Scorecard Memory: Section 39 Becomes ‘Trouble Pocket No. 1′

This is the a recurring series of recollections, where I will be marching though my old scorecards from my halcyon days in good old Section 39 of the Yankee Stadium bleachers. You’re invited to join me. Please bring beer.

April 13, 1996: Yankees host the Texas Rangers. (A Saturday day game following a night game.)

Ah, a Saturday afternoon game following another notorious Friday night game. Considering how much drinking was going on before Friday’s game, during Friday’s game, after Friday’s game, before Saturday’s game and during Saturdays game, it’s a wonder anything survives from this weekend’s scorecards at all. Considering how much drinking was going on after this Saturday game, it’s a wonder that the scorecard actually made it home with me.

This game was sloppy both on and off the field. Dwight Gooden got the call for the Yankees against the esteemed Roger Pavlik, and they were both whomped around. The game was long, and there was a veritable conga line around the bases for both clubs.

The key thing coming out of this game is the first mention of the term “Trouble Pocket No. 1.” By this point one of the scions of security out there admitted to me that there was an entire bank of cameras upstairs focused out on the bleachers, most of them aiming directly at us in Section 39. Why? Apparently certain areas of the Stadium were a more worthy watch than others for those sitting upstairs at camera banks seeking out any trouble percolating and we topped the list. Therefore, we were apparently known upstairs as “Trouble Pocket No. 1.” When you really think about it, that kicks ass.

Around this time, as if all the other silly gimmickry surrounding us was not enough, I was carrying around a dirty little teddy bear at the games. Akin to the ones you would win at a carnival for knocking down only one of three pins, this thing was bedecked in a Yankees jersey, but wearing no pants. Today, I have no idea where the hell it actually came from, and I don’t know what eventually happened to it, though I recall on more than one occasion fellow Bleacher Creatures did things like toss him out of a moving car. So let’s go with that … he’s on the side of a lonely parkway somewhere. What name did I bestow upon our furry friend? “Bear Ass.” Yes, “Bear Ass,” so even then I was quite the wordsmith. Gang Bang Steve explained this name away easily enough at the time by cracking, “Yeah, Bear Ass. As in I would be ‘em-BEAR-ASSed” to carry around that thing.”

Things like Bear Ass would reside in my vinyl duffel bag with all the holes burned through it from our dropped cigar ashes until I felt like throwing around some curse words to add emphasis to a heckle. For some reason no living being was allowed to curse aloud out there, but if I did it holding Bear Ass or a hand puppet aloft, security would let it go with a wink. Bear Ass was also famous for helping to calm the frightened children out there and many of them babysat Bear Ass while my wacky friends and I would be making beer runs. As I said, Bear Ass’ stint was soon to end in mysterious fashion, but on this day I noted on the scorecard the Yankees were rocking a 15-3 mark with him in attendance since his debut sometime in 1995. On this night, an old friend named Sandy put her young daughter on babysitting duty although I was deep enough into my cups that it was I who needed a babysitter. Sandy’s daughter also found time to steal the scorecard to draw circles and scribbles here and there. (Side note: Sandy once put me on the phone with Roy White who I guess was a friend of hers. I was drunk, but do recall thanking Mr. White for affording me joy over the years.)

Gang Bang Steve was also deep into his cups that day according to an eyewitness who was kind enough to note that on my scorecard. He was also in a bad mood, griping about Tina, the Queen of the Bleachers, who “did not pay $21.” This was emphasized in print a couple of times on the card. What Tina “did not pay for,” what even cost “$21 dollars” and why it had Steve so incensed is long lost to time. I can’t imagine why any money would be changing hands between Tina and Gang Bang Steve at any time, but he was going on about it enough to where it was duly noted.

“Tom’s a maniac!” was mentioned in the same handwriting that alerted us to the $21 dollar thing, so my act seemed to be playing well.

A couple of jokes on here were sparked from baseball caps. A guy was on hand wearing a Cincinnati Reds cap of all things, which started, “Cincy sucks! Bunch of umpire killers!” (A little background there: Cincy was the place where poor John McSherry had a heart attack on Opening Day and passed on the field, which we noted ended up pissing off 56,000 fans who just wanted to see baseball on that day.) “Hey, how about knocking off some American League umps?” we asked the Reds fan, who was stunned at the attention he was getting. A bit later, a creaky old man came up the stairs to hoots to “Get him, he stole Babe Ruth’s cap!” which he then removed and waved aloft.

For some stupid reason (probably because we were both too drunk to do it) Steve and I passed the scorecard off to Angel (she of the “I never knew Cal Ripken was black” fame) and she completely effed it up. She even copped to it by scrawling, “Angel’s fault  (I don’t know how to keep score)” on there, which makes you wonder why she bothered to take the scorecard in the first place. If it wasn’t for the wonders of online box scores years later I wouldn’t even be able to tell you who won this game after looking at this thing, let alone how.

This night happened to be Dwight Gooden’s first Yankee Stadium start in pinstripes, and there seems to be a message on the card alluding to this, but it’s vague so I’m not really sure what it’s actually trying to say. In one of our many scorecard boners over the years we mentioned how it was the first Yankee Stadium start for Andy Fox, and I can confirm after all this time we were off by a couple of days. He actually debuted two days earlier on home turf, and I was nowhere to be found for that historic event, although I’m sure I have lied about that to impress girls somewhere along the line. While I’m at it I can also confirm Andy Fox’s middle name is Junipero. (You’re welcome.) He ended up going 1-for-3, scoring a run and stealing two bases, so he was out there spreading all kinds of false hope around.

As always the opposing outfielders were under attack, and people were finding all sorts of ways to rhyme things with “Greer” to get under his skin. Folks were also enjoying calling Juan Gonzalez his popular nickname of “EEEE-gor” in mocking fashion, and by this time the sniping was going both ways, and he was trading barbs and insults with us on a regular basis. He deserves recognition as one of our all-time favorite foes for always mixing it up with the fans.

Ah, I see my old buddy Ian’s beeper number on here. I’m going to assume 16 years later that it’s no longer up and running, but if anyone wants to give it a go it’s 917-329-2263.

A couple of notes from Steve’s drunken scrawl, which I learned to read over the years the way a druggist somehow reads a doctor’s handwriting. “Oriole fan busts his ass in the tunnel” which is fun and to the point, sort of reminiscent of the old “an old man fell down the stairs” that got this whole thing started back on a 1993 scorecard. There was also a direct, “see you in September, di*k-head!” Why this was said and to who is up for debate, but maybe it was about Tina snapping back at Steve regarding the $21 he was whining about. To cap off the loony notations on here, when Texas notched three runs in the seventh to take their first lead of the game, Steve earmarked this event with “Weak-ass 7th inning.”

In your random factoids of the day, it’s noted that at this early stage of the season the two teams with the worst records in baseball were the Red Sox and Mets, which is always nice to see. In other baseball news, Alejandro Pena was appearing in his final major league game that day, so there was some history going on after all, even with us wrong on the Andy Fox milestone!

The Yankees lost this ugly one 10-6, getting outhit 14-11. Wade Boggs, Paul O’Neill, Ruben Sierra and Joe Girardi all had two hits for the good guys, and Jim Leyritz contributed a first-inning home run. Your Yankees lineup:

1. Wade Boggs, 3B
2. Jim Leyrtiz, LF
3. Paul O’Neill, RF
4. Ruben Sierra, DH
5. Tino Martinez, 1B
6. Bernie Williams, CF
7. Joe Girardi, C
8. Andy Fox, 2B
9. Derek Jeter, SS

As for the hill, after Gooden was smacked around, Mariano Rivera came in for an inning-plus worth of relief, followed by Steve Howe and Bob Wickman.

(Funny side note related to some of the evening’s participants: Not long before this during a pregame, a bunch of us gazed over the fence as the Yankees wrapped up BP and watched Jeter and Mariano standing a few dozen feet from each other there in the outfield having a lazy catch. “That there is the future of the Yankees” someone not identified said with fervor, and it made the card. I’m sorry I can’t give that person the credit now, but yes, that was spot on.)

The Rangers countered with:

1. Darryl Hamilton, CF
2. Mark McLemore, 2B
3. Will Clark, 1B
4. Juan Gonzalez, RF
5. Mickey Tettleton, DH
6. Dean Palmer, 3B
7. Rusty Greer, LF
8. Dave Valle, C
9. Kevin Elster, SS (LOL)

Gonzalez (that pain in the ass) went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and Hamilton added three hits of his own. After Pavlik was chased after five pedestrian innings, Gil Heredia and Ed Vosberg wrapped things up. On a comic note, Pavlik also made two errors on the day, which was surely good for a laugh. Then again, at the end of the day and with a win under his belt, he was 3-0, so I guess the last laugh was on us.

Let’s roll with a quickie profile, and how about Dave Valle, who started on this night over the venerable Pudge Rodriguez.

Valle was yet another catcher that stuck around a long time because he was a wall behind the plate and a defensive dynamo. A Bayside, N.Y. native who remains the only major leaguer to come out of the hotbed that was Holy Cross High School in Flushing. He plied his trade from 1984-97, moving from Seattle (where most would recall his exploits) to Boston to Milwaukee to Texas. 1996 was pretty much the end of the road for him, so we were happy to get our last looks.

Valle played 970 games in 13 seasons, with a lifetime average clocking in at a piddly .237. He did loft 77 home runs, and drove in 350. From 1991-93 he played in 132, 124 and 135 games for Seattle, so he was high-profile, but he usually hung around 90 or so games in a given year. In ‘93 he was hit with a whopping 17 pitches to lead the league, so I’m guessing he was pissing people off and paying for it. He stole five bases in his vaunted career, but was caught seven times. (Way to go, there!) He had a 258-413 walk to strikeout ratio, that’s OK. He even made $2.3 million in 1993! Originally a second-round pick in the 1978 draft, he was born in 1960 and can currently be seen making appearances on MLB TV after a stint of well over a decade in the Mariners’ booth, where he still does “spot starts” to this very day. His page on Baseball-Reference 15,829 views as of Aug. 2 seems sadly scant. I was glad to see him play!

As for this weekend affair, there was a pathetic showing of 19,603 on hand, which I blamed on a “big wind.” The game slogged along for three hours and 32 minutes and your umpires on hand were Rocky Roe handling the plate, the late and lamented Durwood Merrill (1B), Gary Cederstrom (2B) and Dale Scott (3B).

Thanks for accompanying me on a trip to an otherwise nondescript Saturday afternoon in the Bronx in April of 1996. There are crazy things afoot for the next one, so be there!