Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, September 18, 2006

For the Heart of a City

To paraphrase Sterling Silliphant’s famous opening line from The Naked City, the police television series that paved the way for many of todays grim and gritty shows, “There are 12 million stories in New York, and this is one of them…”

Fall is fast approaching. It means winter is on the way. But before the east coast denizens pull out their cold weather gear from their shrink wraps, there’s one more thing that needs settling… baseball’s play-offs where both the Yankees and the Mets are in the hunt for a berth in October. It’s the Fall Classic -- the World Series, baby. It could be a Subway Series Redux.

No fight, no match is perhaps more passionate, intense or contentious than a battle for neighborhood turf and bragging rights. New York is home to 11 professional sports teams (including four teams who currently play in New Jersey; though one of them, the Nets will move to Brooklyn in 2009), but the one team that can perhaps lay claim to the title of New York’s team is the Yankees.

And perhaps the most riveting story is the Yankees-Mets rivalry because fans of the Queens-based Mets don’t care about the Boston Red Sox but look more to the Atlanta Braves and ultimately the Yankees as true rivals. Maybe Mayor Bloomberg’s government, the construction of the Reflecting Absence Memorial at Ground Zero, and the never-ending rush hour traffic are the stories that possibly occupy more New Yorkers’ lips and minds. But the inter-league games and if the baseball gods are willing, a second Subway Series between the Yankees and the Mets are in many ways a white hot topic nowadays.

Of the 26 Yankee World Series titles, four were won by slaying the New York Giants (who eventually moved to San Francisco) while another seven were at the expense of their crosstown rivals -- first the Brooklyn Dodgers (who are now in LA) and today, the New York Mets. The lords of Flatbush, the Dodgers, did beat the Bronx Bombers once in 1955 behind Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, and Carl Furillo but that was how many generations ago? When the Mets joined the majors in the 60’s, they were for the most part laughable tabloid foils. But titles in 1969 and 1986 and a resurgence in recent years have made this city a two-team town.

Today both teams are locked in a tight race for the best record in baseball. The Mets are slightly ahead with a 90-56 record. The Yankees’ late season resurgence has put them behind at 89-57 (with the Red Sox in town for a four-game series). Even in merchandise, the two teams have been locked in a tight race for hard-earned dollars. For the first time in a decade, the hot selling jersey isn’t that of the Yankees’ Derek Jeter. The distinction belongs to the Mets’ David Wright. David Wright who? The Mets’ slugging third baseman is suddenly the city’s most eligible bachelor and he’s making women’s hearts not only flutter but in Modell’s, help the Mets rake in 60% of all baseball merch sales. I guess nobody wants to buy the Yanks’ mercenary of the year in power-hitting Bobby Abreau’s pinstripes figuring he probably won’t be with the team next year.

A recent poll in the city showed 46% of New Yorkers rooting for the Yankees while 37% pulling for the Mets. That’s not so bad considering only 28% of the city cheered for the team from Flushing, Queens during the 2000 Subway Series. But the signs have been changing. Casual baseball fans have said that they are tired of the Yankees who with their penchant for spending under George Steinbrenner have been successful year in and out. The Mets, they said, haven’t won in awhile and possess that good guy image the people want to root for (never mind that they too have one of the most expensive rosters in baseball). Said one immigrant from the Netherlands, “Even in Europe, all you see are Yankee caps. I want to root for the underdog.”

I used to take the 4 train from Lexington right up to 161st St corner River Avenue. and scream along with the other Yankee die-hards as the train ascended into the fading twilight in the Bronx. I had my pinstripes and New Era baseball cap on and my Italian hotdog and Diet Pepsi that cost me 10 bucks. I loved and soaked in the atmosphere of the stadium as only a kid can. During inter-league games, I’d hop on the 7 and get off at Shea and lose myself in the orange and blue crush. At Burger Heaven on the East 86th, I’d hear no end of the Mets’ dominance in 2004. Friendly ribbing but of the kind that sets you off. But I totally loved it!

In last Monday Night’s World Wrestling Entertainment’s RAW, during the three-man tag team match of John Cena, Carlito, and Jeff Hardy against the dastardly triumvirate of Edge, Randy Orton, and Johnny Nitro, the fans at Madison Square Garden broke out into cheers and chants for the home team. Er, which home team? Half the Gah-den chanted “Let’s go Yankees!” while the other half replied in unison “Let’s go Mets!”

There are 12 million stories in the greatest city in the world. Post 9-11, this is the most riveting.

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