Before the introduction of the Extra Innings package on cable, the only way a Yankees fan in Columbus Ohio could watch his (or her, in case there are others besides me) team was if a game was carried by Fox or ESPN as a national game.

There were a few drawbacks to having the Yankees being a national game, such as having to put up with the networks’ insufferable announce teams (both sides are guilty of this), “balanced” coverage, and awkward start times.

But for the past few years, as I’ve mentioned before, I pay to let MLB kick my ass subscribe to the extra innings get to watch pretty much every Yankees game (unless they’re playing Pittsburgh).    I also get to see them when they’re on Fox or ESPN, but there have still been some negatives-see the aforementioned drawbacks, and add the fact that Fox will often pre-empt a Yankees game with a game featuring the Indians or Reds.

Other than that, you would think that having your team as one of two featured during the weekly nationally broadcast game would be a good thing.  But there’s one instance when it’s not- when they face Boston.  For some reason, it seems that every weekend series featuring the Yankees and the Red Sox includes a Saturday game on Fox followed by a Sunday night game on ESPN.  And it always feels like these games are out-and-out slugfests (unlike last night’s awesome pitchers’ duel), are punctuated by shameless network self promotions, and last for six hours (but feel like 12 hours because of the horrible announcers both networks employ).

If it were once or twice a year, it wouldn’t be so bad.  But it feels like this happens every time these two teams play. Every year.

And it’s just gotten worse.

Oh, how I pine for those random games where they play the Royals or Baltimore that the networks don’t care about.

Chili Davis 1, King Classic 0

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I figured this would be a good one to share in light of tomorrow.

August 21, 1996
Angels 7, Yankees 1

August of ’96 was a hot, humid month in New Jersey.  My summer vacation (which I worked through) was nearing an end, and by this point,  my father (King Classic) , brother (t-shirt boy) and I watched every Yankees game, hoping that this year’s run in first place would surpass the previous summer’s wild card finish.

Even though the team slumped in August, our hopes were high.  We had been to a few games earlier that year (the last year before we got the Sunday ticket plan) and my father wanted to go to the last day game before I had to go back to school- a mid-Wednesday affair against the Angels (then from simply “California”).

There was a back to school promotion going on, with all kids 14 and under getting a Yankees pencil case (containing pencils, a ruler, pencil sharpener and a few other things).  Even though I was going into my second year of college and was much taller than your average 14-year-old, the gate attendants gave me a pencil case, which I had until a few years ago.

Unfortunately, aside from a Derek Jeter home run in the bottom of the first, the Yankees’ offense wasn’t able to make it to the Stadium that day.  Even though they managed 10 hits in six innings against Jason Dickson (making his first Major League start) and another three against relievers Mike Holtz and Troy Percival, they weren’t able to bring anyone else home.

Even though the game ended up being a Yankees loss, the highlight for the day wasn’t in Derek Jeter’s home run. Nor was it in the five runs the Angels tacked on in the top of the ninth.  Instead, in that first inning, as the Angels scored their first two runs, something happened that changed us (well, more accurately, King Classic) in a deep and profound way from that day forward.

Our tickets were in the left field stands.  We were a few sections to the left of the fair pole, with King Classic sitting in the aisle seat, me the third seat in and t-shirt boy in between us. In the first, with Jimmy Key pitching for the Yankees and Gary Disarcina on first, Chili Davis hit a long fly ball that was headed our way.  It cleared the outfield wall by about 20 feet and the rest of the stadium booed as he and Disarcina rounded the bases to score the Angels’ first two runs of the game.  The ball was still headed our way, and mostly everyone in the section was on their feet, trying to be in position to catch the ball.

No one caught it.  The ball hit the concrete, proceeds to ricochet off the concrete and hits the one person not standing up for the home run ball in the arm.

My father.

After being hit by the home run ball, King Classic uttered something along the lines as “what was that?” while t-shirt boy and I laughed at him.

Someone else got the ball, but t-shirt boy and I walked away with something that will keep us laughing.

Happy father’s day, King Classic.

The Convert

May 11, 1997
Yankees 3, Royals 2 

One of my best friends in college was a guy named Jon, who was a teammate on the speech team.  Jon was a year younger than me and hailed from the state of Wisconsin.  As much as a Yankee fan as I was/am, Jon is a cheesehead (with the foam wedge to boot).

On the night the Yankees won the ‘96 World Series, the team was at an away tournamet in Long Island.  The team was staying in a seedy hotel in Hempstead (underneath the Fukudaya Sushi bar) and we gathered in one of our rooms to watch game six.  Everyone cheered on the Yankees victory–that is everyone except Jon.

Fast-forward seven months to May 11 ’97.  The defending World Champion Yankees were scheduled to host Kansas City and also hold ‘Ring Day’ ceremonies on a windy Sunday afternoon. My father had tickets as part of the Sunday plan, but for some reason which has been lost to time, neither King Classic nor Pete could attend.  My father offered me our four tickets, and after asking Jon, he, myself and a girl named Gail took the train into the city and then the subway to the stadium.

Like me, Gail was a Yankee fan and had been to the stadium many times before.  But this was Jon’s first time. We got to the stadium an hour or so before the ring ceremony was scheduled to begin and walked around some, showing Jon around. As we walked around, maybe it was because of the sales job that Gail and I did, or maybe because it was because it was Yankee Stadium, but Jon started to develop an appreciation for the team.

We took our seats and watched video after video of the ’96 team, followed by the ring ceremony.  As fun as that was, the game was even better.  The offensive highlight was Bernie Williams hitting a solo shot in the third, helping the Yankees cement their 3-2 victory.  David Wells posted eight-plus strong innings and Mariano Rivera, who was in his first full season as Yankees closer walked one and struck out one to end the game.  As the game progressed, Jon got more and more into cheering for the Yankees- a big change from his demeanor that night seven months prior. 

As we walked back to the subway, the three of us all got a chance to bang on Freddy’s pan.  We headed back to school, two of us longtime Yankees fans with another notch under our belts, and the third, a (at first) reluctant convert to Yankees fandom.

Tenure? Rickey's Got 16, 17 Years

August 24, 1988
Yankees 7, A’s 6

Growing up, I spent many a summer week enrolled in different YMCA camps in New York (Camp Pouch, Staten Island) and New Jersey (the Metuchen Y).  A few times each summer, the camp would organize a field trip to a Yankees game.  Our parents would pay for a cheap ticket to a day game, and the camp would bus us to the stadium with the counselors trying to watch over a group of kids in the stands.  Pretty much every time, the seats were way up in the upper deck, in fair territory.  (What a difference 20 years makes–today it seems impossible that there would be that many cheap tickets available to a Yankees game, even if it were a daytime game in the middle of the week).

We weren’t overly rambunctious- most of us would follow the games and cheer for the Yankees.  Our favorite [collective] player would be whichever Yankee would acknowledge us.  When we were seated in the left field stands, we’d scream Rickey Henderson‘s name until he waved.  The other times we went, when we were in right field, we’d try shouting at Dave Winfield. Needless to say, Rickey had much more fans just because he had a better track record of acknowledging the kids.

Anyway, this particular game, on August 24 1988, was during the last week of camp.  Our bus was somewhat late leaving the camp- and our driver actually hopped the median right before the George Washington Bridge to get us to the stadium in time.  Before the long trek up to our seats, our counselors took us to the gift shop.  I used what little money I had on me to buy an ’88 Yankees yearbook.  A friend (whose name has long since escaped my memory) used his to buy a portable radio pre-tuned to the AM station which had the Yankees broadcast rights (this minor purchase will come into play later on).

So us camp kids spent the game screaming for Dave Winfield and going unacknowledged. The game was slow, and Oakland scored the first three runs of the game before the Yankees scored on a Claudell Washington groundout (with Rickey scoring the run after stealing second).  The A’s scored another run and the score remained at 4-1 until the eighth.  

After what looked like a comeback started by two singles, Don Slaught hit a sacrifice tie to bring in one run, but the rally was soon killed.  When the eighth ended, the counselors decided it was time to head home. We filed out of the stadium–my group was the first to arrive at the buses right outside, but we had to wait for a few other groups.  

As we left, the Yankees gave up two runs in the top of the ninth, meaning the score was 6-2 going into the Yankees’ last frame.  

We stood outside the bus, getting updates from my friend who had the foresight to buy that little radio.  Suddenly, the fans smart enough to stay were cheering–a Ken Phelps home run tied up the game and Rickey singled in the winning run. Yet most of the kids of the YMCA Camp Pouch were waiting outside the stadium.  It was a good thing there was only one day of camp left that year, because the counselors who made the decision to leave early made the list.  

Even though this one should probably go under the ‘When I Wasn’t There’ category, it was still a fun game.  And I was there for eight innings of it.

Remedy used to work as a vendor at the Stadium- and every now and then he’d get me a shirt or a cap. One of my favorites was a Henderson t-shirt (Interlocking NY on front, name and number on the back)- and I’d get made fun of whenever I wore it to school. Of course, growing up in New York in the mid 80s, I was one of maybe four kids in my school who was a Yankee fan.  I’m just glad YMCA management didn’t send us to Shea.

*The titular line of this entry comes from one of the many great Rickey stories, some of which are available here.

Where's Hideki?

For the past six seasons, the Yankees have had a dependable, professional and productive Japanese import–Hideki Matsui, an outfielder who has been a steady contributor to the team.

Ten years ago, the Yankees had another Japanese import, their first (if you’re not counting Kats Maeda), also named Hideki, but he wasn’t really dependable, professional, and was only productive in short spurts.

Hideki Irabu made his first appearance as a MLB player in July of ’97 after the Yankees acquired his rights (Along with Homer Bush) from the Padres. There was a lot of build-up and media frenzy during the acquisition and Irabu’s stint in the minors. While he impressed in his first game against the Tigers, he quickly fell apart and went back and forth between the minors and the big leagues.  A lot of news stories around the time focused on the fact that Irabu was rude, couldn’t cover first base and had a straight fastball.

Believe it or not, in the early months of the ’98 season, Irabu was the teams’ most dependable starter. In a year where injuries threatened the team early on, he kept a sub-3.00 ERA through July, and didn’t lose his first start until May 30.

Starting in late ’98, Hideki turned back into a pumpkin and floundered throughout ’99 before being dealt away to Montreal, in a deal where Expos management must have thought they were getting Cy Young.

The New York Times recently checked in on Irabu, who still lives in the U.S. and is in the restaurant business in California:

Irabu, who was out of the country and could not be reached for comment, now enjoys relative anonymity. He lives with his wife, Kyonsu, and two children in a three-bedroom home in the hills of Rancho Palos Verdes, about 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. In his current hometown, the difference from Manhattan or Tokyo is as easy to spot as the horse trails that run alongside many of the streets. His main chore is checking in on a pair of Japanese restaurants he has invested in. “He has a good life,” Nomura said.

As for the restaurant business, “one day he called me and said he was buying a udon shop,” Nomura said of the Japanese term for noodle. The fast-food shop was open for about a year, but closed late last year despite what neighbors in the industrial neighborhood of Gardena said was a brisk lunch-time business. Nomura said Irabu sold the business, but has two other restaurants, although he is not involved in their day-to-day operations.

One thing about that article- in the picture, Irabu is wearing a long Yankees jacket- in the middle of July. And that summer was hot, and now that I think about it, he was always wearing long sleeves.  Thing is, that summer, in New York, Irabu t-shirts were everywhere.

And as mentioned on his baseball-reference page, I still own two of them.