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July 28, 2014

BBQ State of Mind

The House Hideki Built

by Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman

Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman, the proprietors of Cespedes Family Barbecue, are taking another baseball trip and chronicling their travels at Baseball Prospectus.

New York City is a place with lots of stuff. In fact, it probably has the most stuff, of anywhere, in the entire world. Besides the 10 Million or so people who live here, New York has lots of parks, buses, angry people, nice people, and a whole lot of smelly trash. Most importantly, New York City has baseball. From the early days of the New York Knickerbockers and the Brooklyn Bridegrooms to the current day Yankees and Mets, New York has a long and passionate baseball history. Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Willie Mays played in this city. So did Benny Agbayani and Lyle Overbay! Baseball means a lot to New York and New York means a lot to baseball, so we thought we’d do our best to mess it all up.

And who are we? We are Jake Mintz and Jordan Shusterman. If you know us, you probably know our blog, Cespedes Family Barbecue. We tend to focus on the more comedic aspects of baseball because baseball, after all, is a game and should be treated as such. Earlier this summer we wrote a series for Baseball Prospectus about our annual cross-country roadtrip, which you can check out here. This series about our week in New York City should be similar to that other series, but much taller and with way less living space.

Day 1: Yankee Stadium by Jake Mintz
The problem with the moniker “The City That Never Sleeps” is that sometimes people like to sleep. Groggy from our relatively incomplete slumbers, Jordan and I rose from the hilariously undersized beds that belong to my 10- and 9-year-old cousins, ready to experience The House That Hideki Built (Yankee Stadium). After throwing on whatever ridiculous shirseys we remembered to pack (Vernon Wells/Yankees for me, Felix Hernandez/AquaSox for Jordan) we made our way downstairs to the distinctly scented streets below.

My dad grew up in Brooklyn and I visit my family in New York at least twice a year, but I still feel like a gringo at a quinceanera whenever I attempt to navigate the subway. The whole experience feels like I’m way behind on a Mark Buehrle fastball; it’s simple and I’ve seen it many times, but I just can’t seem to figure it out. Once I got my bearings. Jordan and I boarded the ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP train up to the Bronx.

From the outside, Yankee Stadium doesn’t look like a stadium at all. It looks like the world’s largest mausoleum preemptively dedicated to the great Derek Jeter. Upon arriving at the park we were informed by a variety of sources that this season will be Derek Jeter’s last. I saw “RE2PECT” so many times I actually forgot how to correctly spell “RESPECT.” As you walk around the concourse you get this weird feeling that even from the grave George Steinbrenner is finding ways to take your money. “Oh, it’s 27 dollars for that cheesesteak? Well I sure am hungry...” It’s also important to remember that a small sliver of the money I paid went to Brendan Ryan’s stamp collection.

Roll Call at Yankee Stadium is unlike any other tradition in Yankee Stadium in that it features yelling in an organized and coordinated fashion. The head honcho of the Bleacher Creatures, Vinny Milano, leads the entire section in a rousing cheer of each Yankee starter’s name. Listening to 350 people chant Zelous Wheeler’s name as loud as they can is a rare but amazing experience that has to be on any insanely depressed baseball fan’s bucket list. Vinny and his buddies are out in those bleachers every single home game, which is amazing because that means watching Zelous Wheeler play all the time. “It’s been a long homestand, man," he explained to us in a hoarse, but still strong voice. “Gonna be good to get some rest.”

Game Notes by Jordan Shusterman
Both the Toronto and New York lineups induced a large number of puzzled looks throughout the right field bleachers. There were many questions to be asked. Dan Johnson is DHing for the Jays? Like, THAT Dan Johnson? Dioner Navarro is batting cleanup? Brian McCann is a first baseman now? There’s a baseball player named Zelous?!? WHY ISN’T JETER BATTING EVERY TIME?!?!?!

Toronto left fielder Melky Cabrera spent the entire bottom of the first inning violently signaling toward Yankees reliever Dellin Betances in the bullpen. It left us wondering how in the world those two even have a connection, let alone what they could have been yelling at each other about. Baseball is weird.

In the top of the fourth inning, the Yankees employed the shift against Jose Bautista. They shifted second baseman (!!!) Brendan Ryan to the other side of second base, leaving first baseman (!!!) Brian McCann to cover the entire right side of the infield. Bautista smoked the ball to Jeter’s left where Ryan made an outstanding diving play to rob Joseph Bats of a hit. Ryan stood up and flipped the ball to Jeter, who was understandably staring in awe of what an actual plus defensive shortstop looks like nowadays. Ryan is arguably one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball and he is playing second base because Jeter. This play was just a wonderful reminder of that.

One of my favorite players to watch over the past few years has been Carlos Peguero. I’m fairly confident that I’m the first person to write the sentence, or at least the first person to write that sentence here at Baseball Prospectus. Anyway, Peguero is a gigantic left-handed slugger who has struck out in 41 percent of his 205 career major-league at-bats. He has some of the worst plate discipline I have ever seen, but sometimes he hits the ball farther than most people can hit the ball. He’s one of those guys. He’s currently stalled in Triple-A with Kansas City and might never see any more meaningful playing time in the big leagues. This makes me sad. Luckily, Juan Francisco is still around! Juan Francisco has struck out in 37 percent of his 932 career major-league at-bats. Francisco can also hit the ball farther than most people can hit the ball. Juan Francisco once hit a home run out of Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Out! He hit it out of the stadium! He didn’t hit the ball of Yankee Stadium yesterday, but he certainly gave it a good effort with a towering second-deck shot to right field in the top of the 5th inning. Keep it up, Juan Francisco!

What’s Next:
We are going to break out our antidepressants, call our therapists, and go watch the Phillies and Mets play baseball for three hours. Fortunately, it’s #BartoloDay, which means we are going to get dangerously close to the confounding situation that is Bartolo Colon’s midsection. I hope he has a pouch like a momma Kangaroo that I can crawl into and live in until I’m ready to take on the world by myself.

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