“I like the way they look in those long pants.”
It was the last remark I expected from the much older woman next to me, but maybe the few sips from her husband’s beer were doing the talking. Closing pitcher Ken Giles entered the game at Minute Maid Park, Astros versus the A’s in late September. His gritty metal entrance song brought me to my feet. Watching his confident run to the mound, his signature kick-some-ass glare atop his strong square jaw, I responded, “Agreed.”
I never thought I’d be a towel-waving, standing up at two outs and a full count, high-fiving, making up player nicknames kind of fan. Why shouldn’t Alex Bregman be called A-Breg? Alex Rodriguez doesn’t own that moniker arrangement.
“Are you here by yourself?” It was an expected question from the prim woman sandwiched between me and her husband at the ALDS Game 1 at Minute Maid Park, Astros versus the Red Sox, electric after Justin Verlander’s win and Jose Altuve’s three homeruns.
“Yes,” I said.
“Good for you.”
I couldn’t imagine a man being asked that question, and then being complimented for coming to a baseball game by himself.
Game 2 of the ALDS I returned, seated next to a retired gentleman, and we talked about all things baseball. Towards the end of the game he told me it was great to sit next to a fan “who understands the game like you do.” Which threw me since basketball is my first sport love. Family time was Rockets games. In my childhood diary, I had entries about how much I hated Danny Ainge, Larry Bird and Dennis Johnson. I was 12. The gentleman asked me “how did you come to baseball?”
“The men in my life.”
In early summer of 2006, after a month of dating, Justin M. invited me to my first Yankees game. I had been living in New York City for years, but was never asked and never imagined going alone. Straight from work I met him at Grand Central to catch the Uptown 4 train to the Bronx 161st Street stop. He eyed my shoes, amused by my choice. “You going to be alright in those?” In my dress and strappy sandals, it was a nod to the romantic old days of men in suits and fedoras. Sneakers and a ball cap seemed irreverent for this sports rite of passage.
Over hotdogs and beers, Bob Sheppard, the unmistakable long-time Yankee Stadium public address announcer and “Voice of God,” introduced me to Jeter, Posada, Cano, Rodriguez, Damon, Matsui, Williams and Rivera. Smooth, clear and emotionless, Sheppard’s style oozed sophistication and confidence. No feverish “and NOOOOOW your starting line-up!” No “woos!” or mascots or cheerleaders or the wave rippling across this crowd. The showmanship was simply the players stepping up to the plate. I could feel the homage to tradition and history in “The House That Ruth Built,” with the incomparable number of World Series championships, the retired numbers, the pinstripes, the organ, the unchanging logos and colors, the clean-cut player rule of no long hair or beards and the final serenade by Sinatra. It was sexy. I was in love. Not with Justin M. I suited up and became a full-on Yankees fan.
So when M-Rod came back in town and invited me to the final game at Yankee Stadium–September 21, 2008–I was a more knowledgeable student. I still don’t know how I lucked out to be his plus one since we had stopped dating upon his ironic move to Houston earlier that year. Maybe he had pissed off all his former girlfriends and I was last in line. As we exited the D train to a beautiful crisp evening, all I knew was the joy of holding that coveted ticket.
The opening ceremony started with the 1923 lineup and continued with a barrage of Hall of Famers–Ruth, Mantle, Berra, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Jackson, Munson, Maris and on and on. Andy Pettitte took the mound. In the ninth, manager Joe Girardi pulled Jeter so the crowd could one more time have a reason to yell “DER-ek JE-ter!” Rivera entered the game to his theme song, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” and lifetime fans around me cried. With the final out, the crowd sung and swayed as “Start spreading the news…” began.
It was New York Yankees magic.
When the Yankees crossed the street to their new home in 2009, I moved across the country, back to Houston where my last boy of summer sealed my love for the game. He had a passion for baseball, a respect and knowledge of its history–the kind of man who as a young boy became a student of the game, its players and their stats, through newspaper box scores and collected cards protected in sleeves. His love for the Astros was deep. But the baseball gods looked out for me, too–he also had a love for the Yankees.
On his paid-for YES Network we watched regular season games and celebrated their 27th World Series win in 2009. We went to Yankees spring training in Florida. We sat in the sunshine of California’s outdoor parks–Dodger Stadium, the Giants’ AT&T Park, and Angel Stadium when Rivera pitched his final game at Anaheim. And we of course went to a fair share of Astros games at a time when there wasn’t much to cheer about.
I know what you’re thinking. Fair-weather fan. Yes, I’ve been called a traitor for even a tiny Yankees keychain. But deep in my heart of Texas, I know in those Jeter days if the Astros had travelled north and I had any luck to be in the stands, you’d see a small blonde in orange amongst the sea of pinstripes.
Last Friday night, the doorman high-fived me as I left my building and merged into the orange and blue fans walking east on Texas Street to Minute Maid Park. Five blocks from a Major League stadium, home to a 101-win team. A bit sweet. It was Game 1 of the ALCS, Astros versus the Yankees. Dallas Keuchel was a beast with his ten-strikeout win. Sitting next to a Yankees fan and his wife in all their regalia, I found it devilish fun to praise Brett Gardner’s smarts and propensity to battle at the plate and wear down pitchers, then yell for Keuchel to “STRIKE HIM OUT!”
Another Astros’ win on Saturday afternoon. Verlander’s complete game with thirteen strikeouts, young Carlos Correa’s poise to connect on a 3-2 count in the ninth inning, Altuve’s walk-off win running from first base–it was an out-of-body experience, holding onto the ledge as I jumped up and down, screaming “GOOOOOOOO!” yet never hearing myself over the absolute roar as the umpire signaled safe and the ballpark erupted. I understood baseball love when tears formed in my eyes. It really was the greatest baseball game I’d ever witnessed.
It was Houston Astros magic.
My real-life boys of summer, with gratitude I tip my cap to you for taking me to the park and sharing your love and knowledge of the game. Because now I can take a seat by myself with my own true love for the Major League boys of summer, looking good in those long pants, who turn to men in October.
Author’s note: At the time of publishing, the ALCS is back in NYC for three games. With Sabathia pitching in Game 3 and Judge due for a homerun, I expected a Yankees win. Astros now lead 2-1. There’s no denying playoff magic dust lives in the Bronx air, which choked 102-win Cleveland. That being said, the Astros are due. It’s time. Astros in 6.
For more Table For One
You can connect with Amy by following her at writeonpearl.com