Categories
New York Yankees

The Gift and the Curse

“I like songs about drifters – books about the same.
They both seem to make me feel a little less insane.
Walked on off to another spot.
I still haven’t gotten anywhere that I want.”

-Modest Mouse, The World at Large

OK, quiet down for just a second, cease and desist with the anger and indignation. Because I love telling this story, never get tired of it.

It was an unbearably hot afternoon at Yankee Stadium. We’re playing Texas, Juan Dominguez on the mound. Alex Rodriguez is at the plate, in the midst of a phenomenal 2005 season, carrying the team. We’d seen Jaret Wright come and go, booing him off the mound as he held his right shoulder in unbearable pain, tobacco spilling out of his mouth, agape in agony.

We’d seen Carl Pavano vanish, day to day becoming month to month, month to month becoming here to eternity.

We’d seen Kevin Brown implode. That’s that.  

We’d been watching our season hang by a delicate strand, our maddeningly talented clean-up hitter preventing an irreparable rip.

And here he is. There’s an electrified current slicing through the beautiful blue sky, and we anticipate something special.

Dominguez winds and fires, Alex locks and loads.

The ball explodes off his bat, obliterated.

We stand, watch the flight, preparing to unleash a spectacular roar, tell whoever happens to be sitting next to us that yes, told you so, just had that feeling.

And than, nothing…

Silence.

We’re looking for the ball. And Alex is rounding the bases, head down.

Did it land upper deck? Was it swallowed by the atmosphere, rip through the O-Zone?

A pin could drop, for one beautiful moment. Soundless shock.

Awe transcends translation. Ever hear 57,000 people simultaneously gasp?

We’d make the playoffs in 2005, somehow, even with a cast of thousands pitching in from the rotation. We made it because Sheffield was great, because Mariano had his best single season, because Jeter was Jeter, because Cano and Wang emerged from nowhere.

But really, we made it because of Alex.

Couple months later, that moment, that afternoon at the stadium, it’s all forgotten.

And that’s why I love telling the story, now, more than ever.  

So I can remind one and all, what we just lost.

………………………….

Alex Rodriguez is a fascinating study, even through the narrow view within white lines. He was a true chameleon in Pinstripes, a man of many stances. There was the slightly hunched, uncomfortable edition of 2004, which relied entirely on raw strength. There was the upright, smooth and mechanically sound phase of `05. There was the panicked, high kicking, long swinging ’06 model, forcing the action and choking his talent. Finally, in `07, there was an Alex from a distant, less burdened past, slimmed down and lightening quick, rising to almost every occasion, complex character with a compact cut.

……………….

 Alex is entertainment. His transformations occurred at random. He could appear unstoppable, mashing high nineties heat with the ease of a contented artist, or unnatural, timidly scurrying after foul pops, minding the tarp twenty feet away.

The fun of following A-Rod is in his never-ending capacity to surprise.

…………………..

 What to make of the memories? Where was the satisfying resolution, the justification? Had it been lost within the shuffled cards of karma?

There wouldn’t be closure between him and Jeter. They were former best friends turned fellow employees, supposed to share the city together. Nope, there wouldn’t be word that they’d buried the hatchet, hanging out again, painting the city the same color as Billy and Mickey. It wouldn’t be that simple.  

There wouldn’t be a moment of connection between him and the fans. He wouldn’t walk the dugout roof, spraying champagne at the stray few refusing to depart a championship celebration. He wouldn’t drunkenly hold up a trophy certifying him as Series MVP, before telling his critics to stick it. There wouldn’t be a chant begging him to stay at a Victory Parade. It wouldn’t be that simple.

 There wouldn’t be vengeance against the bitter sportswriters of America. They wouldn’t have another serving of crow to eat. How could they win? Red Sox ownership wouldn’t pay for playing it cheap. In fact, they’d appear brilliant tacticians. How could that be?

The story doesn’t seem complete, the final chapter left unwritten. There’s nothing but abject emptiness, vague indignation, agitation equaling self-righteousness, the same song dragging on and on and on and on…  

…………………..

 Am I angry, personally?

Nope.

Am I disappointed?

Sure.

Because, now, a piece of me exists that thinks the worst of my favorite player. It could be suppressed before, out of loyalty, but now, I can’t help but think: Think he couldn’t give a damn about being a Yankee, that’d he be a Marlin if they paid him an extra cent. Think he couldn’t care less about legacy, leaving that to his bank account. Think he isn’t mentally tough enough to be a champion. That he can’t raise his game to match the magnitude of a moment.

I can’t help but think that Alex Rodriguez can be given the Mike Tyson treatment, executed perfectly by Buster Douglas. When the bully pushes, push back. He’ll fold.

 Yankee executive Gene Michael, principal architect of the contemporary Dynasty, called compilers “bully players”. They can abuse the dredges, but how do they respond when pushed?

Are they left crawling on the canvas, sorting through the shattered pieces of their invincibility, searching for their mouthpiece?  

I can’t help but think that New Yorkers can sniff out the phonies, see through a façade.

I think I can’t wait, just can’t wait, to boo Alex Rodriguez.  

And it’s disappointing, for damn sure.

……………….

What of Alex Rodriguez? Where does his greatness float next? What is Scott Boras instructing?

Does he go to San Francisco, where the sportswriters have already irrationally lashed out, deeming him another Barry Bonds unable to carry his team to a mythical promised land somewhere past a five run lead in Game Six of the World Series?

Does he go to Boston, where most Red Sox fans are rightfully loyal to Mike Lowell?  

Does he go to Los Angeles, where a continuation of his complicated relationship with Joe Torre awaits?

What about the Angels, or a dark horse, like Toronto?

Can the drifter find a home?

Does he want to?
………………………..

OK, finish taking a skewer to this piece if you like, maybe even praise it if you’re so kind and inclined. Done? Do I have your attention?

Good.

Because I love telling this story, never get tired of it.

It’s an October night, 2005. The family and I are watching Game Five between our Yankees and the Angels, hoping for a miraculous, unexplainable campaign to continue.

There’s company over, and the drinks are flowing. We’re passing around a Giant Sombrero, our rally Sombrero we call it. My dad wears it, as the Yankees bat in the ninth, down by two, running out of outs.

Derek Jeter, who Santiago would have no problem calling great, leads off with a single.

Here comes A-Rod. He can’t buy a hit in the Series. He’s due. He has to be. My pale Irish dad is wearing a giant sombrero, and Alex Rodriguez is going to come through.

He’d done it all season. Answered the critics with every mighty swing. We’d have been dead in May without him. He’d torn through September, solidifying himself MVP.

And, here it is, Alex. Now was the time, to redeem 2004, bury the memory, wash it clean.

The room hushed. Anticipating.

He swings at the first pitch. It’s a weak swing of uncertainty, of fear. He grounds into a double play. I thought he beat the throw.

He returns to the dugout, biting his lower lip, eyes watering, eye black fading. Alex Rodriguez has essentially ended the season he saved, a gift and a curse.  

I felt pity, I felt rage. I felt winter in the wings.

I took the stupid hat off my dad’s head. I needed another drink.

No magic, no more.

“Damn it, Alex.”

“Damn it.”  

– M.W.

By mw2828

Matt Waters is a screenwriter currently living in New York. He has been writing about sports since age seventeen, about the time when it became painfully apparent that his athletic dreams would go unfulfilled, due to terrible luck and an obscene lack of talent. His favorite movie is “The Thin Red Line”. His favorite band is “Modest Mouse”. His favorite sport is baseball! With an exclamation point.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *