When Yankees come to town, fans follow - The Explorer: Sports

When Yankees come to town, fans follow

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Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:09 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

My late grandfather, Joseph K. Rainey, who we called Grampy, taught us some things about baseball, and the Red Sox, the team he scowled at regularly but watched, always.

Tickets to Fenway came our way every year. He had us hooked on the Sox when they were awful, before "Fever Pitch" and Red Sox Nation.

Hope he doesn't find out his second-eldest grandson went to see the Yankees play last Wednesday in Phoenix.

Yes, the Yankees, the dread New Yoakahs. They're Lisa's favorites. She's a Yankees woman, I'm a Red Sox man. (When they play one another, the wagers are great fun). Lis has sat through a few Red Sox games over the years, so when she wanted to see the men in gray and dark blue (or is it black?), we went.

Lisa was not alone. Beyond a weak bullpen and inattention to detail, the Diamondbacks are at a tenure disadvantage. They don't have the accumulation of generations, people who show up game after game, year after year. So, in an announced crowd of 45,000-ish, more than half were Yankees fans.

They wore the colors, hats and shirts. "Got rings?" one shirt asks, with the Yankees nearly 30, the Red Sox small (but mostly recent) number of rings side by side. "Evil Empire" reads another.

And the jerseys. Jeter. Posada. Mattingly. Thurman Munson, the great catcher who lost his life as a pilot. Mantle. Where's Gehrig? There he is – Gehrig,  4 – even though ballplayers in the age of the Iron Horse didn't have their names on their backs, and no one in Chase Field could say they'd seen Lou play live.

Oh, and Ruth, 3, Curse of the Bambino himself. George Herman, not Buzzi. But no Yogi. No Roger Maris. No Casey Stengel. Are Yankee fans forgetful? No; when the big screen shows Mark Grace driving a single in the seventh game of Arizona's 2001 World Series win over New York, part of the crowd cheers … but plenty more boo.

There's one guy in a Red Sox jersey. He'd have been truly brave if this were the Bronx, rather than broiling Phx.

In contrast to today's fan, Grampy didn't really hate the Yankees. Why would he? In the mid-1960s into the early '70s, pre-Steinbrenner, the Yankees weren't really that good. Besides, he said, while Ted Williams was the superior hitter (of all time, maybe), DiMaggio was the better ballplayer. And, to be true, while it would be a Red Sox sin to root for the Yankees, it's not hard to like the individuals.

Derek Jeter steps into the box, to cheers and boos. "How can you boo Derek Jeter?" Lisa asks. He's a true pro, good guy, caring athlete, gives it all he's got, and has never hit less than .292 for a season.

When Alex Rodriguez walks to the plate, cell phone cameras flash the image. "Let's go Juice" a drunk Yankee fan calls, reminding everyone that ARod was on some form of "performance-enhancing substance" (other than sweat) when he rocked 58 homers a few years back. "Let's go Juice." Funny the first time. Not the 21st time. What a player, though.

The Yankees have the best record in baseball, and the D'Backs do not. Why? Well, Arizona pitchers walked their Yankee counterparts … twice. Two Arizona runners were thrown out on the bases in one inning. Dontrelle Willis might know where the plate is, but he can't throw over it. He walks in a run, for goodness sake. Grampy would growl.

And yet there are moments, the intersections of bat, ball and glove that make live baseball captivating. Of particular beauty was the lefthanded Robinson Cano's sharp drive to left field, the ball curling away from D'Back outfielder Gerardo Parra, who sprints, and reaches, the ball smacking his glove, his body falling to the grass, then up quickly to double Rodriguez off first base. The D'Backs make a game of it.

With the score tied, here comes Rivera, Mr. Rivera, Mariano, Mo, running in from the 'pen, the crowd swelling in its appreciation like a balloon filling with water. Live and in person, you realize that baseball's all-time best closer still throws hard at 40. His ball moves. His release is close to the plate, and it's hard to get good wood.

A few D'Backs do. In the 10th, Mo loads the bases with no outs in a one-run game. Nobody warms in the Yankee pen. He coaxes a foul pop up for an out, a weak pop to third base, a strikeout from D'Backs whiffer Mark Reynolds. The win is saved.

"I want a Mo jersey," Lisa says. They shouldn't be hard to find.

 

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