Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Captain Spring

Ah…there’s nothing like Opening Day to jump start the Spring. When the Yanks open on the road, I always feel I’m holding my breath until I see the bright sun beating down on home pinstripes. Today was that kind of day. The last 3 seasons for me have begun from my living room in Japan, and this year on my couch at 2 in the morning.

I set my alarm to wake me for the first pitch and groggily wandered in front of the television after about 2 and a half hours of sleep. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. The beautiful afternoon weather at Yankee Stadium kept my attention focused despite the sleep in my eyes. This is what it’s all about, right? The Rites of Spring.

Chien Ming Wang looked good to start things off and you could tell his sinker was working over the first several innings. A lot of ground balls always bodes well for the Taiwanese national. Giambi’s big blast in the bottom of the 1st also got me in the right mood in a hurry, and I smiled to myself as the rest of my neighborhood slumbered.

That was early.

The middle part of the game was a bit painful and I had to wonder if the curse of the 4 run ballgame would rear its ugly head yet again as the Yanks were stuck at 7-4 with a fading Wang, an awful Sturtze, and Proctor, warming, on the horizon. Where did it all go wrong. All season long, I face this kind of choice. Do I give up on the game as it spirals downward into oblivion, or do I stick with the team? Do I go back to bed so I’m not a zombie at work all day, or do I take a chance and stay up? I’ve made both choices over the last few years, and most often I’ve chosen to stay up. That also means that I’ve seen a good number of Yankee losses, and suffered the sleep deprivation that adds injury to insult.

So, there I was eyes drooping, spirit fading, and all I could think about is how much firepower is in our lineup. I think the reason I frequently make the choice to stay up during games which seem in doubt, is that the Yankees are always capable of suddenly bursting out with a 10 run inning. I’ve seen it, and I’d hate to have wasted several hours of sleep, only to miss the fireworks. Those are the games you talk about years later, especially when they happen on Opening Day.

The bottom of the 8th rally was a thing of Yankee beauty. As a Yankee fan, I count my lucky stars every game that we always bring the outcome into the final at bat. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the team limp into the 9th inning looking like a dead fish, only to find the bases loaded and the middle of the lineup at bat. I love that about the Yankees. I suppose that’s what $200 million buys, right?

Bernie’s redeeming hit was a beautiful thing in our last rally. Falling asleep on the bases and leaving Alex Rodriguez holding his bat was a rookie-like blunder, but like the legendary veteran player he is, he found his moment and took it. The heat that Royals’ closer Ambiorix Burgos threw by Johnny Damon was atomic and I had to wonder if we’d need that bottom of the 9th rally again. What would the Captain do?

With no Bob Sheppard at the Stadium for our season’s home launch, there was no magic in the announcement of the Captain. “Now batting for the New York Yankees, numbah two, Derek Jetah.” The voice of Yankee God was silent on Opening Day for the first time since 1950. He’ll be back soon, so we can all rest easy. Even without the theatrical start to Jeter’s at bat, the stage was set and everyone played their part to perfection.

The Captain took the first pitch deep into the left field seats, the Yankees took the lead, and Mariano Rivera slammed the door shut. It makes me wonder if Bob Sheppard was watching from home, sitting in his easy chair, announcing the game to himself. I’d like to think somewhere he was doing what he does best, if only for the poetry of the moment.

The sun came up as the game came to a close. At 8am I left my house for work, greeted by an unusually warm morning in northern Japan. It seems the Rites of Spring in the Bronx, and the big swing by Derek Jeter, blew a warm front my way and I intend to enjoy every minute of it. Plenty of coffee will see to that.