my teeth were chattering. The wind also picked up and then the rain began, which pretty much killed any chance of a late rally. It wasn’t the note I was hoping to end my vacation on, but it wasn’t wholly unexpected either. I’m guessing I’ll be saving some money this year as I don’t foresee playoff tickets in my future.

Even with the rocky start to the season, I am so happy to have baseball back. The MLB channel is back in rotation in my channel surfing and though I’m not playing fantasy baseball this year, I find that I’m still paying attention to baseball generally rather than the Yankees specifically. I’m already planning some baseball road trips that have nothing to do with the boys in pinstripes. My enthusiasm will naturally wane a bit – it is a long season after all – but right now I am a very happy girl.

Play ball!

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