Everyone remembers their first game. Mine was a Saturday afternoon in July. The year was 1996 and the New York Yankees were in first place. It was Old Timers' Day in the Bronx and I was next to my Dad.
Seeing the greatest Yankees getting introduced was amazing. Joe DiMaggio was there to throw out the first pitch. Reggie Jackson hit a home run in the Old Timers' game. And there were two future Hall of Famers in uniform for the current Yankees that day. Derek Jeter was more than halfway through a season that would win him Rookie of the Year honors. Maybe everyone expected great things from the No. 2 overall pick four years prior. But out in the bullpen was a lanky young reliever named Mariano Rivera.
Almost fifteen years have passed since my first game. I have been to dozens more and the Yankees have been dominant. Perhaps the two biggest reasons have been Jeter and Rivera.
Everyone started bringing up this "Core Four" in '09. Andy Pettitte left for the Houston Astros after '03. Some say if he was there in '04 the Yanks don't collapse against Boston. As much as I love Pettitte as a fan, he brought back negative press and a steroid admittance. Jorge Posada, meanwhile, has been the epitome of a compiler from the day he got here. Think of the big hits throughout his career. Try to get to your thumb. It's not happening.
Jeter is starting to show his age. If anyone deserves a pass, though, it is the Captain. Sixteen hits is all that separates Jeter from 3,000 hits. No Yankee has ever achieved the feat. By the time his career ends, Jeter will be in the top 10 of career hits leaders. Of course this means an automatic entrance into Cooperstown. But Jeter has had a career full of memorable moments.
The first game I went to this season me and my brother were talking about Jeter in '06. Ten years after winning ROY honors, Jeter had his best season. Somehow Justin Morneau won the American League MVP. He was given 15 first-place votes while Jeter got 12. It just seemed Jeter carried the Yankees that season. When the playoffs began Jeter stayed hot. He was already 4-4 in game one against the Tigers in the eigth inning. There were deafening "MVP!MVP!MVP!" chants in the old Stadium. The new Stadium has never felt like the old one. This moment was the perfect example with Jeter in the batters box with one out. Then Jeter hit a bomb to dead center almost hitting the black seats. 5-5! Moments like this are why Jeter is not just another guy with 3,000 hits.
If Jeter is the Captain, Rivera might as well be the Pope. Since '96, Mo has earned the reputation as the greatest closer of all time. He has 573 career saves, just 28 shy of Trevor Hoffman's 601. Life after Rivera is starting to become a reality as every Yankee fan can see the writings on the wall.
Posada should be retiring soon. The Captain only has a few more years left. Rivera has to be close to the end, right? He has had some rocky moments this season but remains a force in all the land. As long as Rivera is the Yankees' closer they have an advantage nobody else does. Every closer in the league throughout Rivera's career has been better known for the times he choked than when he succeeded. Not Rivera.
If you want to feel the closest thing to the force Rivera possesses it is quite simple. Go to Yankee Stadium and hope he comes in the game. "Enter Sandman" starts playing almost as a cue for the game ending even though Rivera has not thrown a pitch yet. The only thing remotely close to this feeling was Hulk Hogan's entrance at Madison Square Garden during WWF's heyday. Rivera's entrance was a better feeling in the old Stadium though. The bigger, more spacious new Stadium has sent the real fans to the land of "Far Far Away." We are still screaming but too much distance and empty seats separates us from the field. You'll get goosebumps, though, and be able to tell all your friends you saw greatness. The best closer ever.
The Captain and the "Pope" are still playing for the Yankees. This may be the twilight parts of their careers but the Yanks are still in first place with the "True Two" there through it all since 1995. There when it started. There when it will end. The world can't end as long as Jeter and Mo are on the Yanks.
As for my first game. The Yanks beat the Royals 5-4. Jeter was 2-4 with a run scored. Rivera pitched two innings where he struck out two, walked three, and gave up one hit while picking up his 20th hold of the season.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
I came across a CD recently. One I thought I had thrown away. The cover has no title but a photo. In the photo is a happy couple. I had long thought all I had from my last relationship was a scrap book.
Made during the 2010 NFL postseason, the book has a hardbound green cover with “JETS” written across the front. Then found inside are clippings of the New York Jets’ run toward the 2010 AFC Championship game. That, of course, ended in bitter defeat. The following year, the Jets were making a similar run in the postseason again. I still had the scrapbook so I added clippings, hoping the last one would be of a victory parade. But it was just another year that ended in defeat.
This season the scrapbook remains the same as then. Except this time, there are no playoff games to watch. Maybe I should record angry fans calling radio stations complaining about the Jets. Unfortunately, however, the pain would not disappear.
Frustrated Jet fans have nowhere to go these days. The saying when your team’s season ends with a frown is really simple: “There is always next year.” As I grow older and approach my 30th Birthday, one thing is certain. “Next year” feels like another lost dream. This was the year the Jets were supposed to win it all. Back in July I had gotten into a shouting match with my brother. I felt I finally had ammunition to fire at a Patriot fan. At the time I felt Rex Ryan gave Jet fans a sense of confidence we never had before. This was during the days of the lockout. A few weeks later football was back. And so were Ryan’s bold Super Bowl predictions. He kept reminding the media his Jets had just made two consecutive AFC Championship games. It should make no difference they lost both. Heck, it was the first two years he was head coach. It was also the first two years of quarterback Mark Sanchez’s NFL career. After starting 4-2 in his postseason career, this had to be the Jets’ year. All that followed was a regular season which had one common ground as nineteen other teams. The 8-8 Jets failed to make the playoffs.
With so much parity in the NFL these days there are fewer “easy wins” than ever before. Look at last season. The Jets went 11-5, were a wild card playoff team, and eventually lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. They struggled to beat the Lions, Browns, and Texans in consecutive weeks. All three of those teams did not reach the playoffs. The Jets easily could have finished 8-8 last year also. But you never hear Rex Ryan say that. All he says is how the Jets made it to back-to-back AFC title games. The Jets lost both of those games. I never recall the Buffalo Bills bragging about WINNING four consecutive AFC title games. Apparently getting to within a win of the Super Bowl is good enough. That will never be good enough for a long suffering Jet fan like me.
This was the season where the Jets’ fortune started to slip away. The exception was the season opening win against the Cowboys. If not for Tony Romo and a punt block as clutch as Billy Bob in Varsity Blues, the Jets would have been 7-9. From that lucky win, the Jets went 7-5 to be 8-5 and in control of their playoff destiny. Had they gone 2-1, they would have made the playoffs. Instead, they were humiliated in Philadelphia. Then the Giants beat them down on Christmas Eve. Making everything so much worse was losing in Miami to finish the season. There were a few times during the season in which you could say: “What if?” The game in Denver comes to mind. Sticking Tim Tebow inside his own 10-yard line late in the fourth seemed like a win in the making. Then everybody’s All-American marched through an overrated defense for what turned out to be the beginning of the end. The same defense had the Giants pinned at their own one late in the first half. What followed was a 99-yard touchdown pass from Eli to Cruz. Mark Sanchez’s last seven touchdown passes of the season added up to less yards. Then against Miami, Rex Ryan watched as Matt Moore started at his own five and went 95 yards for a long touchdown drive to put the fish ahead.
Now is a bitter offseason. Interviews of Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum are miles from enlightening. Questions about why Santonio Holmes pouted on the sideline against the Dolphins are asked. The answers are like greeting cards. The same punk wide receiver only has four years left on his contract. Brad Smith, Braylon Edwards, and Jericho Cotchery were all tossed aside for this bum. Smith was a staple of the offense and special teams his whole career. Get lost though. Edwards had the biggest catches for the Jets last year. Not interested. Cotchery was one of Sanchez’s most reliable targets. We don’t need you, anymore. Apparently Holmes was a safer play. Heck, one more off the field foul and he could be banned from the NFL. Then the Jets sign Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason. Some moves just make you scratch your head. Even more of a head scratcher came in week 15. Down 28-3, Holmes caught a touchdown and then taunted a 5-8 football team going nowhere. He got flagged and then congratulated by coaches and teammates on the sideline.
Today, the Jets third string quarterback blasted Holmes inadvertently on an Albama radio station. All Jet fans have to be excited about now is a higher first round pick than usual. When next year comes it will be different than this year. Nobody will care about what Rex Ryan and the Jets have to say. An old cliché’ goes, “A picture can say a thousand words.” As for photos on a CD or clippings in a scrapbook, the same can be said. Or by contrast, both can say nothing. Kind of like the Jets. Finally, they have nothing to say.