I woke up this morning knowing I wasn’t well. I felt weak and my joints, hot. Telltale signs that the flu that I contracted the other day had not abated. But I had to get up because I invited over an indie band to perform in my class.
As I normally do, I went online to check my email and see what was new in the world today. And… and… Ichiro Suzuki is a New York Yankee!
That was like penicillin, medicine or what have you to make me feel a little better. I had to re-read what was before me because it might have been a typo or some April Fool’s Day joke in August or whatever the hell that is. But no. Ichiro Suzuki is really a New York Yankee. And with Jeremy Lin in Houston, Ichiro will be huge in the Big Apple as he attracts the Asian audience to the Stadium. How many marquee names do they have now - Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and now Ichiro Suzuki.
I thought of several things, Pops, when I stopped hyper ventilating (that my dog thought I was going to walk her that early in the day).
Here’s what I thought:
… Is the injury to Nick Swisher a lot more serious than anyone thought? With Brett Gardner out that’s 2/3 of the starting outfield that is out of the lineup. Thank God that Brian Cashman kept Andruw Jones and got Raul Ibañez. Not since those great Yankee teams of the 1990s was there a team that I liked. Aside from Jeet, Andy, and Mo (the oldtimers here), I like Swish, CC, Russ, Cano, Grandy, A-Rod, Eric Chavez, Tex and well pretty much everyone. It’s like all my fave baseball players are in my favorite baseball team.
As biased as we are for the Yanks, Pops, I have to confess that I do watch other teams – the Philadelphia Phillies, the Oakland A’s, and the Seattle Mariners. I love Seattle. If I weren’t a New York fan I’d root for the Mariners. If I don’t settle down once more in New York I’d go to the Emerald City. But if Swish comes back where do they place Suzuki? Is that a good problem for Joe Girardi?
But look at this, Pops. This is the current batting order (without Brett and Swish):
That’s one baaad lineup.
… This is like getting Rickey Henderson way back in those woebegone 80s when I said, “Well, there’s always next year.” I still have that old Sports Illustrated issue with Henderson on the cover that says, “Rickey’s a Yankee!” I thought that I had died and gone to baseball heaven. The sport’s dangerous baserunner and leadoff hitter in pinstripes? But that was about it. New York had good teams but never won the World Series much more go to the playoffs wasting the careers of Dave Winfield, Donnie Baseball and Henderson. They even had Steve Sax!
… Is this lightning in a bottle? Like Shane Spencer? Pops, they called Shane, 'Roy Hobbs' after that character that Bernard Malamud wrote about in "The Natural" and who was played by Robert Redford in the film adaptation. He was a late season call up and he hit a bunch of homers that was incredible to watch. Well, if the move from last place to first place galvanizes Suzuki and he becomes his old dangerous self then wow! That’s danger in the eighth spot of the batting order. But will he enjoy batting from there because there’s no way he’s going to lead off or be in the top of the order with the other guys still there. But aside from his rookie season where he won the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Award and where he went to the post-season, it has been nothing but disappointment for him and the Mariners since. They’ve never been back.
I remember how Suzuki’s Mariners eclipsed the 114-won games by New York with 116 of their own. But New York won the World Series that year. This time he has a chance to compete for a World Series title and who knows what he can do?
… I thought with Suzuki in pinstripes that makes how many former Mariners in recent years to play for our team, Pops?
After losing in 1995 (to Seattle) that ended Don Mattingly’s career (I cried, pops), we brought in Tino Martinez from the M’s to play Donnie’s old first base. It was like if we can't beat them then let's bring in one of the guys who beat us. But really, it was our time back then. You don't win four World Series in five years if the team isn't special. Anyways, Martinez became 'Tino Bambino' for his prodigious hitting exploits, right? I wish you were still around to see our team turn things around and become a dominant power like they were meant to be.
And there was Randy Johnson who joined us when he was clearly done and not the guy who beat us in 2001. We did get Alex Rodriguez and am so glad to be a part of that time when we urged him to consider New York instead of Boston. We also got Freddy Garcia who is not the pitching stud that he once was but has been good in pinstripes these past two years.
We won with Tino and A-Rod. Hopefully, we can win it this year with Ichiro and Freddy.
… And lastly, I thought of you, Pops. I miss you, Pops. It is because of you why I am a huge sports fan and am doing what I love for a living. We played a lot of baseball when I was kid. You’d take me to the park to play and work long hours on my pitching, fielding and batting. I became a Yankee fan because of your great admiration for Mickey Mantle, Bill Martin, Whitey Ford and all those guys. Every time I went to Yankee Stadium I thought of you and said to myself, “We’re doing this, Pops.”
Ichiro is a Yankee. I hope that he does well and Cash keeps him pinstripes until he retires. He might not go into Cooperstown as a Yankee but he was with us for a while.
I have no idea if you can watch ballgames up there. But I’m here, Pops. I'm here. I’ll write you again.
I miss and love you, Granddad. This is a good way to remember you on your death anniversary.
My grandfather was the one who introduced sports to me. He was the one who brought me to the ballpark to play. In my school annuals, you’d always find me with a mitt and a bat (if not vinyl records). If anyone asks me what my favorite sport is, well, it’s baseball then football. And then basketball and hockey. You think I’m good at calling a football match, you should see it when I do baseball. Today is my granddad's death anniversary.
Photos by Elaine Thompson and Otto Greule. Thanks!