December 20, 2006

Goodbye To A True Friend

I learned early this morning that a longtime friend of mine passed away late Monday night. This page is insufficient as a memorial to such a good and honest man. He was a my partner and mentor in the NYPD.

It will be of little importance to those whom he protected in those surly New York City neighborhoods where we patrolled together that such a brave officer died. Stephen was indeed courageous. He knew police work backwards and forwards. This was one of the reasons why I wanted to work with him. In any police emergency, he knew what needed to be done and how to handle it.

Yet, Stephen was more than just a cop. He was a father and a loyal friend. When we both left the police department, he built a business and worked diligently to pay for his son's college education. And, when I couldn't find work and times were rough for me and my young family, he had me work for him. He was a fighter who traveled the tough housing projects of New York City with confidence; and he battled cancer with determination.

After a full recovery, he set about making a new life for himself and his son. He closed his business, as many businesses these days succumb to a bad economy. But, he continued to work hard, often taking midnight shifts to keep his son in school. We stayed close. Only recently he told me what a good friend I had been to him. Listening to him speak with such sincerity, I told him the same. His response was "Hey, we worked a sector car together. That's for life." There's plenty to that statement that folks who never had to rely on someone for backup would never understand. Stephen did, and he meant it.

On this ordinary day, I received a message from a friend of my friend that he died suddenly in his home. Stephen was alone at the time. His girlfriend found him. A nice woman at the Medical Examiner's Office confirmed all of this for me and erased all of my denial. As I await the details of his wake and funeral, I sit at my desk, stunned, unable to mourn. His phone number is in my cell phone, begging me to call him so I can make sure he doesn't answer it. Somehow, I imagine, this is all a cosmic joke; and it will be revealed if I would only work up the nerve to call him. But no, that won't work.

In and out of the office today, folks have been coming and going wishing both me and those I work with "happy holidays." I wish that for them too. The last time someone said it, before I sat down to write this little piece, I wondered if the same scene was playing out at the Medical Examiner's Office, and if the nice woman with the sympathetic voice who told me my friend was dead was wishing everyone "happy holidays" as well.

December 19, 2006

Roster Dilemmas And A Fan's Devotion

Weeks ago I offered up a scenario where the Yankees could keep both Bernie Williams and Melky Cabrera by training Melky to be a first baseman. While it is easier to move from the infield to the outfield, Melky is young enough and talented enough to make the switch. Also, after the Yankees were willing to train Gary Sheffield to cover first, in the post season no less, the move isn't outrageous. In fact, it makes good sense.

Instead of trading young Melky, who filled in Hideki Matsui's big shoes admirably while Hideki was on the D.L., the switch to first keeps a young player who is already productive, makes big plays, hits in the clutch, and fits in well in the clubhouse. The Yankees are interested in a setup man for Mariano, and Melky is the best trading chip they have. After such a frugal winter (for the Yankees, anyway) the Yankees should merely write a check to get a setup man. Keep the talented Cabrera who has proved he can play in pinstripes. The move to first also makes sense because the Yankees won't have to spend money on Doug Mientkiewicz, a player they have interest in a platoon situation with either Andy Philips or Josh Phelps (Newsday).

Aren't we Yankee fans tired of a platoon at first? We've had an unofficial "platoon" at first base ever since Jason Giambi started to self destruct. Melky deserves a shot at a full time position and first base is open. It's a safe bet that he'd learn quickly. If such a move were made, this would allow veteran and fan favorite Bernie Williams to return for another year as a Yankee. In this Yankee fan's humble opinion, that's worth it.

As a fan, it is tough to see your favorite players leave. Bernie, if he is indeed not signed by the Yankees again, can leave on a high note. He was treated like royalty by appreciative fan's whenever he appeared either on the field or in the batter's box last season. He will be missed if he doesn't return; but if he does, his presence will loom large, and such a player is a factor on a winning team even if his production is down, his arm a little weaker, and his speed is diminished.

Getting to know young Melky has been a pleasure. Since he stumbled onto Yankee Stadium's field (after a couple of mis-plays) he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and became a very good player who will be a star one day. This Yankee fan is hooked. To see him go will be a shame as it will be hard to root for Doug Mientkiewicz or Josh Phelps instead of Melky.

Of course, Melky is not going to play first base next year. My attempts at being an amateur GM not withstanding, it is still a good idea. We fans can get used to Doug Mientkiewicz (assuming the Yankees sign him) and Josh Phelps, especially if they do well. We can say farewell to Bernie and still wear jerseys and tee shirts with his name and number emblazoned on them. We will cheer Melky as the Yankees visit the stadium of the team they traded him to and he belts a home run off of Randy Johnson. Players like Bernie and Melky, if they are not Yankees next year, will be sorely missed. Players come and go; and as frustrating as that is, that's just the business of baseball.

December 14, 2006

From East To West: Boom Or Bust?

The Red Sox just sank over $100 gazillion dollars into a pitcher who never pitched in the major leagues, and who will not be their number one starter. Maybe the Bosox are hoping to add a "Hideki-like" player to their roster, imitating their AL East rivals the Yankees who added Hideki Matsui from Japan with great success. The Mets added their own "Matsui" a couple of years back by adding Kaz Matsui. We all know how that ended. The Red Sox better hope that with over $100 million (posting fees and newly negotiated contract) invested in Daisuke Matsuzaka that they don't get a Hideki Irabu for their money instead of a Hideki Matsui.

December 8, 2006

Merry Christmas!

I'm not going to get too mushy here, but I love Christmas. Yet, that wasn't always the case. Usually, Christmas was a holiday filled with family conflict. But, I won't elaborate on that either. Now, I am a happily married man with two young children and I realize that now the holiday is all about them. I'll let my children believe in Santa Clause, have fun searching for elves hiding between the branches of the shrubbery outside, and hope for the coolest presents to delivered by St. Nick as they have been so good all year (ahem).

You see, it took me a while to appreciate how wonderful it is to be a parent. After a recent health scare, and after losing my mother a few months ago, I began to sense my own mortality. A few weeks ago, my dad spent the weekend with us as he has been doing since mom passed away. We took him to a nearby neighborhood to see the "rich folk's houses" and their expensive Christmas displays. My string of lights and Wal Mart decorations can't compete on that scale. I made a comment about I'd like to have money like that to throw away on mere decorations. Then, my Dad turned to me and said that I have treasures that many people "only dream of having". Now I know what he meant.

Yes, I said I wasn't going to get too mushy, and I'm also not going to go into great detail, but I'm over a recent health problem and I love my family even more, if that was ever possible. Christmas is going to a truly wonderful time this year no matter what.

December 1, 2006

Bye Bye Bernie

We might lose a hero. Yes, the word "hero" is thrown around way too many times, and is used to describe unworthy people in some cases. But to me, Bernie Williams is a hero, and he might not play baseball anymore.

Bernie contributes to charity, creates wonderful music, he practices hard, and plays with guts and determination. He's not a foul mouthed man, not egotistical, and he is loved by his teamamtes. He was a clutch player for the Yankees, the only organization he ever played for, and his on the field play was responsible for many victories. But does that make him a hero? In my world, yes.

Baseball, and sports in general are more than entertainment. Sports at an early age inspires children to test themselves, achieve goals, work well with others, follow orders, build physical and emotional strength, and, most of all, to believe in themselves. Organized sports are a vital social glue which can bring entire communities, cities, and countries togther to unite behind their team.

Sports are uniguely essential to human existence. Their stars are larger than life because the take us away from the banalities, struggles, and pain of our everyday lives. Sports heroes loom large for us because their deeds are remembered for generations, perhaps for all time. None of us can imagine a historian researching something we did at work over one hundred years ago and then writing a book about it. Sports heroes, and our affinity for them, allow us to hang on for the ride. We root for them because we want to live like them. And one one of our sports figures stands out, and he or she is also a good human being, that makes him or her much more special, much more valubale to the admirer, and to society.

I was at a game in Yankee stadium a few years back. In Monument Park with my wife, we watched with a small crowd of fans as Bernie Williams sprinted back and forth along the outfield. We all shouted and waved as the revered Yankee concentrated on his workout. On his final pass, Bernie waved to all of us with a bright, genuine smile on his face. "That's Bernie Williams" a young man next to me said to his girlfriend. He gushed as he held her close and watched Bernie trot over to the dugout. I don't know why, but I felt like a kid, much as that young man may have felt, as Bernie acknowledged us with graciousness reports today that the Yankees may not re-sign Bernie as their needs are in the bullpen. As reported, Bernie most likely will retire and never walk onto a baseball fieled again. Next year, I'll go to more games at Yankee stadium. In monument park, I'll have to shake of the urge to look look for Bernie sprinting past again. My favorite baseball player didn't save anyone from a burning building, didn't fight in a war, or invent a miracle drug; but, he lifted my spirits at many times in my life with his baseball heroics. For that I will remain grateful. Is he my hero? For all that baseball means to me, and for as much this man has contributed to the game both on and off the field, and for how he is as a person, yes. He's a hero. Bye Bernie. It was great rooting for you.