Why You Can Throw Out The Regular Season
Yanks-Twins Game 3: Let The Party Begin!
Twice Widowed and Now Smitten With Men in Pinstripes
By JANE HELLER
Published: October 9, 2010
Baseball is full of heartwarming “Field of Dreams”-y stories about fathers and sons playing catch in the backyard, going to their first ballgame together and building a closer relationship over hot dogs.
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My mother, on the other hand, wasn’t big on playing catch (“It’ll
ruin my manicure”), didn’t take me to a single ballgame (“Go with your nice friends, dear”) or eat hot dogs (“God only knows what’s really in them”).
In those days, she wasn’t a fan of theYankees or any other team. Widowed, newly remarried and the mother of six, she was focused on raising our blended family in Scarsdale, N.Y., and commuting into Manhattan to teach Greek and Latin at Hunter College. The only time she ever talked to me about baseball was to scold me for thumbtacking Mickey Mantle posters to my bedroom wall and poking holes in the avocado green paint.
She grew up in the Bronx with a father who adored the Yanks, so she could hardly escape the names Babe Ruth,Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, but the sport itself held no appeal for her. To wit, she was cleaning out her closet one afternoon during my college vacation and came upon what looked like a yellowed, tattered menu.
“You might as well have this,” she said, handing it to me. “It’s got Babe Ruth’s autograph on it, so maybe it’s worth something.”
I was stunned and said, “How in the world did you get his autograph?”
She shrugged, nonchalant about a bona fide treasure, and said: “He was at the next table when your dad and I were out for dinner. I walked over with the menu and asked him to sign it.”
As I got older, my Yankees fandom became a genuine mania, and Mom, now widowed for the second time, would stare at me as I’d watch games and rail at whichever batter left a runner in scoring position, saying, “You’re very entertaining, dear, but why do you raise your blood pressure with this nonsense?”
I decided it was time to explain the basics of baseball to her — just the way so many fathers have explained the sport to their sons. I went through the list of Yankees players on the roster that year and gave them each a back story. I described the difference between a slider and a splitter and pantomimed various pitchers’ windups. And, of course, I ticked off the many, many reasons why Yankees fans hate the Red Sox.
Mom absorbed my lecture, then asked lots of questions, including: “Who decided there should be four balls allowed but only three strikes?” “Does the D.H. get paid less money since all he does is hit?” “Why do the players spit so much?”
I didn’t have all the answers, but I was glad she was interested enough to care. When we had finally exhausted the subject, she nodded and said: “To think I’ve been wasting my evenings watching ‘Law & Order.’ I’ll give baseball a try.” Have I mentioned that she was in her 80s when this conversation occurred?
From then on, she started watching the Yankees every night, settling in with the YES Network, familiarizing herself with the players and coaches, learning the rhythms of the game, staying awake until the final outs. She realized what good company the Yanks were; she was no longer alone or lonely. In other words, she became a fan — late in life, yes, but no less hard core.
She developed an attachment to Bernie Williams and was bereft when he wasn’t re-signed. She regarded Melky Cabrera as her wayward son and called him “my Melky.” She became positively giddy whenever Mariano Rivera trotted in from the bullpen to “Enter Sandman,” although I’m sure she thought Metallica was a type of jewelry sold on QVC.
Now, at 93, she is as addicted to the Yankees as I am. Her memory isn’t what it used to be; she forgets the players’ names or mangles them. Cano can be “Canoe.” Jorge is often “Hor-gay.” And C. C. is — well, she doesn’t remember the Sabathia part unless prompted.
Still, every time I fly in from California for a visit, we eat dinner on tray tables in front of the TV so we can watch the games without missing a pitch. We bond over baseball in a way we never bonded over shopping, cooking or other girly pleasures — a mother and daughter debating the pros and cons of batting Jeter in the leadoff spot.
Here’s the catch. I may have turned Mom on to the team I love, but she ended up being the truer, more steadfast fan. She doesn’t scream at the TV, doesn’t panic when the Yankees are losing, doesn’t second-guess Joe Girardi‘s every move, doesn’t even freak out when Austin Kearns whiffs with the bases loaded. She’s unwavering in her cheering, without all the hysteria I bring to every game.
“How come you never get angry at them?” I asked during my most recent trip east.
“Because they’re the Yankees,” she said with conviction. “They always try to come through and do their best. You of all people should know that, dear.”
“Yes,” I said, chastened. “I should.”
As I watched my team compete against the Twins in an American League division series last week, I tried to come through and do my best — to emulate the fandom my very wise mother taught me.
In Honor of Phil Huuuughes….Meet The Parents
Yanks-Twins Game 2: The Texas Two Step
Yanks-Twins Game 1: Sheer Joy
Good News/Bad News Sunday
A-Rod: The Youngest Ever To Hit 600 Homers
Thu Aug 05 09:55am PDT
The Grandstand: A teammate’s view of A-Rod’s 600th homer
I was able to witness history on Wednesday as Alex Rodriguez(notes), one of my teammates, hit his 600th career home run.
I can’t imagine being in a situation where every at-bat is being played nationally. All eyes were on Alex every time he came to the plate and MLB Network was cutting in from its regular programming to show his at-bats. On top of that, there was only one specific kind of hit that would please the audience each time — a homer.
Alex went 46 at-bats between homers. That happens all the time to players around the league, including the great ones. But in this instance it was magnified. To his credit, he didn’t go up to the plate swinging for the fences or swinging to get 600. He had three multi-hit games and two games with three RBI between 599 and 600. He was letting the situation dictate the at-bat, not trying to force history. He was doing what he could to help the New York Yankeeswin baseball games, and a lot of times in that stretch between homeruns, a two-out single to drive in a run or two was what would help. That’s what Alex did.
What is incredible about Alex is that he actually is one of the few players I know that could go up to the plate with the goal of hitting a homerun, and accomplish it. There is no other explanation for that than to say it is pure talent. His swing is so smooth that it just naturally carries power with it. Some of the swings he hits homeruns with I think would be a ground ball for me.
When I was first traded to the Yankees, all of my friends did three things. They recited Seinfeld episodes, they asked about Derek Jeter(notes), and they asked about Alex. There are a lot of players in sports that are considered polarizing. Some of those reasons are good and some of those reasons are bad. Alex definitely has a way of captivating an audience.
And when he walks into a room, everyone stops to look.
When people ask about Alex, I just remain truthful. He is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. His drive and passion to win is above any individual accomplishments he could achieve. On top of all that, he is an amazing teammate. After the trade, he called me within minutes to welcome me to the team. Other players followed, but he made that first phone call and made me feel welcome. When I came to New York for my press conference to be announced as a Yankee a week later, Alex flew in from Florida to show his support. He has helped me with everything else in New York from hitting to which route is the best to take home after a game.
I think it’s easier for people to get caught up and judge people based on what they see on SportsCenter, or read on Page 6 or even here on Big League Stew, but just remember that you don’t always get the whole story that way. I’ve had a lot of teammates in my career when you consider my time in the minor leagues, in Detroit and here in New York. But there is no doubt that Alex Rodriguez is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.