Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Prelude to Armageddon, Part I

Painful Post-Game, Sad Sunday

After a storybook ALDS clincher for the Yankees, the clubhouse went quickly from celebration to depression.

On the superficial, but still painful, side, Tom Gordon learned that some people just can't be trusted to pop their own champagne. Personally, I blame George -- he spends $180 Million on a ballteam, then doesn't invest the additional few thousand dollars it costs to get a sommelier.

Anyway, Gordon took a stray cork in the left eye, which hurts like hell (please, don't ask). What this means for the best setup guy in baseball is unclear. I wouldn't want to step into the batter's box with an eyesight-impaired flamethrower like Flash on the mound.

When I first heard about this injury, I thought "what kind of idiot pop a bottle of champagne near someone's face?" The mere mention of the word "idiot" makes me think of Kevin Brown, but then I realized that this was not a cork launched in anger -- you can bitch about Crazy Eyez' mental stability or his frailty, but not his accuracy.

So my best guess is the inimitable Run Fairy, Felix Heredia. Nothing personal, not saying he's mean or anything -- just pointing out that he's a great candidate to negligently injure a teammate. The Daily News even had some weird quotes from Heredia about the injury.

The more serious news in the Yankee clubhouse concerned Mariano Rivera. Rivera learned after getting the win in Game 4 of the ALDS that two relatives -- cousins, a father and son, had died in his mansion in Panama.

The story is that the two were electrocuted while taking a swim in the mansion's pool. Apparently, the caretaker booby-trapped the pool "to keep [Rivera's] dogs out" and Rivera's cousins didn't know about the danger until it was too late.

My heart goes out to Mariano and his family. Some things are more important than baseball, and the guilt he probably feels about this must be awful. The whole thing sounds completely bizarre, but it reminded me of my youth in the Dominican Republic. A surprising number of our friends and neighbors would concoct strange, Wile E. Coyote-style death traps to protect their property. These would range from decorating the tops of their walls with broken bottles, to the use of barbed wire and electrified fences.

One of the worst, which actually happened after we'd moved back to the States, involved a Bodega owner who bragged about his "security system". Turns out he'd rigged a sawed off shotgun under the counter by the cash register. If someone tried to rip him off, he'd just step on a pedal and blam! no more robber.

So one day my dad's in his shop, shooting the breeze with the guy, and blam, this jerry-rigged spring gun goes off right by where my dad had been standing a moment before. I'm assured the bodeguero built a safety latch into the next generation of his invention.

Rivera went down to Panama to bury his relatives, vowing to return to face the Red Sox. It's unknown if he'll be back in time for tonight's Game 1 of the ALCS. Between this and Gordon's freak injury, the Yankee bullpen might be quite thin for the first few games against the Sox.

As Saturday night turned to Sunday, things got even more depressing with the news of the untimely deaths of Christopher Reeve and Ken Caminiti.

Caminiti, the one-time MVP and All-Star thirdbaseman for the Padres and Astros, died in New York of heart failure. The buzz about his death is mainly about steroids -- Caminiti admitted he was juicing in his MVP season, and the media types love to connect the dots (scientific evidence be damned). The thing to remember about Caminiti was that he was an addictive personality overall. He didn't simply abuse steroids, he used all sorts of drugs -- cocaine and alcohol were big favorites -- as part of an unrelenting compulsion not to accept himself as-is. Lord only knows what Caminiti thought the drink and the drugs and the 'roids would transform him into ... Babe Ruth, maybe? I just hope he's at peace now.

Christopher Reeve had nothing to do with baseball, but his death also touched many lives. The former Superman actor lived the last years of his life a quadriplegic, the result of an equestrian accident.

He managed to turn his personal tragedy into both an inspiration and a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God warning to the world. To see someone who had been such a model of athleticism paralyzed in a wheelchair brought the message home to many that we're only one bad day away from unbelievable disaster. The fact that someone receiving basically the best health care money could buy died of complications from an infected bed sore is an even more sobering realization.

Throughout his period of disability, Reeve was a spokesman for spinal injury research. He never apologized at the fact that his advocacy efforts had a selfish angle -- he wanted badly to walk again, to feel again. He wanted a cure for himself as much as for anyone else. I always respected that. He will be missed.

Next: I'll get to the Red Sox, hopefully before game time...

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