… in Zaire.
Now, it wasn’t a tough choice for me to pass over such holidays as Independence Day (in East Timor), St. Ferdinand Day (in Spain) or National Day (in Cameroon) because Party Day is just so fitting, even if I’m pretty sure the folks in Zaire are talking about political parties as opposed to, say, toga parties.
All the same, Party Day it is and to begin my celebration, I want to wish my lovely wife — some of you from the old Daily News blog may remember her as “The Girlfriend” — an incredibly happy birthday today. We met on the first day of college, the only two freshman in an upper-level English class, and even though we didn’t begin dating right away, we could always inspire emotion in each other. We argued over “The Great Gatsby” back then – the class was called “The Short Novel” and was one of my favorites – but we made each other laugh and smile all the time; I just loved being around her. Today, it’s still the same. Writers might be supposed to use flowery and descriptive words, but I can’t think of any other way to say it than this: She’s the best. We just fit.
To me, that’s what “chemistry” is. It’s a subject that’s gotten a lot of attention with the Yankees lately and rightfully so; the new pie-in-the-face routine that A.J. Burnett brought over is one particularly public element, but there are others: The WWE championship wrestling belt that is bestowed nightly on the star of the game. The loud music. The laughing.
Yesterday there was a sign on the clubhouse door, available for all to see, reminding players that the “Kangaroo Court” will convene today at 3:15 p.m. All latecomers will take a $100 fine and, according to always-excellent Mark Feinsand, Mariano Rivera will be presiding (presumably not wearing a powdered wig – though that would be excellent if he did).
Kangaroo Courts, where guys can put each other on trial for alleged violations of protocol (like wearing an ugly suit on the road), are a staple of pro teams in all sports but the public nature of this year’s Yankee version is emblematic of its different feel. Joe Girardi said he believes chemistry is important because of the ups-and-downs of a long baseball season; it sounds simple, but players actually liking each other makes it easy to come up from the low points. “This clubhouse has come together really quickly,” Girardi said. “The guys like each other and they’re not afraid to get on each other.”
Johnny Damon, who started the WWE belt trend, was supposed to help “change the rigid Yankee culture” when he arrived in 2005, but that’s tough for one guy to do by himself. This year, the Yankees have several new players and that’s how the vibe of a team changes, Damon said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys here,” he said. “A lot of guys didn’t know what it was like here before, so they bring their own flair and so far it’s working.”
My feeling on chemistry is that it’s absolutely real and absolutely matters. Does it matter as much in baseball as it does in sports where players perform in conjunction with one another constantly (like basketball, hockey or soccer)? No, probably not. But baseball does have the longest season and I do think a good feeling among the players is probably worth a win or two along the way. A comeback after a tough loss that doesn’t fester or the ability to perk up after a late-night flight and early first pitch. Those are the days when being happy to be around your teammates can matter. And this year, one or two wins could make the difference in a tight AL East.
So go out there today, find someone you love spending time with, and celebrate Party Day the right way. You know the Yankees certainly will.