A little baseball set up…
The Houston Astros cheated.
In 2017, the Astros and the Yankees faced off in the American League Championship. It was a best-of-seven series and the winner would go on to the World Series. And after an epic battle that went back and forth, the Astros won. They then went on to defeat the Dodgers to win the world championship.
But they cheated. They had a series of cameras monitoring the opposing catcher’s signs so they could determine what pitch was about to be thrown. They had a guy stationed right inside the dugout who would bang a trash can to signal to the batter what pitch to expect.
This is not conjecture. It was proven conclusively through the MLB investigation. The manager was banned from baseball for a year; the team was fined 5 million dollars.
Which meant that suddenly the series Jack and I had watched with such joy and devastation. That series the Astros just barely eeked out. Oh yeah, that series felt very different to us and to every Yankees fan.
And now finally…after two years of waiting…finally…those miserable cheating Astros would be returning to Yankees Stadium and facing a home crowd. Finally those scumbags were going to hear from us.
We weren’t going to miss it.
Tickets were tough to get. The stadium was only at 15% capacity, so we ended up shelling out almost $100 for nosebleed seats. But as so often happens to us, the baseball gods smiled down.
On the morning of the game, I received an alert saying my tickets had been refunded and I would have credit for my next purchase. REFUNDED?!? I panicked and went online to find new seats, expecting the worst. But the weather called for rain, which meant that tons of seats were available for cheap. My refund money landed us seats that were normally $123 each — just 14 rows away from third base.
Oh yes, the Astros were most certainly going to hear from us.
We left the house at noon, way earlier than we needed. We planned to follow our normal routine: park in Washington Heights (the neighborhood where we lived until Jack was 2) and then take the subway to the game.
As we drove across the George Washington Bridge, we looked over the city.
“You’ll live here soon,” I said. (Jack is going to Fordham University in the fall.)
“I was telling my friends that I’ll learn how to navigate things here. I can’t wait to be able to do that.”
“Your brother is now saying that he wants to live here someday.”
“It’s all I’ve wanted my whole life,” he said a little dreamily.
I prowled the car around the familiar neighborhood, took a turn down a side street, and found the perfect spot. There was even an abandoned lot right there where we could take a much need pee.
We were hours early and it was raining, so we bought some pizza and ate it back in the car. Then after a while we made our way to the subway.
At the stadium we waited outside a McDonalds until the gates finally opened. Giddy with excitement, we bounced into the concourse hoping for batting practice and a chance to start jeering the Astros, but they wisely stayed huddled in their locker room out of the rain.
We wandered the stadium, toured Monument Park, and did out normal and sacred routine until game time approached and we went to our seats. It was go time. And the fans did not disappoint.
Jack actually put it this way: “Back home, people know about the cheating, but they don’t really care that much. It felt really good to be in a stadium full of people were were all as angry about it as I am.”
The chants were merciless. The boos were non-stop. Those players will spend every away game for the rest of their careers being called out as cheaters. And in my mind, they deserve it.
And I don’t know whether to call it a rite of manly passage, father-son bonding, or terrible parenting — but to stand next to my son as we both chanted “FUCK-THE-AS-TROS!” was something I really enjoyed.
I took a more refined approach to heckling as well. The Astro’s star third baseman and cheater, Alex Bregman, was less than 100 feet away. During quiet moments in the game I would call to him. My goal was to hit home. I showered him with a barrage of taunts meant to hurt him.
“Hey Bregman! Hey Bregman — what does your little league coach think of you now?”
“Hey Bregman! Hey Bregman — did you give a World Series ring to the guy who banged the trash can?”
“Hey Bregman! Hey Bregman — how does it feel to know you used to be a role model for kids?”
“Hey Bregman! Hey Bregman — have you ever called your manager to apologize?”
“Hey Bregman! Hey Bregman — how does it feel to know you cared more about a world championship than you did about your own integrity?”
He heard me. I could tell. And the crowd loved it. They started looking over at me every inning. They’d get quiet, and then they’d “oooh” after each barb.
Alex Bregman is an excellent third basemen. But in the bottom of the 6th inning, he fielded a routine ground ball, set, and misfired a throw to first base. I am personally taking credit for that error.
It was a great game. The first half was tense and locked at 3-3. We huddled in the pouring rain and hung on every pitch.
But as the weather cleared, the Yankees broke it open. Guys who were slumping got big hits and the crowd went wild. Then when the Yankees closer, Aroldis Chapman, threw the final pitch, he had an extra level of intensity to his trademark stare, knowing that when the Astros didn’t know what pitch was coming, they couldn’t touch him.
It was a long game and it was nearly midnight before we made it back to Washington Heights. I stopped at a Bodega to get a cup of coffee. Jack tossed a package of gummy bears onto the counter next to my cup.
“You know you want these,” he said, and then exchanged a smile with the guy behind the counter.
There’s a banter in New York City. It’s not small talk exactly and it’s certainly not conversation. It’s somehow a product of having to live your life with other people in your personal space, and you become fluent in it when you live there.
We left and walked along the subdued sidewalks. Two guys was across the street called to us.
“Did we win?” they asked, seeing our Yankees shirts.
“Hell yes,” shot back.
“Fuck the Astros,” Jack added as a friendly goodbye.
This boy is leaving me soon. I can feel it. I can feel him sliding away.
For 18 years this boy has occupied my life. He was occupied my kitchen and my couch. He has occupied my daily schedule. He has occupied the sounds of our home.
He has occupied my heart.
And he’s leaving. Soon.
I feel like I’m holding a wet bar of soap that is sliding, sliding, and any second it will squirt out of my hands.
He is a kite that I carefully lifted into the air until the wind started to take hold. I’ve let it rise higher and higher, laughing as it dipped and soared, letting out more and more string.
But the string is almost at its end. And soon he will fly away and out of my grasp. Soon I will be without the reassuring tug of the line against my hand.
We rounded the corner, peed in the empty lot, and then reached the car. As I opened the door, I looked up; we hadn’t seen it in the rain when we had parked. But now the entire length of the George Washington Bridge was spread out right before us, shining in the glossy night.