Authors: Jane Heller
THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE
WITH THE NEW YORK YANKEES
For Bruce Gelfand, My Friend and Coach
CONFESSIONS OF A SHE-FAN
Prologue August 6, 2007
Book One: you broke my heart
Week 1 April 2, 2007
Week 2 April 9, 2007
Week 3 April 16, 2007
Week 4Â April 23, 2007
Week 5 April 30, 2007
Week 6 May 7, 2007
Week 7 May 14, 2007
Week 8 May 21, 2007
Week 9 May 28, 2007
Week 10 June 4, 2007
Week 11 June 11, 2007
Week 12 June 18, 2007
Week 13 June 25, 2007
Week 14 July 2, 2007
Week 15 July 9, 2007
Week 16 July 16, 2007
Week 17 July 23, 2007
Book Two: but I Still love you
Week 17 Continued
Week 18 July 30, 2007
Week 19 August 6, 2007
Week 20 August 13, 2007
Week 21 August 20, 2007
Week 22 August 27, 2007
Week 23 September 3, 2007
Week 24 September 10, 2007
Book Three: for better of worse
Week 25 September 17, 2007
Week 26 September 24, 2007
Week 27 October 1, 2007
ALDS: Game One October 4, 2007
ALDS: Game Two October 5, 2007
ALDS: Game Three October 7, 2007
ALDS: Game Four October 8, 2007
Week 29 October 15, 2007
Week 30 October 22, 2007
Week 31 October 30, 2007
Epilogue February 14, 2008
A-Rod's eyes are the color of pistachio
. I know this because I am staring straight into them right now. He and I are sharing a moment. Time is standing still. It feels as if there is nobody in the packed restaurant but the two of us, and I am dizzy, light-headed.
I try to steady myself, but he is larger than life in his blue jeans and green-striped polo shirtânot one of those 'roid guys with their cartoon muscles and huge, pimply heads, but “cut,” as they say at the gym. Ripped. Sculpted. And the skin on his face is so smooth, without even the slightest stubble. I wonder if he gets it waxed.
I sip my Pinot Noir, set my glass down on the table, and moisten my lips before speaking his name.
His name. Oops. Which one should I use? A-Rod? Alex? Al? (Well, that is what his old high school buddy and current teammate Doug Mientkiewicz calls him.)
I will go with Al. I like the sound of it. It is charmingly blue-collar for aman with a $252 million contract.
On this August evening, we are in Torontoâthe same city where he was photographed in May with that busty but rather butch-looking blonde â¦ the same city where he nearly incited a brawl when he shouted “Hah!” or “Mine!”or “I got it!” as he was heading to third base and caused the Blue Jays' Howie Clark to drop the ball. So much history here, but tonight it is all about us, about our being together at Spuntini, a favorite ristorante of Joe Torre's that is only
minutes from our hotel. Al and I are staying at the Park Hyatt in the trendy Yorkville neighborhood, as are all the Yankees, and weâ
He and I are not
together in Toronto. He is here because the Yankees are playing a three-game series against the Jays, and I am here because I am writing a book about whether or not I am a loyal Yankee fan. We have never met, let alone shared any “moments.” It is my less-than-cut husband Michael who is sitting across the table from me, winding his Capellini Funghi around his fork, oblivious to the fact that we are in the presence of greatness. A-Rod, having stepped out from the private room where Torre is hosting a dinner, is merely walking past us on his way to the men's room.
“Can you follow him in there?” I whisper to Michael, to whom I have been married for 15 years. He claims to be a Yankee fan, but he was born and raised in Connecticut, a state that harbors Red Sox fans, so I am never 100 percent sure. Still, he came along with me on this 2-month odyssey, during which I am following the Yankees to every city and every game, and he seems to be enjoying himself. At least, he was.
He looks up from his pasta. “Run that by me again?”
I nod in the direction of the men's room. “That was A-Rod. He's taking a leak. Can you go in there andâ”
“And what?” he says, fully engaged now and not in a good way.
“Just go in there after him and play it by ear.”
“Play what by ear?”
“Forget about it.”
“You want me to check out how big it is and you're asking me why?”
“Maybe it's not big. Maybe it's really tiny. Maybe that's why he's so insecure.”
Michael shakes his head as if I am insane and resumes eating.
“Look,” I say, leaning in closer, “it's not like I'm asking you to give him a blow job. I just want you to follow him in there and strike up a conversation, tell him it's fantastic that he's leading the majors in homers and RBIs. Or act like you don't recognize him and talk about the weather or whatever it is men talk about in there.”
“Men don't talk about anything in there.”
“Can't you make an exception? I need material for my bookâa funny anecdote, a little story, something. I promised the publisher.”
“I'm not going in there.”
Where's your sense of fun? Of adventure?”
“Not in that bathroom.” Michael stabs his fork at a stray strand of pasta. “If you want to talk to him so badly, go in there yourself.”
“You're so passive.” This is the worst thing I can say to him.
“Oh, calm down.” This is the worst thing he can say to me.
“I can't believe we're in the middle of a foreign country and you won't help me.”
“We're in Canada, not Afghanistan.”
“The point is I could lose this book contract if I don't get access to the players. We'll be homeless.”
“One simple favor. Please. If you really love me, you'llâ”
A-Rod passes our table on his way back to dinner with Joe and the boys. I smile sweetly when it appears that he will look in my direction, but he does not. He faces forward without so much as a glance during his second lap through the restaurant. In an instant, he is gone.
“Great.” I sink into my chair. “Another missed opportunity to meet a Yankee and write about it.”
“You can write about how you had a fight with your husband.”
“I didn't need to leave home for that.”
The Yankees always start slow. Offense takes a while to come around,
especially ours. It's cold out there. The ball doesn't travel very well.
You can't really say that to the media because it sounds like an excuse,
but it's true. This team will score aton of runs, and by the end of the
year, we'll be right where we need to be.
A MEMBER OF THE 2007 YANKEES
It is Monday, Opening Day
. I am beyond excited that the baseball season is finally here, that the Yankees are finally here. They are the love of my life.
I missed them so much during the long, cold, winter months. Okay, I live in Santa Barbara, California, so the winter months are not that cold. Still, I am always aching for news of them during the off-season, never mind actual video images of their pinstripes, and April can't come soon enough. Opening Day is about Possibility and Hope and Maybe This Year. It is better than Christmas. Better than birthdays. Better than sex. I will get to my husband in a second.
And yet even as I can't wait for the first pitch, I am dreading it, too. My Yankees have been picked by many sportswriters to win it all in 2007, but what if we don't make it past the ALDS like last year? What if we don't get to the postseason? What if we can't even beat the pathetic Devil Rays today? Open your heart to a baseball team and you're liable to get it broken.
Before you say I am working myself up for no good reason, I will give you a good reason: Joe Torre is sending Carl Pavano to the mound as our Opening
Day starter. Carl Fucking Pavano. The same guy who has not pitched in 643 days following a string of injuries that included a sore butt. The same guy who cracked up his Porsche and his ribs and neglected to tell anybody in the Yankees organization. The same guy who is so despised by his teammates that they papered his locker with the back covers of the New York tabloids that pictured him with the headline “Crash Test Dummy.”
Apparently, there is no one else to send to the mound today. Pettitte and Moose are not lined up to pitch, and Wang is on the DL with a strained hamstring. The rotation is not just thin; it is anorexic.
And to add to my sense of foreboding on this otherwise joyous occasion, I will not be able to watch the game on TV. Major League Baseball made an exclusive deal with DirecTV for the Extra Innings package that broadcasts out-of-market games, and since I have cable, not a satellite dish, I am shut out.
“I should boycott the whole season,” I announce to my husband as he is eating his Rice Krispies at 9:45 a.m. He is piling the cereal so high in the bowl that little Krispies are bouncing all over the floor. It is one of the many things he does that drive me nuts.
“We could get a dish,” he says. His name is Michael Forester. He has a silvery-gray mustache and beard with wispy head-hair to match, although there is not much head-hair to speak of anymore. I honestly think he gets balder every time I look. He wears glasses and is 6 feet tall and has the craggy appearance of a sailor or a photographer, both of which he is. He also has a soft, whispery voice that reminds everyone of Clint Eastwood's, and he is very quiet and even-temperedâthe opposite of me. He once accused me of loving the Yankees more than I love him, and I scoffed at the notion. It is simply that he is the old ball and chain whose laundry I do, and the Yankees are, well, the Yankees.
“We can't get a dish,” I remind him. We live way up in the hills. We get not only the big-time Santa Anas but also Sundowner winds that whip through the canyons at night, especially in the spring and summer. A dish would not have a chance up here.
I disappear into my office and follow the game on my computer. Who am I kidding? I could never boycott baseball. Most of my women friends think it is peculiarâfreakish, evenâthat Iam such a fan. They cannot fathom how I can get manicures and color my hair but would much rather talk about Johnny Damon than Jimmy Choo. They are still amazed that I declined an invitation to
a baby shower because the Yankees were playing the Red Sox and the game was on Fox. “Why can't you just TiVo it?” my friend Renee suggested. There was no way to explain, except to say that I would never attend a baby shower during a YankeesâRed Sox game, not even if the baby in question was my own.
Why baseball and not football or basketball? I love that there is a slow pace; the games are so leisurely, I can read a book or clean the house or check my e-mail and not miss much. I love that there is no time clock; a game lasts as long as it lasts. I love that there is a matchup between a pitcher and batter; it is a contest within a contest. I love that I can seethe players' faces; they are not hidden behind protective equipment. I love that the game is multifaceted; there is hitting and pitching and running and fielding. I love that the athletes are such a mixed bag of characters; they are wily veterans and unripe kids and everything in between. And I love that I can understand it; I don't have to be a math genius to figure out the rules. Come to think of it, there is nothing I don't love about baseball, except that it ends every fall.
Today's game starts at 10:00 a.m. here on the West Coast. I am a writer of novelsâ13 romantic comedies that have sold to Hollywood and provided me with a healthy income but have yet to be made into movies. I am supposed to be working on a new novel, but instead I procrastinate. I sit in front of my computer and “watch” the game as well as post entries on a Yankees blog. I have a macho screen name on the blogâI am known as Bronx Bad Assâbecause I noticed that women who call themselves things like Yankee Princess are either disparaged or dismissed. Everybody on the blog assumes I am a guy, and I get a kick out of it when they answer my posts with “Listen, dude.” Today, we are all trying to outdo each other with our insulting remarks about Pavano, the general consensus being that he has “shit the bed.”
Carl only goes 4Â½ innings, allowing five runs (four earned), but the Yanks beat the Devil Rays 9â5, thanks in part to A-Rod's two-run homer.
I feel much better with our first victory under my belt. I allow myself to relax, to smile, to look forward to the rest of the day. When the Yankees win, I have a sense that all is right with the world. I have never been good at losing, although as a tennis player I was not very good at winning. I had a killer forehand but was not a killer myself. I would make it to the finals of tournaments, only to fold. As a Yankee fan, I never fold.
The second game of the series against Tampa Bay on the 4th is rained out,
but the third on the 5th results in a 7â6 loss in what is supposed to be Pettitte's triumphant return to the Bronx. The Yankees commit three errors, three wild pitches, and a passed ball. I tell myself it takes a few days to iron out the kinks, that there is no cause for concern. I am just glad I am able to watch the games on TV now. Major League Baseball and the cable companies made a deal after all. I am not being shut out.
The Yankees open a weekend series against the Orioles, and it turns out that there may be cause for concern. Mussina is a dud in Friday night's loss, and Damon sits out the game with a strained right calf.
Igawa gives up seven runs in his major league debut on Saturday, and Matsui goes on the DL with a strained hamstring. A pattern is emerging alreadyâevery starter will pitch badly and every position player will get injuredâand I don't like it. A-Rod hits two more homers, including a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth that wins the game. I can only hope his homer thing is a pattern, too.
He goes deep again in Sunday's game, but our rookie starter, Darrell Rasner, is so shaky that Pettitte has to pitch in relief, and the Yankees lose the game and the series to the Orioles.
. Come on.
I know, I know. It is only the end of the first week of the season. But I am slightly uneasy, skittish. I am yelling derogatory things at the TV when Michael and I watch the games together, forcing him to withdraw into his sailing magazines. He used to get a kick out of how “spirited” a fan I was. Now he looks at me with bewilderment.
“I thought you couldn't wait for the season to start,” he says as the O's congratulate each other on the field.
“I couldn't,” I say, giving Kevin Millar the finger.
“Then why do you seem so miserable?”
I suppose this is where I should just flat-out admit that the quality of my days and nights is significantly influenced by whether the Yankees win or lose. Which is another way of saying that I can't bear it when they lose. Which is another way of saying that I want them to win every gameâand not in tight pitchers' duels; I prefer blowouts.
But I didn't always have such nutty expectations. I used to view baseball as a simple, innocent pleasure. My father died of a brain tumor when I was 6, so our house was not a cheery place for a childâexcept when my two grandpas came over on Sunday afternoons to pick up the paternal slack. They would settle into their chairs in the den, light up their La Primadora cigars, watch Yankee games on our black-and-white Zenith TV, and teach my older sister Susan and me how to keep score with our pencils and pads. Mickey Mantle would hit a home run and everybody would clap, and suddenly the atmosphere was festive instead of funereal. For those few hours I could forget that I was the only kid in first grade whose daddy was absent on Parents' Day. For those few hours I could block out all the grownups' scary, mysterious whispers about hospitals and seizures and cancer. For those few hours I could parrot the funny words I heard on TVâ
bunt and chin music
âand be pals with Grandpa Lou and Grandpa Max. Who cared that I had absolutely no idea what the words meant? Baseball made me happy. The Yankees made me happy. They were something to hang on to, to believe in.
I know people hate the “Evil Empire” because they always win and always spend money and always grab headlines. To me they are not evil; they are royalty. They continue to provide a kind of No-Sadness Zone where the skies are bluer and the grass is greenerâan escapeâbut the pinstripes also symbolize excellence and achievement and brilliance. When the Yankees win, I have this notion that their brilliance somehow rubs off on me.
Players never panic. The fans panic. Especially Yankee fans. They're so
used to having the most amazing talent that they don't understand
how hard it is to hit .300 from April 1 to September 30. You can't do it.
t care who you are.
He is right. I am panicking
The Yankees are not off to a good start. There is no consistency. We cannot get any momentum going. And we are riddled with injuries to the point where Cashman fires the team's fitness coach. Things just feelâI don't knowâwrong somehow.
Here is an example. We beat the Twins on the 9th and 10th, thanks to A-Rod, who hits a homer in both games. I definitely brighten whenever he comes to the plate now instead of hiding my eyes like I did last year. But then we lose the finale on the 11th. Mussina departs early with a strained hamstring, and Farnsworth gives up four runs in a third of an inning, causing me to hurl abuses at him. I don't love his geeky glasses or his titanium necklace that is supposed to promote positive energy flow. Please. He doesn't get batters out, and he sulks while he's at it.
The A's arrive at the Stadium on Friday, and we lose to them in 11 innings. Igawa is unimpressive again, but it is Farnsworth who serves up the homer in the seventh to tie the game at 4â4. We have to ship this guy back to wherever he came from and get someone else. We beat Oakland on Saturdayâyes, A-Rod
hits another bombâbut lose to the A's on Sunday in a heartbreaking and disturbing way: Mo gives up a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to Marco Scutaro. He tells the media he is fine, but I will tell you who is not fine: Pavano and Mussina. They both go on the 15-day DL. This is why I am panicking. I have developed intermittent headaches and am ready to go on the 15-day DL myself.
t know if they're superstitions or habits, but yeah, I have them.
Like if we won last night, I'll take the exact same way to the park the
next day, whether there's traffic or not. And if we're really rolling, I'll
eat the same thing until we lose. I'm not the only one, either. Joe holds
Derek's bat during every game. And every time Joe goes to the mound,
Derek taps him on the N-Y. We all have our stuff.
Cleveland comes into town for three games,
and we finally have a punching bag. We sweep them. Chase Wright, the rookie pitcher du jour, wins his major league debut, but the series is all about A-Rod. He hits a homer in each game, and I am starting to fall for him in that way women fall for men who come to their rescue. He is coming to my rescue right now. He is a big, strong, good-looking hero who is giving me a reason to think that the Yankees will pull out of this funk. My only bone to pick with him is that he uses too much gloss. A hero who comes to your rescue should not have lips that are shinier and plumper than yours.
Like many fans, I am superstitious, and it is this weekend against the Red Sox at Fenway that this personality quirk of mine pops out like a rash. I remind myself that it is only April and the division title is not at stake, plus all the other bullshit things you say in an attempt not to descend into the madness that is this rivalry. Nothing works.
I can't decide what to wear for the game or where to sit.
I have lucky clothes. If I am wearing my Bernie Williams T-shirt and the Yankees win, I will wear the Bernie Williams T-shirt until they lose. Only then does it go into the hamper, and only then do I pull out the Derek Jeter T-shirt.
I have lucky food. If I eat pasta for dinner and the Yankees win, I will eat pasta for dinner until they lose, then switch to, say, turkey burgers.
I have lucky sitting/standing positions. The living room's sitting options are the white sofa directly across from the TV or one of the two club chairs, which are slipcovered in a nubby green fabric, have ottomans, and are sort of like chic Barcaloungers. If I am sitting on the sofa when the Yankees win, I will sit on the sofaâon the same cushionâuntil they lose, then either move to one of the chairs for the next game or watch it standing directly in front of the TV. And speaking of TVs, we have two in our house. If I am watching the one in the living room and the Yankees lose, I will move to the one in the bedroom the next time.
I never invite friends over to watch a game, not since Laurie and Peter Grad came for dinner during game seven of the 2001 World Series. It was not Mo's fault that the Diamondbacks scored off him in the ninth. It was my fault for turning my head away from the TV to offer Laurie and Peter some chocolate mousse cake with crÃ¨me fraÃ®che. I will not make that mistake again.
And I pray for the Yankees in actual churches. I am a nice Jewish girl from Scarsdale, but my nonbeliever mother sent me to Camp Birchmere, a quasi-Christian sleepaway camp where I sang the doxology before every Sunday dinner for eight summers. I have been drawn to churches ever sinceânot to their dogma but to their rituals, their majesty, their beauty. In fact, Michael and I went to the Easter vigil at the Santa Barbara Mission on Saturday night. A historic landmark in California, the Old Mission is also a thriving Catholic parish, and the place was overflowing with worshippers. During the candlelight service, I made sure to throw in an appeal for the Yanks. “At the very least, please don't let them embarrassme in Boston” is how I put it.
These maneuvers are simply my attempt to feel that I am in control over baseball situations when, in fact, I have no control over them whatsoever. I hate that.
The opener at Fenway on the 20th is a catchup between Schilling and Pettitte, and neither gets the decision. A-Rod hits not one but two homers, passing Willie Stargell and Stan Musial on the all-time list with 476. We are ahead 6â2 until the eighth, when Joe goes to Mo for a five-out save. I like Joe. I do. But
I disapprove of his use of Mo in the eighth. To prove my point, Mo gives up a single to Varitek, a triple to Crisp, and a single to Cora, and we lose 7â6. I despise Red Sox fans for many reasons, one of which is that they cannot seem to let go of their bitterness toward the Yankees, even though
were the ones who won the damn World Series in 2004. Get over your sad and pathetic history, people, and move on! But what really galls me is how they brag that their players have “figured Mo out” and that their closer, Jonathan “Pap Smear” Papelbon, is better. Come back to me when he has over 400 saves.
We lose the Saturday game, too. This time it is by the score of 7â5. It is remarkable that we almost win, given that our starter is a kid named Jeff Karstens and their starter is their ace, Josh Beckett, and that David Ortizâ“Big Sloppy”âdrives in four runs. There is nothing more sickening than watching that guy hang all over the plate and never having our pussy pitchers knock him on his ass.
We lose the finale on Sunday 7â6. The Red Sox sweep. Chase Wright, the rookie pitcher from the other night, gives up four consecutive home runs in the third inning, equaling a major league record. I gnash my teeth as I watch Manny, Drew, Lowell, and Varitek round the bases. Maybe God has a different idea than I do regarding what constitutes embarrassment. Or maybe He didn't hear me at the Easter vigil because Easter is His peak season and He was overbooked.
After the game on Sunday night, Michael and I argue about Brian Cashman, of all people. I say the Yankees keep losing because of the crappy pitchers he is putting on the mound, and Michael says it is not Cashman's fault that Wang and Mussina are on the DL.
“He's using the rookies because he has no choice,” he says.
“What about Igawa and Pavano?” I counter. “He must have been delusional to think the Yankees could win with them in the rotation.”
“Winning.” He shakes his head in disapproval. “You're supposed to appreciate the journey, not just the destination.”
“Money doesn't grow on trees, a watched pot never boils, and two wrongs don't make a right. Got it.”
“My point is that you should enjoy watching the games. Why are they such torture for you?”
When did I become the sort of fan who takes baseball so seriously? When
did the simple pleasure of watching my team evolve into an all-consuming lust for victory?
Not in my teenage years, although lust of another sort figured prominently. I was in high school when I developed major crushes on ballplayers. I loved Mickey, of course, and had pictures of him taped to the walls of my bedroom right next to my Beatles posters. But in 11th and 12th grades, I branched out and started focusing on other, lesser players like Steve Whitaker, who wore number nine, played right field, and was very, very cute. My fantasy was to date a Yankee and marry a Yankee and have lots of Yankee children. Never mind that most of the Yankees were already married; I was oblivious to their real lives. And never mind that I was a virgin with no clue how to be anything else; in my imagination, my special Yankee and I would flirt and hold hands and maybe even make out, but that was the extent of it. I wanted to know how to meet my Yankee, go on dates with him, and still get my homework done.
Susan, my older sister, was engaged to Bob, a lawyer who lived in the city in an apartment next door to three girlsâthree girls who happened to be baseball groupies. He introduced me, and they were kind enough to coach me in the art. All I had to do was swap my teenybopper, suburban look for an older, more provocative one, show up at the ballpark for batting practice, and hang out near the railing acting “approachable.” This was before Yankee Stadium was policed by security people who eject you for even thinking about acting approachable. “If a player likes you, he'll send an usher to get your phone number,” said Barb, the ringleader.
I was a senior at Scarsdale High when the'68 season began. I was ready to head to Yankee Stadium to snag myself a player. There was just one problem: I didn't have a car. I needed an accomplice. And it couldn't be one of the boys with whom I often went to games. I didn't troll for players when I was at the Stadium with my buddies Bubba, Jimmy, Christy, and Steve; I actually watched baseball with them. Besides, I would look unavailable if I were sitting with a
Lee Eisner was my friend from Camp Birchmere. She had no interest in baseball, but she had a bronze Mustang. I convinced her that it would be fun to go out with a Yankee or at least try to.
We hatched a plan. Each time we ventured to the Bronx, we told our parents we were going to the library or someplace equally benign-sounding. We would hop on the Major Deegan and change into our slutty clothes once we got to the
ballpark. We would tease our hair and go heavy-handed on the makeup and put on very short skirts and tight tops. Neither of us had a boyfriend nor a clue what to do with one; we were baffled by the mechanics of actual sex. Lee once used the shift of her car to demonstrate to me how to give a guy a hand job, but questions remained about how fast, how slow, when to stop.
We would arrive 2 hours before the game, buy tickets, strut down to the front row of the field boxes, and hover. There were no guards in those days, so nobody chased us away.
“Hey, Pepitone!” I would shout. “That was some shot you hit yesterday!”
“Thanks,” he would say and come over to talk to us.
It was thrilling. When the players went into the dugout after BP, we would maintain our position and wait for an usher to show up to secure our names and numbers. It didn't happen. Not at first.
But then one of the players did call us. Well, he called me. Lee and I had gone to batting practice the day before, decked out like hookers, and I was chatting up Ruben Amaro, who was probably old enough to be my father. He asked for my number and I gave it to him, never imagining that he would use it.
I was getting ready for school in the morning when the phone rang. My mother answered it. She knocked on my bedroom door looking suspicious.
“A man named Ruben is asking for Juanita,” she said, tightening the sash around her bathrobe.
I felt my heart lurch. “He's my Spanish teacher.”
Before my mother could remember that I took French that year, I ran downstairs to the phone in the kitchen. It had along cord so I could stretch it out and talk in the hallway.
“Hello?” I whispered. “This is Juanita. a. I mean, Jane.”
“Thisis Ruben,” he said. “Did I wake you up?”
“I had to get up for school. I have a calculus test this morning.”
“How about you and your pretty friend meet me and a friend tonight at Stella D'oro?”
Stella D'oro? Wasn't that a breadstick?
“The restaurant,” he clarified. “Off the Deegan in the Bronx.”
“Sounds like fun,” I said, wondering what excuse I would give my parents this time.
“See you later,” said Ruben.
Oh my God! Lee and I were going on a date! With two Yankees! That very night!
I was not interested in marrying Ruben Amaro, but he was the Yankee who called, not Mickey Mantle or even Steve Whitaker, so we went. Lee's date was a player neither of us can remember now. What we do remember is that the four of us sat at a table at Stella D'oro, had something to eat and drink, and flirted. But when the two Yankees reached for us and tried to kiss us on the lips, we would not let them. They were very sweet about itâthey did not call us cock teases or throw drinks on usâbut they realized we were not groupies after all, just a couple of chaste princesses from Westchester.
The incident emboldened us. We'd had a brush with sex and survived, so we kept going to batting practice to get picked up by Yankees.
Eventually word spread that we were not worth the trouble. Undaunted, I asked the girls who lived next door to my now brother-in-law for introductions to players on other teams, just for kicks. For example, I had drinks with two relief pitchers from the California Angels when they were in New York to play the Yanks: a journeyman named George Brunet and the infamous spitballer Jack Hamilton. I met them at a bar on Manhattan's Upper East Side and got drunk on screwdrivers, the only alcoholic beverage I could think of to order. George and Jack were very large men who seemed amused by how much I knew about baseball and treated me like their kid sister.
In the summer of '68, Lee and I took our act to France. We spent 2 months on the Riviera meeting cute French boys and then refusing to have sex with them, too. Lee just said no to them, but I was more creative. I carried a picture of Mickey Mantle in my wallet and when a boy got a little too friendly, I whipped out Mickey's picture, pointed to it, and said, “
Mon fiancÃ©. Je l'aime
Everything's contagious in baseball. How many times do you see a guy
make a good play and then somebody else makes a good play? Then
there's a game where the ball hits off a guy's glove, and then another
ball doesn't get run down in the gap. Winning is contagious. Unfortunately,
so is losing.
After the sweep at Fenway
, I start watching the games with a new warinessâan increased sense that this team, with its undeveloped rookies and its creaky vets, does not have it.
Here is why: On the 23rd and 24th, we lose two to the Devil Rays at Tropicana Field. If that is not the depths of misery, I don't know what is. Igawa stinks up the first game, allowing seven runs. And Wang, fresh off the DL, starts the second game, only to have Myers serve up a grand slam to Carl Crawford.
Joe Torre says it is too early to panic, but the Yankees are officially panicking. They announce that Phil Hughes, the pitching prospect whose golden arm was supposed to get a full year of seasoning down on the farm, will make his major league debut versus Toronto on the 25th. It feels like a desperation move instead of a promotion.
It is on this night that the insomnia starts. I don't sleep well when the Yankees lose, but I don't sleep at all when they are in the cellar.
The first of the two-game home stand against Toronto is rained out on the 25th, so Hughes makes his debut on the 26th. He is not the phenom I was hoping for. We lose 6â0. Now the bats are cold, too. According to
Michael Kay on the YES Network, the Yankees are off to their worst 20-game start since 1991.
I picture the Yankees team from 1991. They were a sad, sad group that year except for Mattingly, butâcome to think of itâI didn't get upset about losing in those days. I was still the sort of fan who enjoyed watching them no matter how badly they played. No rants about whether they were trying hard enough. No superstitious behavior in an effort to nudge them to victory. No gnashing of teeth. No insomnia. I just loved them and that was that, to honor and to cherish, for better or worse.
That is also the year I starting dating Michael. I was separated from my second husband and renting a house in Connecticut and figuring I would be off men for the rest of my life. I was 0-for-2, after all. But then I was set up with Michael at a friend's dinner party, and he called a few days later, asking if he could stop by.
“Thanks, but I'm really busy right now,” I said.
“With what? It's Sunday afternoon.”
“I'm watching a Yankees game. They're getting killed, but they could always come back.”
“I'm a Yankee fan,” said Michael. “I'll watch the game with you.”
“If you want.”
Even then I put baseball first. I don't know why he didn't run like hell in the other direction, but instead he drove right over.
I fell in love with him for many reasons. He is a guy's guy who knows about race cars and can fix household gadgets and thinks being on a sailboat during a storm is fun. He is also a sensitive soul who is not afraid to tear up when something moves him. It didn't hurt that he had a bearded-photographer,
Bridges of Madison County
hero look that I found rather appealing.
But I also fell in love with him because we shared a passion for the Yankees.
“When I was 13, I broke my ankle playing football with my friends,” he told me that Sunday afternoon. “My father wanted to take me to the hospital, but I just knew Roger Maris would hit his 60th home run that day. I refused to go until the game was over.”
I almost said “I love you” right then and there. But we continued to watch the Yankees get creamed, and I kept my emotional outbursts focused on my team.
“I like how you're not all about winning,” he said when he saw how hard I cheered.
Poor guy. As all too often happens with couples, he thought he was marrying one person and ended up with someone else.
On Friday the 27th, the Yankees host the Red Sox for the first of three games at the Stadium. Having barely recovered from the last series against them, I am not looking forward to this one.
“I'll die if we get swept again,” I tell Michael as the game starts.
“Stop being so negative,” he says before going outside to fire up the grill. We are having barbecued chicken for dinner. The spaghetti and the turkey burgers did not help us beat Boston last time, so I insisted on a change in the menu.
The barbecued chicken is a bust. We lose uglyâ11â4âwith Pettitte allowing five runs. Proctor, Vizcaino, and Mo are awful, too. Yes, Mo. The only bright spot is Jeter's 15-game hitting streak.
We actually win the Saturday game 3â1, although there is more bad news. Karstens gets smacked in the knee in the first inning by a line drive off the bat of Lugo. A cracked fibula. I am not making this up!
The rubber match on Sunday is a horror showâa 7â4 loss thanks to Wang and the split fingernail that is inhibiting him from throwing his good sinker. I know pitchers are fragile creatures, but am I supposed to believe that the Yankees can't find a medical professional to deal with a fingernail? At the very least, Mrs. Wang must have a good manicurist and/or a tube of Krazy Glue.
The New York papers are fueling speculation that Joe could be out of a job if the team continues its free fall.
“Hopefully,we can catch a good streak here real soon,” Damon is quoted as saying.
I have come to like Johnny Damon. I loathed him as a Red Sock, of course, but he is always upbeat and cheerful and usually makes contact at the plate. Abreu, on the other hand, is high on my shit list. He is in the worst offensive slump of his career, and he plays right field as if he is terrified of getting his uniform dirty. Just once I would like to see him dive for a ball.
“They need someone to motivate them,” I tell Michael as he turns off the TV. “I wish I could talk to them.”
“And say what?”
“That there is behavior I will not tolerate.”
He rolls his eyes, lifts the cordless phone off its cradle, and hands it to me. “Call the dugout. Maybe they're still there.”
He is joking, but I am not. I grab the phone. “What's the area code for Tampa? I'm calling Steinbrenner.”
“You've turned into a female George.”
“There are worse things,” I say. “He's a great owner.”
“A great owner?”
“All those championships wouldn't have happened without him,” I say. “He spoiled me. I'm used to winning now.”
There. I said it. I am used to winning. If there were a 12-step program for Yankee fans whose innocent passions became hardcore addictions in '96 when we began our run under Torre, I would be chairing the meetings.
“My name is Jane, and I am a Yankeeholic.”
Joe was getting 100 percent from everybody. We had a guy we
respectedâas a manager, as a man, as a friend, almost as a father.
Everybody who walked through that tunnel gave everything they had
every single night. Sometimes you don't get that. Sometimes you hear
“I'm tired today.” But I never heard that from any of the guys.
Yesterday the Boss issued a statement
through Howard Rubenstein saying he supports the manager and the team. Like all Steinbrenner Statements, this one carries a not-so-veiled threat: The Yankees had better start winning or else. I could not agree more.
But it is anew month and afresh start for the Yanks. They open a three-game series against the Rangers in Arlington. On May 1, we kick Texas around 10â1. Phil Hughes throws a no-hitter going into the seventh for his first major league victory but leaves the game with a hamstring injury. Can you catch hammies the way you catch herpes? And Damon is out with a back problem. The guy is going all Carl Pavano on us.
May 2 is my birthday, and the game is rained out, which means I am forced to actually celebrate my big day by leaving the house. Michael takes me to the Plow & Angel at the posh San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito. The waiters bring out a dessert with a candle on top and sing “Happy Birthday” to me. I am mortified because I am not the type who enjoys being sung to by waiters and because I am at that age where it is not a huge thrill to be another year older. Forget what all those rah-rah baby boomer women say about how great it is to have wisdom and experience and disposable income. I would rather have fewer wrinkles and perkier tits.
We play a doubleheader on May 3 to make up for the rained-out game, and we win both contests. Pettitte gets the victory in the opener, and Mussina, just activated from the DL, allows only one run over five innings. I take back the nasty things I said about him, but I wish I could warm to him. He is serious whenever he is on TV, kind of sourpussy. I wonder if he bows from the waist during sex, the way he bows out of the stretch.
We are home for a four-game set against Seattle this weekend, and the results are mixed. The Friday-night game on May 4 is an abomination. We lose 15â11, and the Mariners have 20 fucking hits. I boo the TV. Michael boos, too, and he hardly ever boos the TV. We rebound with an 8â1 victory on Saturday, with Wang missing a perfect game by only five outs. Sunday's game involves a near-brawl after the Mariners bean Josh Phelps for his hard slide into Johjima, their catcher, and Proctor returns the favor by throwing behind Betancourt. Darrell Rasner and four relievers combine for a four-hit shutout, and the Yankees win. But the big event is the announcement during the seventh-inning stretch that Roger Clemens, who speaks to the masses from George's private box like the pope, will return to the Yankees in late May/early June.
I am conflicted about the Rocket's return. I don't blame the Yanks for wanting reinforcements. But why bring back a guy with a history of groin problems and hammy problems and God knows what else? He is old in pitcher years. Besides, we threw him a farewell tour when he was retiring 2 years ago, only to have him unretire and play for the Astros. What kind of scumbag does that to the Yankees? What kind of slimy, ungrateful worm leaves and then comes crawling back?
I hated Roger Clemens from playing against him. Couldn't stand the
guy. But he made us better. He made us believe in ourselves. He gave
little pep talks to individual players. Like to Bobby, he said, “When I
faced you in Philly, you were the toughest out in the league. Where is
that guy?” He would challenge you, but he would be behind you.
While I wait for Clemens
to take his spot in the rotation, I am saddled with more rookies. The latest is Matt DeSalvo, no relation to Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, as far as I know. He only allows a run in the May 7 finale against the Mariners, but Mo serves up a homer to Beltre in the ninth and takes the loss. I love Mo and can't imagine my Yankee fan life without him, but I love him more when he strikes batters out with his rising cutter. At least Igawa is out of the picture now. He is sent down to Class A Tampa to learn how to pitch here in America. He is in danger of becoming the next Hideki Irabu. George will not call him a fat pussy toad because Howard Rubenstein is speaking for him these days, but I am thinking that a putdown involving the word
would not be entirely out of line.
Texas comes into town for three games. Pettitte pitches a gem in the first game. Mussina looks like his old self in the second. But the finale on the 10th results
in an embarrassing 14â2 loss in which Wang allows seven runs in 6â innings. He is supposed to be our ace, but his inconsistency is emblematic of the team as a whole. We cannot get a streak going. We are stuck in mediocrity while the Red Sox are cruising. I grind my teeth so hard that I knock my jaw out of alignment.
The Yankees fly to Seattle for the start of a nine-game road trip. The change of scenery will be good for the players, the way a change of scenery is good for people who are sick and convalescing. But the Yanks lose two of three to the Mariners. What is alarming about all three games is that we don't score. First the pitching was impotent. Now the bats are limp. As for me, I am descending into a state of perpetual crabbiness, as if I have a chronic case of PMS. I am short with people. I don't return phone calls right away. I curse a lotâfor no good fucking reason. This is what the Yankees are reducing me to. They are not holding up their end of the bargain. They were supposed to be my escape, and they are not doing their job.
What do I have to escape from? That is what you are probably asking yourself. I write all these funny novels and live in paradise and am married to the sensitive manly-man from
The Bridges of Madison County
. What's the problem?
Crohn's disease. That is what Michael has. It is an autoimmune disease that can cause the intestines to become inflamed and, ultimately, obstructed, and it is not pretty. I had never heard of it when Michael and I met in 1991. When he told me he had it, I shrugged and said, “Love conquers all.” Love does not conquer Crohn's. He has had more than 30 surgeries, been hospitalized more than 50 times, and taken countless drugs, including steroids. He has spent more time doubled over in pain than anyone I know. He is at constant risk from complications. He is always one step away from the emergency room. He is the one who suffers and soldiers on, and I am merely the helpmate. But I would be lying if I said that living with a spouse who has a chronic, incurable illness is not difficult and often depressing. It is hard on a marriage, in other words. When the Yankees are winning, it gives me the illusion that there is no Crohn's and life is
beautiful. But the Yankees are not winning. They are not delivering my required dose of denial.