Thursday, November 5, 2009

Radio Yankee Baseball and Hideki Matsui

Last night was almost the perfect night for me. On TV, I saw the New York Yankees win the World Series and Hideki Matsui, my favorite player, was the hero. 6 RBI’s in the clinching game. It doesn’t get much better than that. The only thing missing was John Sterling’s play-by-play, but even then I was able to hear Matsui’s heroics this morning on the Yankees’ website in Sterling’s voice.

As I have mentioned in Chico Lingo before, I have over the years become a Yankee fan. During the regular season, Yankee losses twisted in my gut for weeks, while Yankee wins propelled me into a giddy joy. I used to laugh at my brother Rudy who is an inveterate Dallas Cowboy fan, how he would lock himself in his room whenever the Cowboys lost and refuse to speak to anyone, how he would not eat.

Now I was up past midnight until the last out was made in a Yankee game. I thought the Phillies were focused and dangerous, always threatening to regroup and deny the Yankees their 27th championship. I rooted for Matsui whenever he came up to bat. I wanted A-Rod to get rid of his demons, Damon to outthink them again with his feet and bat, Teixeira to prove why a superstar is worth the dollars flung at him. Whenever the Yankees lost in the post-season, I couldn’t sleep. I had become my big brother Rudy.

But absolutely the best time I experienced Yankee games, better than even going to the stadium, was to hear them on the radio at night, as we drove to Connecticut to our weekend house. John Sterling, the voice of the Yankees on WCBS 880, and Suzyn Waldman are just an excellent radio team. Both are knowledgeable about the game, provide interesting, intelligent baseball conversation as each game slowly unfolds, and something about their repartee is genuine and easy to hear. It’s hard to explain.

At night, as I guided my Honda Pilot through the traffic on 684 and Route 22, the children asleep in the back and Laura on her Blackberry, it might be raining outside, or wind might be whipping the car around, or an idiot might be zooming past at 100 mph, but Sterling’s voice assured and expertly guided me through the game. When Matsui hit a homer (“A Thrilla by Godzilla!”), or the game ended (“The Yankees win! Thhheeee Yankees win!”), I could hear the roar of the crowd, I could see the field, and I imagined I was there, but in a better way: I was playing it in my head with Sterling’s help. His infectious excitement and his play-by-play are really light years ahead of the plodding, inane, even boring commentary I too often heard on TV during the post-season. I understand now why my brother Rudy would turn off the sound of the TV and listen to Cowboy games with his favorite radio announcer.

Cashman, Steinbrenner, Girardi, please don’t let Hideki Matsui leave as a free agent. I know Matsui has bad knees, and I know he’s getting old, but can youth have as much character, professionalism, or focus as Matsui? How much are those worth on a team? How much is that example worth on a team?

Matsui was and is an enigma, and I like that. I have taught many Japanese students, and one point I find interesting, and have researched, is that for many Japanese talking too much means not thinking. For American students, talking, debating in class is to have a voice, to declare who you are. But for the Japanese, it’s almost like verbal diarrhea: if you are talking, you must not be pondering seriously the issue at hand. I have been given articles on the different cultural meanings of silence, for example, in Japanese versus typical American business meetings.

I am also not a schmoozer, I like to observe, and so I also liked when Matsui would say little on TV. Pretending he knew no English helped him to stay within himself, to be left a relative unknown to American baseball fans. I didn’t find him flashy, or confused emotionally, or a bad sport about his limited role as a DH. He did his job, and that was that. A sort of anti-hero in our overexposed, overstylized media world. Keep him in New York.