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Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Driving Public Enemy No. 1 up Sixth Avenue

By Mike Philbrick
Page 2

NEW YORK -- For most of the participants in Tuesday's MLB Red Carpet Parade, the question was, "What's it like to have a million people tell you they love you?"

For Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, the question was, "What's it like to have a million people tell you they hate you?"

Parade cars
As you can see, all the cars were lined up in orderly fashion before the parade.
It's a question you never want to be in a position to answer -- but that's exactly where I found myself Tuesday when I served as the official driver for Papelbon's tricked-out Chevy Silverado as it crawled up Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan.

Before you remind me that Papelbon plays for the Red Sox and the parade was in the heart of Yankee Universe, you need to know a little more about what went into the recipe for this disaster.

It all began Monday during a 50-minute session Papelbon had with the media. During that session Papelbon said, "If I was managing the [All-Star] team, I would close." A blasphemous statement! Hasn't he heard of Yankee legend Mariano Rivera? Of course he has because at the end of his interview Papelbon said, "Mariano Rivera will be closing the 2008 All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium. I'm making a statement right now, saying I don't want it, I want him to have it."

Both of those statements appeared in the New York Daily News on Tuesday, but only the first one was played up on the tabloid's notorious back page. This gave the million people lined up on Sixth Avenue on Tuesday all the reason they needed ("Hey, Papelbum!") to elevate Papelbon from semi-hated status to Public Enemy No. 1.

Now you know … so back to the parade.

The day started out as perfect as the weather, and you could tell that even by New York City standards something special was happening. How could you not? For two city blocks on 40th St., meticulously parked pickup trucks sat idling with placards on each cab's roof giving everyone a sneak peek as to what was coming.

Derek Jeter … Hank Aaron … George Brett … Albert Pujols … Willie Mays … Brooks Robinson … Bob Feller … Joe Morgan. The list went on and on.

Jonathan Papelbon's parade car
This car had no idea what it was in for on Tuesday.
I sat in my assigned truck with one of New York's Bravest, Al Serino out of Spanish Harlem, riding shotgun. Luckily, our truck was parked right next to the main loading area, so we had a front-row seat to see just about everyone. Most of the players brought their wives and children, and there were even a few moms and dads. As we got ready to move out, the retired Hall of Famers, Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez got the expected rock-star treatment from the New York crowd -- but what was surprising was how Red Sox like Terry Francona, Dustin Pedroia and even Papelbon received only a playful few boos from the crowd, followed by quick laughs and waves. They even got a few "Show me your ring!" requests from men and women clad head to toe in Yankee gear.

All seemed right with the world as we prepared to drive onto the red carpet on Sixth Avenue. But it was then that we made the biggest mistake of the afternoon: We drove onto the red carpet on Sixth Avenue.

The booing and yelling was instantaneous. It was like someone hit a switch the second we hit the carpet. It was like Ivan Drago entering the ring to fight Apollo Creed. It was like the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkov addressing the WWF crowds of the 1980s.

In the truck ahead of us, Justin Morneau was thrown a baseball to sign (it fell short, slamming into the side of the truck -- an event that would be repeated many times). Luckily for the fans seeking autographs, Morneau brought his wife, who spent the first couple blocks directing the roving cameramen to pick up the fallen memorabilia so Morneau could sign everything.

MANNY BEING MISSING

For most people, batting practice was the first time anyone saw Manny Ramirez during the All-Star festivities.

He blew off Monday's interview session at Yankee Stadium and he blew off Tuesday's Red Carpet Parade.

Did he have the same flu as Tim Lincecum? Did he lose track of time at Enrique Wilson's house?

I ask only because a little more than an hour before the parade was set to start, I ran into Manny on Fifth Avenue looking quite happy and healthy.

After we exchanged brief hellos, I walked one way and he went the other. Surprised? Didn't think so.

And this has been another episode of Manny Being Manny.
--Mike Philbrick
Seeing the success they had with Morneau, fans started throwing items at Papelbon to sign … all the while hurling insults as well and waving the now-infamous New York Daily News back page. Until the NYPD put a stop to it by ordering the players not to sign anything, our truck was pelted with taunts, baseballs and pens. It got so bad that at one point my co-pilot Al rolled up his window, saying, "I don't know what's coming at us next." To put it in perspective, this is a guy who is a member of El Barrio's Bravest, whose only negative comment about life in the FDNY is that he doesn't get to fight enough fires. Needless to say, it was getting ugly.

At one point Papelbon switched from riding on the wooden bench in the back of the truck to sitting on the edge of the tailgate. He played it off as if he was doing a favor for the fans, so his back wouldn't be turned to one side of the street, but it sure seemed like more of a defensive maneuver, hoping to calm his pregnant wife's fraying nerves.

Now, you need to know that the NYPD presence was huge, and at no point did I think someone was going to "get us." Still, you don't need to have someone taking a swing at you to feel like you just aren't welcome.

As the parade moved up Sixth Avenue, the caravan of trucks would occasionally stop. At these points, it seemed like the fans had booed themselves out, as everyone would turn relatively quiet. But then, as we started moving again, it was as if someone hit that switch again because there was a whole new crop of fans who had yet to wave their copy of the Daily News or deliver their "Mar-i-an-o!" chant or something else that had to do with the city of Boston and a vacuum cleaner. True, there were a few members of Red Sox Nation scattered among the crowd, but their cheers were hardly audible when Papelbon's truck rolled by. "We travel big," Papelbon said. "Wherever we go Red Sox Nation represents." But this time, they were the silent minority.

FOX Reporter
Charissa Thompson was waiting for the players near the finish line.
We finally arrived at the Fox review booth, where Papelbon and his wife were all smiles as they were interviewed by Charissa Thompson. Al leaned over to me and said, "Man, they should have given us the Popemobile for this guy," and we would later learn that's exactly what Papelbon was saying to Fox.

Our journey up Sixth Avenue was about to end, but before it was over, we ran into three guys -- let's call them uber-Yankee fans -- who were clearly vying for some sort of title as they delivered the most hateful things they could think of to accompany the half-a-peace-sign salute they were offering. As we prepared to round the corner and head for Central Park, Papelbon looked at these three gentlemen, then quizzically at his own hand, and decided to give them a salute of his own using the ring finger on his right hand, where his 2007 World Series Champion ring calls home. No need to repeat what was said -- let's just say those dudes didn't like what they saw.

We headed into Central Park, and immediately Papelbon tapped the side of the truck so he and his wife could get out. Afterward Papelbon's wife made a quick escape into the crowd, but the Red Sox closer stuck around to answer a few questions. "I pretty much expected that, but I did think we needed to be in a bulletproof truck. It was definitely kind of scary."

If you watched the parade on Fox, or even if you were on Sixth Avenue on Tuesday afternoon, you saw what 99 percent of the parade was -- the smiles, the cheers, everyone lovin' on baseball. But if you were around when Jonathan Papelbon and his wife drove by, you got a glimpse of the other 1 percent. And you got a chance to learn the answer to that question: "What's it like to have a million people tell you they hate you?"

Mike Philbrick is an editor for Page 2. You can reach him at michael.w.philbrick@espn3.com