Monday, July 28, 2008

Orioles Next to Last Trip to Yankee Stadium

RMF Confession: I Like the New York Yankees!
The Orioles begin a three game series against the New York Yankees, their next to last trip to Yankees Stadium. The Yankees, of course, became the most legendary team in sports history with a reign of success that began in 1923 the year, The House that Ruth Built, openned for business. Prior to that, they were the cast-off little team in New York, the former Baltimore Orioles, the short lived Baltimore effort that existed upon the founding of the American league to bolt to New York after only two seasons to become the New York Highlanders.

I like the New York Yankees. Yes, I am a life-long Baltimore Orioles fan and would never root for the Evil Empire against my hometown team. I also cringe every time the Bronx Bombers come to town. Suddenly, Orioles Park at Camden Yards becomes Yankee Stadium, south. I remember walking from Fells Point to the train stop just outside Camden Yards walking the whole length of the Inner Harbor area one July afternoon a few years back. As I walked past the Power Plant entertainment complex, I was struck by a peculiar stench in the air. People were loud, surly, and rude. It was almost like one of those body snatcher or living dead type movies were they look human but are something else. I just didn’t see the kinds of folks who’d call you, “Hon,” in a folksy tone of voice.
It’s not unusual to see folks sporting baseball caps from various different teams, but maybe there were a few more “NY” caps, some were even in different colors than the typical midnight blue Yankees’ cap. Walking past the Harbor Place pavilions, the character of the crowd continued to get more and more out of place. Still, it was Friday afternoon, maybe a couple happy hours were selling skunky beer or something. The foot traffic might have been a little heavier than usual walking west along Pratt Street past the Convention Center, but as Camden Yards came in sight, noting the headlines in a newspaper box told the story, “Yankees Begin Weekend Series at the Yard.” I quickly surveyed the folks around me and realized once again, Baltimore had been invaded by men from Manhattan, Boys from the Bronx and Brooklyn, lots of folks from north “Joisey” and a few other burros from the boroughs.

The Yankees were in town. Thhhhuuuuuuuuhhhhhhh Yankees are in town. I could almost hear John Sterling’s voice echoing in my head. I was catching the Light Rail to return home to Cockeysville, but all around me were teams of New Yorkers. So what’s the deal? How is it that our hometown crowd disappears and the stands are filled with Yankee fans and Red Sox nation when those other eastern rivals come to town? It was the same deal when the Phillies came to Baltimore when they were the designated rival before the Nationals moved to our area. I even remember going to Ravens games, getting on the Light Rail at Hunt Valley fearing the train would somehow pass through the Alleghany Mountains and I’d walk off the train in the land of Three Rivers. More recently, at least Football fans have been able to maintain the local colors!
I've never been to Yankee Stadium, but second only to my home teams, there's probably no sports facillity I've seen on television more. No sports venue comes alive on the tube like the Bronx Ballyard. Almost everything but the aroma comes through. We see the majesty of the monuments in the outfield, the depth of left center field, all capturing a stadium that plays as large as the city it represents. The sounds over the public address system, the incidental music, Bob Sheppard's dignified delivery and consistent phrasing announcing every Yankee since Micky Mantle was a pup, and the crowd that even cheers with a certain arrogant surliness. Sure, Wrigley Field looks beautiful, a throw back to the bygone days, and the bleacher bums are creatures to behold, but Cubs' baseball is a rather laid back affair. The viewer can marvel at the pastoral splendor, the ivy walls, and the neighborhood roof top fans though the houses beyond the outfield wall are now all commercial establishments even with Budweiser emblazened on the roof and facade on one of them. Fenway Park, surely plays differently than any other field in baseball, but the same can be said of the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome or that gray gloomy warehouse hosting the Tampa Bay Rays. Though a tighter facillity, the Red Sox fans don't project the attitude of Yankees fans and though there's a certain drama like a space ship launching seeing a homerun sail over the left field "Green Monster," Fenway Park looks like a tired old dump with all the modern enhancements looking so out of place. Some see the Citgo sign as a Boston landmark. I see it as a pillar of defiance, Hugo Chavez flipping the American public the bird with a huge advertising icon for his state run oil company whose profits are being turned into weapon systems to wreak havoc like no other communist bastards in Latin America, spare Castro's Cuba. Yankee Stadium projects everything that we love and hate about New York. Deal with it!!!

So what’s wrong with me? I’ve set the formula for being a typical Baltimore Yankee hater. I do hate the Red Sox. Oh, I can’t stand those bean breathed boogie men who look like they’ve been prepared for a screen test for the next GEICO caveman commercial. Manny Ramirez’s doo needs to go!!! Hardly anybody on the team looks clean cut and all American, but there was one who did, Jonathan Papelbon. Jonathan Papelbon, yes that Jonathan Papelbon who returned to the field in gym shorts to perform “Riverdance” after the Red Sox clinched the ALCS last year. What a total freakazoid. Somehow nothing Mariano Rivera could ever do could make me barf like that.

I’ve been following a lot more baseball this year because even though the Orioles are likely destined to finish in last place and for the eleventh year in a row end up with a losing record, Andy McPhail made some bold off-season moves making it look like the team is finally in good hands for the first time since Pat Gillick’s departure. I’m a huge Mike Flanagan fan, but I don’t know that he has the right stuff to be GM. Andy does. The end result might be the same this year, but Manager Dave Trembly has these boys hustling.

I’ve gotten used to the Orioles sucking. I can hardly say I still feel a void for the glory days, but this summer, following baseball leaves me with another void, the Yankees, those horrible Yankees, just aren’t that ferocious this year. Watching their performance and not thinking of the multimillionaires donning pinstripes they look like just another run-of-the-mill team with lousy pitching and a weak bench. Sure Hank Steinbrenner has made it interesting popping off about players who aren’t cutting it and other aspects of the game that just don’t seem right to the plump prince son of the Great Satan himself, King George. To further defang the beast, the old man looking so old and feeble during the All-Star pregame activities seemed to further reinforce the Yankees just weren’t that scary anymore.

Sadly, Yankee Stadium is in its season. The fellows, monuments, memories and all will move into a new Yankee Stadium across the Street, but will anyone call that field “The House that A-Rod” built or “Jeter?” Those guys are two fine players the Yankees with their huge fortunes are still lucky to have on their roster. Who else on the Yankees roster really seems that scary anymore? The pitching staff, well, Mariano is still the man. Mike Mussina is showing he still has a little game left in him, but he’s far from one of the league’s elite. He really hasn’t been since he left Baltimore. Joba Chamberlain might have a less than 3.00 ERA, but he’s hardly the dominant fearsome star he was projected to be. His team photo makes him look like a latter day young Yogi Berra.

We need the Yankees to be good. It’s the benchmark of achievement when your home team beats the Yankees. The Yankees need to be there like a dark cloud on the horizon, like that neighbor’s dog that’d rip your throat out if he broke through the fence, or like a bunch of drunken horny pirates who decided to make your little yachting community their landing dock for some overdue shore leave. Even with the rumors of A-Rod messing around and possibly shagging Madonna, he just doesn’t seem to make a very good tabloid villain. Heck, A-Rod with Madonna plays out more like Benjamin Braddock in “The Graduate” up against the desires of femme fatale, Mrs. Robinson. Gary Sheffield was no Reggie Jackson, but he was the kind of player who could make opposing fans hiss. He had that swagger. Matsui had that quiet demeanor like if you looked at him the wrong way, you’d get a Kung Fu kick to the head. He’s just not that mean anymore. Johnny Damon who looked like the Tasmanian Devil with the Red Sox had turned into a nice polite lad in New York. Of course older fans like me have found the entire Joe Torre era to be rather mild compared to hot summer nights hearing chants of Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie. Anyone who needed a reason to hiss and boo the Yankees, Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie. Okay, I’ll even admit I enjoyed watching every episode of “The Bronx is Burning” on ESPN last year.

The real Yankees knew how to stir the drink, bust the sink, and push opponents to the brink. Any game in any city at any time seemed to be part of a bigger sport when the Yankees came to town. Visit New York and win, you’d feel your hometown boys should be honored like returning heroes after V-day.

Alas, the Yankees are just another team this year. The Tampa Bay Rays (not even the Devil Rays anymore), yeah, the Ray-Rays, the team that plays in the city the Steinbrenners’ own has been neck and neck with the Bean Town Boogie Men all season long. The Freakin’ Tampa Bay Rays, the team that served as the Orioles’ insurance policy against finishing in last play during the long series of losing seasons that have besieged the Birds. The stinkin’ Rays are more menacing than the Yankees even trying to get a piece of the Yanks a couple times in Spring Training bench clearing brawls.

Sunday, September 21, 8:00 PM on ESPN, the Yankees will take the field on that famous field that once hosted Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Phil “The Scooter” Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Billy Martin, Casey Stengel, Elston Howard, Roger Maris, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson Ron Guidry, and Don Mattingly. Ironically, the Baltimore Orioles will be their guest on that night. A week of baseball will remain with the Yanks finishing in Fenway against the Bean Town Boys. The Yankees have monuments to their greatest players. The Red Sox have the CITGO sign, a monument to Hugo Chavez. It seems unlikely the Yankees will be playing for much more than pride when that date of destiny arrives. There will be no October memories to be made this year.

Long live the lore of the Yankees. No team has ever accomplished what they have, but no team has ever had the resources, money, publicity, media reach, and prestige to be the most storied team in sports history. From Los Angeles to Kansas City, and it could only be worse in Cleveland, not far from where Steinbrenner grew up, the cities turn inside out when the brethren of the Babe come to town. Today, the Yankees and the Bean Brats up the road have financial wealth that makes it very difficult for division rivals Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa to respond in kind. Still, the Yankees do get beaten and haven’t won a World Series since defeating the Mets in 2000.

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