Tagged: New York Yankees

Treats, not tricks, for Yanks in Game 3

swisher250.jpgWorld Series Game Three, Halloween night, and the Yanks are loose down the ‘pike  in Philadelphia.

Andy Pettitte, the afterthought, the complimentary player, the maybe-number-five starter last offseason, earns a come-from-behind swing game win to become the winningest postseason pitcher in baseball history. Adios, John Smoltz. And, not to forget, while coming from behind ties the game for himself with his bat. Scary to think where the Yanks would be without him.

Alex Rodriguez, booed just for breathing in the past, embarrassed last offseason, in surgery during spring training, returning with a bang to wake up the Yanks in May, becoming the biggest bat all postseason, shows up now with another bang, his first World Series hit also his first World Series homerun, tying Bernie Williams for most homers in Yankee postseason history and sending still another wakeup call to the Yankee offense.

Nick Swisher, starts the season on the bench, becomes a regular by necessity, gets two big hits and catches for every big bungle all year long, does very little that’s big at the plate through the postseason, benched in Game 2 of the World Series, first doubles and goes barreling home on Pettitte’s single in the fifth, helps him tie the game and then earns the win with a go-ahead solo shot in the sixth. There you have it: Nick Swisher, the Redemption Kid, outslugs Rocky Balboa on a Yank-haunted Saturday night in Philly.

Meanwhile Damon starts looking demonic. Matsui rises late to stomp Myers, Godzilla in the flesh, while the Phanatic cringes out of sight in his costume.

Enter Joba and Marte. Then Hughes, who’s sorta okay. And finally Rivera, his devilish cutter sending the crowd home in graveyard silence.

World Series Game Three, Phillies tricked and not treated.

Yankees win, up 2-1 in a best of seven that has become a best of four.

A happy Halloween for the boys in pinstripes.

Midnight walk

Back in July during the Yankees’ wonderful HOPE Week, I wrote a column about the team’s post-midnight to dawn carnival on the field for Camp Sundown, a retreat in upstate New York serving people afflicted with a rare genetic skin disorder called Xeroderma Pigmentosum. XP prevents sufferers from going outdoors in daylight, and ultraviolet light, including common florescent lighting, causes them severe burns and eventually skin and eye cancer. The camp was founded by Caren and Dan Mahar when their daughter, Katie, was diagnosed with the condition.

Xeroderma Pigmentosum takes the lives of most people with the disorder before they reach the age of 20. It is so rare there are only between 150 and 250 sufferers in this country, maybe two or three thousand around the world. Having the chance to meet and write about Dan, Caren and some of the Camp Sundown kids was one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career. Their courage and spirit continues to inspire me.

On Saturday, October 17, Camp Sundown will be holding its 11th annual Moonlight Stroll, a nighttime walk in Central Park to raise awareness of the condition and funding for XP research. The walk begins with registration at 8 p.m. outside Tavern on the Green, which is located at Central Park West between 66th and 67th Streets. Caren informs us “there will be refreshments, goodies and prizes and a good time for all.”

The camp will have a bus coming from Columbia County in New York, and stopping in Dutchess County for anyone coming who needs a ride. A registration form is available for those who wish to get sponsors for the walk.

“Can’t make it to NY?” says Caren. “Don’t worry! Do your own walk wherever you are! Fill out the form, get sponsors and walk on the same day.”

For further information or a sponsorship form, please email Camp Sundown at xps@xps.org. And bring everyone you can. The more the merrier!

On a personal note, I will be participating in the Midnight Walk, as will my wife Suzanne. We would love to say hello to any readers of Deep in the Red who wish to join us for a late night in the park. Hopefully, we’ll all be able to talk about some Yankee playoff wins.

Finally, I’ll be at Yankee Stadium tonight to observe and gather some interesting thoughts about the final regular season game of the new Stadium’s first year. It should be fun as the Yankees continue ramping up for the postseason.

Hats off to Skip

angels_275_091509.jpgThere were obvious reasons to earmark Monday night’s Yankees-Angels game in the Bronx — a makeup of a May 3 rainout — as a potential look ahead into the playoffs.

The New York Yankees entered the game with the best record in baseball, the largest division lead (seven games) in the American League, and the near certainty that they will clinch the AL East sometime in the next couple of weeks.

The L.A. Angels of Anaheim came in tied with the Dodgers for the second-best record in baseball and holding a six-game lead over their nearest opponent in the AL West, the Texas Rangers.

The likeliest postseason scenario right now in the American league is that the Yankees will face the Detroit Tigers in the Division Series, with the Wild Card-winning Boston Red Sox matching up against the Halos. It doesn’t take a much figuring to see that the second round League Championship Series could be the Yankees-Angels. If that happens, it will be the third time since 2002 that these teams meet in postseason competition — and Yankee fans are ruefully aware that Anaheim has not only come out on top in both previous series, but has long been bane of the Yankees in the regular season as well.

So these were the obvious hooks to Monday’s game — but it had deeper layers of intrigue. In 2002 and for several years thereafter the Angels built their winning formula on the cornerstones Mike Scioscia’s daringly unpredictable play-calling, and a lockdown relief corps modeled after the Yankee pens during the team’s 1996-2000 dynasty seasons. Their most solidly constructed team overall was arguably 2002’s, with a solid if less than great pitching rotation, a versatile offense capable of scoring bundles of runs, and, very critically, the pen: veteran closer Troy Percival and a supporting cast consisting of pitchers Brendan Donnelly, Scott Schoeneweis, Ben Weber, Scot Shields and others. In September of that year, a Minor League call-up named Francisco Rodriguez was added to the mix. And, of course, K-Rod’s supercharged performances against the Yankees in the ALDS, the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS, and the San Francisco Giants in the World Series helped fire the team to a championship.

Parallels have been drawn between this year’s Yankees and the 1998 version of the Bombers, but the better comparison might be to those 2002 Angels. Beyond CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, the starting rotation going into the playoffs is loaded with maybes, but the offense is flat-out magnificent and the bullpen is by leaps and bounds the best in the Major Leagues.

Meanwhile, the Angels have changed from what they were in 2002. In terms of how the team is built, its starting rotation is similar — okay but not great, with the exception of Jered Weaver, who’s having a career year, and the fact that ace John Lackey is rounding into form. (Lackey is 2-0 with a 0.35 ERA in his last three starts, allowing one earned run over 26 innings.) There’s less power in the lineup then there was back then, but batters hit for higher average and still run, run, run like crazy. The biggest difference throughout the season, however, has been the bullpen. Although it showed some late improvement, it was among the Major League worst in earned runs allowed for much of 2009. It is no longer a strength for the Angels, but a point of vulnerability.

Scioscia, of course, remains Scioscia. He pushes things. He prods. Chaos is his handprint. He rains it on opposing teams, dares them grapple with it. And for some reason, year after year, the Yankees have been prime victims of his unorthodox strategies.

But Monday night in the Bronx the Yankees beat the Angels, and they did the way the Angels usually beat them. And though it’s September and not October, and it was only one regular season victory, there were signs within the game — signs you can bet nobody on either team missed — that the current Yankee team has the ability to cast off the Angels’ dominance when it really counts.

“They’re definitely not a team that you want to get into a bullpen war with,” the team manager said after the game.

This was Scioscia, not Joe Girardi, talking about a Yankee pen that held his team in check for five innings after Joba Chamberlain’s truncated outing — the most encouraging of the current Joba Rule era. It’s true Phil Hughes surrendered a single run that allowed the Angels to briefly tie the game in the eighth, but it was a single run after he’d loaded the bases with the heart of the Angels order, loaded them with no outs, and the Yanks took those runs back, and more, at the bottom of that inning.

In 2009, the Yankees bullpen is no welcome sight to any other team in baseball. Now, in mid-September, that is hardly a revelation. The pen has proved itself time and again, and its success more than anything has become Girardi’s particular handprint.

But what Girardi showed Monday night — showed Scioscia, his Angels, and thousands of roaring fans at Yankee Stadium — was that he now has chaos at his fingertips too. And has the guts to lock, load and fire away when ready.

Everyone who saw the game knows how it went down. Bottom of the eighth, one out, and Mark Teixeira smashed a line-drive ground rule double to right. And then Alex Rodriguez walked, and Scioscia finally pulled Jered Weaver and went to his bullpen. It was Darren Oliver on the mound to face Hideki Matsui, lefty versus lefty, that was his move and there was nothing wrong with it. It was textbook, it was orthodox, it is what Scioscia or any baseball manager might have been expected to do.

Monday night, it was Girardi who did the unorthodox, pulling a gutsy offensive substitution. Suddenly it was Brett Gardner on the bases to pinch run for Teixeira. This wasn’t a game tied in the ninth inning. This was still the eighth, and if the Yankees didn’t score it would have stayed tied, and Girardi would have lost his potent No. 3 hitter for the remainder of the game. And if the Yanks had gone on to lose the game, you can bet he would have heard about it from the media and fans the next day.

rivera_275_091509.jpgBut they didn’t lose. What happened was the speedy Gardner stole third on a pitch, which was what he was there to try and do. And while he was doing that, running like quicksilver, A-Rod was busy stealing second, and Angels catcher Mike Napoli fired the ball to his third-baseman, and missed, and Gardner came racing home to give the Yanks a 4-3 lead. And then they padded that lead by a run, and in came Mariano Rivera, and it was all over.

Girardi’s Yanks had turned the tables on Scioscia’s Angels, given them a taste of their own medicine, fill in the saying of your choice. What counts is that both teams knew it. And most importantly because they’ve been at the wrong end of things for so long, the Yankees knew, and it gave them a confidence you could see in their faces and hear in their voices after the game.

“We could leave the other guys out there if we wanted to play station to station … so he (Gardner) understood, what we walked about, was to try to get bags. And that’s why we put him out there,” Girardi said. “We also know what it does to the attention of everyone around. Pitcher, catcher, everybody.”

“I think you all should go talk to Skip,” said Nick Swisher, whose two hits in the game included a home run in the third. “Making a great change, putting in Gardy … for him to get that stolen base and then come in to score, hat’s off
to Skip.”

It was one game in September, with postseason ramifications insofar as the team with the best record gaining homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. October may or may not see a rematch between them in which the stakes would be immeasurably higher. Should it occur, however, Monday night’s game gave us a tantalizing hint that this year’s Yankee squad may finally have the manager and players to fly past the Angels toward greater glory.

9-11: A Recollection

fan_911_091109.jpgOn September 10, 2001 my wife and I were at Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees play the Red Sox and, hopefully, see Roger Clemens attain a career milestone I wish I could recall right now — there were so many of them. But it was a gray, wet day and the rain kept coming down and down through a lengthy game delay.

We had very good seats behind the Yankee dugout. I remember watching Brian Cashman, Joe Torre, and former Red Sox manager Joe Kerrigan confer on the warning track in the rain. At one point they went walking around the field, skirting the tarp over the infield to prod the soggy grass with their shoes, then heading toward the outfield and doing the same to test it. You could see the water squish up under their feet from the saturated turf.

It wasn’t surprising that the game was postponed, with a makeup date to be determined if necessary. The field wasn’t playable, and the Yankees had a big division lead (13 games) over the Red Sox. I’m fairly certain that game never had to be made up.

Although my wife and I were disappointed it was called, we took consolation knowing that we had tickets for the next night’s game. The team coming in was the Chicago White Sox. Our seats weren’t nearly as good but we were still hoping we’d get to see Clemens achieve the milestone I now forget offhand. (Editor’s Note: At age 39, Clemens was after the fifth 20-win season of his career.)  At any rate, we wondered whether he’d make his scheduled start in the pitching rotation or skip his turn.

When I woke up September 11, my wife already had the local news on — the channel was NY1 with its round-the-clock coverage. She had tuned in for the weather forecast and perhaps an update on whether Clemens was pitching that night. The weather really wasn’t much of a question; all you had to do was look out the window to know it was a picture-perfect day.
Not long after I started watching TV the regular morning news cycle was interrupted. It was about a quarter to nine, and there was a report of smoke coming from the World Trade Center. I wondered at first if a fire had broken out in one of the offices. But within minutes somebody — a motorist, I believe — phoned the station to say he thought a small plane had crashed into the tower.

And then the events of that day began to unfold with a horror that was, at least then, so incomprehensible to us.

We had friends who wound up staying at our Manhattan apartment for most of the day. One had been at work and the other was out looking for work. Both lived outside the borough and couldn’t get home when the city went into virtual lockdown. They called and came over searching for a place to go, and I went out to the store and joined the lines of people getting bottled water and extra food provisions. We did not know the scope of the attack, or who was attacking us. We only knew New York city had been attacked and thought it might be wise to stock up.

I remember, now, all of us watching television in stunned disbelief as the towers came down. And then watching all the rest. I cannot describe the sense of unreality and isolation we felt. It was as if we’d slipped into some dark alternate universe. Or if that impossible universe had eclipsed and overtaken our own. What was happening wasn’t really happening. Except of course we knew it was.

About a week later my wife and I had to leave New York for a while, and did so with hearts as sunken as Atlantis. Someone had put prayer candles in our apartment building’s lobby and I stared at them for a long time before heading out. Several tenants had been at the World Trade Center, including two young women who’d asked us to come up to their apartment and have ice cream with them a couple of days before the terrorists struck — they’d taken off from work for their spur-of-the-moment ice cream party. They were roommates in their late twenties or early thirties and hadn’t lived in the building long. They were killed in the flames and destruction of September 11.

usa_200.jpgWe were at Yankee Stadium the day baseball resumed. Then at the end of October, one of the friends who’d stayed with us on the day of the attacks had tickets for Game 3 of the World Series, the first played in New York. He said there was a chance he’d be able to get me a ticket, and stopped over at the apartment for a while and waited for a call. In the end, the seat went to someone else and I stayed home and watched that game on television with my wife.

I’ve never really thought I had much of a shot at that World Series ticket. Or believed that my friend thought I did. We never spoke of it later, but I’ve always been convinced he came over just so we could spend some time together before he left for that game, a raucous, World Series game at Yankee Stadium in New York City, just six weeks or so after the homicidal, suicidal maniacs hijacked those planes.

We’d shared the day of horror, the three of us. And that October evening before President Bush threw his ceremonial first pitch from the mound, we were going to share just a little of the defiant triumph and renewal that series would bring to New York City.

As I sit writing this now, eight years later, with the television on as the names of the lost are read at what was once the place where the Twin Towers stood, it all comes inextricably together for me. The impotent shock and horror, the sorrow, the memory of baseball lifting many of us up when we so desperately needed it — and, yes, the satisfaction of knowing we have endured.

Short Hops: A tour of the Stadium

stadium250.jpgPRESS BOX SNOB
“I don’t know about you any more,” the Fellow Author said. “All that stuff you write from the press box. Geez.”
I looked at him. We were at Yankee Stadium before one of the games in last week’s Yanks-Toronto series, waiting on line at one of those “Beers of the World” stands. where he buys his schmaltzy expensive brews.

“‘Geez’?” I said. “Whaddya mean geez?”

“I thought you were supposed to be a fan. One of us. Not some hack with a press pass. That’s what made your column different from the rest.”

“You telling me it isn’t different anymore?”

“I’m tellin’ you any clown can write that kinda junk.” He gave me a reproachful look, nodding in the box’s general direction. “Like I said, I dunno. Lately with you everything’s pressbox, this pressbox that … I’ve got a feeling you’ve turned into a press box snob.”

I frowned. “You’re kidding, right?”

“A press box snob,” he repeated, shaking his head.

I looked at him, feeling guilty. Never mind that this was all coming from a guy who’d made us walk halfway around the Stadium because a domestic beer wasn’t good enough for his very special taste buds.

“You’ve got the wrong idea,” I said. “I’m just trying to give some perspective from the clubhouse and…”
“Blah, blah, blah.” He paid for his beer. “Just wait and see. Pretty soon, you won’t even want to hang around with paying customers like me. What am I gonna tell my son? He used to respect you.”
“You mean he doesn’t any more?”

“All I’m sayin’ is he might not in the near future if this keeps up,” The Fellow Author said. “And by the way, you gave us lousy directions to the Garlic Fries place last time we were here.”
I blinked. “Look … how about I buy you an Italian sausage?
“Maybe later — and you’re gonna want to make sure it’s got everything on it.” He paid for his beer, started toward the Carvel stand, noticed I was lagging behind. “Thought you wanted that vanilla helmet cup.”

“I did.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

I’d stopped dead, looking at the menu above the Carvel stand. “It’s, like, six bucks.”

“So in the press box we have an ice-cream machine. With chocolate, vanilla and black-and-white swirl … and a stack of cups on the side…”

The Fellow Author shook his head in disgust.

“Press box snob,” he muttered, tossing back some beer.

I hate to say it, but I’ve soured on Disco Stu. Those of you who can get down to the Stadium know this is the white-haired guy with the shades who dances in the aisle between innings. Usually he’s wearing something flamboyant — a jacket or T-shirt, depending on the weather. Sometimes he gets the people around him to dance too.

I was a big fan of the guy once upon a time. This was back when he was still an anonymous dancer. The camera would land on him, and he’d be in a groove, and everybody watching on the big video board would get a kick out of it.

I guess it was maybe a year ago when he got his tag — there he was dancing with his moniker right up on the bottom of the screen. Disco Stu. Now all of a sudden, he’s a celebrity. I actually heard some German-speaking tourists talking about him on a night when he hadn’t even made an appearance, like they were waiting to see him. Like he’s suddenly an official Yankee Stadium attraction. Trouble.

The thing about Stu is that he used to be spontaneous. He’d dress for himself. If the Yanks were losing, he’d dance less enthusiastically than when they were winning. Sometimes he wouldn’t be dancing at all when the camera found him.

Now he’s waiting for his face time. His garish tees have often given way to shirts with designer logos on them . . . Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, and so on. The homer spirit has been leached out of his moves, which have frankly gotten stale. And he seems equally dance crazy during wins and losses, which bugs me the most. You have to wonder if fame has gotten to his head.

I didn’t want to be the first to say it. I know it’s going to be controversial. But the truth is the truth.

Disco Stu is mailing it in.

It’s time the Bleacher Creatures stopped hogging all the glory at the Stadium. They’re still great fans, and they do a mean roll call. However, the reality is that they, like Stu, aren’t quite what they used to be. They are living largely on reputation, on the stats on the back of their cards. But they are no longer producing the way they used to.

A few weeks ago, for example, I was at the ballpark and somebody sitting on the third base line started the Wave. It spread up to the terrace from the lower level seats and back toward the left field bleachers and then came around to the right field bleachers, where I figured the reliable Section 39ers, as we called them across the street, would be the human breakwater that put a merciful halt to it.

Instead, they joined in. They Waved. I couldn’t believe my eyes. What was happening to the world?

And then I realized it was okay. Like the old Yankee Stadium, the Bleacher Creatures’ light has dimmed. Their day is fading into dusk.  But in the gloaming, something unexpected has happened. The people in Section 200 have risen to take their place.
And not by coincidence.  These are the people who would have been one level closer to the field back in the old Stadium — many of them partial season ticket holders with seats in the once and former Main Box section. When the action moved over to the new place, what used to be Main Box seats turned into pricier Field Level seats that weren’t offered in the smaller partial plans. And the people who used to have those partial plans got relocated one level up onto the first deck’s Main Level seats. Which are more comparable to the old Loge seats, though you will hear they have better sightlines.

I won’t debate that now. What’s for sure is that you can always count on the Section 200 fans to get the place rocking. When Toronto manager Cito Gaston contested a Jorge Posada homer last week, it was Section 200 that started the “Home run!” chant. When the big board showed an announcement that it was Melky Cabrera’s twenty-fifth birthday, Melky could thank Section 200 for starting up the Happy Birthday song. Whenever the noise level ramps up, it’s Section 200 that’s making the biggest racket.

The rightfield Bleacher Creatures did a stalwart job back when they had their own entrance and couldn’t drink beer or leave their area. But now they’re behind those fancy planters and can go where they please, and have to live with being what they are rather than what they were.
Props to Section 200.  It’s got the new best fans at Yankee Stadium.

Carnival of Hope

I believe everything we dream
can come to pass through our union
we can turn the world around
we can turn the earth’s revolution
we have the power
People have the power…

–Patti Smith, People Have the Power

hope_clown_072409.jpgIt’s maybe one o’clock, two o’clock in the morning, and the carnival’s in full swing out in deep center field at Yankee Stadium for Camp Sundown’s young people and their families.

I’m looking around, overwhelmed, as music pumps from the sound system. There’s a Stilt Man in a crazy black suit and red vest cracking jokes from 10 feet up above me. A juggler and a clown. The Camp Sundown kids jumping around inside the Bouncing Castle with giddy, joyous abandon.

It seems like half the Yankee team is out with those kids, and the whole front office, all the execs we usually see in suits and ties at player signings, here tonight in blue jeans, out under the stadium lights long after the baseball game is over, long after midnight’s come and gone, here at this carnival of hope. Rain’s drizzling down on everyone, the grass wet and slick, and nobody cares about any of it.

This is about the kids. These courageous, beautiful kids and their families, who must endure so much that is incomprehensible to most of us.

Camp Sundown gets its name because the youngsters that attend cannot go outdoors during the daytime or even stand under fluorescent lights because ultraviolet radiation, any UV radiation, is their mortal enemy. It will give them severe burns, it will give them squamous cell skin cancer, it will cause malignant tumors to grow in their eyes and mouths, and make many of them blind as their condition reaches its late stages. The sun and blue skies we wish for in spring and summer will cruelly ravage their bodies.

The kids, these fragile, beautiful kids, who want nothing more than to be whatever we like to call ordinary in this world, are afflicted with a genetic condition called Xeroderma Pigmentosum that takes the lives of most people with the disorder before they reach the age of 20. It is rare, so rare there are only between 150 and 250 sufferers in this country, maybe two or three thousand around the world.

Camp Sundown was founded 13 years ago by Caren and Dan Mahar when their daughter, Katie, was diagnosed with XP, it is a year ’round retreat in Craryville, N.Y., two hours north of Manhattan by car, where as many of these children who can come are able to mingle like other children, where their days are like most of our nights and their nights are like our days, because daylight will kill them.

And here, after midnight, they are at Yankee Stadium, having arrived by bus around 8:30 to watch a game delayed for two-and-a-half hours because of rain. And whether that rain came through Providence or chance or magic, you have to believe it is a blessing and want to kiss the clouds that brought it, because if the game had started when it was supposed to, before dusk, the group would have been unable to see the early innings.

“It was perfect,” Caren says on the field. “I didn’t think these kids would ever be able to watch a game from start to finish like they did tonight.”

How this night all became a reality was through Jason Zillo, the Yankees’ head media relations guy, who seems almost uncomfortable taking credit for an event that is part of a whole week of events at the Stadium called HOPE Week, an idea that came straight from his heart.

hope_posada_072409.jpgAbout 14 years ago, soon after Katie Mahar (pictured with Jorge Posada) was diagnosed with XP and her parents had started an organization called the XP Society, Zillo was moved by a piece about the disorder on a televised news magazine, and after meeting Dan and Caren stayed in touch with them over the years, quietly helping out with benefit auctions. This is before he was a Yankees media honcho, this is when there were no reporters or cameras around. And maybe a month ago when he brainstormed HOPE Week, Zillo phoned Caren, and asked what she thought about bringing down the Camp Sundown kids to be part of it and she replied, “You make it happen and we’ll be there.”

And here they are, and around us everything seems to be happening at once. Yankees Alfredo Aceves and Brett Gardner kicking soccer balls around with some of the young people. Pitching coaches Dave Eiland and Mike Harkey getting a game of wiffle ball going with others.

Meanwhile, A.J. Burnett spots a wide-eyed girl noticing his tats, and patiently stops to tell her a little about them before moving on to pose for pictures and sign autographs for a bunch more wide-eyed kids. And there’s Mark Melancon and David Robertson and Cody Ransom just hanging out with them, and Jorge Posada posing for pictures with the families, and Jose Molina, who seems to be everywhere, and whose heart is the size of the Great Bear constellation, and who can sound wise making the simplest points. I’m naming all these players because none of them are out here at one o’clock, two o’clock in the morning to be named or interviewed or seen on camera. They are not here for publicity or accolades, they are not here for any reason other than wanting to be here.

“You don’t even care about the rain, you don’t even care about nothing, you just care about those kids … and that just for one night they’re just having fun like we do,” Molina tells me. “It’s one of those things that you put your heart in.” He motioned at the excited kids around us. “They’re happy. They’re really happy. A lot of times we have nothing going on, and we still complain a lot about life. And these kids they never complain about anything. And nothing is more impressive. “

He’s right, I told you he is a wise man. Nothing is more impressive than the kids, those incredible kids of Camp Sundown ….

One camper tells me the retreat is a home away from home, and that her wish is for “people with a condition to realize they’re no different from people without a condition.” Talking about her night, she spreads her arms to try encompass the field, the experience, and her emotions.

“Tonight was awesome, it was so great. The Yankees! It’s so amazing that they’d open their hearts just for Camp Sundown for one night. It’s pretty phenomenal.”

“I loved it,” says Yuxnier Ladron Gegubbara of the game. Yuxnier’s been a Camp Sundown kid for four or five years and is grateful to Dan and Caren for establishing it. “It’s a great place where kids with XP can meet each other, have fun, and enjoy themselves.” When asked what he wants people to know about XP, he says, “It’s a really hard life, especially because we can’t go out in the sun. I always go out after the sun goes down, after sunset, around eight or nine p.m. I do home instruction, and they only give me one or two hours in school, which is in my house. And it’s real hard.”

hope_damon_072409.jpgThe hope is that maybe someday in Yuxnier’s lifetime it won’t be. After a decade or more of being stalled by the politics of ignoran
ce, changes in stem cell research legislation has made genetic therapy for XP sufferers a real possibility. This research needs funding and popular support at a time when everyone’s strapped and understandably worried about their own difficulties. But you should know that over a million skin cancers are diagnosed annually in the United States alone, meaning one in five of us will likely be stricken with it, and that what helps the small number XP sufferers in the country can also help the people nearest and dearest to you.

Caren Mahar realizes it’s a tough time economically. “You hear of charities folding right and left,” she says. “It’s important to research the charities you want to do, but also to realize there are small groups out there that even a little bit makes a huge difference. We’re not looking for million dollar donors.”

Money is vital to keep Camp Sundown going. But for the Mahars, charity is also about individuals giving of their time. The retreat is run entirely by volunteers, so people can sign up and just be with the kids for a while.

“One of their greatest problems is that a lot of them go through a lot of disfigurement as they get older, through the hundreds of surgeries that they have,” Caren explains. “They’re ostracized in their own social areas, where people never talk to them. So just sitting down and treating people like people is very much necessary. “

For information on Camp Sundown and the XP Society visit its Web site.

I believe everything we dream can come to pass through our union.

HOPE Week photos copyright of the New York Yankees.

Swish … Redemption!

swisher_250_072309.jpgI’ve never seen the mid-1990s comedy flick “Dumb and Dumber,” and didn’t have a clue about what it’s about till after Wednesday’s 6-4 Yankees win over Baltimore at the Stadium.

And then Nick Swisher changed that by quoting from it. Leave it to him.

Here’s what I’d find out poking around online: In the story, two guys named Harry and Lloyd get involved in various hijinks while on a cross-country haul to return a valise full of money to a beautiful woman. They’ve got a van that looks like a dog, but then Lloyd sells the Dog Van for a dinky little moped in the middle of nowhere because it’s more fuel efficient, figuring it’ll ultimately get the two of them to their far-off destination. Dumb, get it?

So anyway, when Lloyd rides up to Harry on the scooter, and brags about it getting seventy miles per gallon — thanks, YouTube — Harry has a minor rant that goes: “You know Lloyd, just when I think you couldn’t possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this…and totally redeem yourself!”

Dumb and dumber, see?

Now, back to where this education all started for me, namely the Yankee clubhouse following the game, which completed a series sweep for the Yanks, boosted them to a season-high twenty games over .500, and would, by day’s end, give them a two-game lead over the Red Sox for the top spot in the AL East.

There at his locker, Swisher, who’d gone from potential goat to hero all in the course of an eventful third inning, and then tacked on even more flashy heroics a little later, was paraphrasing Harry’s line about redemption. Well, actually, he was quoting A.J. Burnett, who’d just earned his fourth win in a row.

What happened was that at top of the third inning, with the Yankees up 4-0, Burnett got the Orioles’ leadoff hitter Brian Roberts to fly out to right field with a serious 95-mph fastball — except Swisher blew the easy catch. He was there, his glove was there, the ball was there … and then the ball was on the ground and Roberts was on second base. Bad, bad error.

Right around that point, I’m in the press box getting set to complain about Swisher right here in this spot, which regular readers know I’ve done in the past. In fact, to come totally clean, I even text my friend the Fellow Author down in the stands with his son, reminding him Swisher’s misplay is the very sort that makes me complain about him so often.

Things got tricky for Burnett from there. The second batter up, center fielder Adam Jones, singled off him to put runners on first and third with no outs. Then Nick Markakis, the third man at the plate for Baltimore, fouled one off to left, where it was caught by Johnny Damon, moving Jones to second base, and putting men on second and third. One out, but with power-hitting Aubrey Huff up next, Burnett was still in big, big trouble because of the bad, bad Swisher error.

When he got Huff to strike out swinging, off-balancing him with two 85-mph curveballs after firing off a couple of 95-97 mph heaters, it looked like Burnett might be on his way out of the big, bad woods.

And then to the plate comes super-utility guy Ty Wigginton, who can put together tough at-bats, and hit the ball hard and deep sometimes. Which is just what he did to Burnett’s sixth pitch to him, an upper-nineties fastball that was actually pretty well located, but got hammered out toward the right field wall nonetheless. Back, back, back, with Swisher racing back too.

And up in the box I’m thinking, no way he can catch that rocket. I’m thinking here it comes, a two-run double, the lead cut in half all because of Swisher’s big, bad error.

And Swisher shows what I know. He makes a spectacular, improbable running catch going all-out for that ball, and then hops up onto the wall for punctuation with the ball in his glove.

Inning over. Yankees heading off the field. Swisher jogging toward the dugout and Burnett with an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

And Burnett hollers, paraphrasing Harry from “Dumb and Dumber:” “You to-tally redeemed yourself!”

There it was. Baseball redemption, Nick Swisher style. He would add to it by making another leaping catch at the wall to save an extra-base hit in the sixth and contributing offensively with two walks, a hit and a pair of RBIs.

Later, Swisher wouldn’t make excuses for his second-inning error. Instead he emphasized that “today as A.J.’s day”, and laughed when I joked about whether he’d felt Ichiro making those two catches out there in right.

“I don’t know. I was pretty [ticked] off I missed the first one,” he said. “So getting the opportunity to redeem myself, to make the catch and end the inning, in the same inning, was definitely a good thing.” Then looking me right in the eye with a big, big smile, he added: “I couldn’t have been more happy about that one.”

Nor could Mariano Rivera when asked about having Swisher for a teammate. “Nick Swisher is crazy,” he said at his locker. “He’s wild, a great personality. You’ve got to have personalities like that when the team is maybe too tense.”

And, seriously, who can argue with Mo? He has been around that locker room a while, you know.

So after all my complaining here in this space, big mouth that I am, I’m ready to eat a dirt sandwich. Not to say I won’t get on his case if he does something boneheaded. But with Nick Swisher, you take the bad with the good, because in the final tally it’s worth it.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Rivera.

Cap Day

My wife and I see the guy a lot on our block in Manhattan. He has thick, curly hair, a heavy beard, always wears a suit and is homeless.
I figure the suit must get uncomfortable on hot summer days, but he never even takes off the jacket and somehow keeps the getup in decent condition. Maybe he wears the suit to preserve a measure of dignity for himself, to help him feel he isn’t some kind of living eyesore to the people who rush by him heading toward the subway station every morning. All the businessmen heading to work wearing suits. You wear a suit, I wear a suit, we’re pretty much in the same social sphere. The only difference is I’ve got no job to head off to, no bed to sleep in at night, no money, no food, nothing but nothing besides this nice suit I wear on my back here, just like you.

But maybe I’m projecting. Maybe it’s he keeps the jacket on because he just doesn’t like carrying it.

There is a charitable drop-in center on our block where the homeless can go for a meal, or basic medical care, or to get deloused, or clean themselves up. Further up the block there’s a fancy Italian café with a bench outside. These days I see more and more homeless people on the bench very early on the morning, before the place opens and its customers come in for their pastries and lattes. I figure the homeless are waiting there for the center to open so they can get something to eat too. The guy with the suit is sometimes on that bench.

A few weeks back we were heading to our place in Maine after a long stay in New York. It was early in the morning, and I passed the guy a few times while loading up the car. That day he wasn’t on the café bench up the block. He was sitting alone on a low stoop in front of an apartment building two houses down from us.

My wife had been waiting downstairs to keep an eye on the cats and my computer bag, and as I passed the guy for the last time before we took off, I saw that she’d gotten out of the car and was walking toward me on the sidewalk.

“Where you going?” I asked. That’s when I noticed she was carrying one of those clear plastic travel bags with slide zippers.

She showed me the travel bag. She’d gone to the corner fruit stand, bought an apple, orange and banana, and put it inside. She’d also stuffed in a bottle of water, a rain poncho and Yankee cap we kept in the car, the cap being one those Stadium giveaways that winds up in the back forever.

“I made this package for that man,” she said, nodding past me toward the homeless guy. “I can’t stand seeing him there anymore without doing something to help.” Her voice caught. “He’s wearing a suit for God’s sake.”

As if to say he was trying. We couldn’t be exactly sure for what, but trying for something. And maybe he could have used for at least one person to take notice. Never mind needing a little food and water.

I eyed the travel bag a second. I’d always had trouble opening the lousy slide zipper and wouldn’t miss complaining about it. I’d sort of miss the rain poncho, which was a good quality slicker, but figured I could buy another one. As for the freebie Yankee cap, well, I’m compulsive about hanging onto those things, never mind I’ve collected hundreds over the years. But I didn’t gripe about it either.

“Meet you back in the car,” I said.

My wife went over to give him the travel bag, returned to the car, got in the driver’s door. Watching the guy in the rear view mirror, I saw him stand up out of the doorway with the bag, inspect its contents through the clear plastic and start to open it.

“I hope he likes fruit more than I do,” I said, trying to lighten the moment. My wife is always trying to shove healthy food in my direction.

She ignored me and pulled away from the curb.


It was a couple of weeks later and we were back in New York. As usual, I was up in the apartment writing and trying to get the cat’s tail off my computer keyboard when my wife came through the door. She’d been out and about and looked a little upset.

“What’s the matter?” I said.

“Remember the guy I gave the travel bag to?” she asked.


“Well, the fruit man told me he just took out the banana and dumped the rest. Left it on the street, travel bag and all.”

I looked at her. “Is he sure about that?”

“He felt bad even telling me about it, but didn’t want me to give the homeless guy more stuff he’d just throw away,” she said. “You know the hot dog man?”

I nodded. The hot dog man sets up next to the fruit man most days.

“Well, he took the poncho out of the bag and kept it,” my wife said, her face full of disappointment. “Hated for it to go to waste. He told the fruit guy he feels kind of guilty about keeping it, but that he’ll give it back to me if I want.”

I looked at her. “You gonna let the hot dog man hang onto the poncho?”

“Might as well,” she said with a shrug. “He’s always out there on the street. With all the rain we’re getting this summer, at least somebody’ll put it to good use.”

A minute or so passed. She really seemed down about the homeless guy throwing away her package. I wanted to say something to make her feel better, but couldn’t think of anything.
“People are hard to figure,” I said finally

“Yeah,” she said, and was quiet for a long while afterward.


“Hey,” my wife said. “You’ll never guess what happened!”

It was a few days later. I was at the computer fending off the cat’s tail. She’d been out again. This time she’d come home looking cheerful.

I asked her what happened.

“Well, I’m walking past the sandwich joint across the street from the fancy café, and a kid who works there’s hosing down the sidewalk out front, and he sees me and asks if I’ll stop a minute,” she says.

“And then?”

“And then I stop, and he waves across the street, and the homeless guy with the suit comes hurrying over from the café’s bench,” she said. “And he’s wearing the Yankee cap!”
I scratched my head. “Wait a sec,” I said. “Didn’t the fruit guy tell you he ditched that cap with the travel bag?”

“Right,” she said. “That’s why the kid from the sandwich shop stopped me. He speaks Spanish, and the homeless guy with the suit only speaks Spanish, and asked him if he’d seen me around.”

I didn’t bother asking her how the homeless guy expected the sandwich shop kid to know who she was. There are hundreds of women living on our block, plus countless others who go walking up and down the street all throughout the day. But I’ve learned she’s one of those people everybody always recognizes, just like I’m one of those people who sort of blends into the crowd.

“Okay,” I said, getting everything straight in my head. “The homeless guy runs over to you…”

“Wearing the Yankee cap.”

“Right, he’s got the cap on…”

“And he starts speaking to me in Spanish, talking a mile a minute, while the sandwich shop kid’s trying to keep up with him and translate.”

I look at her. “So what’s his story?”

“The story’s that after I gave him the travel bag, he couldn’t figure out how to open the slide zipper all the way, but managed to open it enough to get out the banana and Yankee cap,” my wife said. “He got so frustrated with the bag, he put it down on the sidewalk, and went looking for something on the street that would help him cut it open so
he could get out the rest of the stuff.”

“And what? The hot dog man copped the bag while he was gone?”

She shook her head. “He’s got memory problems,” she said. “The homeless man, that is. And he forgot where he left it, and felt terrible, because he was afraid I might’ve seen him put it down, and thought he’d thrown it away. Which he didn’t after all.”

I looked at her. “And then, later on, the hot dog man finds it.”

“Right. He hears from the fruit man that I gave it to the homeless guy, and both of them figure the homeless guy didn’t want it.”

“And the hot dog man manages to get it open and takes the poncho.”

“Exactly. So it won’t wind up in the trash.”

I shake my head. Only in New York, I think. “Well, I’m glad it turns out he didn’t throw away your package.”
“You and me both,” my wife said. “Plus he said he really loves the Yankee cap and hasn’t taken it off since I gave it to him.”

I considered that and grinned.
“Told you that slide zipper was good for nothing,” I said.

Bad Little Things

jeter_damon_250_061109.jpgIn the good old days, it was the Red Sox that did the bad little things to lose games.

There’s Buckner’s fumbled play at first base, of course. That’s the epitome. The Sox are one out away from winning the 1986 World Series, one out from beating the Mets at Shea, and Buckner lets Mookie Wilson’s easy grounder slip under his glove into the outfield to tie the game, and the rest is bitter history for Sox fans. Too much.

But we don’t need to go back that far. In the late nineties, and up till they finally celebrated on the field at Yankee Stadium in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS on the way to winning it all, the Red Sox made all kinds of slip-ups that gave Yankees fans chuckles.

Some forget that the games would be close lots of the time. That was a big part of the fun, what made watching the Yankees beating the Red Sox such a delight. The Boston teams were tough, and scrappy, and talented, and they fought hard till the bitter end. But there would always be that one act of self-destruction, a bobble, base-running mistake or managerial gaffe that made you slap your knees till your hands were raw while you almost choked on your own hoots of laughter.

Nomar Garciaparra gave us plenty of great moments. An athletic shortstop, sure, but remember how he’d sling the ball into stands on overthrows to first base? And Todd Walker, what a pleasure it was watching him boot those balls at second. And let’s not forget Trot Nixon in the outfield. He kinda reminds me of a surly version of Nick Swisher. A hardnosed player who did loads of things right until he would do the one thing wrong at the worst possible time — like misjudging a fly ball to blow an easy catch, or getting caught napping off a base pad — that ultimately helped his team lose.

The Red Sox usually played with heart and effort. They threatened, and they got close. But in the final tally, in the box score, they always came out short.

It was like the Yankees were in their heads or something.

A game in 2002 comes to mind. Let me take you back. It’s late July in the wonderful Grady Little Era, and the Sox come into Yankee Stadium trailing the Yankees by a couple of games for first place. Jeff Weaver’s pitching for the Yankees, he’s got a four-run lead in the early innings, but the Sox come all the way back to tie the game, and then take the lead. But in the bottom of the ninth, Nixon lets a fly ball off Bernie Williams’ bat get by his glove out in right and the Yankees tie the game, Enrique Wilson scoring all the way from first. Even before that, though, in the top of the inning, Jose Offerman, who played a bunch of different positions, got nailed recklessly trying to steal third base with one out, maybe costing the Sox some tack-on runs.

But I don’t want to forget the best part. This, again, is at the bottom of the ninth inning, when Grady goes for his five-man infield deployment. With Williams on base, and one out, Little has his closer, Ugueth Urbina, intentionally load the bases with two walks, and pulls an outfielder out of position for that five-man infield configuration he loved so dearly, hoping to elicit a double play from the next Yankee batter up at the plate, Jorge Posada.

And, making a long story short, Posada walks in the winning run.

In those days, that kind of Red Sox loss was sweet and natural as the sugar in Pepsi Throwback.

And they kept on coming, through 2003, and then into the next year. In 2004, in fact, David Ortiz tried his best to reenact the Buckner error for young Sox fans who might have been unaware of their painful heritage.

What made it such a gas was that, at first, Ortiz was the hero. He drives in a run early, then homers in the sixth inning to make the score 2-0 Red Sox. And that’s how things stay until the bottom of the seventh, when Big Papi, who’s playing first base that day, muffs what should be a groundball out, and instead brings home two Yankee baserunners to tie the game. The very next inning, Gary Sheffield would double in the winning run for the Yankees.

“My glove was kind of soft. Maybe that’s why it went through,” Ortiz said afterward.

What a hoot. And things got even better the next day, in the 13-inning marathon that saw Derek Jeter’s fearless dive into the stands to catch a Nixon fly ball that would have dropped in for a potentially game-winning base hit, sacrificing his body to make one of the best plays you’ll ever see in what would also become one of the best Yankee victories over the Sox you’ll ever see.

With that win the Yankees swept the series, sending their archrivals back to Beantown to celebrate the July 4th holiday with their tails between their legs.

As I say, those were the days.

swisher_320_061109.jpgI couldn’t help but think of them watching the Yankees lose to the Sox Wednesday night. Take the top of the second, for instance. Matsui doubles and Swisher lays down a surprise bunt for a base hit, and then it’s first and third with nobody out. But then Melky Cabrera hits a hard shot to short, and Swisher’s strayed too far from the bag, and he gets easily doubled off. It would take a Jeter fly ball out to officially end the rally, but it really died with Swisher’s slipup. And he would further undermine the Yankees’ cause in the bottom of the inning misplaying what should have been a fly ball out to hand the Sox a run and compound Chien-Ming Wang’s struggles.

Give Swisher credit. He’d make a great catch later in the game. And he’d even hurl himself into the stands to try and make another. But in the end, it was the bad little things he did that hurt him.

We’ve seen lots of those things this series, and, so far, this whole season between the Yankees and Red Sox. It’s just like Sox players used to do, especially at Yankee Stadium. Except now the shoe — or maybe I should say the cleat — is on the other foot.
Now the point of all this isn’t to make everyone in Yankeeland feel more miserable than they already are. It’s to emphasize that baseball, more than any other sport, is one in which paying attention to details matter. The little things are what win or lose baseball games. Right now, when they play the Red Sox, the Yankees are doing all the bad little things, and that’s why they’re down 7-0 in the season series.

Here’s something to consider, though.

As I mentioned before, Ortiz’s Buckneresque play, and the Great Jeter Dive Game that capped the Yankee sweep of the Sox in July, all came in 2004.

That October, as nobody should have to be reminded, the Sox would turn the tables in historic fashion. Fortunes can change very quickly in baseball. And the players can make their own fortune.

Crestfallen Yankee fans might want to keep that mind as they drag through Thursday morning and afternoon, hoping for CC Sabathia to take the mound and prevent a sweep.

As might Red Sox fans amid their present good cheer.

Neighborhood Plays: Saturday In New York

redsoxnation_350.jpgSo it’s Saturday morning in New York, and we’re at the First Avenue Coffee Shop, this great little place where you can still grab breakfast for under five bucks, and that includes endless coffee refills and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. It’s been in the neighborhood as long as I have, which is a long time, and I never checked it out till maybe a month ago, shame on me.

Anyway, I’m forking scrambled eggs and home fries into my mouth when I overhear Suzy, the waitress of waitresses who seems to run the joint, talking to another customer over at the counter.

” … and all of a sudden, they don’t want to talk Yankees-Red Sox!” she says.

My writer-in-search-of-material receptors whipping up into the air like I’m some kind of bug, I look across my table at The Wife, who’s quietly snoopier than I am.

“You happen to hear who she means by ‘they’?” I ask.

“Red Sox fans,” she replies, chewing her muffin. There you go — didn’t I just say The Wife was a major snoop? “She was telling the guy that they don’t want to talk Yankees-Red Sox anymore now that the Yanks are in first place.”

I swivel around in my chair to look at Suzy.

“You a Yankee or Red Sox fan?” I ask, dutifully checking The Wife’s facts.

“A Yankee fan!” Suzy says, and eyes me suspiciously. She seems vaguely upset by the mere suggestion that she could be anything else. “You a Yankee fan?”

“I write a column for the YES Web site,” I say.

“Great,” she says. “What’s your name?”

I tell her. She promises that she’ll check me out online, brings the coffee pot over to our table, freshens up our cups, and formally introduces herself.

“We heard you talking … ” I begin.

“Red Sox fans come in here, they catch it from me,” Suzy says before I finish my sentence. “They think they can walk around New York with their caps, I let them have it.”

I look at her. It’s nine o’clock on a weekend morning, and the place is already jumping. People from every cultural background and financial status under the sun are mingling at the counter like they’ve known each other all their lives, like they’re best friends or family at some kind of reunion, with Suzy here being the queen of all things breakfast-wise and master of ceremonies rolled into one.

And then it hits me that the only people she won’t tolerate in this New York melting pot of a coffee shop are Red Sox fans. Perfect.

“Pleased to meet you,” I say, slyly shaking her hand.

Slyly because I know I’ll be doing a whole lot of hanging out at the coffee shop from now on. And that you’ll be hearing plenty about it.


“Did you just say you were going to the Yankee game today?” asks the woman at the table across from us.

This is maybe 10 seconds after Suzy’s headed back around the front counter. We’ve seen the woman here before, reading the New York Times while eating cereal and cantaloupe and stuff between sips of coffee.

“No,” I answer. “I was just mentioning that I write this column about the Yankees … “

“Oh,” the woman says. “You know, my son and his friends bought Yankee tickets from a scalper a couple of weeks ago and they turned out to be counterfeit.”

“Ouch,” I say, shaking my head. “That stinks.”

“They were really looking forward to the game,” she says.

“I bet.”

“It was Bat Day.”

“Adding insult to injury,” I say. “Next time maybe he’d better go through StubHub if it’s at the last minute.”

She asks me what StubHub is and I explain.

“The kid grew up in the city,” she says after thanking me for the skinny. “You think he’d know better than to get ripped-off by a scalper.”

“Hey, no shame. I grew up in Brooklyn and got ripped-off lots of times,” I say.

I’m suddenly remembering when I got scammed out of a full week’s minimum-wage record-schlepper’s pay while trying to help some guy who claimed to be a lost Jamaican sailor. And remembering when I was walking toward the F-train subway entrance on 42nd Street at one or two in the morning, and a bunch muggers with knives swarmed me out of nowhere, and I made a break for it and bolted downs into the station with all of them on my heels, and got lucky enough to run smack dab into a cop with a German shepherd at the bottom of the stairs.

I’m remembering those misadventures, and a couple of others too, and secretly thinking that, for every time I got robbed or suckered, at least I never had a lousy ticket scalper make a fool out of me outside Yankee Stadium.

And then it occurs to me that only in New York City can one person feel he’s got something over another person because he was ripped-off in a way that’s less embarrassing, relatively speaking, at least in his own mind.

In Maine, when people talk about getting ripped off, they’re making price comparisons between the local supermarket and Wal-Mart.


“Too bad our game was washout, huh?” says the guy with the corner fruit and vegetable stand.

Done with breakfast, The Wife and I have just passed his stand on the way back to our apartment when I hear that snipped of conversation.

I glance over my shoulder and notice the produce man’s talking to an older guy who’s stopped to check out his goods.

“Yeah,” says his customer. “Ruined my whole night.”

“Well, today’s sunny!” says the fruit man. “No more rain!”

The customer holds his palm out as if to confirm it, then nods his head.

“Yeah, you’re right,” he says. “It’s beautiful.”

“What are you going to do in this beautiful weather?”

The customer gives the fruit man a look that implies he has to be kidding.

“What else?” he says. “Stay home and watch the Yankees on TV.”

Which I’m thinking is about the closest many New Yorkers get to outdoor activity when the Yankees play a day game … and happens to be exactly what I plan on doing on that gorgeous June day.