June 11, 2007

Yankees Quick Check: What A Difference A Fan Makes

Those who visit Mr. Grudge are aware of how very seriously he takes the dedicated baseball fan. Over the course of this very difficult 2007 season, this writer has polled the only other resource available, besides print media, websites (Gotham Baseball Magazine, for one) and merely watching games, and that is interviewing fans. For better or for worse, baseball fans carry the history of baseball, readily available to those who will listen, as part of their own personal history. Some tell the story of baseball and how it fits into their analysis of the game, and how it affects their lives better than others. That is why this writer polls the same individuals on a regular basis. Though I don't mention names, or give descriptions of my fan-analyst contributors, I do try to distinguish them by writing about their experiences and predictions etc, at different times. Today is no exception, and I am ready to introduce readers of Mr. Grudge to a personality who has a wealth of baseball knowledge, and a keen eye for trends, trades, and many other things vital to a die hard baseball fan's world such as confidence in one's team.

The gentleman in question, who shall remain nameless, is one of those fans who do not get emotional regarding his favorite team. He's been a fan longer than most of today’s Yankees fan contingent for whom Derek Jeter is the only shortstop they even saw in pinstripes. When everyone else this writer queried over the course of the last few weeks regarding the Yankees deep hole in the A.L. East standings ranted wildly, demanding trades, predicting gloom and the absence of a post season berth, and secretly wishing that Joe Torre be yanked off the bench in full view of the fans the team in the middle of a game with a giant hook, my quiet baseball acquaintance countered with his own view of the Yankees season.

"All they need to do," He said "is chip away at Boston's lead by winning series. They'll get better, they have to, and other teams will hit rough patches. If they reduce their deficit to fewer than ten games by the All Star break, then a wild card berth seems plausible. They don't have to overtake the Red Sox."

This writer didn't believe him then, though he was very confident as he gave me his analysis, offering a knowing nod for reassurance. As of yesterday, after sweeping the Pirates, my friend's scenario didn't seem so far-reaching after all. Their nine and one half games back behind Boston, and Five and one half games behind Detroit, and tied with Minnesota in the Wild Card standings. This is all well before the All Star break. Maybe, the older gentleman was right? Could this be true? An average fan with an above average baseball I.Q. calmly predicts that the Yankees will right their ship and they will give themselves the chance to make it to the post-season. That's the kind of poise and maturity needed for a true baseball prediction.

Of course, one of the others often anonymously quoted in this space commented on the Yankees sweep of the Pirates: "It's only Pittsburgh." He said. To that point, this writer countered "Yes, but they need to beat everybody they face, and they did this time." After that, I gave him a two minute drill down of the man quoted in this space about chipping away at Boston's lead by winning series. He agreed, reluctantly, choosing the path of the cynic rather than believing what is apparent for all to see, that the Yankees have suddenly surged, hit their stride, or done whatever it needs to take to get themselves back on a winning track. This is what good teams do, and what is expected of this team. Way back, a few weeks ago when they were in the cellar with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, no one was chatting around the water cooler at work wondering what Tampa needed to do to get into the post season. The Yankees are expected to play in October, and the Rays are perennial bottom feeders. The fact is that right now they are one game below five hundred, and there is still plenty of baseball left.

The same Yankee fan who quipped "It's only Pittsburgh" did offer one comment which Mr. Grudge thought useful: "The Red Sox are one Big Papi injury away from big problems themselves." Let's hope Big Papi doesn't get injured, as one does not want to win that way and it is not very sporting to wish for players to be injured so your team can have an easier time of it; although, it would be nice if Ortiz went into a forty or fifty game batting slump.