Monday, September 28, 2009

New York, or New York?

As the Yankees sent Boston home winless for the weekend, put on their AL East champion gear and nerdy-looking eye-goggles, and sprayed champagne all over each other, their fans turned to the internet to offer hearty congrats to the team and one another. I found Yankee fans cropping up from previously-unknown corners of my Facebook friends list, and at one point it got me to thinking about just how I and many of us ever became Yankee fans in the first place. As opposed to, say, the nearly-unrelenting suffering that is the existence of the fans from the 'other' team over in Queens. It makes you wonder: when two teams reside in a city this big and fight for the hearts of millions of followers, how do people ever come to back one team over the other? You might think it's as simple as which team is winning, or which is closer to where you live, but for many of us in this city, it's not quite that simple.

(We are, of course, ignoring the double-agents who claim to support both teams, those folk that say they "just want to see NY win" and other similar cardinal sins of sport. Just last week, I and many of my Facebook friends were horrified to see a high school friend claim, and defend, her allegiance to both the NY Football Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. There should be laws against this level of waffling.)

Long ago, I developed a little theory as to how many NY baseball fans came to choose between the Bronx and Queens. It came to me in a frightening self-realization: had I been born a few years earlier, I would in fact be a Met fan. I am an early-70s baby, so naturally, by the time I was old enough to understand the use of the potty, the Yankees were smack dab in the middle of the Steinbrenner Renaissance, and the Miracle Mets magic had turned into dust, their team of Cinderellas into a field of rotten pumpkins. The Yankees stayed relevant as I moved into middle school, at which point I'd settled on all the teams -- Yankees, Islanders, Knicks, and 49ers -- that I'd call "mine" for the remainder of my days. Meanwhile, the Mets organization was in a mess, and the basement was where they received their mail for years. But was it all about wins and losses for me? As I said before, not quite.

My dad is, in fact, a Met fan. To this day I am tickled pink by a picture I have of myself at 2 years old proudly wearing a Mets cap. Which father wouldn't want is only son to root for his team right along with him? Sadly -- for him I mean -- I grew up a pretty independent-minded kid, and I remember being downright confused as to why my dad would root for such a pathetic band of losers. But he was still dad, still able to wield some influence over me. The Knicks weren't all that much better at the time -- I was definitely too young to experience the championship years -- yet I grew to offer my allegiance to them long before Bernard King came to town.

But dad was a product of the 60s in a sense; when he immigrated to New York, the Mets were new and fresh, the lovable losers, the polar opposite to the corporate, rigid, and, yea, I'll say it, mostly Caucasian-American Yanks. The 60s was the time of resistance, rebellion, revolution; I can completely see how anyone of colour in New York would take to the new Mets over "The Man" that played in the Bronx, even if said man was winning -- and winning, and winning. Back then, the wins didn't much matter; neither did the team's location (dad lived in the Bronx at the time). You take that foundation, and compound that with the Yankees' well running dry mere months after the Civil Rights Act passed, then add the sprinkling of pixie dust that fell on the Mets a few years later, and it becomes more or less a given than a child (or immigrant) of the 60s would call the Metropolitans "their" team. But even without the Miracle, I think the Mets picked up legions of fans simply by being not-the-Yankees. Push my birth certificate a few more years into the past, and I can't see how I wouldn't have been equally swept up in the fresh new lovable team, regardless if they were winning or not.

By time Steinbrenner snapped up the Yanks, and did everything within his power to make them relevant again, us now-30-somethings were just starting to become aware of the world. But, something else happened around that time, something just as important as wins and losses, if not more so. The Yankees become less corporate, less "The Man"; became more New York, became -- colour. A guy by the name of Reggie rolled into town, and, perhaps single-handedly, made the Yankees palatable to every brother and sister living in the Blaxploitation era. I don't know if Mr. October was the first, but it's a foregone conclusion that he was the biggest and brightest. So, all at once, you had a team that was winning, led by a star that looked like you with an afro just as big as yours.

As it turns out, the 1980s became a decade of disappointment for me as a baseball fan, but little did I know that suffering through all those 15-14 debacles, those heavy-hitting and light-pitching teams of the Dave Winfield years, would be paid back in full once I became an adult. That, instead of one fleeting flash of fun before the coke era started to take effect, I would get a whole decade and a half -- and counting -- of memories. And all because I was born at just the right point in time.

I've got younger friends now, late 70s and early 80s babies, who grew up just in time for the Mets mid-80s resurgence, who reveled in the 'cool' of Strawberry, the Doc, and others, who celebrated the miracle of Buckner, and who now find themselves wondering just who it was that put an evil hex on their beloved team. (And if they're not wondering, 19 disabled-list players tells me they should.)

If only they were a bit older.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Canó Comes Clutch

* Well, it only took a scant 3 days since my last posting on Robbie Canó's struggles with runners in scoring position for him to deliver one of the biggest clutch hits in recent weeks, a 2-out, 2-run single to break a scoreless tie verses the rival Los Angeles Anaheim Angels of Disneyland Park Incorporated, Ltd. (I mean, if you're gonna stretch your name to ridiculous lengths, why not go all the way). Soon after, his good buddy Melky Cabrera followed with an RBI single that would provide all the runs the Yanks would get this day, and, barely, all the Yanks would need to post a necessary win. Hopefully this big hit gets Robbie off the "shnide", and we're off to see bigger and better things. Don't ya know!

* For once, Yankees radio voice John Sterling beat a point repeatedly, ridiculously into the ground, and I couldn't blame him one bit. Naturally, all of Yankeeland held our breath while watching Ian Kennedy labour thru the 8th inning, his first work in the majors in over a year. To call the move risky or brave by Girardi is definitely an understatement. But, ya know what? It's hard to fault it, even if it hadn't had worked out. And yes, I'm aware that the win probably makes us look at the move with rose-coloured glasses on. But hey, part of managing is going with your gut, and making unpopular decisions. I certainly was rolling my eyes at the thought of Brian Bruney coming into the 8th inning; for all the trust Girardi seems to have in him, Bruney certainly hasn't reciprocated it. Whether it's mental or mechanical, he seems to be having mounds of trouble placing the ball where it's supposed to go, either pitching far out of the strike zone, or too good within it, with somewhat alarming regularity. If Bruney goes out there and gives an identical performance to Kennedy (2 walks and a hit batter, but no runs allowed), you almost certainly don't feel nearly as good about it. Quite a difference when the guy getting thru by the skin of his teeth has failed numerous times in the past, as opposed to a youngster coming back from surgery. In any case, I feel compelled to give credit where it's due, so kudos to Giradi for showing some serious, serious cajones with that decision.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast to switch sports for a moment:

* Is it safe for 49er fans to come out of hiding? 2-0, two pretty convincing wins -- particularly defensively -- against division foes? Is Mike Singletary on the road to returning this once world-beating franchise to an air of respectability and beyond? Am I getting ahead of myself after only 2 victories?

We can be pretty certain of the answer to at least one of those questions. But it's nice to have something positive in 49er land to talk about. That Frank Gore guy is preeeetty good.

* Just copped 2 tickets to the October 30th Futurely-Brooklyn Nets game verses Vince Carter and his slightly-new-look Orlando Magic. Hey, I did say I would make it a point to be in the house for his return visit, and -- unlike roughly 95% of people I come across -- I am a man of my word. Looking forward to it, especially seeing as how: (1) I can't think of a single Jersey Net that has much chance of stopping Carter, save for my boy Courtney Lee, who nevertheless has a bit of a height disadvantage, and (2) it will be the first game of Rashard Lewis' suspension, so ostensibly, there will be more responsibility for Carter in the Magic offense for this game and thru the first 2 weeks of the season. In short, he may be scorching the nets that night. It should be quite a "home"-coming.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Curious About Canó

Haven't blogged much at all about the Yanks this year, but there's a curious fact that has spurned me to change that. It's been a good year up till this point, especially their long run of approximately .750 ball this summer. Among a slew of players putting up good years both behind the plate and in the field has been Robinson Canó, hitting a robust .323 as of yesterday with the best power numbers and slugging percentages of his career. However, when you glance over to the situational statistics, you find something very, very alarming: he is hitting very, very poorly with runners on base, to the tune of .259 with runners on base, and .211 with runners in scoring position.

The more you look at those situational stats, the worse they get: .231 with the bases loaded, a situation that usually favours hitters, in which they almost invariably put up good numbers. The worst of all those stats for Robbie this year is undoubtedly that of a man of third base with less than two outs: .160 average with a .172 on-base percentage. By contrast, when the bases are empty, Robbie has been scorching: .378 batting average. Leading off an inning? .424, with a .771 slugging percentage.

The strange thing about all these numbers is that they are a complete anomaly when compared to the rest of his career; last year, for starters, he was .423 with a runner on third base. He has certainly performed in run-scoring situations throughout his career; naturally, I have no answers as to why he's put up such poor numbers in 2009. Of course, it's not to say he's not performed at all in pressure situations; I can readily recall two walk-off hits from Robbie: a laser-shot 3-run homer into the right-field seats, and I was in the house to see his game-winning double into right-center a few weeks ago. So, between that and his career numbers, I'm not suggesting that Robbie's incapable of, or has a career of not, producing with men on base.

But I definitely have to be a bit concerned about the 2009 version of Canó, considering how well he's hitting to start rallies than he is when he needs to keep them going.