In New York City these days, the most horrific realities seem
unreal, so that Manhattan resembles something from escapist
fiction. Everyone said that Sept. 11 was "like a movie," and six
weeks later Gotham is still the Gotham City of the Batman TV
series, in which the Joker turned the town's tap water into grape
jelly. The reservoir in Central Park is under guard, and people
still wear surgical masks downtown, and anthrax-laced envelopes
arrive in the city's newsrooms--which is to say, at CBS and NBC,
though not yet at The Daily Planet.
Conversely, for many fans an escapist pastime--baseball--has taken
on a strange gravitas this postseason. The nifty shovel pass to
home plate by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter in Game 3 against the
A's? "Unbelievable," Fox announcer Joe Buck said repeatedly. "It
defies description," said his partner, Tim McCarver, though of
course the play was eminently describable. It's the rest of life
these days that leaves us disbelieving, at a loss for words.
Not everything here has been inverted. New York, New York's still
a hell of a town: The Bronx is up and the Battery's down. The
people ride in a hole in the ground. Indeed, the Bronx has seldom
been more up, with the Yankees going for their fifth World Series
victory in six seasons. To say that the Battery's down is
obscenely inadequate: It's the neighborhood at the southernmost
tip of Manhattan--what Americans now know as ground zero.
So last Saturday I rode in a hole in the ground, disembarking the
D train at 161st Street, the stop for Yankee Stadium. I've never
been able to tell if every Yankees fan merely looks like an
off-duty cop, or if every Yankees fan is an off-duty cop. It
isn't just the telltale cop mustaches, either. You may have seen
the highlight this summer of that Yankees fan in the rightfield
bleachers, stretching to catch a home run, revealing the pistol
holstered on his blue jeans. (God, I hope that guy was a cop.) In
any event members of the NYPD have worn Yankees caps for years,
and now--movingly--the Yankees are wearing NYPD caps.
FDNY caps, too. Since Sept. 15 the Times has run a heartbreaking
series called "Portraits of Grief." Every day a dozen or so
profiles appear, each no more than a few paragraphs long, about
the men and women who were killed on Sept. 11. What is striking,
in a baseball sense, is not how many of these thumbnail obits
mention the Yankees, but how many of these life summaries mention
the Yankees in the first sentence.
Take this first line, about a 38-year-old fireman: "While growing
up in the Bronx, Steve Mercado wanted to play for the Yankees."
Or this one, about a 34-year-old broker: "The day Sean Fegan got
to meet privately with the New York Yankees, his sister Ann Marie
nearly lost her mind with envy and excitement." Or this one,
about the vice president of an investment firm: "Richard Todisco
loved sports. He once played sandlot baseball in Brooklyn with
Nancy Farley was a 45-year-old insurance claims negotiator on the
94th floor of 1 World Trade: "Except when she was cheering on her
beloved Yankees, Ms. Farley was a quiet person." Soichi Numata
was a 45-year-old Japanese bank vice president: "His favorite
baseball team was the Yankees." Brothers Enrique and Jose Gomez
worked together chopping vegetables in the Windows on the World
restaurant, at the top of 1 World Trade: "Enrique, 42, and Jose,
44, both fathers of teenagers, always made time to dream
together, envisioning themselves one day sitting in the stands at
Yankee Stadium, just like the people on television, sharing beers
and rooting for the guys in pinstripes."
Farley, Numata, Gomez. Those were Twin Towers of Babel that fell
on Sept. 11. Because of the tragedy, soldiers in the U.S. Army
mustered outside the stadium on Saturday afternoon. They would
present the colors before Game 3 of the American League
Championship Series, and the names stenciled to their
fatigues--Lopez, Grieco, Goldstein--read like the mail call in a
1940s war movie. Fittingly, these were members of the 42nd
Rainbow Division, and that rainbow is, of course, what makes New
York, and America, great.
New York, New York, it's a hell of a town. The Bronx is up and
the Battery's down. As the people rode in a hole in the ground on
Saturday, headed home from the stadium, we couldn't help but hope
that the Bronx stayed up a little longer. And we knew that the
Battery wouldn't be down for long.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO