Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)
The Ball Goes Around
Last night, my 15-year old Jennifer (the Yankees fan) and I were watching the 9th inning of the last home opener of this Yankee Stadium. Mrs. Ball (the Red Sox fan – no it’s not easy being me) was basically killing time until the Sox, later last night, successfully opened their North American season in Oakland by beating the A’s, 2-1 (a masterful game by Dice-K).
Coverage on the Yankees cable network, YES, seems exceptional this season as they prepare for a year-long goodbye party, but the shot from behind Mariano Rivera as he left the New York bullpen to head the mound was truly beautiful. I said to Jen, “You know you’re looking at a Hall-of-Famer.” She responded with some response that reminded me I was stating the obvious and then added, “Jeter and A-Rod, too.”
I brought it up because I want her to appreciate greatness when she sees it. I don’t really care what uniform is being worn, appreciate that you are watching one of baseball’s greats. For the most part, it’s only in the last third or last quarter of a player’s career that we realize that we are watching one of the greats because to be a Famer you need more than a couple of great seasons, you need to show breadth, depth, width and length.
As Mariano warmed up, the camera switched to Joe Girardi in the Yankees dugout. It’s been a long time since a different Joe was there and the announcer reminded us, “Girardi is wearing his heart on his sleeve and his goal on his back.”
“Cheesy,” said Jen.
“I don’t think so,” said the old man, who is her father, whose heart was now pumping with the excitement of a 9th inning and the score Yanks 3, Blue Jays 2, and really just wanted to get to bed to rest his achy leg.
“What do you think he’s referring to?” I asked.
Jen started thinking as Mo struck out Lyle Overbay. “I got it! The heart on his sleeve because he s showing his emotion of his first game managing the Yanks and the `27′ on his back represents his goal of getting 27 outs in a game.”
“Half right, but excellent logic,” I replied. “The `27′ represents a bigger goal.”
Aaron Hill lined out to center to Melky Cabrera who had a huge game for the Yanks offensively and defensively. Up stepped Mario Scutaro who hit a walk-off home run off of Mo last season that was symbolic of the Yankees disastrous start.
“Okay, tell me.”
I then explained to Jen that Joe Girardi chose number 27 because his goal is to win the Yankees 27th World Championship.
“I should have known that,” Jen said with a smile as Scutaro rolled the ball to second base and was thrown out as the Yankees won, 3-2.
As Jorge Posada came to the mound to congratulate Rivera he handed him the ball. It was The Sandman’s 444th career save. As the Yankees went through the post-game congratulations high-five and hugs ritual, when Mariano reached Joe Girardi, he gave him the ball – it was the 11th straight home opening win for the Yanks, a new record, but more importantly, it was career win number one for the newYankee manager.
I wondered as Mariano reaches the last three years of his career, how many game balls he had on his mantle. When Rivera came up to the Yankees in 1995 there was no indication that he would be a Hall of Fame reliever. He was trying to be a starter. In that first season, he appeared in 19 games, 10 as a starter and finished with a 5-3 record and no saves.
In fact, he didn’t pick up his first save until May 17, 1996 pitching against the California Angels in an appearance remarkably similar to last night’s. He struck out the first batter he faced, Randy Velarde. He allowed a line drive single to the outfield to Mike Aldrete, but then got Garret Anderson to ground the ball to second base into a double play.
I could not help but think if Mariano had gotten the ball from save number one from his catcher that night. I wondered as Mariano handed the game ball to Girardi last night, if Joe Girardi, Mariano’s catcher on May 17, 1996 had handed Mo the game ball that night.
The ball does go around.
Bill Chuck is the creator of Billy-Ball.com and, with Jim Kaplan, is the author of the book, “Walk-Offs, Last Licks, and Final Outs – Baseball’s Grand (and not so Grand) Finales,” with a Foreward by Jon Miller, to be published by ACTA Sports, in April.
Autographed first editions available by contacting, Bill@billy-ball.com