Funny how insignificant, nondescript moves in sports (or the arts for that matter) seem to spur memories that have laid dormant for oh-so-long. Recently, the New York sports media mentioned that the now deceased Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle came to the Big Apple this time last year.
In a much ballyhooed last minute trade, Lidle (together with Bobby Abreu) represented the piece of the puzzle that was going to push the pinstripes over the edge. Well, we all know that did not happen, and what did was a piece of New York lore etched in the citizens' memories much like, but to a lesser degree, 9/11.
It was the the summer of 1980, the year John Lennon was assassinated, the year we all heard the words Shiite terrorists for the first time in connection with the attack on the American Embassy in Tehran, and the year I graduated from Tulane University. As a gift for this remarkable feat, I was given a Euro Rail Pass that entitled the holder to unlimited rides on the European rail system, an open-ended round trip airline ticket to Paris, and with a few dollars saved up, I hit the summer European backpack circuit along with lots of other teenagers from around the world.
I am a pretty well informed, notoriously opinionated New York sports fan. The Yankees were never a priority in that regard, I left that for the New York football Giants, but my dad was an extremely rabid New York sports fan – I guess I got that bug from him. It did not really matter to him which team was playing , he would root for the Mets, Jets, Knicks, it did not matter. While I was traveling throughout Europe I tried to keep in touch with the goings on, sports and otherwise, in the U.S. via the International Herald Tribune, but again, the real priority at the time was where the parties were being held, which band was playing in a small Roman amphitheater in Frejus (Santana!), and what time the next train was leaving for Brindisi. These were all monumental issues for me at the time – that, and where was I going to sleep that night.
So, after two months of this carousing, my wanderlust faded, and the intense desire to experience a hot shower took over and I decided enough was enough. After a number of calls stateside, the decision was made to fly home in the middle of August.
I was quite an independent teenager and it was the opinion of my folks that if I could get to Europe on my own I was quite capable of finding my way back from the airport on my own. Plus, it's a huge pain in the ass getting to and from JFK airport. But, on this occasion, my dad found the time to pick me up after a long and arduous intercontinental trip. My father always found the time to make his presence felt when it meant the most to me. When we had a key soccer game in high school he would make his way up to the North Bronx to watch, and root us on and then take us home, but not after taking me and a few friends out for a burger or two.
So, when I exited the international terminal, backpack in tow, unkempt and unshaven, and saw his VW Squareback idling in the shadows I was, needless to say, delighted to see him! We immediately caught up on our two months worth of pleasantries and when he put the car in gear he shot me a look with a real sly smile and said I should have seen the game Gaylord Perry pitched the night before – a real gem! His excitement and enthusiasm rubbed off on me and and I bellowed: "Gaylord Perry, when did WE get him?"
Well, the Yanks traded for him on August 14, sending Ken Clay and a minor leaguer to the Texas Rangers for him to secure first place in a tough race with the Baltimore Orioles. This was the year the Yankees lost to the Royals in three games in the playoffs, who then in turn lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies behind a dominating Mike Schmidt and beguiling Steve Carlton. The following strike-shortened, bifurcated year found the Yankees making the World Series but after winning the first two games, proceeding to lose the next four in a row.
So, it is with bittersweet memories I recall the last time the Yankees played in the pre-strike era, reaching out to secure that late summer gunslinger who would play a small role in a Yankee pennant chase and stirring those memories of my father. And it is with those same bittersweet thoughts that I recall those halcyon dog days of summer long ago when I could talk sports and anything else with my Dad, who passed away three years ago, and still harken back to those "real" life problems, you know the ones – like should I see Van Morrison at the Montreux Jazz Fest or get on the train with that cute Danish chick? I know what advice my Dad would have given me.