In the Ninth
August 12, 2013 | by Mark Chiusano
On Sunday I went to see the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers. It was a throwback to the Yankees teams of my childhood, with Andy Pettitte on the mound, cap still low, glowering. I’ve always been (and always will be) a Met fan, which is its own portion of anxiety, and the Yankees glittered out there in the Bronx, Pettitte and Jeter and company so much more put together and reliable than the Mets. A note on the gigantic screen in center field informed us that Pettitte had pitched for the Yankees in his twenties, thirties, and forties. My friend sitting next to me noted that you could hardly see what the score was—the numbers were that inconspicuous—though the advertising, of course, dwarfed it all.
Strangest was watching Alex Rodriguez play, a man who has been so under the popular microscope recently for performance-enhancing drug use as to have articles considering his upbringing. Who thought that steroids were still a discussion? That felt like years ago too. Rodriguez is facing the longest nonlifetime ban in baseball history. But for some time, during this purgatory, until the appeals process wraps up, he’ll be playing nine innings a day in the Bronx and the other cities that this itinerant fourth-place circus travels to. My friend mentioned, as Rodriguez took the field for the first time, that he thought he remembered something about Rodriguez saying how he couldn’t hear the boos in the crowd these days, because they were mixed with so much cheering.
From up where we were sitting in Yankee Stadium, third base looked like an unbelievably large area for the old cat to cover, though maybe it was just because he was cheating a little backwards to save a step; you know the stands were built as close to the line as they could have been, the Boss packing us in to the House He Built. His black banner, 1930–2010, out in center, is the only thing as big as the advertisements. A-Rod made a very nice pickup and long throw to get Iglesias in the second, but in the third he fumbled a dribbler, his wide back wallowing. He handed the unsuccessful ball, stoically, to Pettitte, who left his glove there waiting.
At the plate things looked better for Rodriguez: it was 1995 and he was a skinny shortstop playing for a different team, joking around with Jeter, a rival (injured now, heading back to Tampa for a rehab stint). For his first at-bat, the scoreboard flashed his lifetime stats—among active major leaguers, an astonishing first in home runs, runs, RBIs, and second in hits (to his good friend Derek). He didn’t take long to pole one down the left-field line for another home run, his 648th—left field is nearly as close as the junky Little-League distance the Boss installed for the right-field line, 314 feet away. Rodriguez acknowledged the crowd, or the sky, in an anti–Ted Williams way, before he resumed his seat in the dugout, as the crowd cheered and booed him. Later, lining a single down the right-field line, he at first thought it was a foul ball, far up in the stands. The man hits with sunglasses on, that should tell you something.
Rodriguez wasn’t the star of the game—Brett Gardner made an against-the-wall catch and hit a walk-off home run in the ninth, a nice shot, even though it was over that short porch in right. The nineties crew didn’t fare particularly well. Youthful Pettitte only made it four and a third. Midgame, with the Yankees comfortably ahead, before Mariano Rivera, that other stalwart, blew the ninth inning lead and they had to rely on Gardner, who I suppose is this generation’s Yankee—sometime before then, before I took the subway home listening to a father explain Detroit’s bankruptcy to his son, the scoreboard flashed a montage of Roger Maris footage, going for the single-season record for home runs. It almost felt insulting to Rodriguez, who is playing here until the guillotine falls. I looked down at him at third, to see if he was watching, but of course that would have been unprofessional. He had his head down, his cleats kicking and cleaning the dirt at what is still his position.
Mark Chiusano’s collection of stories, Marine Park, will be published by Penguin in July 2014. His stories and essays have appeared in Narrative Magazine, Harvard Review, and online at Tin House and The Huffington Post, among other places.