I am a Royals fan living in New York City. If anyone wonders why I didn’t post anything in October, there’s your answer. The following entries detail the experience of watching the postseason far away from my hometown, in a much different place where fans from all over this huge country converge. Immigrants proudly display flags of their home countries in their windows and dwellings, but during the postseason, signs of national migrants’ provenance appear on heads and hearts in the form of caps and shirts. Giants fans scowl at Dodgers fans as Yankee stadium looms in the distance–it’s always looming, literally and figuratively. You can see it from the plane as you leave the city for wherever you’re from, and again when you come back. Meanwhile, in stretches of Brooklyn and Queens, and especially on the 7 train to Jackson Heights when you need to eat momos, you’re reminded that, hello, the Mets are here, too! I see lots of Orioles fans, Phillies fans, and yes, even Red Sox fans. There are not many Royals fans here, but the postseason as an expat is never a lonely experience, just a different one.*
*Disclaimer: These posts might contain cliche images of athletes. Writing about sports means I have to deal with levels of kitsch I am not used to accommodating. I’m sorry. Also, I’ll get back to my Craigslist stories after this.
I’ve parked the car, but I can’t bring myself to turn off the radio. I’ve never listened to a baseball game over the radio, but there’s a first for everything.
I spent the whole day driving to from Binghamton to New York City. We drove through the rust colored fall hills of rural New York on Interstate 81, and then through the marshes and highways of northern New Jersey. It was much colder upstate than it was downstate and I was sweating by the time we got to the city.
Extra grime adds a few more measures of good luck on a sports shirt, right? I was looking forward to finishing my day at the office and heading home, and was definitely looking forward to giving my Royals shirt a break.
But when I walked into the office my coworkers were congratulating me about the Game 4 victory (yes, I had a lot to do with it), and asking if I was ready for the game this afternoon.
The game this afternoon?
“We’re not playing until tomorrow,” I told Stewart. Stewart is a Yankees fan who seems to be an in-the-closet Royals fan this postseason.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Um….I think so?”
“You better check.”
I checked. Stewart was right. The game was in an hour.
It’s moments like these where my dearth of postseason experience really shines through. I knew the ALCS was the best of seven. But the pattern I had seen in the ALDS was two games at home, two games away, and a game a home. I assumed there would never be more than two games in a row until the World Series. And last year, well, we only had to play four games in the ALCS!
I didn’t have a game plan to watch the game. My unit has a fleet of cars we use if we have workshops in the distant reaches of the outer boroughs. My next workshop was in the morning, in Staten Island. I had no choice but to use a car. There were plenty of bars to watch the game around the office. But drinking cranberry juice at a bar during a baseball game because I’m my own designated driver is lame. It was best just to take the car home and try to catch as much of the game as possible there.
But this afforded me an opportunity to do something I’ve never done before: listen to baseball on the radio. My dad used to fall asleep to the sound of Vin Scully’s voice as he stayed up to hear the Dodgers games as a kid in Orange County. The thought of listening to a pennant game while driving over the Brooklyn Bridge in afternoon traffic seemed like a fun throwback to a different era, and an interesting way to round out my postseason spectator experience. I’d be really well-rounded if only I could somehow make it to a game…
I clocked out right as the game started and tapped my foot as the elevator went down 34 floors, spitting and swallowing people at at least five stops. I jogged towards the revolving door but skittered to a stop when I heard a shout from the reception.
I turned to see the afternoon doorman waving at me. I have never spoken a word to him before, but I guess my shirt said enough.
“You guys got this!”
“I sure hope so!”
He needed no explanation as I ran out the door and to the car. Stewart, being an inveterate radio listener and overall sports fan himself, gave me a hefty list of stations I could choose from. He wrote them all down on a post-it note I stuck to the steering wheel.
That is what I’m staring at it right now as I listen to the bad news coming from Toronto. It is the sixth inning. So far Volquez has kept the Blue Jays to one run, but already Revere has been walked and Donaldson has been hit by a pitch. There are no outs. I had to listen to this as I merged onto the Prospect Expressway from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. My heart is pounding and my palms are sweating. You would think I was on amphetamines but, no, I was only driving under the influence of the postseason.
Now Bautista is at bat, and thankfully I’m parked. The first pitch is a strike. Hassidic children cross skip past me as the second is a ball. A Bangladeshi woman in a colorful head scarf hurries by with groceries as he gets another ball. But apparently this one doesn’t have to do with command. The men in the radio say the pitch had been called a strike for the entire game until this point. A pitch later it happens again. Three balls, one strike. The commentators say Volquez looks confused. I wonder what that looks like. Where is the strike zone? It has become an oasis in the desert. He needs it more than ever, but he can’t seem to find it.
Bautista fouls off the next pitch, bringing it to a full count. Then he fouls off the next four pitches. Volquez has thrown a total of nine now—all sinkers, all in the same location. The men in the radio speculate that Volquez is afraid to let the ball wander to the outer edges of the plate due to the suddenly diminished strike zone. The tenth pitch could be a big one. Salvy and Volquez confer about it. What is the grand plan? The grand plan is a knuckle curve that passes through the bottom of the strike zone. It is a good pitch, a great pitch, say the men in the radio. I don’t remember the words they use. Probably nasty. Anything that’s beautiful in baseball is called nasty.
But it’s a mirage, says the umpire. The nasty pitch is called a ball and Bautista walks. It would have been Volquez’s most glorious moment—a ten-pitch duel that vanquished Thor, the biggest strike of the game yet.
I’m glad I made it home before any of this happened. I wonder how many accidents occur because of road rage caused not by the road but by a game happening miles away.
I still don’t move from the car. The men in the radio have me captivated. They hold a complete sensatory monopoly over how I experience the game. There are no visual checks and balances.
It is also very surreal. The reel of the game that plays out in my head is fighting with the reel that my immediate reality urges me focusing on, and sometimes one reel is spliced into another. Eric Hosmer was at first base and then suddenly he’s among the tourists walking over the Brooklyn Bridge. Alex Gordon did not catch a baseball, he was hailing a cab. Jose Bautista didnt’t use his turn indicator as he cut me off on the BQE. I can almost see Volquez in peyas.
I wonder what he looks like as he struggles to grasp the reality of the situation. The Blue Jays haven’t gotten a single hit in the inning yet, but the bases are loaded.
Encarnación is now at bat, and it’s a full count.
A leaf lands on the windshield, next to a Jackson Pollack splatter of bird shit. I can’t sit in this car for the rest of the game. I turn it off and head home. It is a few-block walk, plenty of time for things to take a turn for the better.
I walk briskly but can’t help but marvel at the trees, whose golden leaves and dark trunks make me feel for a second like I’m in Lothlorien. If it weren’t for the game I would have taken some time to wander in the park and catch the sunset.
But being one game away from the World Series is not something to be taken lightly. I take a deep breath as I unlock the door. My roommate’s dog, Tyson, barks at my entry, and then greets me with a wagging tail and a knee-high trail of saliva on my pants.
I turn on the TV to find that Volquez did not work his way out of the inning. He was driven from the inning after walking Encarnación, allowing Revere to walk home. Herrera is pitching now and strikes out the first batter he faces, but the next thing I see is Tulowitzski swooping in like a carrion bird on roadkill and hitting a double. Two men score. Herrera strikes out the next two batters.
We have three more innings to catch up, but we don’t. We do finally drive Marco Estrada, who has been as stingy as Ebenezer, out of the game when Salvy hits a home run and the two Alexes follow with singles. Although at that point the score is 6 – 1 Gibbons decides the Blue Jays can’t afford to let Estrada finish this game. The reliever strikes out Escobar, and Osuna is brought out in the ninth to end the game, 7 – 1.
That is fine, but nerve-wracking. I remember Muneesh saying that it’s best to win the pennant in six games. That way, the players get enough rest, but not too much. The thing is I just kind of want to get to the World Series already and this whole pennant thing is standing in the way…
When my roommates come home they all want to see the Mets play the Cubs. They are Yankees fans, but they’ll cheer for a New York team over a Chicago team. I still don’t know who to cheer for between these two. The Cubs are three games behind but have the Back to the Future prophecy on their side. Plus, if they are able to come back from being three games behind they’ll be like the 2004 Red Sox, and everyone knows how that ended. But if the Mets win, that means I’ll be surrounded by people who are cheering against the Royals. Also the Mets have orange in their uniform, and I haven’t written off my dream quite yet. Usually my dreams are complete absurdist nonsense—like the time I took a hot air balloon over the Alps, or when the Beatles came to play in the empty wading pool at the park across the street from my house. But nothing can be written off as nonsense in the postseason.
As it turns out the Cubs are not the 2004 Red Sox, and the Mets win 8 – 3, and we will play them when we go to the World Series, knock on wood. My only relief is that they are not as orange as the Astros. I flitted in and out of the game after the second inning, when the Mets had already scored six runs. When tuning in I tried to listen for the name Flowers—the guy who had the last at-bat in my dream, the guy who either struck out or had a game-winning two-run homerun. The last Mets batter to be retired was Wilmer Flores and I realized to my horror that while there are no English Flowers on the Mets there are certainly Spanish Flowers.
Also there’s that Daniel Murphy character. It hasn’t been since early October that Daniel Murphy and home runs haven’t been mutually exclusive. The man continued his home run a streak, hitting his seventh in six games in the top of the eighth. It is slightly scary, but if we can get to the World Series and survive the Blue Jays then I think we can survive Daniel Murphy. We just have to get to the World Series.
And I just have to never listen to the radio while driving ever again.