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New York State of Mind
SABR UK Examiner - Examiner #12 - July 2001
Written by Dave Roberts   

Man, I love this game! Why the hell else would I be sitting on a lazy Tuesday afternoon in Piscataway, New Jersey (where? Precisely) with about 30 other people watching a college all-star game between players from north New Jersey against a team from the south of the Garden State.

Thanks to the internet, finding out about such games is easier than ever. But I'd only become aware the contest was going to take place about a week before departing for my annual fix of baseball. The local university, Rutgers, were leading the Eastern Conference and almost certain make this year's college baseball playoffs, where the top six teams from the 12-team Eastern Conference compete against each other in a knockout championship. Thanks to their win over Seton Hall (Mo Vaughn's alma mater), Rutgers were seeded and placed at nearby Montclair University, while Seton Hall had to travel to play top-rated South Carolina at Columbia. It was while following the above I became aware of the aforementioned all-star game.

Before all of this, though, I journeyed to Montclair University, just outside New York, in order to watch the Eastern Regional tournament featuring such teams as Penn State, Rutgers, Army and North Carolina. The stadium here is situated in a hollow and has a large grass bank on one side which is used as a picnic area for families. Many small boys -- plus some young-at-heart dads -- took great delight chasing foul balls down the slope.

Famously, college students are not allergic to a pint or two of beer. So, what better way for a small crowd to spend a sunny workday afternoon than with their feet up watching baseball with a cold one? Fat chance. NCAA rules stipulate that beer is not to be sold at college sporting events. However, this was but a minor irritation on a perfect Friday afternoon, with the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers hanging on to a 4-3 lead thanks to a running catch by the right fielder with men at first and second and one out in the ninth. This was my first taste of NCAA ball, and it convinced me to attend the following Tuesday's all-star game.

I wasn't alone at the game, either. And as the afternoon progressed -- this was a day game -- more and more seats were taken up by folks who had left work early or were attending the later night game between Penn State and North Carolina. By the eighth inning, there were about 3,000 of us in the ballpark.

It all contrasted very well with the game I had lined up for the following day, the closest thing in American sports to a big-match English football atmosphere. Having been to Fenway Park and seen a visit from the Yankees, it was time for to return the compliment and catch a Boston--New York game at Yankee Stadium.

It immediately became apparent how big these match-ups are by the number of caps and T-shirts professing a love for the old town team. Most Yankee fans, spoiled by success, seem to take these games as just another series against their nearest rivals. They want to win, of course, and a large number of Yanks fans came out in "Boston sucks" shirts.

However, the intense rivalry is really fuelled by the Red Sox fans' hatred of anything pinstriped. Yankee fans see beating Boston as a means to get to the World Series; for Sox fans, though, beating New York more or less is the World Series. Until Boston wins another title, Yankee fans will still have bragging rights over the New Englanders regardless of how their season series finishes up.

After three innings, me and my friend Lori -- a born and bred New Yorker, and a lifelong Yankee fan -- were feeling pretty glum. Boston had won the previous night, and had jumped out to an early 3-0 lead. With Pedro Martinez due to start Sunday, things were looking bad for the Yanks; accordingly, the many Red Sox fans in the sell-out crowd were becoming very vocal and starting to look confident.

They should have known better. By the eighth, they'd been silenced by the Yankees' 8-3 lead. Boy, did we jump up when Paul O'Neill went deep. Not bad for someone who is old and fading, according to Boston outfielder Carl Everett. Better to be aging with four Series rings on your fist than a young loudmouth who's never won anything and never will as long as he plays in Boston. (So the Yankees were lucky to win the last two titles were they, Mr Everett? 1918, 1918, 1918.)

The next day, it was back to the more serene delights of the independent Atlantic League and a game between Newark and the Nashua Pride. The former team have only been in existence for little over a year and play in a new multimillion stadium in downtown Newark (from where you can even catch a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline). The team is owned by former Yankee catcher Rick Cerone, who is very visible during games. As, in fact, are several of their players, among them the brothers of Jose Canseco (Ozzie) and Barry Bonds (Bobby Bonds Jr) and the son of onetime Yankee Chris Chambliss (Russ).

After arriving back at in Manhattan -- Nashua won 10-8; I was asked by a man to take a picture of his young daughter attending her first ever ballgame -- it was time to watch a memorable pitching duel at Yankee Stadium between Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez (a game that was televised in the UK on Channel 5). Neither pitcher gave up a run until the top of the ninth, when Trot Nixon took Clemens deep. Both starters went the distance; what a delight it was to see a pitching duel for once, even if the result was wrong.

The next day, it was back to the Bronx again to see the Yankees get their World Series rings before a contest with Oakland. Having seen a no-hitter and a perfect game, you would think I'd used all my luck up in one stadium. Not so: this afternoon featured an unassisted triple play by Oakland second baseman Randy Velarde; only the tenth in major league history. Everything stopped for a second with a only a few people realising exactly what had transpired before them right away.

And so to Tuesday, and the aforementioned all-star contest. Rutgers' playing field is surrounded by seating for about 200 people and has very large dugouts on either side. The amenities are very basic: there are no dressing rooms in sight; the toilets are situated next to a football field 500 yards away; and the programme consisted of a double sheet of paper with a simple list of players and their colleges.

There ended my baseball-watching for my trip, but not the baseball connections. Next day I went to Brooklyn to visit the local museum. Sadly, though, it was closed for refurbishment. Idly, I looked up and caught sight of a road sign. Written on it? "Flatbush Avenue". Man, I love this game.