Wednesday, April 14, 2010

27th Heaven

Yesterday afternoon in the Bronx, Yankee Stadium served as the point of intersection between the business of baseball and the brotherhood of baseball. The Yankees' 2010 home opener was yesterday afternoon - a day on the calendar to not only welcome fans to the Stadium and introduce them to the '10 edition of the Bombers but to put a bow on the '09 season. Yesterday, as is the tradition in the ballpark of the team that wins the World Series the previous season, the Yankees hoisted the flag commemorating their World Championship. And - as per tradition - had a pre-game ceremony to bestow World Series rings upon the members of the '09 World Champions in attendance.

There might be a professional sports franchise that does a better job of celebrating its own history than the Yankees do but if there is, its identity eludes me. All Yankees fans looked forward to yesterday, and not only because it was the first time since the 2001 season that the Yankees began their home campaign with the tag line "World Champions" affixed to them. For reasons that remain a mystery to me the same MLB schedule makers who seem annually to require the Yankees to travel West with a consistency and a frequency that would have done Horace Greeley proud actually managed to do something right. The 2010 schedule called for the first visiting team to play at the Stadium to be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (f/k/a "the Anaheim Angels" and also f/k/a "the California Angels"). Among their multitude? Hideki Matsui.

For those of you who might have forgotten - or who for some inexplicable reason root for the Red Sox and spent your autumn weeping softly after the Angels zipped the Sawx out of the ALDS faster than you could say, "Holy Sh*t! Ortiz struck out again with men on base?" rather than watching the Yankees march to glory - Matsui was the World Series MVP in 2009. In what turned out to be his final game in pinstripes, he drove in six runs in the sixth and final game of the Series.

A couple of days later the Missus and me were among the small, orderly crowd that lined the Canyon of Heroes for the Yankees' World Series Parade. There, on one of the lead floats stood Matsui, waving to the crowd while smiling that sad smile of his. A man with a bird's eye view of his future and his past rolling by him arm-in-arm. He stood soaking it all in - absorbing all of the energy and affection that engulfed him, realizing even then it seemed that his biggest moment was also to be his final moment. Baseball is a business after all.

Not too terribly long after Parade Day, the Yankees and Matsui severed their professional relationship. He signed a new contract with a new team - the Angels - and went to California. With an aching in his heart? Perhaps. It was not - after all - his decision to play this season in a city other than New York.

Yesterday afternoon a man who meant a great deal to the fellows with whom he played for the previous seven seasons (Jeter described Matsui as one of his favorite all-time teammates) was embraced again by teammates, fans and a city that grew to not simply admire him but to love him during the time he spent here. The present was not as kind to Hideki yesterday as the past was. He went 0-5 and flew out to end the game. But yesterday was not about the present. And it was not about the future either. It was a reunion. And it was a fine, fine day for it.

Yesterday Yankee Stadium was the point of intersection between the business of baseball and the brotherhood of baseball. A band of brothers gathered one final time to celebrate their triumphs, to reminisce one final time with one of their band whose journey has now taken him a different direction, to thank him for all he did to contribute to their collective success and to wish him well.

For an afternoon at least, brotherhood held the upper hand. And it was pretty damned nice to see.

-AK

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