- Gary Miller, MLB commentator
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• Those of us who get to visit major league parks every week tend to overlook that even an accomplished player is often visiting these magic places for the first time if he's a rookie or switching leagues. The Mariners' Jeremy Reed made his first trip to Fenway Park, then made his Yankee Stadium debut on Seattle's first Eastern swing.
Reed had actually been in the Bronx twice before. In April 2001, accompanied by his Team USA teammates from their tour of games in New Jersey, Reed made a side trip to Yankee Stadium, taking in a game the day the Yankees received their rings from the 2000 World Series championship. He was also there last October for Game 7 of the ALCS with tickets he got from the Red Sox's Gabe Kapler. But being in these shrines as a player was far different like actually getting to play the bizarrely contoured Fenway outfield in front of the Green Monster and center field triangle. In comparison, the storied history of Yankee Stadium, and the parade of greats that played there, made a deeper impression on Reed.
However, getting to Yankee Stadium was a much bigger ordeal this time. Leaving early from the Mariners' Manhattan hotel, Reed was anxious to get to the park to work on his swing in an effort to reach the .300 batting average he's made routine at every level. He never got the extra batting practice, but it's a good thing he left early or he might have missed the game.
Deciding to experience the subway, Reed counted on no less an authority than a ticket agent, who told him the wrong platform to wait on. The rookie took the "D" train for what was supposed to be "about a 20-minute ride." A little over half an hour in, Reed realized he wasn't at 161st street in the Bronx, but nearly at Coney Island which takes a long time to get to even if you intend to go there. A New York subway isn't exactly the most inviting place to ask for directions, but Reed eventually figured out the difference between uptown and downtown, and made it to the stadium a mere hour and a half after he left the hotel. As hitting coach Don Baylor assessed his first-year player's quandary: "In Japan, they actually walk off the car with you and physically put you on the right train. That's not likely to happen in New York."
• Baylor's been trying to get star pupil Adrian Beltre on track with limited success. At the end of an underachieving April, Baylor reminded the $64 million free agent his coach knew very well the pressures of signing a big contract and switching teams. Baylor told Beltre, "It says Seattle on your uniform now, not Seattle and Los Angeles. You have to leave the near-MVP, and all the past performance and expectations for the future aside, and stop applying excess pressure on yourself and just produce for your new team." That talk, and having wife Cassandra and daughter Sandra on the Mariners' last road trip, seemed to relax the MVP runner-up. But Beltre still seems to compound his struggles by shouldering too much responsibility for Seattle's offensive struggles.
• Maybe if Beltre was a bigger fan of the movie "Napoleon Dynamite," things would be going more smoothly. Because of Richie Sexson and Bret Boone, the quirky independent film became a pregame staple in the Seattle clubhouse. So much so that players got to nicknaming teammates after characters from the homage to nerds. Much of the team became so obsessed with "Napoleon Dynamite," they played favorite scenes repeatedly on a daily basis. But Beltre so despised the movie, he actually took it and hid it. The native of the Dominican Republic just didn't get the offbeat satire, and didn't want to. Unfortunately for him, Boone found his hiding place, and it went back in the DVD player a day later. For Beltre, the only good thing that came out of Seattle's seven-game losing streak is that it put "Napoleon Dynamite" on the shelf. Not even a favorite movie, let alone a meal or any other pregame routine, can continue in the face of a protracted tailspin.
• And back to the Bronx for a pregame ritual no manager can avoid no matter how disappointing the season, or how long the losing streak. Like each of his peers, Joe Torre sets aside about 20 minutes before each game to gather with the team's beat writers, radio, TV, or Internet reporters there that day to update them and answer any questions on the team's current state of affairs. Typically, this gathering is in the dugout. Most managers will notice, and even wait, if a regular is missing. For Torre, presiding in New York's first base dugout, making eye contact, let alone ear, camera, or microphone contact, is reserved for those fortunate or diligent enough to snuggle up when Torre first emerges from the tunnel. The throng, often 8-10 deep in every direction, filling more than half the dugout and on up over the rail onto the field. Between Torre's smooth baritone, the pregame rock music and Yankees' historic clips blaring from the JumboTron; reporters are often reduced to interviewing each other during or after the gathering. "What did he say?" or "Who's he talking about?" are constantly whispered at the back of the pack, in a professional game of "telephone." If Torre gets misquoted, it's not his fault. There may be no manager more adept at handling the scrutiny of the media he was once a part of. Torre's very savvy. If someone gets his story wrong, or turned a way he didn't intend, it's likely just part of the homefield "dis"-advantage of trying to get the word out over all the competing atmosphere there in the Bronx.
Gary Miller is a reporter for ESPN's major-league baseball coverage.
1dJesse Rogers and Jerry Crasnick