Monday, March 7, 2011

Rant #457: Back to the Past

It's early March, and although we haven't had much snow since the end of January in my neck of the woods, it's still winter. Today, it is a little crisp, a little windy, and quite rainy right now, although it is supposed to get nice and warm during the day, maybe pushing 50 degrees.

This weekend, other than doing food shopping, my family and I really didn't do much of anything, which is good, because I was pretty pooped from a very busy week.

Anyway, turning the channels yesterday to find something to watch, I came across the YES broadcast of Game 3 of the 1999 World Series--October 26, 1999--between the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series in four games, but this game is special to me for a variety of reasons.

One, because it was one of the most exciting World Series games I have ever seen, and two, because I was there ... yes, to this day it stands as the only World Series game I have ever seen in person.

What happened is that my childhood best friend, out of the blue, contacted me and said he was given a pair of tickets to the game by a client. They were in God's country in the old Yankee Stadium, but he asked me if I wanted to go.

I didn't hesitate saying yes. (Just to add that my very first Yankees game that I attended, in 1965, was with my friend and his father, so this really brought us full circle.)

I left work a half hour early, and somehow, I got from Western Nassau County to the Stadium, during rush hour, in about a half hour, which to this day I feel is an almost impossible achievement, but I did it. I parked my car, and met my friend at the old bat that was a popular meeting place at the Stadium.

Overshadowing the World Series that year was John Rocker, the big-mouthed but talented relief pitcher with the Braves. He had said some unflattering (but not totally untrue, unfortunately) things about New York City and the No. 7 Subway earlier in the season, and New Yorkers had had about enough of him. My friend and I went to our seats in the upper deck in left field, and we saw New York City's response to Rocker: about 100 of New York City's finest patrolling the bullpen area. There was also extra police in the stands, both uniformed and plainclothes.

It was unusually warm for late October in New York City. I had come pretty bundled up--I was at the 1976 playoff series and froze my rear end off--but it was very mild that night. We settled in, and ended up seeing an extraordinary game under extraordinary circumstances.

Andy Pettitte started for the Yankees, but he was battered early, and didn't last very long. I believe that the Yankees were down 5-1 when he was taken out in the fourth inning, and was replaced by Jason Grimsley, a pretty nondescript pitcher who has since gained notoriety as one of the bean-spillers during MLB's steroid investigation.

Anyway, whatever he was on that night, or even if he was on nothing but adrenaline, he had his shining career moment, pitching three pretty quiet innings, giving the Yankees a chance to come back.

And come back they did! Powered by home runs by Chad Curtis, Tino Martinez and Chuck Knoblauch, the Yankees rallied to tie the score at five, and the game went into extra innings.

And yes, John Rocker did pitch, but he was not pelted with anything but boos.

However, in the stands, I know that one fan, who was wearing top-to-bottom Braves apparel, was taunted and pelted to the point that I saw the cops lead him out of our section for his own safety.

Anyway, on the field, the Yankees took care of business in the 10th inning. Chad Curtis, who had hit only five home runs the entire season and had hit one previously in this game, homered again for the victory.

Yankee Stadium went nuts! That old place could get awful loud during big games.

After the game, the infamous non-interview of Chad Curtis took place, when he refused to be interviewed by NBC's Jim Gray after Gray interviewed baseball's banished all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, after the previous game. Many players took Gray to task for raking Rose over the coals during that interview, and Curtis chided Gray after hitting the game winning homer.

But when all this was happening, my friend and I were looking for my car. Yes, I said looking. I couldn't find my car! I had parked it in a parking lot adjacent to the Stadium, but tucked away in a corner. I couldn't find the car, but after about 45 minutes of looking, we finally found it, and drove back to Queens to drop my friend off at his apartment in Astoria.

When I got home to Long Island, I could barely sleep that night, but somehow dozed off.

What a kick it was seeing the game on TV for the first time yesterday, and the broadcast used the Yankees radio announcers, John Sterling and Michael Kay, to call the game, rather than the network guys.

I have it recorded and hope to watch the whole thing later. And yes, I saw myself, although with the other 55,000 people in the stands that night, my speck in left field wasn't discernible from the other thousands of specks I saw.

But I was there, make no mistake about that, and the broadcast, which I stumbled upon, brought back many, many memories.

Thanks Howie. You did good that night!

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