God Returns to First

Notes from the grapefruit league, Yankees edition

—Torre stressed yet again that he'll only use Mariano Rivera for the ninth inning, to protect his arm. But he also made it clear that this was his call, not Mo's. According to Torre, Rivera's response was: "I understand what you're doing, boss. But when you need me, I'm ready." Of course. The Yankees' bullpen is shaping up impressively, but watching a mere mortal struggle to get out of the eighth inning while Rivera looks on from the pen . . . well, it's unfortunate that Yankee Stadium cuts off beer sales after the seventh-inning stretch.

—I'm sure that parts of Tampa are lovely. But the area surrounding the La Quinta Hotel on West Gandy Boulevard —where I stayed —is not one of them. Neighboring businesses include a pawn shop, a check-cashing place, Woody's auto-repair garage, and a Hooters. I don't think any of the players are staying here. Anyway, it's certainly been interesting, and at times exhilarating, but after two weeks I'm more than ready to head home to Brooklyn, craving vegetables and other food you can't find in a ballpark, my own bed, my dog, and, you know, the presence of other women. Seriously, I'm not particularly girly, but at this point I just want to get a manicure, rent Pretty in Pink, and talk about relationships.

It's time for games that matter—you can tell because half the press box (to say nothing of the team) is more focused on March Madness than anything happening on the field after the fourth inning. Sure, the fans at Yankee and Shea stadiums may be a little crazy sometimes, or irrational, or even cruel. But spring-training rooters—with their advanced median age and reluctance to play loose with their blood pressure—make me pine for the intense borough crowds. Relaxed atmospheres make me nervous. And if there's not a single fistfight in the stands, I don't see how you can call it a Yankees-Red Sox game.

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