When baseball was bae*

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My relationship with baseball started the way any great love story does – with a crush. The infatuation would later rival the affection I had for Mike Piazza; yet it was the kind of love that got me all the way to Flushing on a school night. Prior to the spring of 2001, my acquaintance with baseball was limited to what I’d seen in movies like “Angels in the Outfield”, “Rookie of the Year”, and the first two films of the “Major League” franchise. I had only been living in the US for a year and a half, so an interest in America’s pastime was not one I easily embraced. I remember attending school on the day of the Yankees championship parade in 2000, marveling at how many students were missing in my music class. “All this over a baseball game?” I had no idea that I would soon get swept up with the masses in the exhilarating process of becoming a baseball fan.

The crush came about two summers before and was one of my first encounters with teenage boys after spending three years at a Catholic high school in Jamaica. I remember the date, where I was, what I was wearing: I had it bad for this guy. If my brother had not invited him to that Mets game, I doubt my courtship with the team would have ever begun. My father had gotten four box seats for two games from a client and I declined his offer to attend the first game. I was weighing my decision to go to the second game, a Thursday night match versus the Marlins, against the two exams that were scheduled that Friday. After one of my brother’s other friends had to back out, he asked the boy I liked, sending me into a tizzy for the next two days. I spent a good chunk of math class that Wednesday writing a pro/con list, with the object of my affection leading the charge toward ‘yes’.

Cut to Shea Stadium on May 24 where, despite getting there during the fifth inning, I quickly became enthralled with the action as my dad explained elements of the game. I didn’t understand why Tsuyoshi Shinjo wasn’t out after fouling off three pitches – “Three strikes, you’re out, right?” Total noob. My dislike for the Marlins runs back to that first game where they trailed 7-2 by the time we reached our seats. The main goal of the evening had been to spend more time with the boy I liked, but the mission was scrubbed in favor of finding out more about Mike Piazza. The place went nuts every time he was called to bat. I was unaware that these Mets were the reigning National League champions and that their starting catcher was a big deal. I think my dad paid $5 for the player pennant that I still have on my bookshelf today. I loved that there was music, fanfare, and the opportunity to scream as loud as we wanted. The boys spent most of the game down near the dugout, so I remained with my dad for what was the best night of my life at that point. Baseball is still one of the few things I can discuss with my father. The final score of 11-3 cemented my newfound adoration for the team, which only grew in the days ahead.

I was alert enough the next morning to pass my history test, but slept through the one in biology later that afternoon. I like to think that F affected my G.P.A. enough to keep me out of the top three students who spoke at graduation the following year, so I have no regrets.

After that game, I tuned in to day games after school and tried to learn as much as I could via the Internet. I had the Mets to comfort me after my awful SAT scores arrived in the mail and I spent prom night watching a game on TV. This team was the closest thing I had to a boyfriend in high school. If it was up to my parents, it would have been the Yankees. Much like their hopes for my future husband, the Yankees are the stable, successful suitor with the storied legacy, while the Mets are the persevering, praiseworthy paramour with untapped potential. I enjoy sharing my love of the game with the people I care about and baseball has played a huge part in where I am today. It’s not always fun and I don’t always agree with the calls, but this is a passion that runs deep even when I can’t stand to watch games on TV – a feeling that rises up most often in late August. Around the tenth anniversary of my first game at Shea Stadium, I was so happy to return the favor to my dad for his first game at the new ballpark.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in a handful of days and I’m already looking forward to basking in the sunshine radiating from my television. This time of year is always full of hope without the thoughts of wildcard standings affecting my enjoyment of that day’s game. I pray for another mild summer with limited rain delays and meaningful games in September. Thankfully, every team is scheduled to play in October.

I no longer let the game results affect my mood the following day or put off vacations because of the playoff schedule. The admiration has evolved into one that adds to my summer but does not consume it. My high school crush eventually faded yet, despite lulls in my devotion, my friendship with baseball endures.  I am extending virtual candy hearts and cookies to my favorite team and wish all my loves health and success in the new season.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

*I’m not cool enough to use the term ‘bae’ in real life, but “before anything else” applied to my feelings about the sport at one time.

How to survive Derek Jeter Day!

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If you have tickets to today’s game at Yankee Stadium, this is for you. Whether you broke the bank get a seat once the date to honor the captain was announced, or it was decided by fortune earlier this season, the experience to be had at this sold-out event will be like no other. I am not a Royals fan who planned her NYC vacation around when my team would be playing — the Mets once factored heavily in a decision to visit Florida (sorry, Dad) — yet I think I’d like to know what I’m getting myself into today. A game between playoff contenders, with the visiting team intending to shut the home squad out of October baseball for the second year in a row already comes with drama. Here’s how to avoid some of your own:

Have a plan

The atmosphere from about ten seconds after the gates open will be reminiscent of Christmas Eve at Macy’s Herald Square. At closing time. Just imagine 8 hours of that with the first 2 and a half concentrated on getting special event items. Decide whether you are going to visit Monument Park or stand with the masses buying t-shirts. Personally, I’d skip Monument Park and plan to take a tour separately later. If you are with a group, divide and conquer. Figure out who is going to buy what items ahead of time, so that you are not wasting valuable game time in line at the store returning excess merchandise.

Charge it

If you are from outside of the city, call your bank to alert them of your intent to spend at the Stadium. It’s a high credit security day and this will get you in and out of stores faster. Also, make sure to have ID and some cash.

Be kind to each other

“No sir, I did not mean to step on your foot.” Or cut in front of you in line. Or push past you to get to the last Jeter bobblehead. The pressure to get everything you need to buy or see done is high enough without adding discourtesy to the mix.

Take care of yourself

Amid the excitement, it’s easy to forget to get out of the sun or to go for a stretch to refresh yourself. Stay hydrated. Not worth it to fall ill on a day like this, and you won’t feel the effects of the day as much at work tomorrow. If you are worried about missing a Jeter at-bat, just take a break during the top half of the inning.

Put down the camera

The beauty of having a DVR is that you can capture all the televised stuff happening on the field that you can’t see from your seats. Take this day to soak in all of the sensations that come with honoring the captain. The warmth of the sun (bring extra sunblock! ). The buzz of the crowd. The smells of all the food that is only acceptable to eat within the confines of the ballpark. The sound of Derek Jeter’s voice as he tries to wryly shake off just how big a moment this is in his career, surely stirring every listener to tears. These are the details that stay with you long after you’ve filed all of your pictures away on Photobucket. The embellishments on the story you will tell, regardless of the game’s result, for many years to come. Try to enjoy it to the fullest.

For more unsolicited advice on how to get through today (it’s essentially Opening Day 2.0):

My Top “Five” Fan Moments in 2012

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Not long after I decided to find my true fan colors and share the experience here, I got promoted at my baseball-related job and became too busy. This was not a good excuse to drop the ball on my writing so today, on the last day of the year, I’m resolving to do better. Let’s see how long this lasts. I wrote a short list of things I wanted to experience this year as a baseball fan, and I’m happy to say that I accomplished much on my agenda. I read a few books from the sports section of my local library (Clubhouse Confidential by former Yankees bat boy Luis “Squeegee” Castillo and Sox and the City by film critic Richard Roeper) and watched For Love of the Game for the first time. I just realized how much I leaned to the American League with those choices. Thankfully, my love for the National League was sprinkled throughout my list of favorite moments of the year.

5. It was hard to nail down a solid fifth-place, so the wild card playoff was between:

a) The Yankees home opener versus the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Friday, April 13 and b) R.A. Dickey‘s 20th win versus the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday, September 27

I remember little to nothing of the events that transpired this past Opening Day and that’s because I was running on adrenaline for all of it. I’ve enjoyed three other home openers in the Bronx and they are all as much of a blur as this one. As a fan, I think getting to attend an Opening Day game is an item on everyone’s bucket list. Even though I was working and couldn’t remember the final score, the excitement of the day wasn’t lost on me and I’m already looking forward to next year’s on the first of April.

Most of my favorite moments as a Mets fan were experienced in the comfort of my home, usually screaming at my television. One of the biggest thrills this year was getting to watch a New York Met win 20 games for the first time in 22 years. I was packing for a trip to Pittsburgh later that evening, and was so distracted by the events unfolding that I forgot to bring my ID. From Pirates outfielder Travis Snider‘s home run-robbing catch to David Wright‘s three-run homer to break a fifth-inning tie, it was hard to sit still. I’m sure I was pacing during the ninth inning when the Pirates came back to within a run. Dickey’s stellar season culminated with winning the NL Cy Young Award and now that he’s pitching indoors with the Toronto Blue Jays I think he will do even better next year. After getting so close twice this year, I’m calling it now: Dickey will pitch a no-hitter in 2013. 

Speaking of no-hitters, in Pittsburgh I witnessed:

4. Homer Bailey‘s no-hitter against the Pirates on Friday, September 28

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Another item on my list this year was to visit a different MLB ballpark. I had only been to six others. My plan was to see three, in Baltimore, D.C. and Pittsburgh, but I had to narrow it down to a weekend in the Steel City. My mom and I took a bus overnight and arrived in town that Friday morning. I knew that we couldn’t check in at our hotel until the afternoon, so we walked to the ballpark to take a tour. In search of the ticket booth, I ended up in the front office lobby and saw Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who smiled at me and said hello, as I waited for the receptionist to finish handing out passes to the small group gathered with Mr. Hurdle. I will have to talk about the tour and ballpark experience another time. Let’s fast forward to the game.

This was my first time seeing A.J. Burnett pitch in person since he was with the Yankees, so I was glad to see a familiar face. I couldn’t make out any of the other players during batting practice. (East coast bias!) After a shaky first inning where he gave up a run, Burnett was brilliant for his remaining seven. However, his counterpart outshone him and by the fifth inning I noticed that the only Pirates runner had reached on an error by third baseman Scott Rolen in the third. The Bucs mounted a rally in the seventh when, with one out, Andrew McCutchen walked and stole second base. The comeback faltered when he was thrown out trying to steal third. Not daunted by the one-run deficit, the Pirates fans were on their feet and waving the bright yellow t-shirts we received upon entry. They have the best rally video, by the way. I was shuffling between wanting to see a no-hitter in person, and not wanting the home team to lose. Ultimately, Alex Presley hit a fly ball to second base where Brandon Phillips gleefully received the ball for the final out. The bullpen doors flung open and the visitor dugout emptied as the eight players on the field gathered around Bailey on the mound. The few Reds fans in attendance made their voices heard and all in attendance took the moment to applaud the feat, before heading for the exits.

With the loss, the Pirates had no chance of ending the season with a record of .500 or better. However, they redeemed themselves the next night with a walk-off win on a home run by McCutchen. We could hear the celebratory fireworks from Fort Washington.

Speaking of walk-off wins, I finally got to see:

3. The Mets win in a walk-off on Thursday, April 26

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Funny enough, this was on my list of things to experience as a fan this year, even though I have no luck when it comes to these things. I was standing just behind the left field foul pole, in no rush to leave because it was raining, as the Mets trailed by a run in the ninth. I had to look at the play-by-play again but it was hard to forget Justin Turner‘s at-bat in the bottom of the inning. Man, that guy has a good eye at the plate. Heath Bell was already rattled by walking three of the four previous batters and Turner’s patience, working 13 pitches to get the game-tying walk, was amazing. I got to be present for another walk-off on July 5 when the Mets rallied to tie and David Wright hit a single to plate the winning run, beating Jonathan Papelbon and the Phillies.

Speaking of the Mets third baseman, my next memorable moment this year was:

2. Exchanging hellos with David Wright on Sunday, June 10

I can already hear you saying, “Pictures or it didn’t happen”, but I assure you that it did. Every year when interleague play begins, I’m blinded by the frenzy surrounding the two New York teams facing each other, forgetting that these things don’t usually work in favor of my boys in orange and blue. This year was no different and the meeting of the two teams at the Stadium was just as gut-wrenching as the years before. This particular game ended with a heartbreaking walk-off home run by Russell Martin, so I wasn’t in a good mood. I was walking in the same hallway as Wright after the game and he probably saw my jaw drop from all the way down the hall before we shared any airspace. He was wearing sunglasses, perhaps hiding his disappointment of that game’s result. I said, “Hi”, and he politely returned,”How are you?” and my millisecond with the record-holding Met was over. It totally made the rest of my day though.

The sweep was rough to watch and the first loss in the series stung especially hard because it cast a shadow on the “Hi57ory” made only nine days earlier:

1. Johan Santana‘s no-hitter versus the St. Louis Cardinals on June 1

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I was scheduled to be in the ballpark that night, but the impending rain got me taken off the roster at the last minute. I was spending the evening with my mother and couldn’t turn the game on until the fifth or sixth inning. I didn’t notice the scoreboard and the television was on mute, until I saw the Cardinals third base coach jawing at umpire Adrian Johnson. The replay of Carlos Beltran‘s at-bat was shown, after cooler heads prevailed, and I saw why manager Mike Matheny had to step out of the dugout to calm the situation. The ball had clearly kicked up chalk and Beltran would have easily had a double. I didn’t see why it was that big of a fuss until the top of the next inning when the scoreboard displayed all zeroes next to the visiting team. My eyes went wide and I refused to explain my odd behavior to my mother until a hit was given up. Of course, I didn’t want that to happen at all. My attention was completely on the game and I was in hysterics by the top of the ninth. My hands are sweating as I’m writing this as all the emotions are flooding back. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed that hard during a game like I did during this one. World Series MVP David Freese was the last at-bat and when he struck out on Santana’s signature changeup I knew this was a night I would never forget. I cried watching the recap the next morning and have a replay of the entire game recorded on our DVR.

The 2013 season cannot get here fast enough. There are 90 days until Opening Day and I’m already looking forward to a ballpark pilgrimage in August. The legendary Babe Ruth once said,”Baseball was, is and always will be to me the best game in the world.” No matter what the final result each season, I completely agree with him.

Happy New Year!

162 Days of Summer – Day One

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“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.” This quote, lining the outfield wall at Macombs Dam Park, is my favorite feature of the renovated site at old Yankee Stadium. My search for the source of this platitude led to a list of sports movie quotes, crediting the film “Bull Durham” for my newest mantra. I found out today that I was not selected as one of the top 50 finalists for this year’s MLB Fan Cave, news that was both disappointing and delighting. Rejection rarely ever feels good, however I can think of more times than not that I was happy about not getting picked. When I received my rejection letter from Duke University, I couldn’t feel sad because at the very least I did not let intimidation prevent me from submitting the application. Despite my trepidation about sharing my writing and standing in front of a camera, I took a chance and completed the contest application. Unfortunately, I don’t embrace this carpe diem attitude about everything in my life. I feel much better about this outcome than I did last year, lamenting with the regret of inaction. I got to spend the summer engrossed in baseball anyway, but I kept wishing that I had tossed my hat in for consideration. The more times you play the game, the more chances you have to win – unless you’re playing the lottery or you’re the 2008 Detroit Lions. I am glad to be on the sidelines watching the Fan Cave adventure unfold this year and  I’m taking on my own challenge to show my true fan colors, making my summer 162 days long.

The weeks leading up to the Super Bowl are the countdown to the start of baseball chatter, as there will be no betting pools again until March Madness. With the MLB Network, the discussion never ends but one can take watching the same World Series film over and over again for so long. I spent Sunday evening watching the football game with my mother who couldn’t recall ever sitting through an entire game. I assured her that she did numerous times before, namely in 2008 when the same two teams were headlining the show. She argued that baseball games run longer, a point that I think only applies to games between the Yankees and Red Sox. We also praised Tom Brady’s good looks and agreed that Josh Duhamel should play him in a movie. Sunday’s match was the first time I can think of that we ever watched from the kickoff to the trophy presentation.

In 2008, I remember the fervor surrounding the Giants’ run toward the Super Bowl and by unseating the favored Patriots they accomplished what appeared impossible. If only for blemishing New England’s quest for the perfect season, the New York victory parade was the one to attend. My friend Cristina was visiting from Chicago so I was happy to have company to join the massive throng gathering for the festivities. This was the first championship parade to be hosted here since the 2000 Yankees’ Subway Series win. I didn’t follow football closely then, but living in New York any victory over our neighbors in New England is taken very seriously. The charter bus carrying the players and their families passed us on the way to Battery Park and I saw the gleaming Vince Lombardi trophy through one of the windows, a stunning sight in person. We had a poor vantage point for the parade as the crowd stood 40 deep, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the players. We could only tell that a fan favorite was approaching when shredded paper was flung out of the office windows across the street.

I caught a shred of the makeshift confetti on the fly and stuck it in my pocket. The Mets acquired pitcher Johan Santana via trade a few days earlier and I clung to the hope for another parade to be scheduled for October. That single shred of optimism still hangs on my dresser mirror. The Mets ended the 2008 season, losing their division lead on the last day for the second year in a row to the Philadelphia Phillies, the eventual World Series winners. The lopsided rivalry continues to intensify as the Phillies reign the east division annually with very little resistance. I promised myself on that chilly February day that I would not return for another parade at the Canyon of Heroes unless it was for the Mets, so not even Tuesday’s excitement could lure me downtown. I also woke up thinking that if the same fanfare was given to the returning troops, we would need to hold a parade every week.

Sharing a city with the Yankees does little to soothe a bruised ego and watching them hold their own march to City Hall in 2009 was not easy as a Mets fan. I think about throwing away the shredded slip of paper, discarding the bad fortune written on it. The reason the ribbon remains on my dresser is to remind me that dreams are good to have, every day. Even if what I’m hoping for hasn’t manifested itself in four years. It reminds me that I can see the bright side of a situation, even when darkness is stinging my eyes. Despite projections for a last place finish, the Mets have all 162 games of the regular season – barring another rainy summer – to write this year’s story. I am so lucky to be able to experience all of it firsthand. In the best baseball city in the country, I will spend another summer with both New York teams, seizing opportunities to enjoy the sport as a fan. I also expect this challenge to help me find where my talents lie since they have been buried for so long that I forgot where I put them. Win or lose; rain or shine, I’m taking my shot.

As the final seconds of the Super Bowl elapsed, I was glad that my favorite time of year was arriving, with the triumph of New York over New England secured. On Monday, the LED scoreboards on the outside of Yankee Stadium applauded the Giants and also counted down the days until the unofficial start to the baseball season. With temperatures in the 50’s, nice enough for a two-mile walk home, I can’t help but start my summer early.

It’s always rainy at the Stadium

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Picture 050.jpgThis picture was taken on March 13th and at the beginning of this week the only thing different about it was the number of days left before the start of the baseball season. I think the Yankees opened up the ballpark with a rainy day last year too. I think we had at least one day of rain during each home stand, and on Monday I was able to mark off the first one of 2010. It still counts, even if there isn’t a game being played.

On this holiest of Thursdays, we finally caught a break from the dreary and cold weather with an amazingly beautiful afternoon. The kind of weather that inspires a two-mile stroll across the Bronx. I have to absorb as much of the warmth as possible before the cold winds off the Harlem River whip through the Great Hall on Opening Day, April 13th. There is still much to do to prepare for the big day, but this is already gearing up to be a yearlong celebration of the 27th World Series title. The manual scoreboards in the outfield still display the scoring from Game 6 last November. A few of the tiles have either fallen out or been removed, but I have to think it’s still up for the sake of the guided stadium tours — rain or shine, it seems — conducted almost daily.

Picture 036.jpgThis picture was taken on the 1st of December during such a tour, and encapsulates the whirlwind season and the Yankees’ King Midas touch on the postseason. King Midas being Alex Rodriguez, of course. The test video on all the TV monitors in the Stadium today was of the final outs of the World Series, and I still could not believe it happened. What was probably the worst ever scenario for a Mets fan turned out to be a fun way to end a successful first year working with the Yankees. I’m excited to attend the second game of the Mets’ opening series next week, and that will be a walk in the ballpark compared to what’s in store for the following week in the Bronx.

Also known as the Obsessed Fan’s Perspective…

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I am not usually a very chatty person, but when the topic turns to baseball sometimes it’s hard for me to keep quiet. As I embark on year two as a Mets fan working for the fans at Yankee Stadium, I hope to share my musings about both teams and have some fun learning more about the game. I am launching this blog to continue my writing from last season because thankfully I don’t get blocked when it comes to this topic.

In New York City, the 2009 baseball season was a tale of two teams sitting on opposite ends of the performance spectrum. Anticipation was mounting for both the Mets and the Yankees long before Spring Training began, with excited curiosity about the new ballparks and expectations to shake off the failures of 2008. Both teams closed their old ballparks with the same 89-73 record and missed the postseason: the Yankees for the first time after a thirteen-year run, and the Mets for the second time since missing the World Series by one game in 2006. The teams continued to travel on the same wavelength at the beginning of 2009, losing their stadium openers (the exhibition games do not count) and garnering heavy criticism from fans and media alike regarding design. Yankee fans were upset that the House that Ruth Built was being demolished, even though the seats were not removed until a few months into the season. “Why did they build this one when they have a perfectly good stadium across the street?”, I heard one fan lament. Mets fans complained about the lack of history displayed at Citi Field, which was probably because the Yankees had the opposite issue. You can’t escape Yankee history once you get into the building, it’s everywhere, starting when you hop off the train and walk through Babe Ruth Plaza. It is impossible to please everyone, but soon fans of both teams found special features to enjoy at both ballparks.

Traveling on the same wavelength could not last for long though, and after one game both teams blazed different paths: one headed to their first championship in nine years, and the other headed to their worst season since 2004. The game I speak of is one I would like to forget but until the first game of this year’s crosstown showdown, I probably won’t be able to shake. Earlier this spring, Mark Teixeira pinpointed the turnaround in the Yankees season to what is known as the “dropped pop-up game” versus the Mets on Friday, June 12. I had to check the date again because, being in attendance that night, I was sure that the date was the 13th. As a Mets fan working at Yankee Stadium, good-natured ribbing is to be expected but after that game every pop-up fielded by a visiting player was greeted with a “Castillo!” cheer at my work station. Coming into the game, both teams were in 2nd place behind their bitter divisional rivals: Mets 31-27, 4 GB Phillies; Yankees 34-26, 2 GB Red Sox. The Yankees were 0-8 versus the Red Sox, getting swept in Boston that same week. The Mets had a similarly stressful week versus the visiting Phillies, with Johan Santana letting up four home runs in the first game. The Mets miraculously pulled out the win with some power of their own, and a solid appearance by closer Francisco Rodriguez. In the next two games, the Mets dropped leads after the 6th inning and lost both meetings in extras. Looking back, things could only get worse for one of the two New York squads and unfortunately the Mets were the team to wear that mantle. After the ball dropped out of Luis Castillo‘s glove, the Yankees record against the Red Sox was 9-1, splitting the season series and clinching the division title upon the final out of their last game against Boston. The Mets, on the other hand, spent the rest of the season waiting for injured players to return, only to see more added to the disabled list and hobble to a 70-92 finish. The Yankees? They ended the year with the MLB-best 103-59 record and the title of World Champions.

Last year, I officially signed to work for the 2009 Yankees on a rainy February 18th. The reason I remember that is because I felt particularly treacherous having my orientation scheduled for the day the last piece of Shea Stadium was pulled down. Even though it was a coincidence, I can’t help but think that it was an omen. I am really trying not to think about the fact that my orientation for this year is scheduled for this Saturday, March 13th – Johan Santana’s 31st birthday. Despite a few medical issues already in Spring Training, there’s nothing to be paranoid about, right?