(Note: I’m aware the links aren’t working. I’m totally fixing it.)
Right field. Section 203. Yankee Stadium. This is the home of the Bleacher Creatures, some of the strongest supporters in North American sports. Our closest resemblance to soccer fans, well except for our MLS fans who are kind of like soccer’s version of Royals fans. I’m not an official Creature, but I like to act like one when StubHub tells me the price is right (which they won’t have the right to do next season). I once brought a girlfriend to sit there, she just didn’t get it. Why didn’t we have chairs… chairs with backs? Why did we spend half the game standing, not even sitting on our backless non-chairs? That’s when I knew it wouldn’t work out. That’s because Right Field at Yankee Stadium isn’t right for everyone.
Right Field at the Big Ballpark in the Bronx was for Paul O’Neill. Passionate, loud and gritty, that could describe both the Creatures and O’Neill. In a sense, both are New York. After O’Neill retired we had some Right Fielders. All of them talented, some very loud, but they weren’t New York. They were Atlanta. They were LA. They were LA A of A. They were Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Then in 2009, all but thrown out of Chicago, came Nick Swisher. O’Neill was the working man’s New York; let’s call him Woodside, Queens. Swisher is gritty and passionate in a different way. Bright smile, hardworking and has all the talent with none of the respect; he’s Off-Off-Broadway.
Swish wasn’t supposed to play Right Field. He wasn’t even supposed to play Right Field after the Yankees signed Mark Teixera to play 1B. Then on April 9 against Baltimore, Hideki Matsui would take a night off and Xavier Nady would DH. Swish got the start and went 3 for 5 with a HR and 5 RBI. Less than a week later he was the starting Right Fielder. Ok sure, he had some help from Nady’s injured elbow. But that’s New York, pal. Give an inch and we’ll take a foot…314 feet to be exact. A few days later Swish would throw an inning of relief against the Rays, even striking out Gabe Kapler.
From then on, Swish became the guy New Yorkers would be if we could play as well as he does. He became the guy that played how we played as kids. When he made a sliding catch, he came up grinning, like… God forbid… He was playing the game he loved. He laughed. He smiled. He played. When we watch A-Rod (Sorry Alex, of course I’m going to compare a fun loving guy to you.), we’re watching a man, albeit a very talented man, doing his job. No one volunteers to stay late at work because we hate jobs. We leave work early to watch grown men play a game we’d play everyday for free. A game that every summer we pay $250 to play on unraked city parks. But on those city parks, we all play passionate, loud and gritty. We play for fun. Just like Swisher.
105 HR, 349 RBI, .367 OBP are great numbers, but it’s the man himself we’ll miss the most. In a city where celebrities hide from the public, Swish was a man of the people. Our new Right Fielder, Ichiro, is a rejuvenated first ballot Hall of Famer, but he’s not the guy sharing a beer with you as he wins Trivia Night with his Model Fiancé (She’s now his wife. And I’m still jealous) Joanna Garcia at Southern Hospitality.
Thanks for the memories Swish. As a wanna be Creature, this time I salute you.
Follow Chris Luther on Twitter @chriscantlose