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    Posada defined

    Wednesday, January 25, 2012, 11:34 AM [General]

    The moment, the image, defines Jorge Posada for so many who have followed his career. Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium. Yankees versus Red Sox, door to the World Series wide open for both teams. Victorious team steps through, loser hears it shut with sudden slam.

    Win or go home.

    The Yankees are in a deep ditch early, down four runs with Pedro Martinez pitching flawlessly on the mound for the Sox, and the Yanks’ Roger Clemens out of the game by the fourth inning. Clemens followed by an all-hands, ad hoc relief corps of starters and relievers -- Mike Mussina leading the way -- that would shut the Red Sox down for several innings.

    Bottom of the eighth, the Yanks had scored a couple of runs on a pair of Jason Giambi solo homers, but the Sox have also scored again, giving them a 5-2 lead. On the New York radio broadcast, a dour fatalism has crept into John Sterling’s repetitions of Yogi Berra’s “getting late early” phrase.

    Then those hits by Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams bring the Yankees within two, Red Sox manager Grady Little and Martinez have the chat that will eventually send Little packing as he leaves Boston. Martinez stays put instead of getting pulled for a lefty reliever, and a double by Hideki Matsui brings Williams home, leaving the Yanks down a single run.

    Jorge Posada, the switch-hitting catcher, steps to the plate with Matsui on second there in scoring position.

    Eight odd years later, Posada would recall that moment in a packed Yankee Stadium conference room on the day of his retirement from baseball. A room as full as it’s ever been, his wife and children at his sides, the trophies representing his five World Championships with the Yanks to his right. He would sit recalling that moment, special even among the many special ones in his 17-year Major League career, to the press and his closest friends, former coaches and team-mates—two of them, Jeter and Mariano Rivera, men he calls his brothers.

    There is an interesting characteristic about athletes that can seem contradictory. While in the game, the great ones don’t think of past moments, don’t think of their failures or successes, don’t think of the gravity of the situation. They zone narrowly on the now and let experience and muscle memory take over. Whatever conscious thought they have at such times is to assess the challenge in front of them, channel their will and ability toward conquering it. It is all done quickly, very quickly—in the game, they often have seconds or less to apply themselves to positive action.

    Here is what’s contradictory, or apparently so: Hours and days later, years and decades even, the same athletes can often describe those moments—everything about them, about the process leading up to their feats, with striking detail and clarity. Their brains have recorded it all; relaxed, they can mentally exhale.

    About that moment in 2003, that defining moment, Posada would recall thinking Martinez was about to get the hook, be replaced by a lefty out of the Red Sox bullpen before his at-bat. And then realizing that the pitcher had stayed put, talked his manager into leaving him in the game, and …

    “I knew how he was pitching me the whole day—he was pitching me inside, pitching me inside, pitching me inside,” Posada would say. “So when Grady Little left, I felt like he was going to throw me a pitch inside. I was looking for something in, and I swung at a pitch that was probably a ball, but it was too close to take. And I got jammed, and the ball found a lot of grass . . . .”

    A lot of grass, a bloop double to shallow center, that no-man’s land behind the infielders and in front of the outfielders, sending Matsui around third and across home plate, tying a game the Yanks would, of course, go on to win 6-5 in extras, their exhilaration on the field matched in counterpoint by the Sox’s stunned, numb walk toward the visiting clubhouse.

    Remembering being there in the crowded room, Posada hesitates for the merest beat before he shares what he felt reaching second base to leave that unforgettable image, one that transfixes us to this day:

    He is roaring, fists clenched at his sides. Roaring there on the base pad like a lion.

    In his description, Jorge Posada’s voice would not be as emotional as when he thanked his parents for the support they had given him, thanked his wife and his children for theirs. Nor as when he thanked Jeter for his friendship, and Rivera for his brotherhood. Posada is a proud but humble man. Earlier in the press conference, asked about the highest and lowest moments of his career, he spoke of team accomplishments while discussing the former, and of a game in which he allowed three passed balls as the worst of it for him.

    Three passed balls. The worst moment in his mind. One of personal accountability, for a poor performance in a game few, if any, others in that overcapacity room could even remember.

    Proud yet humble, ending his pause, Posada would use now similarly restrained tones to explain how he felt landing on second base after that ALCS Game 7 double 

    “Looking at the stands, and looking at the dugout, [I was] just excited, super excited during that time. Just knowing that you have one game to play. You win or go home. It’s just a pretty exciting time.”

    Just exciting enough to make Yankee Stadium roar and shake as wildly as it ever would that night, exciting enough to reveal the competitive fire in his heart, a fire that fueled him to overcome obstacles large and small on the way to becoming a catcher for the New York Yankees, a five-time World Champion, a leader whose enormous heart would become the passionate heart of the team.

    Roaring, like a lion, on the field.

    And then, almost a decade later, on a Tuesday, leaving it behind with gentle, grateful words for his wife, children and all those he loves and cares about.

    That is Jorge Posada. Man, baseball player, Yankee great.

    Others will follow in his path, but there will never be another like him.

    Thanks to Bruce Beck for his insights into the great ones.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter: @Jerome_Preisler

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    Detroit Tense

    Monday, October 3, 2011, 3:45 PM [General]

    I view my job at Yankee Stadium as having several major, interrelated components. First and most importantly, I try to see what I can see when I'm there and gather material for a possible column.

    Next in my priorities is using social media to rapidly pass along information to fans and offer any snap impressions or opinions I might have. I often share glimpses of my personal experiences covering a baseball game to peel away the curtain separating fan and reporter.

    I also like to take the pulse of fans on the Web as a game develops, find out what they’re feeling and wondering about, and provide a useful service by researching and answering people’s most common questions. In the press box I have colleagues with knowledge of different facets of the game whose brains I can pick on the spot.

    There’s often a schism between the stream of raw emotion from social media and the activities I observe in the clubhouse and interview room before and after games. Even in the cauldron of postseason competition, team preparations are calm and organized. Media sessions are scheduled and posted on video screens. Each session is much less freeform than during the regular season; a manager or player enters the interview room, answers a handful of questions, vacates the podium for the next arrival.

    In the hours before a game, fans await lineup postings, and announcements on things like injuries, player availability and pitching rotation decisions. At the ballpark, for the teams, it’s all about preparation.

    Roaming the line between fans, players and coaches is sometimes an odd experience. When I get to the ballpark I will set up for a day’s work, and, early on, check my Twitter stream to pick up on the mood and concerns of fans. It helps me decide on areas of focus. I also mostly enjoy the interaction, but as someone wrote a long time ago, none loves the messenger who brings bad news, and that part isn’t always fun.

    Occasionally it gets pretty rough; the wave of intensity from Yankees fans can be buffeting and that only increases in the postseason. There are innumerable voices saying a lot of things but really saying the same thing. They all want their team to win, and are nervous and restless because the pressure, the stakes, are heightened.

    Players and coaches have similar feelings, though they might use different words for them. You hear the terms “amped up” and “butterflies” a lot. Ballplayers especially don’t like to talk about nerves or nervousness. It’s understandable. You don’t want the opposition to see you sweat, doesn’t matter that everyone’s sweating a little.

    In his pregame media session, Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he hadn’t seen much in the way of nerves from his ace Justin Verlander, his Game 3 starter, in his truncated rain-suspended Game 1 outing, but conceded he might have been somewhat antsy to explain some struggles with control that gave the Yanks an early lead. That’s another of those words—antsy

    Leyland’s demeanor is matter-of-fact. He doesn’t dance around the truth and he says what he thinks, unless it’s something he believes will compromise his strategy or a player’s expectation of keeping certain pieces of business in the clubhouse. He isn’t going to talk about a player’s nerves, but he won’t lie, either. “Antsy” is as good substitution for nervous as any. It’s a small thing. Ant-small.

    In his pregame press conference, Justin Verlander, a runaway favorite for this year’s Cy Young award and an American League MVP candidate, was relatively candid. Verlander is affable and comfortable with the press. There to answer questions before a key Game 3 start in Detroit, he talked briefly about how his single inning of work in Game 1 might have affected him.

    “It might be beneficial,” Verlander told a reporter, and then went on to talk about getting into a rhythm on the mound. A few sentences later, he added. “I got a feeling of what it’s like, and there was some adrenaline. Anybody who says there’s not is full of it. It’s being able to channel it and use it the right way. I felt pretty calm and collected early on, especially to [Derek] Jeter … for the most part, I felt pretty good.”

    Adrenaline is another of those words that says it without saying it.

    Shortly afterward, during the Tigers’ on-field workouts, I spent some time observing Leyland as he watched his players conduct drills and occasionally conversed with members of the press. I found him interesting to watch, even when he was just standing and talking to someone, but although I’ve wrestled with articulating why, I’m still not sure I can do it.

    Maybe part of it is just Leyland’s old-school appearance, the silver hair and mustache, the slightly craggy face, the whippet lean physique. And the socks. The Tigers’ have a classic uniform befitting its status as one of Major League Baseball’s eight oldest franchises, and Leyland in uniform has a classic high socks look. Not David Robertson high, but middle high over his calves. He wears his trousers sort of baggy, too. Not that he’s swimming in them, but Leyland isn’t the type to go skintight.

    When Leyland talks to a reporter he looks him or her in the eye and gives straight, thoughtful, unembellished answers to questions. He has a dry sense of humor that sometimes escapes people. I have compared Leyland being funny and Leyland being straight to a pitcher who delivers his fastball and changeup from the same arm angle. You have to be on your toes to see the ball coming.

    If Leyland had nerves before ALDS Game 2, he didn’t show it. He knew its importance, of course. For the Tigers, winning was a must. They lost Game 1 and had to take the second from the Yankees and split the series, neutralize the Yanks’ home field advantage.

    Leyland looked and sounded as if it was business as usual. He could have been getting ready for a game in April or June. But hours later after a 5-3 Detroit victory, when he explained why he’d gone to eighth-inning setup man Joaquin Benoit an inning earlier than usual to preserve a four-run lead, Leyland said, “It’s playoff time. You do some things at playoff time that you don’t do over a 162-game schedule.”

    Leyland talked about how a team can’t afford to go down 0-2 and face three straight elimination games in a five-game divisional series, that to win it you do what you have to do. “Sometimes you don’t like to do it,” he said. “But I felt that … really, basically, what you do as a manager, you try to do anything that gives your team the best chance to win.”

    Leyland’s got about a quarter century of managerial experience, has been in the postseason a bunch, led a Florida Marlins team to a World Championship in 1997, and almost got the Tigers a trophy in 2006. That’s a whole lot of baseball under his belt, where there doesn’t seem to be much anxiety tucked away under his jersey.

    At the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday night, with the Yankees having gotten to within two runs of tying the game, Robinson Cano came up to the plate with two men on base, two outs, and Alex Rodriguez in the on-deck circle. Cano had daggered the Tigers with a grand slam in the previous night’s Yankees win and is someone Leyland calls one of the five best players in the game. Coming off an injury-plagued season, Rodriguez has been hitless and looked out of sync in the series’ first two games.

    Asked if he considered walking Cano to pitch to A-Rod, Leyland allowed a bare trace of a smile before giving a very detailed account of his thought process. “I figured it’s wet, it’s slippery, one gets away, one run is in, something like that would happen, a ground ball … “

    A ball slips, Leyland had thought, a ball is hit in the infield, you get Rodriguez over there with his bat, and somebody throws it away, and the game is tied. The thought of walking Cano crossed his mind, but he just couldn’t do it. And he took his chances with the Yankees’ second baseman.

    It was a revealing answer. I don’t know how Leyland deals with nerves internally, but you can tell he’s always quietly thinking, and maybe that’s what keeps them quiet too.

    Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera is the power charge at the heart of his team’s batting order. In the Game 2 win he went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, putting the Tigers on the board in the first with a two-run homer off Freddy Garcia. Before he followed Leyland’s and pitcher Max Scherzer’s postgame interviews, media members were told that Cabrera, who admits to having struggled with and overcome a drinking problem, would not answer questions about off-the-field issues.

    The announcement led me to figure he would be tight-lipped with reporters. But given the restrictions on questioning, Cabrera proved easygoing and good-humored. He was also refreshingly honest when asked about nerves.

    “I get nervous,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I think everybody gets nervous when you warm up before the game.” Then without pause, he added, “When you step on the field, they throw the first strike, the nerves go away.”

    The truth is that however they want to put it, everybody involved with the game’s nervous this time of year. Coaches, players fans. The ones in the field and dugout seem to handle it by concentrating on what they have to do to win. The ones in the grandstands, and watching on television, sometimes don’t handle it as well. It’s understandable. Baseball grips the heart and soul, takes hold of their emotions, and they’re powerless to impact the games in which they are so wholly invested.

    Game 3, is a road game for the Yankees. CC Sabathia, the Yanks’ reliable ace, goes up against Verlander in the series’ swing game. As the men in Comerica Park do their work, and the social media erupts, you can be sure it’s going to get tense. As a fan I’ll have my own set of anxieties. As a reporter, I can try to be objective and calmly look ahead working a Game 5 of this series Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

    I think that’s where we’re headed, and I intend to be there walking the line.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter: @YankeesInk

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    Rivera, gentleman

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 1:39 PM [General]

    It was an afternoon in late July, and Mariano Rivera had stopped near the batting cage to speak with a reporter from a Latin sports outlet. The Yankee batters were beginning their practice and Rivera was headed toward the outfield with some of the other pitchers to catch fly balls. For Rivera, that has always been a pleasure; he has said that he would like someday to play center field, if only for an inning.

    The reporter is a proper looking man of some years, thin, grey haired, with a neatly trimmed mustache.  Even in the midsummer heat, his attire is semiformal -- collared dress shirts and suspenders, when the younger members of the sports media will often wear golf shirts and khakis. He carries a leather shoulder bag that always looks slightly overstuffed.

    I do not know his name. I’ve seen him often over the years in passing, and we always exchange nods of hello without accompanying conversation. I believe him to be a broadcast journalist, because I have never seen him in the section of the press box reserved for the writing press.

    That July day, his conversation with Rivera seemed personal, or at least off the record. They stood close together between the cage and warning track area outside the home dugout, talking in quiet voices. The reporter was not holding a recorder or a notepad.

    They spoke very briefly -- four or five minutes at most. Then Rivera started toward the outfield, paused in front of me, turned back toward the reporter, and they exchanged a few added words in Spanish. My impression was that they were making plans for a longer conversation, though I could have been mistaken.

    The reporter watched Rivera as he trotted off across the grass, noticed me watching the two of them, glanced in my direction. 

    Es un caballero,” he said in Spanish, nodding slowly toward Rivera. And then, in English, smiling, “A gentleman.”

    I returned his smile. There are textures to the phrase that go beyond the quick translation. Literally, caballero means horseman, and its origins are with the mounted knights of ancient Spain. It connotes someone of chivalry and gentility, of decorous and noble bearing.

    Un caballero.

    It so perfectly defines Mariano Rivera.

    Moments after the  602nd  regular season save of his career -- he has in truth, had 644, counting those in the postseason -- Rivera stood on the pitcher’s mound at the heart of Yankee Stadium, the reluctant but visibly proud center of attention. The crowd was sparse; it was a makeup game with the Minnesota Twins on a Monday afternoon in September, a game postponed from early April, the chill in the air autumnal, summer vacations come and gone. Were it not for the promise of seeing Rivera break the all-time saves record held by Trevor Hoffman, it is likely there would have been fewer in attendance. Many of those who were there came out for Rivera, came to see him make history.

    602. The number was, in its way, merely the period at the end of a sentence. Rivera, whose greatness was indisputable long before he reached it, will himself downplay its significance. But it is important validation. It marks his place, as anniversaries and birthdays mark events. It is a concrete measure, forever preserving in records the enormity of his accomplishment.

    On September 19th 2011, the greatest baseball reliever ever earned his 602nd regular season save, more than any other reliever in the game’s history. And the less-than-full Stadium roared as if it was crammed to capacity.

    In the grandstands, the noise started before Rivera made his jog from the bullpen, spectators cheering wildly on their feet when Nick Swisher, one of their own team’s players, hit into a double play to end the eighth inning. The score was 5-3, Yankees. A hit by a Yankee batter, and the team might have lead by four runs or more, and then Rivera would not have entered the game. The double play preserved the save situation and a date with history, and the crowd erupted when their own man hit into it. Rivera had a two-run lead to protect, and on that day everyone there knew it would be enough.

    When it was done—three batters up, three down—and his teammates poured from the dugout and bullpen to give their congratulations, Rivera, who had been headed down into the Yankee clubhouse, was pushed back onto the mound there at the heart of it all, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez, urging him to appreciate the accolades, the long, loud outpouring of affection from the crowd. Rivera looked uncharacteristically awkward at first, doffing his cap. And then fighting back emotion, he began to acknowledge those who had come for him. And in his eyes, in the straightness of his posture as he gathered himself, one could see the silent but unmistakable pride.

    “For the first time in my career, I’m on the mound alone,” he said later, his children at his side. “There’s nobody behind me, nobody in front of me … and then surrounded by so many people. I can’t describe that feeling … it was priceless … it was a moment … I didn’t know it could be like that. And all I have to say is, I was thanking God in that moment.”

    Others will speak of Rivera’s discipline, preparedness, and mental strength. In his humble and dignified way, Rivera credits his longevity, and the famous cutter he says is a gift, to God’s mercy. 

    Es un caballero.

    I thought of those words while lending my applause to Rivera’s ovation. I think of them now as I write my own appreciation.

    Of all that will be said about Mariano Rivera today, tomorrow, and in the future, perhaps none honor him more than those.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter: @YankeesInk

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    9/11: A recollection

    Sunday, September 11, 2011, 10:38 AM [General]

    "Before setting out on their current road trip, the Yankees honored the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks with a special pregame ceremony in the Bronx. In remembrance today, I thought I’d run a piece to commemorate the attacks that I’d written a couple of years ago in my earlier column for YESNetwork.com, DEEP IN THE RED. It’s been revised and expanded from the original.

     -- JP

    On September 10, 2001 my wife Suzanne and I were at Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees play the Red Sox and, we hoped, see a 39-year-old Roger Clemens attain the 20th win of his career against his former team. But it was a gray, wet day and the rain kept pouring down and down through a lengthy game delay.

    We had very good seats behind the Yankees dugout. I remember, after a while, watching Brian Cashman, Joe Torre, and then Red Sox manager Joe Kerrigan confer on the warning track in the rain. Soon they went walking around the field together, skirting the infield tarp to prod the soggy grass at its edges with their shoes, then heading toward the outfield and doing the same to  test it. You could see the water squish up under their feet from the saturated turf.

    It wasn’t surprising that the game was postponed, with a makeup date to be determined if necessary. The field wasn’t playable, and the Yankees had a big division lead over the Red Sox. I’m fairly certain that game never had to be made up.

    Although my wife and I were disappointed it was called, we took some consolation knowing that we had tickets for the next night’s game. The team coming in to begin a series on September 11 was the Chicago White Sox. Our seats weren’t nearly as good but we were still hoping we’d get to see Clemens achieve his milestone. We wondered whether he’d make his scheduled start in the pitching rotation or skip his turn.

    The elevator in our apartment building was under repair that day. It had been out of service since the day before, September 9. That day had been muggy and, because we lived several stories up, we’d complained about having to use the stairs. Climbing up, we’d run into two young women who asked us to come over  to their apartment and have ice cream with them. They’d taken off from work for their spur-of-the-moment ice cream party. Or a broken-elevator party, as they’d called it. They were roommates in their late twenties or early thirties and hadn’t lived in the building long. We appreciated the offer but declined.

    When I woke up on September 11, two days later,  Suzanne already had the local news on — the channel was NY1 with its round-the-clock coverage. She had tuned in for the weather forecast and perhaps an update on whether Clemens was pitching that night. The weather really wasn’t much of a question; all you had to do was look out the window to know it was a picture perfect day, the sky a cloudless sheet of blue.

    Not long after I started watching TV the regular morning news cycle was interrupted. It was about a quarter to nine and there was a report of smoke coming from the World Trade Center. I wondered at first if a fire had broken out in one of the offices. But within minutes somebody — a motorist, I believe — phoned the station to say he thought a small plane had crashed into the tower.

    And then the events of that day began to unfold with a horror that was, at least then, incomprehensible to us.

    We had friends who wound up staying at our Manhattan apartment for most of the day. One had been at work and the other was out looking for work. Both lived outside the borough and couldn’t get home when the city went into virtual lockdown. They called and came over searching for a place to go, and I went out to the store and joined the lines of people getting bottled water and extra food provisions. We did not know the scope of the attack, or who was attacking us. We only knew New York city had been attacked and thought it might be wise to stock up.

    I remember looking south on Third Avenue and seeing the New York skyline erased. The sky was blue overhead but downtown was just a whitish smear in my vision. I remember that when Suzanne went out to walk our dog Kirby, she saw a fleet of  SUVs shooting south on Second Avenue. They were black and unmarked with darkly tinted windows. The police in the NYPD cruisers speeding along with them were barking out warnings  through their loudspeakers,  instructing pedestrians, some still on their way to work, to stay put on the sidewalk as the SUVs streaked by.

    As our friends sat with us in front of the television, I remember, now, all of us watching in stunned disbelief as the towers came down. And then watching all the rest. I cannot describe the sense of unreality and isolation we felt. It was as if we’d slipped into some dark alternate universe. Or if that impossible universe had overtaken  and engulfed our own. What was happening wasn’t really happening. Except of course we knew it was.

    About a week later my wife and I had to leave New York and did so with sunken hearts. Someone had put prayer candles in our  building’s entrance foyer and I stared at them for a long time as we headed out. Several tenants had been at the World Trade Center and died there in the flames and destruction.  We would learn that two of them were the women who’d asked us to come up to their apartment for ice cream a couple of days before the terrorists struck.

    As I got into our car, I knelt, closed my eyes, and put my fingertips to the pavement. I don’t recall what I was thinking. I just remember doing that.

    We were at Yankee Stadium the day baseball resumed. Then at the end of October, one of the friends who’d stayed with us on the day of the attacks had tickets for Game 3 of the World Series, the first of the series being played in New York. He said there was a chance he’d be able to get me a ticket from his uncle, and stopped over at the apartment and waited for a call. In the end, the seat went to someone else and I stayed home and watched that game on television with my wife.

    I’ve never really thought I had much of a shot at that World Series ticket. Or believed that my friend thought I did. We never spoke of it later, but I’ve always been convinced he came over just so we could spend some time together before he left for that game, a raucous, World Series game at Yankee Stadium in New York City, just six weeks or so after the homicidal, suicidal maniacs hijacked those planes.

    We’d shared the day of horror, the three of us. And that October evening before former  President George W. Bush threw his ceremonial first pitch from the mound, we were going to share just a little of the defiant unity that series would bring to New York City and the rest of America.

    It makes me sad that too much of that feeling has since faded. We should not need tragedy on a massive scale to bring out compassion, and consideration, for one another. It is vital and good that we remember the past and pay tribute to 9-11’s innocent victims. But  the greatest of  tributes must go beyond anniversary commemorations and extend to our daily lives. How much more meaningful would it be if this date inspired us to move forward treating others with greater respect and decency? How much more elevating the message if it made us kinder, better people?

    And so as I sit writing this all these years later, it all comes inextricably together for me. The impotent shock and horror of that day in September ‘01, the sorrow, the memory of baseball lifting many of us up when we so desperately needed it — and the simple thought that life is too tenuous, too fleeting, for its precious moments to be squandered or driven by hatred.

    With thanks to L.K.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter

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    What did we learn at Fenway?

    Friday, September 2, 2011, 1:03 PM [General]

    Coffee please, thanks. Late night ... y’know how these Yankees/Red Sox games go. Not that anyone here’s complaining. When the games are as tough, dramatic and generally crisp as the last three have been, you need to appreciate them, and then suck it up and get your morning jolt however you can.

    So on the second day of September 2011, with the fifth of six regular season series between the teams over, the Yanks took a pair of games at Fenway for their first series win over the Sox this year.

    The overall head-to-head record is now 11-4, Sox over the Yanks. Not how the Bombers would want it, but as Robert DeNiro told John Cazale in The Deer Hunter once upon a time, “This is this. This ain’t something else. This is this.” Which is more less the same as saying, “It is what it is,” but around these here parts you don’t get the cheap knockoffs.

    What have we learned about the teams and how they measure up against one another?

    We learned CC Sabathia can beat the 2011 Red Sox. Everyone knew he was capable, but he hadn’t done it, and now he has. It wasn’t too pretty but pretty doesn’t count in baseball.

    We learned that a Major League Baseball umpire once again didn’t seem to know the rules of the game he’s officiating. A week or so back, one of them blew a game-changing call because he didn’t know the ground rules of a particular ballpark. In this case, it appeared the ump was unaware that when a batter gets hit when he swings it isn’t a hit-by-pitch, but a strike.

    He may have said afterward that he thought the batter swung after he got hit, or something like that, but when you think about that explanation, it’s kind of hard to buy. A batter gets hit on his hand, makes a fuss, and then swings? Maybe on the Bizarro planet, that makes logical sense. On Earth, nope.

    We also learned Red Sox pitcher John Lackey is an equal opportunity glarer. He openly dislikes opposing batters clapping their hands at the plate—and stepping hard on it— after scoring home runs off him, same as he dislikes it when his fielders fail to make plays behind him. And his preferred way of expressing dislike is to glare. The difference is, he can’t plunk his own guys the way he plunked Francisco Cervelli for his celebration.

    As far Cervelli’s display of exuberance went, it’s a Latin thing, said Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, he hurriedly clarified, maybe sensing Big Papi looming over his shoulder. But he was just saying, you know. And maybe forgetting that his own closer, Jonathan Papelbon, isn’t Latin, and has his own patented way of celebrating excessively.

    And just so we’re straight for next time, the consensus among media types is that it’s apparently okay to clap when you reach base on an RBI hit but not when you cross home plate on a homer. 


    Very importantly these last few days, we learned that Phil Hughes continues to be inconsistent as a starting pitcher after three full years and change at each end in the big leagues. When Hughes has a fastball that’s up around 94, 95 mph, the ball moves and he can be effective. When he has a fastball that’s down around 91, 92 mph the ball doesn’t move so much and he tends to get hit, especially by patient batters like the Red Sox guys.

    The recurring problem for Hughes is that he can’t seem to hang onto the 94, 95 very long during a game, even when he has it to start with. It appears that when he feels the velocity drop off, he shies away from the plate like he did when he walked Sox outfielder Josh Reddick with one out in the sixth after being ahead of him 0-2 in the count. That was after his team had rallied from a 4-1 deficit at the top of the inning to take a 5-4 lead. That was also what let Reddick score on a fluky Varitek double and opened the door to an eventual Yankees loss Wednesday night.

    It’s good for the Yanks that they learned all this about Hughes. They now have six starters in their rotation and one has to go into the bullpen soon. It isn’t going to be Sabathia (18-7), Ivan Nova (14-4) Freddy Garcia (11-7) or Bartolo Colon, who’s one game under .500 could easily be several games over. Everyone realizes it’s going to be Hughes or A.J. Burnett.

    For a while there it looked like Hughes was the likely candidate because he’d pitched out of the bullpen before, and done it well. On the flipside, Burnett wouldn’t seem suited to the pen. His emotions can get the better of him under pressure, and relievers often enter games in pressurized situations. He’s a walking textbook of pitching issues, and you don’t want to give him any more of them. That would make him a total loss, and an expensive loss at that, one with a couple more years left on his big bucks contract. It wouldn’t seem an ideal option for the Yanks.

    So it looked as if their plan would be to get half a game or so out of Burnett, a few more innings out of Hughes, and then go to their established relief corps to finish off games. Sort of a Hughes/Burnett tandem.

    And then a couple of decent Hughes starts (against light-hitting teams), together with a few Burnett disasters on the mound, kind of blew all that apart. Burnett was really the killjoy. He started to put the Yankees in a hole before fans even took their seats. Soon it was looking like the Yanks would have to banish him to the pen a la Jose Contreras, Jeff Weaver, Javier Vazquez and a host of ill-remembered castouts before them.

    But yesterday Burnett hung in for five plus. He pitched well enough to hold the Sox to two runs scored on a Dustin Pedroia homer in the fourth. He said afterward that he’d utilized some tips he had worked on with his pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, in their throwing sessions between starts. Less hand movement, directing his energy toward the plate, pitcher-speaky stuff like that. And he’d stayed calm, he said.

    For the Yanks, it’s always a good thing when A.J .Burnett is calm.

    Thursday night the Yankees won with A.J. on the mound. Yankee fans had anticipated his start with fear and dread. Many claimed in the social media to have formed prayer circles or dosed themselves with hard liquor and sedatives. Some had reported painful gastronomic difficulties in the hours before the game.

    But in the end they learned Burnett could put in an effort that allowed his team to win. The Yanks’ management and coaching staff also learned that. For them, this was a very happy thing. It makes Plan A -- Hughes to bullpen, Burnett staying in rotation -- viable again. Almost a certainty, in fact. And that is the best resolution to the situation they could have hoped for.

    What else was learned?

    Red Sox batters can wear out the best Yankee pitchers, and Yankee batters can wear out the best Sox pitchers, no surprise. September call-up Jesus Montero has a crack at getting significant time at DH and making the postseason roster. He didn’t get any hits Thursday night but he also didn’t really look overmatched, meaning he seemed to know what he was doing at the plate. He also got his first hit-by-pitch in the Majors. It was a big hit-by-pitch, because he eventually wound up coming around for his first run scored in the Majors in an inning that gave his team the lead. None of it gave him a baseball to take home for his trophy case, but he said he was happy to contribute anyway.

    So the Yanks took two out of three from the Red Sox and learned some things in the process. And this morning’s papers are full of articles saying that one of these two teams will go to the World Series.

    That’s kind of premature. Both are almost locks for the playoffs, but there are a couple of other teams who might have something to say about the World Series part of the forecast. That five-game, first round Divisional Series is no picnic. It will probably involve the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers and they are teams with very good pitching and offense. They would like to prevent the Yanks/Sox ALCS that television network executives and ad salesmen are probably salivating about. Either might yet have its way.

    First place in the AL East is now a virtual tie with the Red Sox and Yankees having an equal number of losses and the Sox having one more win. Over this series in Boston, we learned that the American League East pennant race will probably be fought to the bitter end -- perhaps even the final week, when the Yankees and Red Sox have their sixth and last matchup of the season in the Bronx. After that, each will have three games left on their schedules. The Yanks will play them in Tampa against the Rays. The Red Sox will play them in Baltimore against the Orioles. Maybe those teams will have a say in who wins the division and Wild Card.

    New York Yankees. Boston Red Sox. The former was supposed to have less than what it takes in the pitching department to make the postseason this year. The latter was supposed to have a historic rotation and offense that would for all intents and purposes let it storm its way into the World Series unchallenged. That was what we heard before the season started.

    But look what’s happened in the meantime, and there is a lesson in it.

    Of everything we learned these last three days, it was most of all that history has a way of defying expectations and stubbornly refusing to do what it’s told.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter: @YankeesInk

    4.1 (2 Ratings)

    Daniel Trush's Thank you

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011, 10:45 AM [General]

    Daniel Trush and his friends from Daniel's Music Foundation composed a song and video in appreciation for the New York Yankees' HOPE Week event honoring Daniel's perseverance and work helping others. His dad, Ken, sent it to me last night and I thought you'd enjoy it. You can learn more about the foundation at www.danielsmusic.org

     

    0 (0 Ratings)

    A Buzz from the Cuz

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011, 9:11 PM [General]

    It’s several hours before gametime and I’m at this brunch buffet maybe ten blocks from Yankee Stadium, talking to Cousin Brewski, who says it’s the best deal in town. He’s with a small group of buddies he meets there regularly on weekends, people he came to know at the ballpark while doing his job, a couple of whom are mutual friends of ours.

    Cousin Brewski, or the Cuz, is really Rick Goldfarb. Or maybe I should say Rick Goldfarb is really the Cuz. It gets to be like that with legends, hard to separate the public from the private personas, and this man is a legend of his own kind at Yankee Stadium.

    Next season will be his 40th as a beer vendor there. Four decades, his first day at work having been Bat Day 1972. To put that in perspective, you had Ron Blomberg, Gene Michael and Horace Clarke in the infield back when he started on the job.  Bobby Murcer, Johnny Callison and Roy White in the outfield. Thurman Munson catching Mel Stottlemyre and what seemed like a cast of thousands back then. 

    All these years, and the Cuz has stayed on the active roster, outlasting even the original ballpark across the street, carrying his big, heavy cooler of ice cold beer up and down the aisles during games. Like all veterans, he’s had to make some adjustments. Age never makes things easier, and every now and then you’ll see him use a magnifying glass to count out his change. But he still loves being out there, and none of the good-humored enthusiasm has waned from his signature call, “Thanks for catching a buzz from the Cuz.”

    The trade name, Goldfarb will tell you, was borrowed  liberally from Cousin Brucie, who might be the most famous disc jockey in the history of New York City. “When I was growing up, I listened to the Top 40 and all, and, so . . . a beer is a brewski. Thusly, I became Cousin Brewski.”

    And the tag line?

    “Cousin Brucie would say, ‘Thanks for giving the Cuz a buzz.’” Brewski explains. “But because I was selling beer, I would say, ‘Thanks for catching a buzz.’”

    I look at the large, warm smile on his face and can almost hear him yelling out the words, the way I’ve heard him in the stands since I was very young. Somebody in the food court business once told me a ballpark should be a warm place. Not exactly a home away from home, but a place where you feel like invited company. He explained how McDonald’s yellow was an welcoming color, talked about Colonel Sanders as a folksy icon, things of that sort. They make you feel comfortable, feel like you want to come back.

    To me and thousands of others who’ve hung around Yankee Stadium for a long period of time, Brewski’s that kind of an irreplaceable fixture, so I tell him that over my steaming coffee cup, ask how it feels to be a grandstand superstar.

    He gets this twinkle in his eye that tells me he’s heard that question maybe once or twice before, and launches into his answer. Brewski reminds me a little of the Catskill mountain resort comedians I saw as a kid, and that’s no insult. You ran into those guys offstage, say in the lobby waiting for an elevator, they knew how to flip the switch in a blink, give you a quick snippet of their repertoires before the doors opened.

    “When I started, beer was sixty-five cents, and I was too young to sell it!” he says. “I’ve been working here thirty-nine years and all I am is Vender Number Twenty-One in seniority. And the only way you move up in seniority from here is through death!”

    I look at the Cuz and know I’m going to be the straight man here. Martin to his Lewis, Rossi to his Allen, Abbott to his Costello.

    “Death?” I ask

    “Because nobody quits the job,” he says, doing his buildup. “Number One is eighty-six years old, he’s been there since Babe Ruth! He sells scorecards as you walk in. He survived a heart attack, diabetes and a gunshot wound from Number Two.”

    “Seriously?” I keep playing along. “Number Two shot him?”

    The Cuz delivers the punch line. “He wanted to be One!” he says with a broad grin.

    Ba-boom.

    Everyone at the table laughs. The truth is, though, that seniority is a big deal for the Stadium’s beer vendors. In this day and age, where everything and everyone seems to come with an early job expiration date, it’s worth every cent of their monthly union dues, no joke.

    I look at the Cuz. Four decades. Schlepping beer around in those forty-pound cases is a physically demanding job, and nowadays the moving vendors get all kinds of competition from beer stands in the open concourses, which are much more accessible from the seats than they used to be. I wonder how it’s changed for them since moving from the original park.

    “Well, at the old Stadium, we were allowed to sell beer on the lower level,” he says. “Now they don’t sell beer in the lower level except in the outfield portion, so that’s a big difference. And it’s many, many, many more steps. To get down to the lower level you have to walk down six flights of steps and walk up. The amount of steps in the new place is a lot.”

    I think but don’t say that I’ve noticed him hauling his cooler up and down those gazillion or so steps. The coolers haven't gotten lighter, nor have things gotten easier for the Cuz or any of the other beer  vendors. I’m guessing they weren’t consulted when the new Stadium’s design plans were worked out.

    Nobody ever gets younger, yet there’s no hint of complaint in the Cuz’s voice as I ask what continues to continues to fuel his gusto.

    “The adrenaline comes from the fans,” he says. “I’ve met so many people . . . I’ve networked better than any human being on earth. My dentist was a season ticket holder on the first base side. My accountant was a season ticket holder. I met friends from Rhode Island and all over the place. It’s been the greatest experience. I’ve met people that I never would have met in my normal course of life. And they’re so happy when I come down the aisle. They wait for me, and only buy beer from me.”

    Which brings to mind something I’ve thought about before, looking at Brewski and the other vendors. “You’ve been at Yankee Stadium for all these historic moments, but you’re always busy,” I say. “Do you ever get to enjoy them?”

    Brewski’s smile widens. “The fans make them for me,” he replies after a second. “When everybody stands, you can’t be selling beer anyway, so you turn around and see what’s going on. Be it Reggie Jackson’s third homerun {versus the L.A. Dodgers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series}, or Derek Jeter hitting his home run {for his 3000th hit}. Y’know, you catch the moments. You can tell by the fans when it’s time to turn around.”

    I ask about some of his favorites.

    “Game Seven of the ALCS, in 2003, when the Red Sox had the lead, and they kept Pedro in too long, and we made the comeback, that was electric,” he says “I mean, you couldn’t hear yourself think you were so excited. It was just unbelievable.” He mentions the Reggie three-home run night again, then pauses, his face growing reflective.

    I’m not really surprised by the shift in mood. You can tell the Cuz has that serious side, like all great comedic showmen. Can’t make us laugh unless you’ve known what it is to cry.

    “In 2001, after 9/11, when they had the first game at Yankee Stadium, it was inspirational beyond belief,” he goes on at last. “And the night that they had the tribute to Thurman Munson . . . only the Yankees could have done it as good as they did it. They left the catcher’s spot vacant. Everybody took the field, and they just left the catcher’s spot vacant. And they shined the lights on it  . . . and you just . . . it was the saddest moment for me. But it was a unifying moment because everybody felt the exact same pain. And it was just unbelievable.”

    I stay quiet a second or two, thinking. A guy like the Cuz, I can listen to him for hours. You can read all the books and articles in the world but they will never tell a story the way his eyes, expression and voice tell it. It’s history from the ground, and to let it pass us by would be an immeasurable loss.

    “You’ve been around ever since I’ve started going to the Stadium,”  I say. “The population’s changed in New York . . . do you still see people that you’ve known for ten, twenty years or whatever?”

    The Cuz shrugs. “I remember faces,” he says. “I don’t remember names, mostly. But people come up to me and say, ‘I remember you, the game in 1982, you were serving the beer!’ I don’t really remember but they get all excited, and then they’ll buy a beer from me.” He chuckles as he brings up 2008’s All Star FanFest at the Jacob Javits Center, which he attended with some his friends at our brunch table. We’re walking around . . . . and  there were people yelling, ‘Cuz, Cuz!’, and it was really great.”

    I sip my coffee. The Cuz seems happy and I give him a chance to bask. Across the table, then, several members of the group coax him to tell me about a trip they’d taken together to RFK Stadium in Washington DC, when the Yankees had their first series there to play the Nationals in 2006.

    “Oh,” he says, shaking his head a little. As if that one had just happened to slip his mind. “There were all Yankee fans there. I’m walking around, people are going  ‘Cuz, how are you, Cuz?’” He shrugs. “I wound up . . . I bought a couple of beers that I served to some of the longtime fans.”

    Suddenly the Cuz gets quiet, which I’ve quickly come to sense isn’t his style at all.

    “You should tell him the rest,” one of his friends says across the table.

    The Cuz looks kind of self-conscious and says nothing.

    “Go on,” urges another member of the group. “Tell him.”

    The Cuz hesitates. “There were fans from the bleachers, and they were calling my name—”

    The guy across from me cuts him off with a wave of his hand. “That isn’t the story,” he says. “The story is you’re the one who invited us on that trip. You got us all our tickets.”

    The Cuz makes one of those gestures that’s part shrug, part headshake. “Okay,” he says, “I invited my friends . . . ”

    “You invited my brother-in-law, nephew, Tom, Lou . . .”

    “Well, my girlfriend lives in Silver Springs, Maryland!” the Cuz interrupts.

    I try not to crack a smile. His girlfriend has nothing to do with what we’re talking about, which, I realize, is the whole point of his changing the subject. The Cuz wants no part of taking credit for doing anything special, taking a small army of friends and their family members to Washington D.C. for that interleague series. And seeing he’s uncomfortable with it, I decide to let it go. Besides, he’s already been in and out of the restaurant after dropping a quarter in the parking meter out front, and his additional few minutes are surely about to expire, and he has to get over to the ballpark. To which he’s offered to give me a lift in his car.

    I decide it’s time to wrap this thing up. “You’re part of the Yankee Stadium experience,” I say. “What are your thoughts on that?”

    The Cuz again becomes visibly thoughtful. “The fans make it fun for me,” he says. “I feed off them. I do my little shtick, and they laugh, and I try to make people have a good time at the game. If people say ‘I had a really good time,’ then I did my job, and it’s wonderful. Yankee fans are the greatest fans in the whole world, and it’s been a blessing to be part of it now for thirty-nine years.”

    I look at the Cuz, thank him, click off the voice recorder. Thirty-nine years at Yankee Stadium, I think, and not for the first time that morning.

    Following him out to his car, I only wish he’ll be there thirty-nine, forty, fifty or a hundred more.

    Thanks to my friend Soozenyc for her introduction to, and great photos of, the Cuz.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter at @YankeesInk

    4.1 (3 Ratings)

    Nova Flash

    Thursday, August 11, 2011, 9:29 AM [General]

    The news cycle no longer really being a cycle, but a continuous multimedia immersion, you’ve all probably read or seen Ivan Nova’s  postgame comments at his locker after last night’s Angels-Yankees game in the Bronx. They speak for themselves.

    Scanning my Twitter timeline on the way home from the Stadium, I’d noticed these reactions:

    “Such a sweet interview... Nova is fun to watch. He’s genuine, confident and humble,” wrote @Yankeebeatcheck in two separate updates.

    “He is joyful to be there. No jadedness, no spin. Honesty and pure joy at where life has taken him,” added @dp57.

    This is just a quick note to say that I shared those feelings while inside the clubhouse and that the unvarnished joy Nova exuded was almost tangible. He knows what he’s accomplished, and appreciates every moment of it. It was nice to see even many tired media types smiling as they hung around his locker with their pads and digital voice recorders.

    Though only 24 years old, Nova is an inspiration to many of us a few years older. No one has handed him anything. He’s earning his success through ability, perseverance, and an attitude that keeps him moving forward. 

    Ivan Nova is a reminder that the world can still get things right if you keep pushing yourself, and it, on a true and steady course.

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter @YankeesInk

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    John’s voice

    Monday, August 1, 2011, 9:08 PM [General]

    There is a moment in the home team dugout at Yankee Stadium when John Lahutsky’s voice falls into silence. This is no small thing. John enjoys communication—it is an innate ability for him, and perhaps his saving grace.

    “He would talk,” his friend Andrei Sullivan had told me during batting practice, speaking of their time together in Russia. We’d been on the warning track outside the dugout, near the batter’s cage. A digital recorder in my hand, Andrei standing with the aid of the lightweight metal Lofstrand crutches commonly used by people with disabilities, his forearms balanced in their cuffs. “He was loud, very loud . . . like, one of the most talkative kids there,” he’d said.

    Andrei was referring to Baby House 10, the nightmarish unit in a Moscow orphanage where they’d met years before. Back then, John was called Ivan Pastukhov, the name given to him by his birth mother. Born prematurely six months into her term, stricken with cerebral palsy, he’d been turned over to the orphanage’s care when he was just a year and half old. His mother’s doctors had told her he would be a medical and financial burden to her.

    And now on the players’ bench during our separate conversation, John has abruptly stopped talking midsentence. Andrei is moving by us through the dugout with a video reporter and crew. He is about to be interviewed at the opposite end of the bench, the one that extends toward the outfield, and space in the dugout is tight—especially because Andrei has to walk using the crutches, his gait wide and uneven. John’s walker, meanwhile, is in front of him as he sits on the bench, blocking Andrei and the camera’s crew’s way. Someone has politely asked him if it’s all right to move it aside for just a second, and then gone ahead and done it to let the group pass.

    John has barely acknowledged the question. He’s turned toward Andrei, his gaze following his progress toward the far end of the bench, and there is something at once remote and protective in his eyes.

    I remember something else Andrei told me about John behind the batting cage. “I believe that if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have made it,” he said. “He just helped me . . . he brought life in me.”

    Before today, they had not seen each other in almost a decade and a half, since 1997, when Andrei was adopted by an American couple, John and Roz Sullivan. John had been seven years old , Andrei five. They’ve talked on the phone, once a month or so, in the time since John arrived in the United States over two years after they were last together in Russia.

    Andrei now lives in Detroit with his parents; John and his adoptive mother, Paula Lahutsky, in the town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Whenever they would discuss reuniting in person, they envisioned it happening at some future date. Twenty years off, thirty, the future. Perhaps in a quiet restaurant somewhere. They never dreamed it might be this soon. They never thought it would be while touring the studios of a national morning television show in New York City, The Today Show. They could not have imagined they would be riding a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park with the manager of the Yankees, or at the zoo there with two of the team's players, or throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. It had simply never occurred to them.

    Now I remind John of the question I’d asked him before his friend appeared in the dugout, calling his attention back to me. What, I’d asked, had drawn him to Andrei at the orphanage  . . . at Baby House 10? He was only a child at the time after all, and the other boy so much younger by comparison.

    “I knew that Andrei needed help,” he says. “I knew he could not survive in the way he was. We were in a room with silent people. With kids that were not speaking, didn’t have any communication skills. And they were banging their heads, basically. Andrei was doing the same thing, and so I had to find some way to communicate with this person across the table.”

    As John speaks of how he found Andrei, he rocks slightly forward and backward on the bench to illustrate his condition, and it brings on a cold rush of memory for me. Once, many years ago, I had done volunteer work in a  New York State facility for the mentally handicapped. A series of reports on the local news had exposed the deplorable conditions there, and the people that ran the facility had reluctantly let in people who wanted to help the residents.

    They had lived in terrible deprivation, some for twenty or thirty or forty years, since being abandoned by their families as children. Many had had no mental disabilities whatsoever, but suffered from neuromotor diseases such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. They were warehoused in thirty odd buildings, most of them bare, filthy and overcrowded.

    In the wards that suffered the worst neglect, I saw people rocking exactly as John was showing me in the Yankees dugout. There had been huge common rooms filled with as many as fifty children and teenagers, every one of them rocking up and down, rhythmically, repetitively, some in nothing but underwear, strapped to the backs of their chairs so they wouldn’t injure themselves against the walls and tables. They stared with blank expressions on their faces, or kept their eyes closed, rocking in utter silence.  

    The medical term for this is Stereotypic Movement Disorder, and it is typified by compulsive, nonfunctional movement. Associated with cognitive impairments or developmental disorders such as autism, the cause of this behavior is still not entirely understood by doctors. But it is considered a self-comforting behavior.

    In a Russian orphanage like Baby House 10, it was what children did when they were denied human warmth and attention or any sort of mental stimulus.

    Even at six- or seven-years-old, John felt he had to do something to help Andrei, even as he had once helped himself. No one had taught him to speak. No one had taught him much of anything. In Russia’s child-welfare system, there had been no distinctions between those with physical and mental disabilities. All such conditions were considered shameful and irremediable.

    “I learned how to speak by listening to people and just learning the language that way,” John told me. “I didn’t have baby Russian, I didn’t have orphanage Russian. It was just . . . people were impressed that I had an adult language that most children don’t master until later on in their lives.”

    John explained that he’d he felt his ability to pick up language was intuitive, a blessing of sorts. “I think I had the instinct from an early age to realize that you need to communicate. You need to show people that you’re much more than what people think. Because when I was in the orphanage, people thought, ‘Okay, this kid can’t walk, his mind is broken too. So I had to prove to people that I was worth something’”

    In the Baby House, John begged the woman in charge of the unit for toys, and occasionally he’d get them. They weren't given with kindness or compassion. Once a broken doll had been slammed down on the table. John took it apart and rolled the pieces across the table's surface toward Andrei, wanting to stimulate his brain and senses.

    “I would play with him, and show him what the toy did, and teach him how to communicate,” John tells me in the baseball dugout. And then he pauses, looking over at where his friend is being interviewed in front of the cameras. “His mom thanked me for that today.”

    But when they met, there had been no adults to express gratitude. Instead, for a time afterward, John had been sent to a place called Filimonki Mental Asylum, where children with physical disabilities were essentially condemned to languish and die. Confined to a metal crib, naked and sedated, his health and mental condition began to decline. But Sara Philps, whose husband Alan was a Moscow-based journalist with the British Daily Telegraph, had taken an interest in him on a tour of Baby House 10. With the help of a young Russian student named Vika, they strove to get him adopted.

    It was not easy, as Russia’s policies on international adoptions had grown increasingly restrictive. Sara knew something had to be done fast, however. The boy was slowly withering into oblivion. 

    Then a story Alan Philps wrote on the abuses of the Russian childcare system led to the closure of the children’s wing at Filimonki. After almost nine months, John was returned to Baby House Number 10, with his friend Andrei.

    “His skills had deteriorated,” John says. “But, still, after I came back, he revived to his old self.”

    But for John the situation had gained urgency. Sara’s husband was being transferred out of the country. Andrei was soon adopted by the Sullivans, who had been in Russia for several years working with a Christian ministry. Everything was being taken away from him.

    Then Sara learned of a loophole in the Russian policies. She met a couple from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that had managed to adopt from Baby House 10, bumped into them as they left the building, and asked how they’d managed to do it. And the new parents told her it was a church sponsored adoption, and that these were still possible—although even that small loophole would soon close to Americans.

    As Paula Lahutsky recalled, “Sara and her husband said, ‘Well, when you go back to Bethlehem, can you do anything to try to save this boy we know of? Because he’s already eight-years-old, and if we don’t get him adopted, he’s going to be in far worse condition than he’s in now.”

    Returning to the states, the couple put a notice in their church newsletter, and Paula Lahutsky, a school psychologist, took notice. Her entire home had been made handicapped-accessible because she’d been taking care of her father, a double amputee, for the final years of his life. There was an access ramp and other modifications.

    Paula will tell you she is no risk taker. She won’t even drive the sixty or seventy miles from Bethlehem to Philadelphia. But there she was. She knew. The minute she read about John, she knew. Daunting a challenge as it might be, she had to try to adopt him, she says.

    There were setbacks. It took almost 12 months before Russian authorities approved the adoption. In the previous year, John had had been consigned to a ward with two and three year old toddlers, denied schooling, and had two surgeries on his legs whose positive effects were erased  by lack of aftercare and malnutrition.

    In 1999, John’s adoption was finally allowed, and Paula took him back to the United States. A dozen years later, after graduating high school with honors, he is preparing to enter Northampton Community College in its upcoming fall semester.

    And today John’s at Yankee Stadium with his mother, and Andrei and his parents, and Chuck Frantz, President and Founder of the Lehigh Valley Yankee Fan Club, who first contacted the New York Yankees about bringing him on a possible field visit to the Stadium, a request that turned into something far greater, what Frantz simply calls “a spectacular thing.”

    Today, John Lahutsky is being recognized for what he always has been. A symbol of hope and perseverance, a living inspiration.

    “I can’t believe it,” he says, looking straight at me now. “It’s a dream of a lifetime.”

    I click off my voice recorder, sit facing him without saying a word. I’m at a loss for how to possibly express what I feel.

    And then I start to rise, reaching out touch his shoulder. An inspiration.

    “Thank you,” I say at last, the words spoken with profound gratitude.

    I know, but do not tell John, that it is only in part for the interview.

    With deep appreciation to Jason Zillo and the entire New York Yankees media relations team,  Blayke Scheer and Joe Auriemma from the YES Network, and my YESNetwork.com colleague Jon Lane for providing all the support, encouragement and assistance I could possibly wish for throughout HOPE Week 2011.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Megan's stand

    Saturday, July 30, 2011, 5:53 PM [General]

    Grampa Godino says he doesn’t have a first name anymore. It used to be Charles, technically still is, he contends. Charles Godino, professor of mathematics, Brooklyn College. But to Megan Ajello and her younger sister Erin he’s Grampa, and that’s how he introduces himself. 

    “Hi, nice to meet you I’m Megan’s Grampa.”

    This is a hot, sunny July afternoon on a nice tree-lined Staten Island street, a half mile or so from the Prince’s Bay railroad station.  Quiet, middle class suburban neighborhood here. Single family homes, two-car garages, basketball hoops, neat front lawns here. Hedges and flower gardens and bicycles leaning on kickstands here. And today all these Yankee baseball players, famous models, reporters and television cameras are here too.

    In front of the Ajello home, Megan’s selling lemonade with a smile. Megan has a big, incredible smile that spreads across her face readily and often. Big smile, big tank of lemonade in front of her, little sister Erin working the register, although everybody thinks she’s the big sister because of how willingly and attentively she assists Megan.

    Megan is seventeen and has cerebral palsy, which affects her motor functions, and scoliosis, a severe lateral curvature of the spine. The palsy makes her muscles tighten. There are painful spasms and her knees keep her up nights in agony.  In 2010, she had her sixth major surgery resulting from her condition. It was a rough one, a spinal fusion to straighten her back. Two titanium rods were inserted, thirty-seven pins. Before the surgery, the scoliosis had forced her into a hunched-over position, and that had reduced the amount of space in her chest needed for normal breathing. If her lungs had weakened, which was the inevitable upshot, she’d have become an almost certain candidate for pneumonia.

    This is Megan’s sixth lemonade sale to support the Special Olympics, meaning she’s been doing it since she was a young girl.  Megan loves to fundraise for causes like the Special Olympics. Another she’s helped on a regular basis is the Cross Road Foundation, a group formed to assist women and families experiencing unplanned pregnancies. There are others too. The YMCA, March of Dimes, the American Cancer Society.  She has a special affinity for children, especially disabled children, Grampa points out. It’s natural, because Megan herself is disabled and has been in a wheelchair since childhood.

    Megan had taken months to recover from the spinal surgery, and the healing had been problematic. There are lift and sling systems in her home to help her get around, but the doctors had advised that her parents, Dan and Linda, take strict precautions until she’d completely healed. It wasn’t easy for anyone, most of all Megan.

    But that’s behind her now. Today, Megan is smiling behind the lemonade stand the New York Yankees grounds crew built and delivered to her door that morning, selling a whole lot of lemonade. Probably more than usual, since there are more than the usual number of people around.

    It’s HOPE Week, an initiative that’s become an annual labor of love for everyone in the Yankees organization from top down. HOPE standing for Helping Others Persevere and Excel. It’s all about honoring people who’ve done exceptional acts of goodwill toward others, often surmounting tremendous challenges themselves. Each event comes as  a surprise to the honoree, not so different from any other surprise party in premise, except it’s thrown by the most famous baseball team on the planet earth. Since they have a few resources and connections here and there, it gives them the ability to do pull some doozies.

    Earlier this morning it was knock, knock, hello, I’m Brian Cashman, with the New York Yankees, and my friend here is Scooter the Holy Cow, who’s a mascot with the Staten Island Yanks, and we have a little something for you. The something was Megan’s new lemonade stand. The old one, her father says, had seen better days. She’d really needed a replacement and here it is.

    There’s also a dunk tank. Megan had wanted a dunk tank at her last lemonade sale. This time she gets it, hello, surprise. And as the party gets going, you have Cashman being dunked, and Megan’s dad, and then A.J. Burnett the Yankee pitcher, who’s  borrowed a bathing suit from somebody somewhere across the street, being sent down into the water by his kids. At some point Bald Vinny, the guy who leads the roll call from out in the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium, also goes splash. He’s shown up with one or two dozen of his famous Bleacher Creatures, including Tina, Queen of the Creatures. Tina says she’s honored to be here and wants to be dunking Vinny herself before it’s all over and done, even if she has to cheat and push the target with her hand instead of hitting it with the ball.

    There are other Yankees around. Thanks to New York traffic, they arrive in spurts, but they’re around. Players Robinson Cano, Andruw Jones, David Robertson, and Boone Logan. Coaches Mick Kelleher and Rob Thomson. And then Burnett, the dunked.

    Grampa Godino eyes Cano as he arrives. A devoted Yankees fan, he’s been anxious to see the Yankee players. Truth be known, he’s been anxious to see them even when he wasn’t supposed to know they were showing up, or for that matter have even the foggiest clue the Yanks had anything to do with the lemonade sale. That’s why he’s come all the way from Florida, where he and Grandma were on vacation.

    Grampa had it figured out almost from the get go, although only Megan’s parents were supposed to be in on the surprise. A couple of weeks before, his daughter Linda had phoned him down in Naples to say there would be a big shindig on July 28th. She wouldn’t tell him what kind of shindig, except that it would be a fundraiser.

    “Why the twenty-eighth?” he’d said after a peek at his calendar. “It’s a Thursday. Who’s gonna come to a lemonade stand on a Thursday?”

    “Well,” she replied, “the sponsor has an open date.”

    The phrase open date raised Grampa’s antenna. For a baseball fan, it has certain connotations. Open date, in the summer, if you follow baseball, means your team isn’t playing that day.

    Grampa pressed his daughter over the telephone. “Who is this sponsor?” he asked.

    Linda wouldn’t tell him.

    “Who is it?” Again.

    She really, really couldn’t tell him.

    Meanwhile, Grampa Godino was looking at the Yankees season schedule on his desk, and seeing that July 28th happened to be an off day. An open date. Righteo.

    Being nobody’s fool, he told Linda okay. Your mother and I will come back to New York for the fundraiser being held by this mysterious sponsor that likes weekday lemonade sales. 

    The thing about Grampa was that he’d already missed what ought to have been the biggest baseball event of his life. Once upon a time, growing up in Brooklyn, he’d been a Dodgers fan. Then in 1957 they went to the West Coast, and that was the end for him. At that point he figured he had to either switch to the New York Giants or the Yankees, and since his wife had been a Yankee fan forever, he became a Yankee fan.

    But two years before that, in 1955, when Grampa was still a Dodgers fan, the Boys of Summer had won their first World Series championship -- the only one they would ever win in Brooklyn -- over the Yankees. The series had gone seven games, and pitcher Johnny Podres had won Game 3 and Game 7, the latter a shutout, to become the first MVP in World Series history.

    And where was Charles when that happened? In Indiana, getting his advanced degree, was where he was. Going to graduate school, was where he was. He missed it, and his wife, and her brothers, the Yankee fans, were happy that he wasn’t home in New York with them. He was calling them up on the telephone to gloat that his guys had finally won, and they were saying they were glad he wasn’t around to enjoy it. They were so aggravated the Yankees lost that seventh game, they didn’t want to hear a word from him. Good riddance, stay in the Midwest awhile.

    And so on the phone to his daughter Linda all those decades later, Grampa Godino the converted Yankee fan was determined not miss out on the shindig she was informing him about. He had a wee inkling it might be related to HOPE Week, and intended to be there no matter what.

    He was also getting some insurance from a higher place. The previous Sunday, at church Mass, the priest had gotten up before the congregation and said, “I want you people to think of one thing that you want to pray for … just one thing for this week.”

    Grampa’s prayer was that it wouldn’t rain on Thursday. That was his one prayer. For the success of the lemonade sale he sensed was a little more than a lemonade sale. And really, truly, it wasn’t about meeting baseball players for him.

    Really, it was about his love for Megan. 

    The proof comes when Robinson Cano has the misfortune of showing up right as he’s in the middle of telling a favorite story about her. As far as players go, Cano is no small potatoes. Cano is a major star. But asked if he wants to go over and meet him, Grampa waves a hand in the air.

    “I can see him later,” he says. “Let me finish.”

    A few years ago, he’s been saying, Megan had taken part in fundraising for the Cross Road Foundation. They offer counseling, explain what options are available make arrangements for medical, social and legal services.

    “So this organization raises money every year by bringing milk bottles, plastic milk bottles, to various venues like churches and other areas,” Grampa says. “The milk bottle is set somewhere, and people put donations in, they put coins in. The idea is to fill up the milk bottle with coins. And when you’re finished, you get out another bottle, and you start on it. And Megan wanted to help, and got involved in this for a few years …”

    And one year, with the help of her mom, she had put couple of milk bottles just inside the door of her house. Anybody who visited would see those milk bottles, and Megan would point to them as the person came in. And their visitors would deposit some coins.

    That year Megan wound up with maybe four, five or six of these plastic milk bottles, all kinds of change in them. “We lifted them up at once, and they were heavy,” Grampa says. “And we brought them to where they were supposed to be donated.”

    Realizing how good she was at fundraising, Megan and the Cross Road Foundation came up with the idea of her running a collection outside church on a Sunday.  She’d gone to the Mass, and afterward moved outside in her wheelchair, which has a tray on it that serves as a kind of table.

    That day, Megan had put plastic bottles for the Cross Road Foundation on it, and brochures explaining the services they provided to people -- mostly young women -- in desperate need of support and information.

    “And everybody put in bills,” Grampa says proudly. “Singles, five dollar bills, ten dollar bills. They saw her, the big smile on her face, and they were putting paper money in the bottles. And those, those are easy to pick up, not like the coins!”

    Later, the foundation invited Megan to a breakfast at a Staten Island restaurant, where she received an award for collecting the most money for that particular series of donations. Her family was, of course, invited.

    “So we were at her table, and they called her name … and she didn’t need any help,” Grampa says. “She backed down the aisle in her electric wheelchair, and she went right up to where the podium was. My wife and I, the tears are coming down, I was trying to take pictures, but there were tears getting in my eyes. She goes up there, they give her such a nice presentation … and that was one of the things she really loved to do. Because she knew they were helping children.”

    Megan continues to work with the foundation and other charities and community projects. After a local park opened up in 2006, she and her family discovered the government had not delivered on promised facilities for the disabled, and with the assistance of a local politician, had full-body support swings, ramps, Braille signs, and other features installed. As Grampa will readily tell you, her thoughts are never about herself, but what she can do for others.

    Grampa pauses in his storytelling, looking across the field at the lemonade stand. Grandma has come over to where he’s been talking about Megan for over half an hour. This is her third visit and she looks impatient.

    “Come take a picture,” she says, brandishing a camera. “I want us to take a picture with Megan and Robinson Cano. By her stand.”

    Grampa hesitates. “I was just going to tell something else about her.”

    All the way from Florida, he’s come. To see these Yankees, he says. And in large part, that’s true. Grampa Godino, former Brooklyn Dodgers fan, loves his New York Yankees, deeply appreciates what they have done for his family on this day, and insists only they could have interrupted his vacation.

    But watching him gaze across the lawn at his two granddaughters, one in a wheelchair, the other beside her, both smiling, it is easy to see the biggest stars in his eyes.

    Grandma is looking steadily at him. “Come,” she says. “A picture.”

    At last he nods. “Okay,” he says. “A picture! With Robbie Cano!”

    And then Grampa and Grandma start forward through the crowd and together they cross the lawn toward Megan’s stand. 

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter: @YankeesInk 

    4.1 (2 Ratings)

    Daniel’s Music

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011, 3:27 PM [General]

    The father stared at the machines around his son’s hospital bed and listened to the beeping. The boy, Daniel, 12, was in a medically induced coma. They’d done a tracheotomy to ventilate him, push air into his lungs. He had sixteen lines in him, two drains in his head. More lines running into him from the IV stands and equipment than years behind him.

    Ken Trush sat there, watching. Just wanting to be there with Daniel. One day, two, five, ten, twenty. Watching on his ’round the clock vigil. At one point the pressure in Daniel’s skull bumped to 30 points above the level doctors said would induce brain death. Then it went down. And then up again.

    Brain death.

    It wasn’t supposed to be. It’s never supposed to be with children.

    Daniel was a lively kid. Gregarious, curious, got along with everybody, played a couple of instruments. Guitar was one, and the trumpet too. He’d loved music, wanted maybe to be a musician someday. Lately he’d been having headaches, and the doctors had said they were migraines, sent him home with a mild prescription. And then he had collapsed while playing basketball in the schoolyard on the Upper East side of Manhattan, fallen into his father’s arms on the court, and whatever had happened was no longer about headaches.

    At the hospital, the tests revealed Daniel had five brain aneurysms. An aneurysm is a dilation, or swelling, of part of a blood vessel. The wall of the vessel weakens and the pressure of the blood running through makes it balloon outward in that compromised area, and sometimes it weakens enough to burst.

    One of Daniel’s aneurysms had burst. Probably the normal rise in blood flow from playing basketball had put stress on the weak spot and ruptured it. And the blood flooded out into his intracranial spaces, filling his skull.

    The coma was meant to relieve the pressure on his brain. The drains would give the blood and fluids someplace to go while the coma reduced the metabolic rate of his brain tissue and helped the swelling diminish. The pressure could still rise and fall, as it had for Daniel. Brain damage was almost inevitable, and with the spikes Daniel had experienced brain death a strong likelihood.

    At his son’s bedside, Ken Trush brought a Gloria Estefan CD into the hospital room to fill the silence. It was partly for Daniel, but it was for himself too. The moments stretched during his watches, each one a slow eternity, and music was better that that hospital room silence, punctuated only by the cold beeping of the machines. But Ken had remembered how much Daniel loved music, and he found the thought of filling the room with it soothed him somehow.

    There was another reason, besides. The two songs Ken would play over and over were “Reach” and “I’m Not Giving You Up”. Their names suggest a lot about what that reason was, but Ken will tell it in words that leave no doubt.

    “To me it was my communication to Dan, that I was always going to be with him,” he said. This was Monday at Yankee Stadium, 14 years later, after Daniel’s Music Foundation had given a performance at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theater, one in which Daniel had participated, played keyboards with his most mobile hand. “You can only say I love you so many times in words. But in music, and songs, you can really pour your heart out. So when he was in a coma, I’d play that CD over and over again.”

    And sing along to it like a mantra, a family friend said. Reach, I’m not giving you up. Reach, I’m not giving you up. Ken would play it so often that when the doctors felt the pressure on his brain had eased to a level where they could bring Daniel out of his coma after 30 days, he knew the words of the songs by heart. Reach. I'm not giving you up.

    He couldn’t tell his parents he knew the lyrics, though. Not for a while. Down to 65 pounds, his muscles atrophied, Daniel could open his eyes and blink, but that was it. There is only so much one can communicate like that, at least without tremendous difficulty, and his knowledge of song lyrics wasn’t the first thing on anyone’s mind.

    Slowly the lines came out of him. The one from his throat after two months so he could finally breathe on his own. Four months after passing out in his father’s arms, Daniel spoke a few words. It took a long time before he could say more than that.

    The expectations weren’t great for him. Sections of Daniel’s brain had been damaged. There was no telling how much function would return. Not every doctor was optimistic he’d regain his full power of speech, let alone be able to walk again.

    Daniel was determined to do both, committed to it, and worked hard with his therapists. His speech returned more quickly than the walking. But after two years in a wheelchair, he got up and took his first tentative steps.

    He’s a bit unsteady on his feet these days, but at the theater he was full of uncontained energy and wanted to be everywhere at once, and maybe that had something to do with it. And there was plenty for him to do. The dress rehearsal. The meet-and-greet. The concert. And talking to droves of reporters.

    Daniel hadn’t planned on any of it, let alone the Yankees contingent showing up to round out the full house of invited guests. Nick Swisher, Francisco Cervelli, Russell Martin, Chris Dickerson. Bernie Williams, the guitarist who once had a little something to do with the team. The PR chief Jason Zillo, who’s also the head cook for these HOPE Week surprises. And Jennifer Steinbrenner-Swindal.
     
    “I just knew that I was coming here. I didn’t know what I was gonna be doing here. I was wondering what was going on,” Daniel said. “I never expected to perform on Broadway, that’s for sure.”

    The concert was being given by the students of Daniel’s Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides free music instruction to individuals with disabilities in the New York area.

    The idea for the group came to Ken about five years ago, when Daniel graduated high school, and his dad and mom, Nancy Trush, were thinking about his future, fully aware of his limitations. The aneurysms had left him with some short-term memory impairment and physical disabilities, but they still wanted him to follow his passions and do something meaningful.

    A visit to an agency wasn’t encouraging. Maybe, they suggested Daniel could wash dishes or be a maintenance person. “There’s nothing wrong with those jobs,” Ken recalled. “But at age 19, it just didn’t feel like that was his career path.”

    So Daniel went to Hunter College as a non-matriculated student and connected again with music. And then Ken went online and did some research, and saw where spaces needed filling, like he’d known intuitively about the silent moments that needed filling in that hospital years before. And he got some ideas.

    “I know there’s music therapy," Ken told his wife, their other son Michael, and some close friends. “But how about we try to direct some of it, improve some of it? How about acceptance? Because in the end, that’s therapy in itself.”

    Ken had seen how therapy could be invaluable. He was profoundly indebted to Daniel’s physical therapists for the progress they’d helped his son make, but felt Daniel, and people with other challenges, had an additional need. Music, he thought, could be therapeutic without feeling like yet another form of therapy.

    “We wanted the foundation to have the feeling [that], ‘Okay, we’re going to respect you as you are,’” Ken remembered. “We know you’re going to continue getting improved. But we accept you. And so come and express yourself to us. And that’s been magic.”

    His original concept took concrete form as a single class with five people in a Manhattan studio. This was in 2006. With the help of friends who helped from the beginning, and sponsors they were able to interest in the project, it’s grown to a 150 people in 26 on-site and three off-site classes.

    Brooke Bryant is one of DMF’s multitalented instructors. She was also the Musical Celebration Director for the HOPE Week Performance. Onstage, doing “All That Jazz” with her students to open the show, Brooke sang and moved like only a trained, professional New York stage performer can sing and move -- no coincidence there, because that’s exactly what she is. Enjoying the game at Yankee Stadium later, out of the spotlights, her sleek Fosse-esque stage outfit swapped for jeans and a sweatshirt, Brooke was no less striking and focused as she explained her special commitment to the foundation.

    “I was in grad school at the time at the City University of New York doing my PhD in musicology,” she recalled of how it began. “One my colleagues was teaching voice at the foundation and didn’t have time to do it anymore, but thought I would be a good fit. I had never really worked with people with disabilities, so I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into … but it’s been really interesting in the context of what music means to the Trush family and the spirit they bring to the disabled community.”
        
    Asked how she might describe that spirit and context, Brooke readily articulated her thoughts. “Everybody who’s involved, there’s an expectation that they’re facing challenges in their life. They come knowing they’re in a place where it’s safe to come with those disabilities. There are a lot of music therapy programs, but the DMF is not music therapy. It’s music. It’s teaching people music. It’s approaching a goal from a strength-based perspective. And people come because they want to learn, and we’re figuring out . . . what is the best way to help this person.”

    In her voice classes, Brooke has had students who are nonverbal or emerging verbal. For her, the challenge has been finding methods of engaging them, of making them feel as if they are learning in the class. Her successes have been a source of tremendous reward. “The way they … interact with each other, come out of their shells, teach other people in the class in a way that’s beyond words … it’s really, really moving, she said. “It’s been a wonderful experience, I’ve been humbled by it, I’ve learned a lot.”

    Artie Elefant, DMF’s outreach coordinator, is visually challenged and radiates the embracing warmth and good humor of everyone’s favorite uncle. Artie plays bongos, some rhythm instruments, and does a little singing with the concert groups. “Not that I’m very good at it,” he said in a tone that was like a gentle poke in the ribs. This was in the Stadium concourse, while Daniel stood behind him doing the YMCA dance with his father, willing one partially paralyzed arm up as high as he could to form half the letter A.

    “The program is most definitely one of the most inspirational things that I have ever gotten involved with in my life,” Elefant said, and paused. He leaned forward on his cane, his face turned serious. “The people who have come through the program, what it has done for them, from a standpoint of bringing self confidence, is empower them to feel that they can achieve whatever they want, and given them a meaning in life  … not only a feeling of accomplishment with their own expertise but doing something for others.”
       
    Not far away in the stands, young Eilish Herlihy, who has Down’s Syndrome, and must struggle with severe speech impediments, was looking full of that confidence and rightful accomplishment. Back on Broadway hours before, she had sung “Take Me Out To the Ballgame” with Bernie Williams accompanying her on guitar.

    Seated with her parents Catherine and Sean, Eilish shared both her mother’s freckles and bubbly disposition. Before the start of the rain-delayed game, she was hoping to see Brett Gardner run the bases. This was no wonder. She was in a running group for children with disabilities called Achilles Kids, doing a marathon, when she met Daniel Trush, who was also a runner.

    “When they started the music, we started with them,” said Catherine of the Trush family.
       
    Eilish loves Gardner and Robinson Cano, both of whose careers she’s been following since they were in the Minors. Her only critique of the current team was that she “Wants Melky back.”
       
    Melky Cabrera, she communicated with a little help from mom, was always fun.    

    Speaking to her at the ball game, and to other shining lights had performed on Broadway that day, it was impossible not to think, full circle, back on the moments before the musical celebration, and Daniel’s simple response when asked what his feelings about what his foundation, a bright blossom that grew out of a time of darkness, has accomplished.

    “I can’t believe it,” he said. “It makes me very happy … and proud.”

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter: @YankeesInk

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    The deal with Jeter

    Sunday, July 10, 2011, 5:47 PM [General]

    I’m aggravated. I wanted to write a column celebrating Jeter’s 3000th hit and I can’t because some of you didn’t let me.

    Over the past few days, I’ve been asked a lot, and I mean a lot, whether I believe Jeter should go to the All-Star Game in Arizona as acknowledgement to baseball fans who gave him their votes, even if he isn’t going to actually participate in the game. A couple of hours ago on this lovely summer Sunday, after the magnificent Saturday afternoon when Derek Jeter got his 3,000-plus-three at Yankee Stadium, the question popped up again. This time it was framed as, “What’s the deal with Jeter?”

    Well, since you asked.

    I think the deal with Derek Jeter is that his accomplishment Saturday at Yankee Stadium, one of the most dramatic, jaw-droppingly magnificent performances we will ever see from a professional athlete in our lifetimes, one so crazily beyond what can be expected of an individual athlete that it almost shouldn’t have been possible -- a performance Jeter himself said afterward was fueled by his desire to reach his milestone at home, in front of Yankee fans -- I think the deal, if I can get back to it, is that his incredible feat was a pretty darned good show of appreciation all by itself.  And, moreover, that after July 9, 2011 at Yankee Stadium, he doesn’t owe you, me or any other baseball fan, most especially Yankee fans anything. Not a single thing, forevermore, quoth the Raven. He’s already given enough of himself for several careers. As fans, and professionals who cover the sport, as lovers of the game, we are the ones who have to step up and show some added appreciation.

    We. Not Derek Jeter.

    Yesterday, man. Yesterday. That homerun to left. The five-for-five. The game-winning hit. When Jeter became the first Yankee player ever to rack up 3,000 hits, he did it, as Bernie Williams wrote, by blowing down the door, absolutely kicking it off its hinges and frame, the way he has done it time and time again.

    So do yourself a favor and stop wanting more for a minute. Turn off your computer, put away the stat sheets, try for once not to worry about how much Jeter earns, resist the urge to sound clever to your Twitter followers or blog readers.

    Try it, just once. 

    Stop. Wanting. For a single minute.

    Derek Jeter has had a rough ride this season. He has not played up to his own standards of consistency. He has taken criticism from many sides, this corner of the sports universe included. Injured while only a half dozen hits shy of his three-thousandth, he turned his rehabilitation stint in Tampa into a positive and worked on his hitting mechanics to obvious good effect. Resuming his chase for 3, 000 a few weeks later, he was followed  from city to city, ballpark to ballpark, by his loved ones, so they could share in his historic moment when it arrived. Saturday afternoon Jeter’s mother and sister Sharlee missed the game they dearly wished they could attend because of the already scheduled christening of Sharlee’s newborn daughter. The family must be physically and emotionally drained from all this.

    In America, we like to spout on endlessly about our love of family values. Everybody's Sister Sledge. Dare to hint that family isn’t the most important thing in your life and people will be reaching to pull your tonsils out of your throat. It's family this, family that . . . and then, when you start WANTING, it's family nothing. If it's somebody else's family, and that somebody is Derek Jeter, they'd better come second to that Arizona wave to his fans or maybe he's not all the captain he's cracked up to be. 

    But Jeter has traditionally spent the All-Star break with his family. They have probably traveled to every one of his many All-Star appearances with him over the past decade and a half. And maybe this year Jeter felt that he, his parents and his fiancé needed a break. That Arizona, with its media blizzard and nonstop public appearances, wasn’t the best place for them to recharge their batteries after the chase for 3,000. 

    More important, maybe the reasons he decided to take a pass aren’t anyone’s business.  If Jeter and his family and friends want to fly off to Nanga Parbat, the Himalayan Mountain of Destiny, for a few days to hunt the abominable snowman, then arrivederci, or more appropriately namaste, have a nice time and watch out for those baseball fan yetis, I hear they have insatiable autograph hounds among them. 

    Which is all to say that Derek Jeter is, yes, folks, human. Together now, once more, nice and slow, on the exhale: huuuummmaaaan.

    I do not know Jeter personally. But I would assume he doesn’t wear his uniform, cleats and cap with the interlocking NY in the bathtub, and then shrug into a pinstriped robe before bedtime. Jeter has a life. He doesn't exist for our pleasure, and he isn't a cardboard standup figure that you plunk down wherever you want. 

    I would think we’re all capable of figuring this out, including the journalists who suggested he should go to that stupid, boring  popularity contest that’s sort-of-but-not-really a real baseball game in Arizona, not even if it counts, just to wave and smile to the television cameras and answer questions from the handful of their fifth-estate brothers who are getting well paid and fully expensed not to skip the game themselves (or trust me, they would be on vacation with their families).  Those Jeter parents? Unlike the All Star game, they are real. Really real. Long after you've finished the last of your chips and dip, and gotten that wave of acknowedgement you want, and turned off the tube, they have to worry about getting home more bushed than they were at the start of the break when they all could have used some time out of the spotlight. I only wish those journalists with the big opinions would have examined the synaptic twitches that pass for thought processes before opening their Twitter apps to type away.

    I’m tired of the carping. Tired of the negativity. It’s a drag. Get out of your little bubbles, people. Try having just one moment of unfettered exhilaration. It won’t hurt, I promise.

    This morning my father-in-law spoke with my wife over the phone. He lives in South Florida and is an avid sports fan who loves the Tampa Bay Rays and David Price. When he isn’t being irritable, stubborn and unbearably confrontational, you can learn a lot from him.

    Yesterday was his birthday. Three years ago my wife’s mom passed away and birthdays have been tough for the guy.  I called him briefly from the Stadium after exiting from the press conferences, wished him a happy birthday, and asked if he’d seen the game.

    “I did,” he said. “The whole thing. And I was so glad when Jeter got that fifth hit. Because a five-hit day for a batter is almost like a perfect game. For a batter, on his big day, it was like Jeter hit a perfect game. And that kid deserves it.”

    When he spoke to my wife Sunday morning, my father-in-law told her that he was grateful for that game because thinking about it made him to go to sleep with a smile on his face.

    Which was pretty much what it did for me, too.

    But I’m not some walking Smiley Face. I’m not  Norman Vincent Peale or the Dalai Lama. I’m not here to inspire anyone. I’ve got my own problems.

    You want to keep trying to figure out what the deal is with Jeter, fine. Just please don’t ask me about it or sing his praises twenty years from now. Not where I can hear you. And definitely not without admitting you were all up and bothered about his skipping an All-Star Game somewhere in Arizona, after he gave Yankee fans, and baseball, one of their most glorious days ever right where it counts in New York

    Follow Jerome Preisler on Twitter: @YankeesInk 

    4.1 (3 Ratings)

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