October 11, 2011

The Best I Have Ever Seen.

The worst part about losing is that when it's over, it's over. You can replay each inning, each at-bat, each foul ball in your head and wonder "what if?" But when it's over, it's over.  And the Yankees season is over. The weird part is that I am not angry about it; I am just disappointed. The Yankees deserved to lose Game 5 of the ALDS. When you have the bases loaded - not once, but twice - and you fail to score meaningful runs or capitalize in any regard, it is your own damn fault for losing. Criticize Joe Girardi all you want for his quick bullpen trigger finger, but after Ivan Nova gave up two first-inning home runs, Detroit only scored one additional run – off of CC Sabathia no less. The Yankees failed because their bats went silent when we most needed them. The middle of our lineup was particularly atrocious (we are not scapegoating or ganging up on you, ARod. We all just hate you that much).  Other than untimely and unclutch hitting, the Yankees would have – and should have – won.  Simply put, the ALDS was not the best baseball I have ever seen.  And that is why I thought the following was the perfect segue and perfect ending to an otherwise incredible season…

My very good friend, mentor, and fellow sports fanatic, the Fabulous Penguin, is the author of the excellent Borg Baseball Blog.  He recently wrote a compelling piece about the Yankees’ season, which very much echoed my own thoughts.  That said, what makes his blog different than most baseball-related websites is that The Fabulous Penguin writes from the perspective of a life-long fan – someone who has followed the Yankees for decades, who understands the game, how it has changed, and how it can be improved.  He offers a view that most writers, myself included, cannot share, because we simply do not have the experience or knowledge to provide the context that he can.   He wows me with stories about the time he met Yogi Berra, about individual playoff games he saw at the old Stadium, or my personal favorite, about when he met a wasted Mickey Mantle at the airport as a kid.  You can read countless articles about historic baseball events, and you can follow hundreds of current baseball blogs, but very few of them capture the sport like The Fabulous Penguin does.  His blog is funny and down-to-earth, and I urge you all to check it out.  

I asked the Fabulous Penguin if he would write something for CDTF, so that I could give everyone a taste of what makes his blog so special.  I am humbled by his response, which provides a better example than any glowing introduction I could have written, and I am honored to post it here.

The Best I Have Ever Seen
Dear Son,

I just wanted to thank you for helping to organize the trip down to New York City this summer to see a game at the new Yankee Stadium. You know that when I was your age and lived in New York, I used to go to games all the time, but living in Massachusetts makes for a long trip, so I can no longer go as often as I would like. But this was a special day and getting a large group of our friends and family together on a Sunday afternoon to watch a game was just great.  You also know that if there is one thing I love to do, it is talk baseball and this was a prime time to discuss all manners of the game with said friends and family, especially you.  Although you were born in Massachusetts, I made sure to never prod you about what team to follow. Thankfully, all of those nights watching games on TV (thanks to the MLB Extra Inning package) ended up pointing you in the right direction. That, plus a bunch of World Series wins and making the playoffs each year, helped us both in a positive way.  

So, there we were at the Stadium and you said to me “I’ve never been at a game where something important happened.”  You had said this soon after we were having a discussion with JHop, when she mentioned being at the Stadium when Jeter got his 3000th hit.  I continued to think about this exchange during the top of the ninth inning, when Mariano Rivera came in to protect a slim lead and earn a save. As I watched this unfold, I was reminded that in my baseball watching life (1961 to the present), I have personally seen many great players but I wondered who I consider “the best.”

Mantle and Mays came to mind first, but by the time I understood the ins-and-outs of the game, both were in the declining portion of their careers, ravished by age and injury.  I thought about guys like Greg Maddux or ARod, or Pujols or Derek Jeter. I have been lucky enough to see some really great players, superstars even, but “the best ever” is a mighty tough title to place on an individual. I even considered Pete Rose. But sorry, gambling on baseball, on and against your own team and then lying about it, brings you down a whole lot of notches in my book. And then my mind turned to Mariano Rivera, the skinny Panamanian kid with one pitch, who almost singlehandedly revolutionized the set-up role and even more spectacularly, the closer role. THE Mariano Rivera, who at the advanced baseball age of 41, continues to be a top-level relief pitcher each and every performance.  Who more would you want to see on the mound with a one-run lead in the ninth inning, be it on a cold windy April day or the seventh game of the World Series? Did you know he started almost 70 games in the minors and 10 more with the Yankees in 1995 before he moved to the bullpen? No one could have predicted just how great he would become. 

The thing, however, that impresses me the most, which marks him in my mind as the greatest, is just how humble he is. He accepts blame for mistakes, something most superstars seem to have forgotten how to do, and he deflects individual praise towards the rest of his team. You would never hear him say that a player should have caught that ball and you would never see him exhibit the histrionics so prevalent in Major League Baseball today. What you will hear him say, over and over again, is how much he thanks God for his skills and how much he appreciates his teammates for theirs. When he makes a mistake on the mound or loses a game or blows a save, he walks off of the field still proud and confident and humble. Yes, I have seen a lot of good ballplayers, great ones too, but none of them is as great as Mariano – as a player, a pitcher, and perhaps more importantly, a person.

So son, you have watched many games on TV and you have been to quite a few, too. But in Mariano, you have gotten to see someone extraordinary, someone truly great. Indeed, you have seen “something important.”  You have gotten to watch this man play baseball.  But you have also seen what it means to be a man.  Someday, I hope you will tell your own son about him. And I hope that he, too, can begin to understand what “the best” is all about.

Love,
Dad

2 comments:

  1. Great, great post T-Fab, and I'm with you all the way on your choice. My Red Sox loving oldest and I have been Mariano fans for a very long time.

    Here's a backhanded compliment. Stephen got to go with the old man to Fenway for home opener, '05 (his and my birthdays - he turned 8). Banner Day. So with all the legends on the field (Yaz, Pesky, etc.) and heroes on the team (Ortiz, Wake, Tek, etc.), and the Yanks in the house, who gets the biggest, longest ovation, by far? Yep, Mariano. Naturally his blown save in Game 4 made him popular (there was a lot of tongue-in-cheek in those accolades initially), but there was also this monstah level of respect (fear-based). We knew we had escaped just that one time against the beast, and it might never happen again, and it made ALL the difference in the world. And how does Mo take it? First he cracks up, and then, with Jeter and Posada slapping him around and laughing too, he stepped forward and tipped his cap to the crowd. And it got louder, and it got sincere, and that wasn't possible.

    You have got to really be something to have earned the respect of Yankee fans, given those huge Yankee shoes any player today is filling. But I will contend you are on a different playing field entirely when the fans of your "hated rivals" hold you in that high a regard. You can be certain a lynching will occur if some jerk-off local Boston sportswriter doesn't vote a first round "Yes" with everybody else (I'm talking to you, curly-haired boyfriend).

    Thanks T-Fab. Thanks JHop.

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  2. Thanks, Pat. Thanks, Jill.

    MM

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