Now Batting, Number Two

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I didn’t watch the Yankees last night. After nearly three years of long goodbyes—Posada, Pettite, and Rivera—it finally seemed liked too much. This franchise I learned to love in the 80s, deluded by youth, and again in the 90s, when the improbable wins beat back a young man’s natural cynicism, had become a lumbering juggernaut. My disinterest wasn’t entirely Rodriguez’s fault, though that nonsense played a part. Mostly, I was older, they were older. It just didn’t seem to matter as much to either of us.

In his eighties, our grandfather, whom I’ve written about before, moved out of the house he built into a small apartment above his garage. In his tiny living room, we, the grandkids, would sit on an old couch, springs stretched beyond usefulness, and watch the game with him. As we got older, sometimes we’d share a beer or jug wine poured in a juice glass.

He died in the spring of 2001, before September 11th and before the Yankees lost the seventh game of the World Series in the bottom of the ninth. In retrospect, a lot of things ended that year, and sometimes it seems we’ve been trying to find our way in the dark ever since.

The cynicism won out in the end, and that is perhaps my greatest flaw. I tend to think people are never as smart or altruistic or genuine as they seem, including myself. Definitely Alex Rodriguez. And perhaps even Derek Jeter, too.

Yeah, Jeets. Here’s a gift basket.

I mean, c’mon, right?

Many of us have kids now. I marvel at the families that are able to dress their children up in the jerseys of their favorite athletes and settle down for a nice afternoon or evening to watch the game. How do you people have the time? Don’t you have soccer practice or gymnastics?

It was well past 10pm when Jeter stepped into the batter’s box for the last time at home, the recorded voice of Bob Sheppard introducing him from beyond the grave. I guess that’s what you’d call it, home, but Yankee Stadium isn’t what it used to be, either. It’s not The House that Ruth Built, it’s not where Lou Gehrig cried into a microphone, and it’s not where my brothers and I sat with the Bleacher Creatures because those were the only tickets we could afford. The new stadium is a marketing temple with a baseball problem, where the cost of beer could probably be blamed for the mortgage crisis.

While Jeter was digging in with a man on second, I was watching an indie film with an iPad on my chest. Occasionally I’d check the box score. My kids had been asleep for hours. I don’t know if my brothers or cousins were watching. I haven’t had a beer in weeks because, you know, carbohydrates.

After the film, I hit refresh and saw that Jeter had rapped a walk-off single to right in his final home game as a Yankee. My first thought was, now he’s definitely not playing in Boston this weekend, not unless they trot him out for a goodbye wave in the top of the first.

I tapped around, looking for some video, until I found the YES feed. Jeter used to jump higher when they’d clinched an important game. For an instant I thought, that’s okay, Jeets, I used to feel it more, too.

Then the camera panned over to the first base dugout. On the grass out front stood Posada, Pettite, and Rivera, joined by Martinez, Williams, and Torre, all inexplicably stoic like marble gods at a temple. They were literally waiting on the other side of the white line for Jeter to join them. All Yankees go to heaven, do they not?

And somehow, in the mist surrounding these legends of the fall, I could see the ghost of the World Trade Center, of the old Yankee Stadium, the U.S. economy and our national pride, the echo of Bob Sheppard, and, of course, our grandfather. Everything we’d lost was there, just off the field.

Our grandfather, he’d played ball in the 30s, in the town league out on Long Island. Catcher. A good one. Rumor has it the Yanks wanted a look. Who knows if that’s true. But I remember sitting next to him on the busted down couch, watching a game one summer in the 90s. This kid, Jeter, he says. He’s a ballplayer.

And that’s all it took to weave all these things together. Now that thread is cut. There’s only the sweet memory of one more frozen rope to right to hold onto, while we search for something else to believe in.

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