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View From New: my kind of town, as baseball calls the tune

A flight from Chicago to New York with a die-hard fan and the Yankees as in-flight entertainment. Not bad.

Image: Daniel Morrisson/Flickr via Creative Commons

ONLY ONCE IN 60 years had the New York Yankees played at Wrigley Field, the beautiful Chicago Cubs ballpark. That was back in 2003, a momentous season for the Cubs.

They returned there this weekend and while I didn’t personally have an opportunity to go, I was tantalisingly close, having flown into Chi-Town on Thursday in order to drive to Northern Michigan on Friday morning.

But the excitement was obvious. For Cubs fans, this was their World Series, a chance to bring down the Dark Side of the Force.

On our way back, there was a notable presence of Yankees fans on the plane to Newark and one of them – Harvey – sat next to me. As I would soon find out, he had gone to the Friday afternoon game (Cubs win) and the Sunday night, ESPN-televised finale (Yankees win).

He spoke with great emotion about finally seeing the almost century old institution on Chicago’s northside.

American League fans like him rarely get the chance to watch their team play against the grand old ballclubs of the older National League, the Pirates and the Cardinals for example. The Cubs missed their chance at a World Series showdown in ‘03 when fan interference from the infamous Steve Bartman essentially swung Game Six of the NL showdown away from the home team and towards the Florida Marlins.

As our plane taxied for take-off, Harvey told me about the countless coats of paint, the ivy, the lack of any advertising or any big screen scoreboard. How a dixie band plays between innings and how the manual scoreboard manages to record a strike or a ball before the umpire even gets to signal.

And he admitted to shedding a tear. This was a life’s dream.

Happily, his Yankees were on ESPN again that evening and we continued to chat as an eventful first inning played out on the tiny screen in front of us. As inappropriate as it surely is to have live television on a flight, we accepted this new reality with open arms, even dividing the cost of the privilege to do so.

Then we settled in. It was 4-1 to New York after the first and what followed was inning after inning of impressive pitching, particularly by New York rookie Ivan Nova.

Baseball’s steady pace allows two strangers to come together like this. So Harvey told me about his life.

Turns out he’s a musician with an old school CV. A session artist, he played bass for people like Frankie Valli and Cher while also working on the first Broadway runs of Andrew Lloyd Webber shows like Phantom and Les Miserables.

Fantastically, his proudest claim to fame is playing bass on “Grease is the Word”.

But for all the cultural achievements he can look back at in life, it was baseball that stirred him up the most.

He was steeped in the sort of arrogance so essential to a Yankee fan’s psyche. When I told him about my Mets leanings, he sympathised. I tried to rebuff that with the watertight argument that following a successful team must be all the harder because when the lean years arrive, it hurts all the more.

He wasn’t buying it.

Batter after batter grounded out or flied-drove into the grateful hands of outfielders and we kept on chatting, sharing new music and discussing the possibility of a Phillies/Red Sox World Series – not a prospect he had any ability or desire to accept.

We landed during the top of the ninth and went our separate ways, out into the humidity of the New Jersey night.

That trip wasn’t as bad as it could have been considering the amount of wedding booze coursing through my veins.

Baseball made it all worthwhile.

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