Roger and me, a fan’s tale
The passing of New Yorker editor Roger Angell at age 101, stirred up a lot of old memories, baseball memories of course. It occurred to me that not only had Angell and I watched many of the same games on television but we had also been at the same games. One great regret was that I spotted him just up a few stairs during the waning innings of a Cactus League game and as tempted as I was to introduce myself and maybe, just maybe, catch him with some free time to talk about baseball and writing, I opted not to bother him. I had the same opportunities with Bill Veeck and let those pass, too. Out of respect, I think.
Angell was a passionate baseball fan and writer and he would include fans from time to time in his writings — their cares and ups and downs and their special moments of fandom.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been to around 250 baseball games, including a few of the very great ones, Game 7 of the 2001 Series between and Yankees and Diamondbacks, the Ryne Sandberg game where the Cubs came back to beat the Cardinals, and the near-perfect game pitched by Pedro Martinez. I’ve been to plenty of stinkers, too, including a Randy Johnson vs. Roger Clemens matchup at Fenway Park that turned into the dullest, longest game in MLB history. As Yogi would say, in baseball you don’t know nothing.
And I don’t know for sure but I have a feeling Angell and I were at one game on Sept. 9, 2001, in Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox were in town but they hadn’t been playing very well and that usual high-energy cloud of anticipation and excitement swirling around the park was absent for this one. But David Cone was on the mound for Boston, pitching in what would be his final time there after so many years of being the Yankees staff ace. Angell, I’m sure, recognized that. After all he had written a book on pitching, one with fans in mind, with Cone being the professor breaking down the nuances of his craft.
But as this game evolved it would lead to my biggest personal triumph as a fan. Cone was pitching with little more than guile and that Laredo curve ball of his, but Tino Martinez, a longtime foe and teammate when Cone was with the Yankees, was all too familiar and hit two two-run homers, the second coming in the 6th inning and that was it for Cone.
Fans seldom take notice of when a losing opposing pitcher is being removed. Almost no one was paying attention this time either, but I stood and I clapped as hard as I could stand it and then inplored the fans around me. “Get up and give this guy the sendoff he deserves. He won a lot of big games for you here.”
And so, our section behind the Yankees dugout started to cheer, and the cheering caught on. And by the time Cone reached the dugout steps, he was able to doff his cap and take an appreciative glance across a full-house crowd of now-standing, cheering fans. Others in the stands may have realized what was happening just as I did, but I really don’t think so. Outside of the press box, I think I might have been the only one. And Roger, that is.