02 October 2006

Yes and No

Luis Gonzalez had happily smacked 59 memorable dingers that magical year, but none of them made a sound like this one. The sound rumbled through the valley and rattled in the dell, and it still echoes today.

Several autumns past, between rescue and recovery, the New York Yankees won the AL East by 13.5 games, and promptly dispatched a pair of 100 win clubs to reach the 2001 World Series, where they were heavy favorites to win their fourth consecutive World Series title - and fifth in six years - against a 92-70 expansion team. That bears repeating: a fifth championship in six years.

Phoenicians hoped that cocky Curt Schilling would send a loud message on the Series' Game 1 stage, about our team's character, about belonging - and he certainly made memorable statements later, on the field and in the pressroom ( remember 'mystique and aura'). But this was way before any of that endlessly documented bravado.

Specifically, in the top of the first inning of the first game, Schill grazed Derek Jeter on the hand with an up and in fastball. Moments later, Bernie Williams barely avoided a high pitch himself, and unbeknowst to Bernie, dinked a fluke run scoring duck beyond third base. 1-0 New York. Visiting Yankee fans laughed more than cheered, hooting that the Series was over before it really began. Expectant locals bit their lips, shaken. Enduring Dodger or Met fans was one thing, but maybe the inebriated clowns from Yonkers on my left were really on to something. Maybe this was a different kind of baseball for which Arizona was unprepared.

What's worse, Tony Womack led off the bottom half with an anemic, one handed whiff off Mike Mussina. That's when we heard it. The unmistakable sound. It came from the bat of unlikely NLCS MVP Craig Counsell, who launched a surprising game-tying homer into the first row of the right field bleachers. This sound was more than the snap of ash on horsehide. It echoed later, in the 2003 Game Six finale at a hushed Yankee Stadium, if you listened closely to the hum of Josh Beckett's fastball. It rose from Jason Varitek's hand when he shoved it into A-Rod's face. It is the angry sound that questions convention, teaches right from wrong and starts revolutions...and it sounds something like this:


No, we are not the Padres, Braves and Mets, going gentle into that October night. No, we are not just happy to be here and no, we couldnt care less about your titled past and entitled present. We've made other plans.

Counsell, like so many others, had a poor hitting Series - and his homer didnt even win Game 1, a rather lopsided affair. But with due respect to all the mythic ballyhoo that followed, his swing made it a World Series to remember by delivering a shocking message at an early, critical juncture - to his teammates, the champion Yankees, and to players and fans everywhere. The message was No, and the Yankees have heard nothing much since.

Craig Counsell has been saying no his whole life. People have told him he's too small or too slow to play professional baseball, and an objective comparison of his skill set with those of his peers confirms he has no business playing in the major leagues at all - let alone as an integral figure on two improbable World Series champions. He's been a union rep, managing player interests and saying no to management. And despite being a decent enough fellow, he doesnt accomodate fans as universally as Gonzo. He's the only Diamondback, according to Mark Grace, who stood up to Randy Johnson in the clubhouse, when the Unit's self absorption threatened to distract from team goals.

That wasnt Gonzo's job. Gonzo was this team's Yes man. Counsell was its No.

We know that Couns hasn't hit worth a hoot for some time now and it is time for him to go. It's easy enough for the brain to process. And so we say, Thank You to little number 4, for the not so little hits and those things most of us never saw. We should smile, looking back, and say, "Good Luck" as Craig Counsell heads out the door for that last time - but each time we do a familiar sound cuts us off, and says what's really in our hearts.


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