The most memorable weekend of baseball in 2002 came in late July when my brother Benny Eggs got married, and the Yanks hosted the Red Sox at the Stadium. Eggs married a Mets fan of all things. Actually his wife isn't too committed either way, but her family is hardcore, Long Island, shot-and-a-beer, You Gotta Believe, Mets fans. It all makes sense because Ben, who is two and a half years younger than me (he turned 29 on January 15th), rooted for the Mets when we were growing up.
Our father was and is a defacto Mets fan, if he remains much of a fan at all. Benny Eggs followed suit. Maybe he just liked the way their uniforms looked and the way the player's names sounded. I don't know why he chose to be a Mets fan. I do remember that Joel Youngblood was one of his early favorites, notable because they shared a similar smooth, baby-faced complexion.
Ben didn't remain a Mets fan, or develop as a sports fanatic per se---not at least until the current Yankees run (or the Knicks run that preceded it in the early to mid '90's). He was immersed in the sporting culture growing up, but he wasn't a card collector, or a stat head, or a baseball junkie. He was distracted with other things, deeper things.
Ben was an introvert, a bright kid who appreciated the game, and enjoyed playing it. Plain and simple, Benny Eggs was a gifted, graceful athlete, a natural. He also has a gift as a natural comic and mimic. Bone-thin, and small, with big round brown eyes, and sandy-brown hair, Ben was quick and agile. Plus he usually had lady luck on his side. Whether we played football or Go Fish, Ben Eggs got the breaks.
When we got grown, Eggs and I actually lived together for a while, way out in Brooklyn. This was a few years ago, when we were both in our twenties. From 1996-2001---I left Brooklyn and moved to the Bronx just in time for the Subway Serious in 2001---we must have watched 70-80% of the Yankee games that were televised. Fuggin Ball-game-watching-bachelors. Two fat bastids. Ben had come back to the game, as naturally as he strayed away from it, but this time he chose the Yankees as his team, as naturally as he once pulled for the Mets.
There is a scene in "Stand By Me" where the lead, played by Will Wheaton, is sitting on the train tracks early in the morning by himself, while the other boys are still sleeping. Previously, the night ended on a down note as River Phoenix bawled his eyes out cause he had it rotten all over. Wheaton looks almost exactly like Benny Eggs did at that age.
Anyhow, Wheaton is sitting quietly on the tracks when a deer crosses the tracks about 10 yards away. The deer stops and looks at Wheaton, who looks back and smiles gently back at the deer. The deer slips off and the moment is suddenly, irrevocably lost, but the connection was made, and Wheaton soaks it in quietly.
This is what I'd call a Benny Eggs moment. Eggs is one of those guys that kids and animals are irresistibly drawn to. Is it any surprise that his favorite player is none other than ol' Sweet Pea Sensitivity himself, Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams? I thought of the scene from "Stand By Me" a couple of years ago when Bernie did something incredulous, or flakey during the middle of a game, and it struck me how beautiful it was that he shared a kinship with my younger brother. The two of them are right out of the Buster Keaton School of subtle deadpan physical humor. James Agee once wrote that Keaton seemed to posses a "mulish imperturbability under the wildest of circumstances." This applies nicely to both Bernie and my brother.
Are we naturally attracted to players that look like us? Or at least those who we think act like us. It makes sense right? After all, people tend to choose dogs that look like themselves. (That's a classic street-watching New York pastime in and of itself.) I know I have an inherent attraction to Shawn Green, and Mariano Rivera cause they're Cool, Calm and Collected Flaco Super Stars. Ben Eggs has Bernie, though they don't look alike at all. What they share is a disposition, a sensibility. Eggs loves other players as well---Mussina and El Duque come to mind, but he has rucchmones with Bernabee.
Eggs asked me to be his best man at his wedding and I proudly accepted. It was the first time I ever had that job so I won't lie: I was stressed. Not uncomfortable or unsure, just anxious. The Red Sox were in town to face the Yanks, which didn't help matters. I mean I had known that the Yanks were going to host the Sox for months, so I knew I would be feelin it. Why couldn't they have played the dopey Indians or something? Something less...involved.
But no, it had to be the Sox, ripe for me to weave into indelibly into the memory of my brother's wedding weekend. Oy fuggin Vey.
It was the fourth series between Boston and New York, with the Sox holding an 8-3 lead. Many of the games had been tense and entertaining; Shea Hillenbrand won a game at Fenway early in the season hitting a bomb off a disbelieving Mo Rivera. What I remember most is the little smile that Rivera wore, like, "I can't believe that little shit beat me. First Game 7 in Arizona, now this? New fucking obstacle everyday, huh Lord?"
Going into the series on the weekend of July19-21, the Yanks held a slim two game lead on the Sox.
The wedding took place at my mother's house in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. It's actually my stepfather's place, and this was the fourth wedding it would host. The first was when he married my mother in the mid 80's; next came my twin sister in the early 90's, and then in successive summers, my step sister, and Benny Eggs.
My stepsister Maile was married in the middle of July as well, and had uncommonly good luck with the weather. Cool and low humidity in the middle of July? Stop. But she got it.
So it couldn't happen again, right? Eggs was going to have to take an L in that category, right?
It sure looked that way to start.
I'm not going to argue with anybody about this, but there is no rivalry in the great wide world of sports to compare with the Yankees versus the Red Sox. It's the gracious expanse of Yankee Stadium verses the looming Green Monster of Fenway Park. The Power and the Glory of the New York Yankees versus the never-ending Challenge of the Boston Red Sox. There are ghosts on the field when these teams meet, a history that speaks of great deeds and sleeping heroes. And don't think it doesn't communicate itself to the players on the field. The field is crisper, the hitting is firmer, the ball comes shooting off the bat with the fresh, clean poing of another opening day. Baseball becomes again what baseball is supposed to be, a game of shifting fortunes within a series of steadily rising climaxes--an excitement, an entertainment, an event.
Ed Linn, from "Steinbrenner's Yankees"
All of my mom's siblings (2 aunts and an uncle with various lil cousin off springs) came to the States from Belgium to represent Eggs. It was the first time the lot of them was here in the States at the same time. The fact that Benny Eggs' wedding is what brought them here, lets you know a lil something about the Thin Man. He's got a lot of Belgian in him. My British friend Mike Fox used to call Eggs, "Benny, The Blonde Jew."
They were all up at the house when I arrived on Friday night. All the Frenchies. It had just started to rain. Muggy and rainy. Mussina v. Pedro at The Stadium, and my old man is taking both families out for dinner at a restaurant by the Hudson over in Verplank---the same place that is catering the wedding the next day. The game was delayed by the rain. When we got to the restaurant a heavy fog lay over the Hudson, and it was actually quite beautiful.
This place had a couple of dinning, banquet rooms, and a big bar with a panoramic view of the river. They had TV's but I didn't care if the game was called. I wasn't going to watch it anyhow.
After dinner, the bride's family got involved with the Karaoke portion of the restaurant and my family reluctantly followed. You never saw fish out of water like my Belgian Mersplucah, naturally rigid, contained, in a middlebrow bar watching Karaoke. The bride sang a song to Ben Eggs, and the only thing that marred her gorgeous performance was a neurotic need to apologize for how lousy she thought she sounded.
I took it all in while keeping an eye on the T.V. The game had finally started after being delayed for more than an hour. Mussina was pitching in the second inning.
I wound up driving back to the city that night with my old man---we left straight from the restaurant. As fate would have it, we hit a traffic jam just north of Yonkers. The rain had stopped, and it was hot. At least I didn't have to suffer through the tension of the game. We were stuck on stupid for so long in that traffic I figured the game would be over by the time I walked in the door.
No such luck. Not only was the game---one of the precious few that CBS carried---still on, but there was a raging party taking place three flights up. I knew that because Salsa music from somewhere was causing my furniture to reverberate. Not the ideal environment to unwind and prepare for the big day.
Pedro was still pitching. There were two outs in the 8th inning and Boston lead, 3-2. Fug. That can't be good. Dominicans Revenge! They're killing me all over.
With a man on, Bernie laces a double off the mighty Prince P; Boston skipper Grady Little yanks Martinez from the game. In comes Ugie Urbina, who had been killing the Yankees all year. The same Ugie Urbina that could have easily been wearing the pinstripes himself. Ugi: the anti-Rivera.
Full of fist-pumping, leg-splitting theatrics. So distasteful to the spoiled taste of most Yankee fans.
Fat ass Jorgito Posada comes up for the fourth time of the night with the go-ahead run on second. As usual, Martinez had dispatched Posada swiftly, and viciously; at the end of the night Posada was 4-34 lifetime against Pedro. After facing Martinez, Posada can be in a funk for day's even weeks. It's not just that Posada is embarrassed by Martinez, he's undressed and emotionally and mentally violated by him too.
Posada had whiffed all three times he faced Pedro and he whiffed against Ugie too. The Sox added a run in the 9th and Urbina set the Yankees down in order, with the usual array of horseshit gestures and exclamations. The Sox were now 9-3 against the Yanks and Urbina had earned his 5th save against New York.
I didn't fall asleep for a while after that. Sure, I was keyed up about the wedding, giving a speech, making sure everything ran smoothly, but I was also cursing that som'bitch bastid Ugie fuggin Urbina and his cocky ways. 'He's gunna get his,' is all I could come up with. When in doubt, be spiteful, just like the Red Sox fans, right?
Fox carried the game the next afternoon, a 1 pm start. El Duque, probably Eggs' favorite starter was pitching. The wedding started later in the afternoon, around 4:30-5:00. The weather cooperated. If it wasn't as brilliant as it had been for Maile's wedding, it sure wasn't raining and it wasn't too sticky either.
I did my best to steer clear of the game; it wasn't that hard with all the business swirling through the house. The first time I checked the score, the game was in the bottom of the 4th. Johnny Damon had just jumped against the left center field wall and snagged a Shane Spencer blast that was destined for Homersville; but as he bounced off the wall, the ball popped out of his glove and fell back in play safely. Yanks 5, Sox 2.
Later, I caught the Sox making a comeback against Our Man From Havana. I turned it off. The next time I checked in I saw Posada miss a tag at the plate, which gave the Sox a 6-5 lead. How many times does Posada botch plays at the plate (re: Roger Cedeno stealing home when the Mets played at the Stadium earlier in the year)? I gotta concentrate on my speech, and this fuggin guy is killing me.
I bit a small hole in my lip, turned the damned thing off, and went to get dressed. From there on out, I only tuned in on the radio from my sister's room where the groom and his men were sweating it out.
Mariano was in and then just as quickly he was pulled. An injury? Nu?
The first guests arrived. In comes Mendoza. I couldn't take it anymore.
When my uncle Fred, the Yankee fan, and his son-in-law Scott, the Red Sox fan walked up the driveway, they anxiously asked what the score was. I told them to get bent: the Yanks were down and I was done for the day if I was going to keep my wits about me.
They informed me that Soriano had tied the game with an RBI single in the 8th. (I later read that Dustin Hermanson had thrown the kid a fastball on a 0-2 count; hey, I know he'd just been activated from the DL, but had he been paying attention at all?)
I popped upstairs during the cocktail hour a few more times, only to find that the game was still going on. They were now in extra innings.
When the ceremony began, the game was still undecided, and my attention was on more pressing matters than the game. The ceremony was lovely, the sun was shinning, and as my mom later said in her toast, "Ben's famous luck served him well once again."
The Yanks won in the 11th on Robin Ventura's infield single. Soriano scored the winning run and the Stadium celebrated at the same time that we celebrated Benny Eggs's marriage.
I was more exhausted that I had anticipated being the following day. Emily and I slept in.
The Times headline put it best: "Soriano Delivers On An Afternoon Filled With Tension."
I figured we could expect more of the same in the finale, and I was in no mood to put up with Sterling and Steiner for another 4-hour marathon.
We made lunch, read the paper and zoned out to horseshit Sunday TV. When I finally checked the score it was 8-7 Boston in the 8th. Another nail-biter.
As it turned out, the Yanks started the game off with a bang against Boston pitcher, John "Old Man" Burkett. In the first, Soriano, behind 0-2, reached out and lined a single to center off a waste pitch. When he attempted to swipe second, Jeter smacked a ground ball into left for a single, Soriano hustled to third. The throw came too late to get Sori, was wild, and the kid scored. Giambi creamolished the next pitch into the right-centerfield bleachers, and the pitch after that was hit even deeper into the bleachers by Bernie Williams.
But Boston had chipped away, with Nomar and Manny hitting two homers apiece. Jeff Weaver, still new to the Yanks, had another rough outing; even Tony Clark hit a 3-run bomb off of him. It was the first time a Yankee pitcher had ever given up five homers at The Stadium.
By the bottom of the 9th, I was worked up into a fever pitch. Emily sat on the couch in my living while I paced back and forth with a stickball bat in my hands. Ugie Urbina came in to close it out for the Sox. I told her all about what a putz he was, how one day he was gunna get his.
He had to go through the heart of the Yankee order. Giambi lead off, and swung and missed at Urbina's first two offerings. He took the next two pitches and then fouled off a nasty slider that was in on his hands. The at-bat started at 4:13 pm and lasted until 4:20. The count went full, Giambi fouling off pitches, staying alive. On the 11th pitch of the at-bat, Giambi tried to foul another ball off, but instead he tapped a slow roller toward third. The Sox had the shift on against Giambi, with only one fielder on the left side of the infield; it took a great hustle play by third baseman Shea Hillenbrand to keep Giambi from reaching second.
Enrique Wilson came in to run for Giambi. Up comes Bernie Williams. Once again, Urbina gets ahead 0-2, this time with off-speed stuff in the dirt. Ugie tries to spot an 0-2 fastball on the outside corner, but it's up in the zone and Bernie laces it into right for a single. Trot Nixon, the right fielder, with his eye on Wilson going to third, missed the ball, which snaked under his glove, past him into deep right field. Wilson wobbled taking a huge turn around third---Weeble Woobles but they don't fall down---and scored easily. Bernie to third.
The game is tied, still no one out. So the Sox walk the bases loaded and take their chances facing Posada, who still hadn't recovered from Pedro on Friday night, and was 0-13 in the series. Grady Little yanked Nixon from right, and replaced him with infielder Lou Merloni, who became the third infielder on the right side. Manny Ramirez moved from left field right behind second base, in shallow center, and Johnny Damon played nickel back in right center.
Urbina was in a tight spot. The count went full, and wouldn't you know it, but the som'bitch bastard walked fat ass Jorge to end the game. Sweet Justice.
The Yanks ended the weekend four games ahead of the Sox, a lead they wouldn't relinquish. The Sox were then 9-5 against the Yankees for the season, but New York went on to win 4 of the last 5 meetings. Excuse me if it felt like like Deja Vu all over again.