Friday, August 28, 2009

One night in New York - revisited

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A recent meeting with former Irish National Baseball team coach John Houston jolted this memory. Over an ice cold brew, coach was telling me about a chance meeting he had with Rangers soccer team legend Ally McCoist (Golden Bollocks himself - we are not just being crude, that's his actual nickname) - and we got to talking about the passion that Rangers/Celtic and all other Soccer supporters have. Going over the various enormous, passionate and often violent rivalries in Soccer we brushed up against comparisons with US sports, and for example, the much publicized Boston v New York rivalry. This brought to mind, for me, one night in New York.

Being on the Irish Baseball Team opened up a whole new would of sports to me. Without it there is so much I would not have experienced. It trickled into my personal life and was always there as a frame around ten years of my life. Baseball is a wonderful game once you get to know it. I can appreciate how some people maybe find it a little slow, a little ponderous. To me, however, it is a regal sport full of drama and history.

I have been so lucky to have had many great baseball related experiences. One of those was in 1999 during a summer working in Boston. The night I saw the great Pedro Martinez live in Yankee Stadium.

Traveling on occasion to the UK as a Sunderland (A British soccer team) supporter I have witnessed some ‘rough stuff’ in my time. I have been to games in opponents stadiums where well meaning stewards have told me 'Zip up that jacket unless you want to get killed', after spotting my Sunderland jersey. Once, in Manchester, I saw a Sunderland fan being beaten up by a large crowd of so called supporters, with two overwhelmed police officers trying bravely to break the brawl up.

However, nothing could have prepared my for the vitriol, hate and anti Irish rhetoric I faced the night of September the 10th 1999 in Yankees stadium. I had been working in Boston for the summer, and like the rest of the City (and the entire New England region), was completely caught up in the Red Sox. From the All Star Game to the amazing playoff series against Cleveland, it was an incredible season. It all formed a shining backdrop for the beyond-superlative season Pedro Martinez turned in. The Dominican Dandy was simply God like. Every five days he chose to come down from whatever super-planet he lived on and granted us mortals an audience with a pitching deity.

Before going back to Ireland I wanted one last weekend of the Sox, I wanted to catch Pedro live just one more time for '99, and treated myself to a trip to New York. It was all well and good watching games in the bars around Boston, the Purple Shamrock, Kitty O'Sheas and others but I thought it would be kind of cool to see the Sox play live in Yankee stadium. I managed to work it so that the game I would actually go to would be the one Pedro pitched in.

Take a step back in time and lose yourself in the Pedro years on this page dedicated to his best games.

I traveled on my own as the few friends I had in Boston at the time were busy or away that weekend. As I traveled I felt like I was embarking on a personal Mecca of some kind. I checked into my Manhattan hotel and changed for the night. It was chilly enough so I chose the Red Sox warmup jacket and put on a Irish National Team baseball cap.

The moment I stepped into the lobby of the hotel to begin finding a way to Yankee stadium I started to regret my clothing decision. The doorman took one look at me and actually slammed the door in my face. The walk up to the stadium from the train was even more harrowing. Someone actually threw a hot dog at me.

I found my seat and looked around nervously. I saw a couple of Red Sox hats, one or two jerseys, but really, there must have been as little as 1% of the crowd rooting for the Sox, in a crowd of close to 55,000.

The Sox went a little too easily in the first and the Yankees fans roared their approval. I watched the Sox dugout as Pedro bounced out along with the rest of the team to take the field, and something amazing happened. On the other side of the stadium, in the bleachers, hundreds of fans started to cheer and wave Dominican flags. It was completely uplifting, they cheered his warm up pitches one at a time, the atmosphere in the stadium became entirely electric, it felt like a vital playoff game.

Come the second inning and the Yankees struck. Chili Davies hit a solo shot, putting them on the board, and driving the home crowd wild. I felt someone slap the back of my head, I turned to see an enormous, angry looking, purple faced Yankee fan in a Bronx Bombers jacket practically spitting at me; 'Irish Baseball? What the f**k is that? Get out of here a$$h*l*! Go eat a potato Mick!'.

I couldn't even think of a good comeback, but an unusual ally came to my aid. Out of nowhere a guy the image of Mike Tyson, but with the size of William 'the Fridge' Perry ambled over and sat down beside me. He was wearing a XXXL Red Sox jersey over what must have been a XXXXL hoody with 'Valentin' and '13' on the back.

The clown behind me said something about me again and this time my new buddy turned around and said 'Watch your mouth or ill wash it out with soap for you.' I just nodded at him and returned to watching the game, feeling slightly less intimidated now that I had my own 350lb body guard.

The carnival atmosphere intensified. With the Yankees winning the Sox were in trouble. And that's where Pedro broke out perhaps the best game of his career. In the middle of the team's longest road trip against their strongest competitors, he faced down the Yankees and threw a complete game one-hitter, facing only one batter over the minimum. Pedro struck out the side in the 5th, 7th, and 9th innings, for a total of 17 in the game. He fanned every Yankee who came to bat at least once.

Punchadó

Pedro was such a ferocious competitor, he was like a boxer, who was angered by his opponent (Chili Davies) landing a punch, and who went on to absolutely annihilate him. With Pedro dealing his 97 mph fastball, his wicked curve and that delicious changeup, the powerful all-world Yankees lineup was reduced to one fair ball after the fourth inning. Have a think about that. They hit one ball into play from the fourth inning on.

Every time he fired in one of his pitches I felt my emotions get pushed higher and higher. The Dominican fans in the bleachers were going absolutely insane. My new buddy beside me was pretty quiet, completely focused on the game, but after every strike out he just mumbled, 'K, another K'.

The Sox offence struck for two in the sixth and one in the ninth, and that was all Pedro needed. He finished his magnificent performance by striking out the side in the 9th inning, and the Dominican fans in the bleachers went absolutely insane. I didn't even notice that my body guard was gone, so, faced with overwhelming odds I settled for a little personal fist pump almost hidden by the seat in front of me.

I practically floated out of Yankee stadium, everything from there is just a blur. The bright stadium lights, several Red Sox fans celebrating in front of the stadium.

Like Ron Bergundy, ''I wanna say something. I'm gonna put it out there. If you like it, you can take it, if you don't, send it right back.'' I want to come right out and say that was the single greatest pitching performance I have ever seen. Pedro, that night, was the greatest.

As I left the stadium I heard Frank singing '...start spreading the news..' over the PA system. I couldn't get that song out of my head for days, and when I hear it now I remember nothing but that chilly night in New York watching Pedro carry the Red Sox on his back deep in the heart of Yankee land.

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Irish National baseball team

Irish National baseball team
Team Ireland at the European Championships, Croatia, 2000.

A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports

A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports

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