Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Four Horsemen of East 161st Street

At some point this evening (weather permitting - man would it be nice to have a baseball game played in New York City this autumn without that disclaimer) in the Bronx - for the very first time since Josh Beckett defeated the Yankees in Game Six of the 2003 World Series to secure the 2nd championship in the history of the Florida Marlins - the New York Yankees shall take the field in a World Series game. Among the stalwarts for the boys from Steinbrenner Tech this season are the "Core of Four". Four players who as much younger men represented the hopes and dreams and bottom line for His Majesty Boss George in the World Series in what seemed then to be an annual autumnal celebration akin to Halloween and Thanksgiving.

The four who once were young men are not so much so any longer. Gray hair has appeared as the reservoir of hair has ebbed on each of them. Each now possesses a face longer on character than boyish charm (admittedly Jeter might be an exception to that rule). And each prepares this evening to take a ride that they none of them has ever taken - except in the company of all of the others - and that none has taken in a long time.

Outlined against a dark, artificially illuminated October sky, the Four Horsemen tonight shall ride again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera. Each has earned four World Series rings as a member of the Yankees. This marks the seventh World Series that each has played in as a Yankee. It is the eighth of Pettitte's career, having been a member of the Astros team that lost the '05 Series to the White Sox. 'Round Yankee land we talk rarely - if at all - about Andy's time in exile when he was inexplicably banished from the Kingdom of George in favor of Kevin Brown and Javy Vasquez. We shall talk no more about it here.

Unlike the pundits on television, in the newspapers and on the radio, I do not pretend to know how good, bad or indifferent a chance the whiz-bang gang from Uptown has of winning the Series. I know that every time I have seen the Phillies play since the playoffs started, they are beating the living tar out of someone. I suspect that they are quite good and seeing that they are attempting to win back-to-back World Championships for a franchise whose history of success is significantly shorter than its history, I suspect that they will be damned hard to beat - if they can be beaten at all.

I do know that as much as I am looking forward to the first Yankee advancement to the season's final game since 2003, I am not looking forward to it as much as the four Yankee veterans who have made this journey together a half-dozen times. Regardless of which team you are rooting for (or even if you are a desperately sad citizen of Red Sox Nation), Steve Politi's column from Monday's Star-Ledger is a worthwhile read. The "Core of Four" has been down this road before and they have clearly learned as much from all of the years in which they have taken a journey similar to the one that they begin tonight as they have from the years in which they failed to earn the right to take it.

When we are young, our steps are easy and even and our strides are long and purposeful. There is a cocktail that pulsates through us in our youth - a combination of exuberance and confidence that as often as not results in us being called "arrogant" when what we really are is "self-assured". Age brings with it steps that are often strained and uneven, taken in choppy, uncertain strides. We fear nothing until we are old enough and experienced enough to understand the significance of fear. And of loss. And of failure.

The "Core of Four" understands the significance of all of those things. Whereas as young men they seemed to be destined to experience nothing but success, time has proven to be a fickle friend to all of them and the autumn of their baseball years has seen more than its share of less than happy endings. Tonight they begin again, taking what may be the final journey this quartet takes together as they begin the final leg of the race for their 5th World Championship. Win or lose it has been one hell of a ride.

In the unscripted drama that is sports, all that remains to be written is the most important part - the ending. But that is always the way it is. And that is always the way it has been for this group. It is in the uncertainty that the magic gets made.

Just ask anyone who has ever tackled a cyclone.


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