#ThrowbackThursday — Radio Segment on Suzyn Waldman

Lesser known SM facts: I worked at the Brooklyn College Radio station for about a year, starting as an intern and winding up an associate producer, which meant I got my own segment to talk about whatever I wanted, as long as it was at least tangentially related to the designated theme of the episode. I’m writer more than I am a talker, but I write conversationally, so I always wrote out my bits and read them, using them as jumping off points for conversation with the other members of our show, which would fill up the remaining minutes of the segment after I’d started it off.

I came across the printout of this segment when I was cleaning my room this week, in an attempt to clear space for the MONSTER PILE OF TOOLS that I bought this week when it went on sale for $310. Alas, I have no date written on it anywhere, but the file on my laptop says it was last modified on July 25th 2013, so I’ll go with that.

 

*    *    *

 

Since we’re putting a spotlight on journalists and journalism tonight, I decided I wanted to focus on one particular journalist, and through that, maybe talk a bit about the larger topic of women in journalism.

 

The female journalist I want to focus on is Suzyn Waldman. She is the current color commentator for the Yankees radio broadcasts, and she gets no respect. Almost everyone I’ve ever talked to has an opinion about her, and that opinion is almost universally, “She sucks.” And the less tactful accuse her of sleeping her way up the ladder.

 

I don’t find that surprising, but I obviously find it very frustrating, because let me tell you some stuff about Suzyn Waldman.

 

1) She’s been working in baseball broadcasting for 20 years. If she’s been sleeping her way to the top, she’s been very slow about it.

 

2) She was the first Yankees beat reporter for WFAN in 1987, and people would literally walk out of the room when she was on the air. She would get condoms sent to her in the mail. And she still didn’t quit.

 

3) She started at a time when female sports reporters had just been granted permission to enter the locker rooms to do their jobs. There’s a famous story about how a Toronto player named George Bell started swearing at her and declared that he wouldn’t answer any questions as long as there was a woman in the clubhouse. Nobody stood up for her, and she was about to leave, when another Toronto player, Jesse Barfield, said, “Hey, Suzyn, I got three hits today. You want to talk to me?”

 

(I met Jesse Barfield, by the way, in Yankees fantasy camp a few years ago. He is really nice.)

 

4) She worked in musical theater for 15 years and has performed on Broadway.

 

5) She’s a breast cancer survivor who went to work all through her chemotherapy in 1996 because she knew that if she took any time off, she wouldn’t get her job back.

 

She’s a pioneer for women in sports journalism. She’s been the first female color commentator in a broadcast booth. She’s the first woman to call a World Series game. She’s won the respect of players, managers, and many people in the broadcast world. She’s persevered through a ton of garbage and had a long and successful career.

 

But her critics are relentless. They hate her voice, they hate her face, they hate when she agrees with her broadcast partner, they hate when she’s dramatic, they hate when she’s repetitive.

 

I don’t think she’s necessarily the best analyst or commentator in the galaxy, but she’s far from the worst, and I think that unquestionably, if she were a man, she wouldn’t face nearly this much scrutiny.

 

So I wanted to bring up that question and ask if you’ve found that your female colleagues face more criticism than you do? Or different types of criticism? Like it’s very rare for a successful guy to be accused of sleeping his way to the top, but it happens all the time with successful women.

 

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“Explain Derek Jeter.”

“Explain Derek Jeter.”

 

I’ll always remember that request. It was given to me by a boyfriend (now ex) who knew next to nothing about baseball, when we were still in that barely-knowing-each-other phase, trying to find a comfort zone and topics of conversations that would provide us each a window into the other. I think I’d become a bit withdrawn for whatever reason, and he, eager to bring me out again, offered me this on a silver platter.

 

“Explain Derek Jeter.”

 

I’m sure I fumbled for something in the beginning, all “I don’t even know where to start” and “you can’t explain someone like Jeter” — there are so many factors contributing to his image, his reputation, whatever that “Jeterness” is, completely aside from whatever his skill level may be on the baseball field. Derek Jeter the Phenomenon is something separate, or at least in addition to, Derek Jeter the Player, and requires its own explanation.

 

The current season, being Jeter’s last and thus subject to a retirement tour ala Chipper Jones and Mariano Rivera, has brought out the vitriolic minority who hate him and have internet access to express themselves. And I’ll admit that sometimes it makes me a little bit angry, and a little bit sad, because I don’t particularly like seeing this side of humanity, this tendency to tear people down just because they’ve been elevated.

 

I should start by saying that Jeter has never been my favorite player.

 

I became a serious fan in the early 2000s — because of the 2001 World Series, to be exact — and a pattern that I’ve noticed in young fans including myself is that we latch onto the guys that start their careers around the same time that we start following the game. For people who started following in the mid-to-late 90s, that was often Jeter, sometimes Mariano Rivera, sometimes Jorge Posada, sometimes Andy Pettitte — or as they were known, the “Core Four.”

 

Since I was a late bloomer who only became obsessed with baseball when I was in 6th grade in 2001-2002, my guy was Alfonso Soriano. He was young and explosive and did everything with flash and flair. He struck out too much, he hardly ever walked, sometimes he didn’t run out his ground balls, sometimes he stood too long at the plate admiring his home runs before remembering to actually round the bases, and he wasn’t consistent defensively.

 

But when he was on, he could hit for average, he could hit for power, he could steal bases, he could make spectacular defensive plays — he made everything exciting.

 

Jeter, as you might or might not know, is the opposite.

 

The first time I ever saw him hit, he sacrificed to advance the runner. Little SM was confused and disappointed because Little SM expected home runs every time at bat from the great Derek Jeter.

 

Little SM didn’t know that Jeter rarely hits home runs, and definitely not with the frequency of a Barry Bonds-type slugger.

 

Jeter doesn’t hit for crazy-high average like a Tony Gwynn.

 

Jeter doesn’t steal a ridiculous number of bases like a Rickey Henderson.

 

Jeter doesn’t play defense like an Ozzie Smith or an Omar Vizquel. (There is a neverending debate over how bad his defense really, truly is that I’m sure will continue well after his retirement.)

 

He doesn’t do any one thing on the field extraordinarily well. The Jeter brand of excellence isn’t to dazzle you with extremes the way Soriano did. It is simply to be very good at many things, and work hard to stay that way, quietly piling up numbers that almost never lead the league in any individual seasons but add up to impressive career totals.

 

I’ve seen comparisons to Craig Biggio in terms of playing ability, and it’s a very apt comparison — just look at that link. Biggio deserved to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer just like Jeter certainly will be, but he wasn’t, and the uproar was relatively small, and that’s because of all those other factors that surround Jeter that Biggio — not necessarily through any fault of his own — does not have.

 

“Explain Derek Jeter.”

 

A lot of it is the Yankee thing, plain and simple. The media firestorm that surrounds this team and all its players and amps them up to preposterous volumes. Come to New York, hit one important home run, and you’re a legend forever. Just ask Aaron Boone. Play in New York for two decades, have a season’s worth of playoff games, win 5 World Series Championships, be good looking, have a hell of a smile, and get the magic Hall-of-Fame-guaranteeing 3000 hits? JESUS. (Being biracial in such a multicultural market doesn’t hurt either. Though I wonder how different things would be if his coloring were more like President Obama’s. Somewhere in a parallel universe is a Derek Jeter who would never be able to pass as white. I’d like to see that.)

 

And while I said earlier that Jeter is the opposite of early-2000s Soriano in that he does not make everything exciting all the time, he has a definite flair for the dramatic. He has playoff moments that have become immortalized, thanks to the nature of playoffs and of being a New York Yankee — the famous “Jeter flip” where he managed to be in the exact right spot at the exact right time to get a game-saving out and preserve a 1-0 lead; his game-ending walk-off home run in extra innings in the 2001 World Series after midnight had pushed the game into the month of November, and thus Jeter became “Mr. November.”

 

He has famously dramatic non-playoff moments too, of course — leading off numerous games with home runs, diving into the stands to catch a Manny Ramirez foul ball and coming up bloody but successful, breaking an 0-for-32 slump with a home run, going 5-for-5 and hitting a home run for his 3000th hit. And of course, his recent 2-for-2 showing at his last All-Star Game, despite having a mediocre season to this point.

 

But he never toots his own horn about any of it; he’s self-deprecating and, yes, classy, as all the haters hate to hear. I heard him asked about diving into the stands and he laughed about hitting his face on a seat, “50,000 people in the stadium and I picked the spot where nobody was.” And I’ve heard him interviewed about the “Flip” and he gives all the credit to Jorge Posada, the catcher, for making the tag on the runner, and shrugs off his own role.

 

You see, what’s truly exceptional about Jeter, what I am fully prepared to say is his actual extraordinary ability, is that he is the most media-savvy athlete I have ever seen. I recently watched the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game with my older brother (who became a fan during the Core Four 90s era), and both times Jeter was interviewed, we both just wound up looking at looking at each other with big grins on our faces, because it’s hilarious how perfect he is at interviews. He knows exactly what to say, exactly how to say it, he knows when to crack a joke and when to be serious, he pays attention to the questions, he gives thorough, matter-of-fact answers to everything he’s asked, he keeps everything strictly baseball-focused, and he never says anything wrong. Ever.

 

And that’s part of the appeal that I think gets glossed over by a lot of people — the fact that Jeter is really frikin’ smart. Not in the scholarly, intellectual giant kind of way, but in the self-awareness and people-handling kind of way. He knows how to represent himself. He has navigated 20 years in the spotlight, starting at such a young age, and all this with minimal scandal, despite having dated Mariah Carey, Jessica Biel, Minka Kelly, and a whole bunch of other models, actresses, and celebrities, not to mention whatever one night stands between relationships.

 

It’s fairly common knowledge that the lack of scandal is largely due to how his parents raised him: from the time he was very young, his baseball-playing was conditional, dependent upon factors such as finishing his schoolwork, no alcohol or drugs, and treating girls respectfully. There was a contract written up that he had to sign every year. Tip of the hat to Jeter’s parents; they had their priorities straight, and that’s evident in their son’s behavior. (There was a brief dustup some years back when the late George Steinbrenner, the Yankees volatile owner, accused Jeter of partying too hard, but that was quickly dismissed with a commercial that they did together, with Steinbrenner famously asking Jeter something like, “How can you afford to party all the time??” and Jeter flashing his Visa card. Classic.)

 

I’ve never wanted to date Derek Jeter; I’ve never wanted to sleep with him; I’ve never even contemplated meeting him until I sat down to write this piece and thought about that angle. Because I don’t think we’d have much to talk about, but you know what I do think? I have no idea what we’d talk about, but whatever it is, he’ll be warm and engaging and attentive and respectful and we’d probably laugh a lot. That’s impression I get, because that’s the persona he’s crafted for himself.

 

And yes, of course it’s a persona and I have no freaking clue who the man actually is, what he likes, dislikes, how he sees the world and what he wants from life. But he chose to craft that persona, and those ideals are what people respect and admire about him and why parents feel comfortable saying to their kids, “sure, go ahead, copy Derek Jeter.” Because being warm and engaging and attentive and respectful and having a sense of humor and fun are all wonderful qualities, and they’re undeniably magnetic to men and women alike, hence Jeter’s outrageous popularity, even among non-Yankee fans. I’ve met people who hate the Yankees with a fiery passion but admit that they respect Jeter and would even love to have a beer with him.

 

Managers and players talk all the time about Jeter’s “intangibles,” the things he brings to the table beyond just his skill level, and the haters hate that, of course, because it’s so amorphous. And obviously I can’t say that it has any impact whatsoever regarding Derek Jeter the Player, but Derek Jeter the Phenomenon definitely benefits from it. During the Steroid Era, I heard people say that if Derek Jeter was ever found to have taken steroids, baseball might as well close up shop, because Jeter is the Last Bastion of Integrity. He represents clean, professional baseball, with no off-field crap. Not a bad symbol to be.

 

One of my favorite little facts about Jeter is that in his high school yearbook, he was voted “Most Likely to Play Shortstop for the New York Yankees.” And maybe it’s my favorite partly because it’s funny, and partly because it represents his most compelling intangible: that Jeter seems able to make things happen by sheer force of will. He doesn’t hit the most home runs, he doesn’t steal the most bases, he doesn’t get the most hits — and yet he sets his mind to things and makes them happen. Certainly not all the time, and obviously team accomplishments are not Jeter’s alone, but he has had a long and successful career and is living his dream, and is never ungrateful for it. He’s a symbol for that too. And sure, symbolism isn’t reality, but I adore the things Derek Jeter symbolizes, and while I don’t worship at the altar of the Jeter, I’m glad someone like him exists.

 

“Explain Derek Jeter.”

 

I can’t. I just can’t.

 

 

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Social Experiment Time!

 

Recently, I went on a non-date with a complete stranger from the internet.

 

How did this happen, you ask? Well, it definitely started with that online dating profile I made a while back on a site built around proposed date ideas from its users (see here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/sm-rosenberg/my-online-dating-profile-ish/10151702070783186). As you might remember, after a day of poking around the site, I concluded in that piece that I had no intention of using it for dating, because it just compounds the main problem I already have in real life, i.e., being clearly incompatible with almost everybody and having to turn down pretty much anyone who expresses interest. Involving the internet just increases that number. And I’d have to pay for the privilege.

But like any well-marketed site, it sends you tons of emails trying to get you to give it another shot. I get an email every time someone expresses interest in my date idea. I get emails offering me special deals on membership. And I get emails suggesting possible dates in my area.

I usually ignore/delete all of these, but occasionally I open one or two of the suggestion emails to remind myself that my decision not to get caught up in trying to date through this site was definitely the right one, since most of the suggested date ideas are either (a) lame and nonspecific, e.g., “Let’s do something fun,” or (b) specific but unappealing to me, e.g., “Let’s go to [insert name of non-kosher restaurant here]” or “lets go to this bar i know and get totally wasted haha.” (It’s the “haha” that lets you know that guy’s a real winner.)

But a little while ago I checked one of those emails, and one of the nine potentials presented to me was, “Let’s find a sports bar and watch some postseason baseball.”

 

And I was like, you know, that actually sounds like a lot of fun. Never done it before, but why not? Always wanted to. If nothing else, there will be playoff baseball.

So I clicked the guy’s profile to check for obvious signs of serial killerness or other red flags, and didn’t see any — he was around my age, working as an artist’s assistant, hoping to open his own gallery one day. As expected, he’s not relationship material for me, since he (a) identifies as a Christian and (b) says he wants kids someday, but otherwise seemed fine.

I believe I mentioned in the last piece that if you don’t pay for a subscription on the site, you have no access to its messaging center. So there was a very good chance that I would be unable to communicate with him, regardless of how okay I deemed him to be. Fortunately, a lot of people have found a way around that wrinkle by including an email address in their profile, and Sports Bar Boy was one of them.

I mulled it over for a moment or two, then sent out this email:

“Hey,

So this might be a little weird, so I’m going to be totally upfront — I don’t date anyone who isn’t Jewish. I also don’t drink. But I saw your date idea about finding a bar and watching some postseason baseball, and even though the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs (alas, t’was a miserable season), I would love to hang out with someone in a place like that and just have fun talking baseball. Not as a date, just as friends. Or bros. If a girl can be a bro. Whatever. I totally understand if that’s not what you’re looking for. I mean, it is a dating site, after all.

Let me know?”

I realize that as a girl, I have a weird kind of advantage in a situation like that. If a random guy sends you an email like that, most girls would probably regard it as pretty suspect and wonder if there’s an ulterior motive. At least, I probably would. But for a girl to say something like that to a guy, I think, is a little less sketchy for some reason, mostly because there isn’t that widespread worry that a girl is going to take advantage of getting a guy alone in this type of scenario. Not that girls never do that — it’s just not, well, expected, whereas for guys, it sort of is because of how often it happens. Pretty sad.

He responded not long after:

“Hello! No worries about your upfrontedness, that is exactly why I posted my email address on my dating profile, haha. [Note the better usage of “haha.”] I’m also fine that you aren’t interested in a date. I have lots of family in St. Louis and grew up a Cardinals fan, so I am pretty amped for the postseason. I’d definitely be open to a watching partner sometime, so maybe we can plan something, bro to bro. How’s your schedule look this coming week?”

I have to admit, it was the “bro to bro” bit that sealed the decision. Felt like, yeah, this is a guy who gets it.

And it evolved from there, with scheduling and the Cardinals winning and losing and winning again, pushing themselves into the second round and giving us a chance to coordinate a night that worked.

 

I told a few friends about it, mostly for the purposes of, “I want some people to know where I am and possibly check in on me periodically to make sure he hasn’t ax murdered me.” Sensible precautions and whatnot. Sad that they’re necessary, but whatever, you do what you gotta do.

The day of, I very briefly considered dressing down, oversized t-shirt, totally casual, but who are we kidding. I got dressed nicely because (a) I like looking good, (b) you can actually learn a lot about the kind of decency or values a guy has re: women when you show up looking good vs. looking shlubby (more on this later), and (c) I’d just gone to Amazing Savings that day and come across some cheap new makeup and really wanted to try it out. What can I say; I’m an extremely girly tomboy.

I was a bit apprehensive that we’d have nothing to talk about, so I looked over the Cardinals’ and Dodgers’ rosters beforehand and noted some key stats — such as the fact that Adam Wainwright’s strikeout-to-walk ration is ridiculous — just to have them in my back pocket in case things lagged. (One thing about being a baseball fan who hasn’t followed a team in a while — you don’t have to know all the stats on every player by heart; you just have to know what to look for when you’re looking at a stat sheet, what’s notable. Like that strikeout-to-walk ratio and the fact that the Cardinals’ leadoff hitter doesn’t steal bases. Interesting factoids that give you context and tell you what to expect.)

 

Getting there was a bit of an adventure. I mean, the bus and trains were fine, but once I got out, no one I asked on the mostly deserted streets seemed to know where I should go, and I could not for the life of me orient myself on the map on my phone. I texted Sports Bar Boy that I was a little lost but on my way. He asked where I was, I told him, and he texted back the score.

I liked that. He didn’t offer to come find me or anything chivalrous like that — I wasn’t some girl he was trying to woo or impress; I was a bro and we were here for the game, so that’s what he texted me. I liked that.

So I finally found the bar by process of elimination, having gone in every other possible direction first. (Again, not my fault! I asked for directions twice.) The bar was well-lit and mostly empty, because most New Yorkers don’t give a darn about a Dodgers-Cardinals playoff series, and I had a feeling I knew which one of the guys sitting at the bar was him, but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure, so I sat down in a booth by the door, and texted him. He looked up, we waved, and I came over and sat down on the stool next to him.

Another almost unconscious assessment that I made as a girl, whereas guys generally don’t have to: He was a small guy. Bigger than me but not by much. I could totally take him in a fight if I had to. (No offense to him.) I didn’t even realize I’d made this calculation until much later; it’s just automatic.

 

We started talking, and it was extremely casual and chill. He updated me on the game, which was playing right in front of us with closed captions and no sound because there was an equally silent football game playing on the screen right next to it. I warned him that I was slightly rooting for the Dodgers because (a) Mattingly and (b) it would be a much more interesting series if the Dodgers put up more of a fight than they had so far.

I also told him I’d looked into how many serial killers are from St. Louis to see if the statistics were in his favor, and he was slightly shocked and a bit amused.

“But I’m not from St. Louis. My dad is; that’s why I’m a Cardinals fan. But I’m from DC.”

Crud. A whole three-second Google search for nothing. Unrelated: Did you know the only serial killer from St. Louis is guy named Maury Travis?

He was an easy conversationalist, and so am I, so the conversation flowed fairly constantly with a minimum of awkward pauses, and I want to say this: He never once broke from our bro-to-bro agreement. Again, it’s sorta sad that the bar for guys is so low that I’d base a character assessment on what he doesn’t do rather than what he does, but here we go — He never stared at me, never said anything about how good I looked, never attempted physical contact of any kind, never made any sexually-charged remarks, never looked at my chest (well, maybe he did peripherally, can’t say for sure, but definitely not overtly), never asked why I don’t date non-Jewish guys, never asked why I don’t drink, never acted like or implied that me being a baseball fan is unusual or sexy because I’m a girl.

The fact that I’m a girl barely came up at all in conversation; everything was thoroughly gender-neutral, except for at one point when he brought up the question of “Why aren’t there any female umpires?” To which I responded that there was one once (you can read about her here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pam_Postema) who made it all the way to Triple-A ball, but eventually left, possibly because the harassment was too much. And then we joked about me switching career paths and becoming an umpire, which prompted me to google when I got home and turn up this info sheet: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/umpires/how_to_become.jsp

 

I want to be clear that none of these things I listed above that Sports Bar Boy didn’t do would, in themselves, have been offensive. I like compliments and being appreciated for my femininity as much as anyone. In a dating situation, those are kind of non-negotiable; you’ve gotta think I’m sexy or what’s the point. But in a very clearly specified non-dating situation, it’s often unnecessary and uncomfortable, and it was so refreshing to spend hours with a guy and be treated purely as a person and not as a girl, regardless of how good I looked.

(Aside: I know I looked good because (a) I have a mirror and (b) I got hit on before I even got out of the subway, by some dudebro with whom I accidentally made eye contact for half a second from the other side of the subway car. He tried to catch me when I got out, and that conversation was over pretty quick:

Dudebro: “Excuse me?”

Me: *keeps walking*

Dudebro: “Excuse me!”

Me: *accepting that he’s not going to give up unless I answer* “Yes?”

Dudebro: “What’s your name?”

Me: *muffled exasperated laughter* “Sorry, no.”

Dudebro: “What, you don’t have a name?”

Me: “I have a name, but I’m not giving it to you, sorry.” [Note to self: invent a name to use in these situations. Miranda, maybe. Or Ashleigh. Or Buttercup.]

Dudebro: “Hey, it’s not like I asked you for a kidney.”

Me: “No, I know, I know, you’re just trying to start a conversation, but I’m sorry.”

Dudebro: *scrambling for a way to continue* “It’s – it’s just that you look familiar.”

Me: “I have one of those faces.” [I do, I really do. A former sex worker I met at a reading in the city told me a few weeks ago that I looked familiar too. But the “you look familiar” line is such a line. Forgive me if I’m skeptical. I was so not in the mood. And he got the message and dropped it.]

Anyway. Just saying, I’m sure I looked nice enough to hit on, but Sports Bar Boy respected every single boundary without making any deal about it. Kudos to him.)

 

He’d ordered some food (mini cheeseburgers and fries) and some beer, and ate while we talked and watched. I’d told him ahead of time that I wouldn’t be eating since the food wouldn’t be kosher, but the nice bartender lady kept me well-supplied with ice water.

Conversation bounced effortlessly from topic to topic. We discussed the pros and cons of the designated hitter. We commiserated about how weird it is to realize that professional athletes like Yasiel Puig (last name pronounced “PWEEG;” it is super fun to say) are younger than you are. We laughed how much more hilarious slow-mo Cialis commercials are without sound. We pondered the fact that superstar ballplayers don’t seem to become managers very often, and would anyone turn down a Cal Ripken Jr. or a Derek Jeter if they said, “Yo, I want to manage your team”? We discussed the Machete Order of Star Wars viewing and how he needs to watch Firefly.

We exchanged baseball stories — for instance, he told me that Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny had been singled out as manager material decades ago by his college baseball coach, so much so that the coach, who was in charge of scheduling all his players’ classes, made Matheny take Spanish courses so that wayyyy down the road, he’d be able to communicate with Spanish-speaking players, and voila, here he is as a manager of a team with several Latino players, including star catcher Yadier Molina, fluent in Spanish. (Isn’t that awesome?) And I told him about the game I went to where Mariano Rivera got his 500th save against the Mets, and how because of lineup switches and flukey rally circumstances, Rivera was forced to actually hit (which he’d done like once before in his career), and how the Mets, being the Mets, walked him with the bases loaded. His only career RBI. Classic.

We taught each other some stuff we didn’t know. Like I told him that originally uniform numbers in baseball were meant to signify the player’s place in the lineup, which is why Babe Ruth was #3 and Gehrig was #4 and DiMaggio was #5, etc. And once we’d gotten off on a sci-fi tangent, he became the first person who has ever satisfactorily explained to me why Boba Fett is such a fan favorite character despite having next to no onscreen character. (It stems from a couple of moments in the movies where there are indications that Darth Vader himself is wary of Boba Fett, which provided the impetus to fans to speculate and develop their whole Boba Fett mythos.)

The only time things got the teensiest bit awkward was when we moved from a discussion of Twilight to Mormonism, and I got a little defensive of Mormons because people like to pile on and insult them when any religion could easily be picked apart for the same sorts of reasons, and that’s not cool. So yeah. But we skated past that, no problem.

I went to the restroom once, and it occurred to me that I was leaving my glass of ice water unattended and that I’ve been told a billion horror stories of what could happen if you keep drinking from a cup after you’ve left it unattended. But I made a judgment call that Sports Bar Boy did not seem like a guy who carried GHB in his pockets with the intent of spiking girls’ drinks, and I continued drinking from that glass once I got back. And . . . I survived. Anticlimactic, I know.

 

The whole time, I had several friends I was in touch with, via facebook chat and texting. I explained to Sports Bar Boy that it was a precaution and that I wasn’t trying to be rude, and he seemed perfectly understanding. One of my friends was awesome enough to actually check in on me every half hour or so, which was good because I kept forgetting to text her since I was having a good time. Those checkup texts evolved eventually into references that I would complete — “It could be bunnies!” and “They forgot they were cows inside,” to which the only responses are, of course, “Or maybe midgets!” and “But then they remembered!”

One of my friends had forgotten that I was doing this that night and texted halfway through the game to make sure I was still alive. I replied, “He’s nice! Too upset about how the Cardinals are playing at the moment to even attempt to ax murder me!”

Another friend messaged me to gloat about the Dodgers finally playing well and that Sports Bar Boy could suck it.

Me: “My friend the Dodger fan is laughing at you.”

Sports Bar Boy: “Girl friend or guy friend?”

Me: “Guy.”

Him: “Tell him to go to hell.”

Me: *types he says go to hell* “My phone autocorrects ‘hell’ to ‘help.’ It’s very kosher. What would you have said if it was a girl?”

Him: *considers briefly* “Probably the same thing.”

Me: “Egalitarian. I approve.”

The Dodgers eventually won, to Sports Bar Boy’s chagrin. We carried on chatting for a little while after the game ended before shaking hands and splitting off.

*

I do things like this, not necessarily to Step Out of My Comfort Zone, but rather to expand it, and know for the future that something like this is definitely within my comfort zone. And I’d say it is — I met a fun, interesting, articulate person, had an evening full of no-pressure conversation and companionship, bro to bro.

Social experiment: Success. I’d definitely do it again.

Heartbreak (and baseball)

[I know that a lot of my friends don’t give a hoot about baseball and probably won’t read this. They don’t know what they’re missing.]

Former commissioner of baseball Bart Giamatti once wrote a famously eloquent essay on how the game “will break your heart,” how it is, in fact, “designed to break your heart.”

I used to think that was true, and it is to some extent. I’ve written about how baseball intertwines with passion and love and romance (http://yankees.lhblogs.com/2013/01/18/pinch-hitting-sarah-rosenberg), and I stand by that, purely from a sports-fan perspective. The ups and downs of a season, the ebb and flow of passion, the despairs and frustrations and joys of watching your team win and lose and win and lose, year after year after year.

But it’s come as a relief to me recently to realize that outside of sports fandom, in real life, it is people who will break my heart, but baseball never will. And it’s kind of wonderful to have something in your life that you enjoy so much, and to know that it will never hurt you like that, will never cut you that deep, will never make you bleed.

For me, baseball has become a repository of positive memories, a well so bottomless that it cannot be poisoned, even when pain comes into the picture.

I have been known to develop “trauma triggers” regarding things that remind me of past heartbreak or betrayal, triggers that, when unexpected, can flat-out ruin my day, render me sick or nauseous or, if I’m lucky, just plain miserable. Thankfully, they are few and far between. Several times, though, I was afraid that baseball could become one of those trauma triggers.

Because when you’re passionate about something, you share it with people that you’re passionate about, so you guys build memories around it. But then if those people break your heart, does everything they touched turn sour?

I never wanted baseball to be collateral damage in my relationships. That would suck.

But baseball is something I’ll share with anyone and everyone, especially people I like. I won’t shelter it and hide it just because I’m afraid of it getting tainted somehow or turning against me if things go bad. As a result, both of my serious relationships are steeped in baseball-related memories and if I tell you some of them, you might wonder how I can still enjoy baseball and escape those associations.

*

My first boyfriend and I started out as friends. Then close friends. Then really close friends. Then so-close-teetering-on-the-edge-of-dating-but-not-actually-dating. And then I invited him to a Yankee game.

I hardly ever go to games. In fact, I generally go once a year, when my uncle comes in from California in the summer and takes the whole family out to one. But that year, the midsummer game we were supposed to attend had been rained out and rescheduled for late September.

The thing about late September is that every night is a school night, and when you’re in elementary school and high school, the phrase “school night” actually means something. None of my little brothers or sisters were available. So it was just me, the college sophomore of the family, with a bunch of extra tickets that I would have to use or lose. I invited some friends, but nobody could make it.

So I invited him, even though he couldn’t care less about baseball. And I invited his dad. And then his older brother asked if he could come along, and I said sure why not. And we were adamant that it was not a date, because who the heck brings their family on a date? Not idiots like us, no sir.

Lemme tell you, getting into that game was an adventure. Possibly involving illegal activity. (Hear that, NSA?) Because apparently Yankee Stadium has this very strict no-laptop policy? And I was coming straight from school? With a laptop in my knapsack and nowhere to put it? So we got turned away from the gate twice, by two different guards. If I possessed normal embarrassment genes, I’d have been mortified. Instead I found a brown paper bag in my backpack that I pulled over the top of the laptop, so when we tried our luck with a third guard, he flicked through my stuff and assumed I just had something in a manila envelope that was not a laptop. And we were in!

Here’s where things get sappy. My first-boyfriend-who-was-not-yet-my-boyfriend-at-this-point had always insisted that he did not have a crush on me, that he just liked me a lot and thought I was a great person and friend and yeah he was interested in dating me but maybe not just yet? That was bull, fyi. And the Yankee game was where even the most oblivious person would have known there was something going on.

We sat next to each other, and he couldn’t stop staring at me. And when I’d look at him, he’d blush and giggle and I’d tease him and if his brother noticed, he’d tease him too. But part of the amazingness of being in a stadium is that it’s wide open and well-lit and breathable, but absolutely nobody is paying attention to you. Ironically, some of the best privacy you can get is in a stadium of 40,000 people. So we had a little bubble all to ourselves, and I was talking baseball at my non-fan-non-boyfriend and he was staring at me with those pretty blue eyes and that blushy smile and confiding in me that he really wanted to kiss me.

“You are so cool,” he said when I went off on some tangent about Lou Gehrig that I can’t remember for the life of me. “How did I get someone so cool?”

We retroactively declared it our first date.

Oh, and the Yankees won and clinched the division and Posada homered and Robertson got a double play and also the Red Sox lost and everything was perfect and beautiful.

*

My second boyfriend did not share the first one’s indifference toward baseball itself. On the contrary, he was a baseball fan. A baseball nerd. A baseball geek, actually. A stat-head who could talk about the game on my level and totally understood what it meant to me. Was even more invested in stats that I was.

But . . . he was an Orioles fan. Hated the Yankees with fire and brimstone and pitchforks. Thought Derek Jeter is a pompous jerk and said Jeffrey Maier ruined his childhood. I, well, I laughed at his pain. Quite a lot.

He crushed on me so hard so quickly, it threw me totally off-balance. When he read a piece I wrote where I quoted Cal Ripken Jr, he was so far gone, I probably could have asked him to marry me and he would have said yes. Wasted opportunity, that.

“Younger me used to look at couples where one was a Yankee fan and one was an Orioles fan, and think, ‘Those aren’t real fans,’” he told me. “And by younger me, I mean, like, a year ago me. But now I met you, and . . . I get it.”

(If that doesn’t make you go, “awwwwwww,” you have no soul.)

I changed my profile picture temporarily to me in a Yankee shirt just to annoy him, and he changed his to himself in his Orioles jersey. We sniped and bickered and teased, but really our insanity over the game was one more thing we respected about each other.

He bought me a Chanukah present about a month before the holiday, because he was that sure we’d still be together. We weren’t — we’d split amicably but painfully due to irreconcilable differences, and were keeping our distance when it finally rolled around. He gave the gift to a mutual friend to give to me.

It was a personalized Yankee jersey with my name on it. Not “SM” or “Rosenberg;” no, he went all out when he ordered it: “Sarah Meira.” With a #1.

It was the perfect encapsulation of our relationship: ridiculous, over-the-top, silly, way too intense — and unspeakably awesome.

“I can’t believe you gave the Yankees that much of your money,” I said when we did have a chance to talk again.

He shrugged. “What can I say? I really liked you. Still like you. Just . . . not like that. Well, I mean, yeah, like that, just not, I mean—I’ll just stop right there.”

He still posts sometimes about all the ways he hates the Yankees. And sometimes it makes me smile, because I know that the more he hates the Yankees, the more he must have loved me.

*

Both of these boys broke my heart. Well, we broke each other’s hearts. It was mostly nobody’s fault and everybody got hurt. Bottom line, there was heartbreak involved, and both times I was afraid that everything even slightly connected to it would be ruined forever. And as for something as deeply connected as baseball, I thought for sure it would bring me nothing but pain.

The summer after my first breakup, my uncle came in from LA with tickets as usual, and I was afraid to go to the game, afraid of ripping open old wounds. But I went because there’s seriously no way I’d turn down a Yankee game.

And it was fine and I loved it. No triggers. Intellectually, I knew the association existed, but emotionally I didn’t connect the two. And for the game we went to this year, I wore my personalized jersey and had a blast despite any misgivings I had about it.

You know why?

Because the truth is, however many baseball memories I have with my exes, that number is dwarfed by the number of baseball memories I have without them. And the infinite associations I’ve made and have yet to make.

Like the first time I ever went to a game, and all I knew was Derek Jeter’s name and I expected him to hit home runs every single time he came up. So I was confused when he didn’t swing properly and got out, until my uncle explained to me what a “sacrifice bunt” is — giving up your turn for the sake of the team. And that was Jeter to me from then on.

I remember how disappointed I was that Darryl Strawberry did not actually look anything like a strawberry.

I remember being in the stadium when Mariano Rivera got his 500th save.

Going to birthday party hosted by a middle school classmate whose dad was a sports agent, sitting in a private area of the mezzanine level of a Mets-Padres game, getting Vance Wilson’s autograph, and being one of the only kids there who actually knew that Vance Wilson was the Mets’ backup catcher.

Watching Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez pitch on TV against the Mets in the 2000 Subway Series and finally realizing that the game is about pitching, not about hitting.

Touring Fenway Park on class trips in 7th and 9th grades and seeing my teachers’ stunned faces when I knew more than the tour guides.

Getting invited by a friend to a Met game and rooting against the Mets, and then on the way home, taking the bus the wrong way and winding up on the other side of the Whitestone Bridge, waiting alone at an empty bus stop in the rain at midnight, babbling anxiously to my mother on my cell phone, which at that time was so new it was to be used only in emergencies.

The miracle comebacks in games 5 and 6 of the 2001 World Series, and the devastating loss in Game 7. A curse upon your house, Luis Gonzalez.

Listening to all the games on the radio alone in my room, learning the names of all the players, all the announcers, all the umpires.

Watching Ken Burns’ 9-part documentary on baseball (now 10 parts) on VHS.

Reading voraciously about the famous players in the history of the game and what made each of them different and special.

Learning to identify a good number of Hall of Fame players by their stats alone: Ty Cobb and his .366 lifetime batting average, Roberto Clemente and his exactly 3000 hits, Ted Williams and his .402 career on-base percentage, Mickey Mantle and his 536 home runs, Cy Young and his 511 wins.

Starting up conversations with strangers on buses and subways about the pitching matchups in the papers they’re reading.

Getting through the endless off-season by listening to the tape recordings of the 1998 World Series that my brother had made.

Writing a furious letter that I’d never mail to Jason Giambi after he was outed in the steroid scandal.

Coming into school during the 2003 playoffs and being greeted by my supposedly baseball-indifferent best friend squealing, “Andy was awesome last night!!”

Watching a game on TV with one of my Yeshivish female cousins and explaining what was going on, and her being utterly befuddled by my shtuss.

Going to Yankees Fantasy Camp for a week and coming late to the ballpark on Friday, at just the right time to accidentally run into Tino Martinez and get his autograph.

Sabbath meals at Fantasy Camp, where we were joined by some of the players in their fanciest dress shirts, and Jesse Barfield told us about the first time he ever stayed over with a white family as a minor leaguer, and what it taught him about cultural diversity and acceptance.

A cousin calling me all the way from Israel when the Yankees were losing so badly in Game 7 of the ALCS to Boston in 2004. “I know this stuff matters a lot to you, so I just wanted to offer my condolences and see if you were okay.” If I hadn’t already been crying, that would have done it.

*

The list could go on and on. The more I think about it, the more memories come up. Baseball has been part of my life for so long that it intersects with so many aspects, woven airtight. You can pull out one thread and the tapestry won’t unravel. It’s a constant, reliable as oxygen.

Whatever pain I have connected to this game doesn’t even make a dent in the outrageous amount of joy it’s brought me. In fact, any negativity has a tendency to get transmuted into positivity, like that really irritating friend who genuinely sees the bright side of everything. I can write about my exes and the team’s worst losses and my disappointments in the players and grin from ear to ear while doing it. The memories don’t hurt, because everything is baseball and nothing hurts.