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7 August 2008 Edition

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Matt Treacy

Home run for the Yankees

YOU REALLY get no conception of how fanatical New Yorkers are about baseball until you visit the place. New York Yankees hats and shirts (this in Manhattan and the Bronx as opposed to Queen’s, where the Mets rule the roost) are everywhere. ‘Stickball’, the traditional favoured street game of New York kids, has fallen victim to traffic and demographic change but you can still see children playing it in parks. It’s basically the same as rounders and you still see it being played with a long straight pole rather than a proper bat.
Walk through Central Park and you will see all shapes and sizes of people pitching to one another, practicing batting and even engaged in impromptu games. Bars and restaurants, except those self-consciously arty (and thereby antipathetic to the long-standing New York intellectual marriage of sport and writing), are often festooned with photos of heroes like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
If the Yankees are playing, most of the people eating and drinking will be keeping a close eye on proceedings, which is curious because they mainly don’t appear to be as interested as if, say, a local team were playing here. But once something particularly good or bad happens you are left in little doubt by the reaction. Besides, it is a long game and one needs to properly ration one’s passion.

IT IS a callow neophyte who would venture an opinion unless able to back it up with facts.
American sports are by far the most statistically based and analysed of any and the substance of arguments over batting and pitching averages – not to mention the more obscure letters and numbers you find tabulated in the newspapers – make it ill-advised for the rookie to talk rather than listen.
And if one of the resident experts doesn’t know something (and they generally do), then there is often an Encyclopedia of Baseball handy to settle any matter in dispute.
It was with great excitement then that myself and Dave and Ciara – the baseball expert among us by virtue of her rounders experience – set off on the B train to see the Yankees taking on the Baltimore Orioles.
Getting off the train at 161st Street is like going back generations. If much of New York is glossy and sophisticated and blasé, Yankee Stadium and the Bombers fans are more akin to scenes and characters from Jimmy Cannon and even Damon Runyon. Cool detachment has no place here.
And no matter how patchy one’s grasp of the nuances of the game, any follower of any team can readily identify with it. ‘Yes,’ I think as I cross over from the subway into the shadow of the famed arena. ‘I can relate to this.’ Oh, yes.

AND maybe too there is a city thing going on here: obnoxious and arrogant to outsiders but oblivious to it. The Dubs and the Yankees.
There is also the fact that big anonymous cities, in which many of the people who live there seem to have little in common and many are not even from the place at all, need a glue to hold it together. The Yankees serve that purpose for many New Yorkers.
Just as the Dublin football team does in this town. And the more alienated people become, the more important the team; even when, as with the Yankees and the Dubs of recent years, failure appears to be the general outcome in contrast to a glorious past. Although the Yankees’ famine – 2000 was their last World Series win – has been shorter than the Dubs’.
But there is still the history and, paradoxically, the more disappointing the present is, the more glorious the past. And even a bad Yankees team carries the aura of the great teams of the 1920s, 1930s and the 1940s.
Nostalgia is particularly prevalent at present as the old Yankee Stadium – there since 1923 – is being used for the last time this year and is being replaced by a state-of-the-art complex across the street.

GETTING tickets only proved a minor problem and were accessed via a cop pointing us in the right direction with the advice that he wouldn’t recommend paying over the odds... but if we wanted to, and so on, and so forth. So we did. Dave was dispatched to sit with the Bleacher Creatures, the Yankees’ equivalent of the section of the Hill just behind the goal, while myself and Ciara adjourned to the lofty heights of the Loge Box, directly above the Yankees dug-out.
No one broke into a chorus of “Come on, ye boys in stripes” but there was lots of shouting going on. And booing when the other team does something good is okay. Which is a bit satisfying really.
Unfortunately, we had picked one of the games the Yankees lost that week. The Orioles won 7-6, although a fairly pedestrian affair had ignited late on with an Alex Rodriguez home run.
The Yankees are still favoured to make the play-offs and so retain the possibility of winning their 27th (of 104) World Series in the year they move away from The House that Ruth Built. And what is more, if they do get to the decider, the Yankees will have home advantage, playing the first and last two of the seven-match series in the Bronx.
That could be in October, just about a month after the other great metropolitan team ends a certain other famine!
So how YOU doin’, Gael gan Náire?

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