10/11/05 2:59 AM ET
Yankees fans feel the pain
By Ben Couch / MLB.com
They grow up in the area, like Greg Packer of nearby Huntington, N.Y. They travel from places as far away as Birmingham, Ala., to come to playoff games, like Patrick and Chaney Mills. Or they move to the city to advance their careers, like Devin Meece and Troy Lococa.
Monday night, those five fans and several hundred others packed into the Times Square ESPNZone to watch their favorite team take on the Angels in Game 5 of the American League Divison Series.
Martin Jajow, an asset manager at BlackRock, came to watch the game with co-worker Juan Suazo and their friend Alexei Tajzler. Jajow and Tajzler are both freshly minted Yankee fans, adopting a new team upon discovering they would be moving to New York earlier this year. Suazo is a born-and-bred Mets fan, but was rooting for the Yankees during the playoffs because the Mets didn't make it.
"I support New York," Suazo explained. "I like the Yankees -- but I love the Mets."
Jajow, a recent graduate of Michigan, decried the atmosphere at ESPNZone. He said he was used to the ambiance of rowdier, more clustered crowds. He cited Ann Arbor's "Skeeper's" (shortened from Scorekeeper's) bar as a favorite haunt. However, he did praise ESPNZone's size and abundant, large televisions.
"I like it," Jajow said. "I'm easily satisfied."
As the game began, fans packed three rows deep into the contained area behind the bar, which faced the 16-foot video wall broadcast of the game. They hooted and clapped upon the game's first pitch, and never really lost momentum.
Chants of "Let's Go Yank-ees!" and their accompanying claps thundered at key moments, breaths were held at every fly ball, and profanities were muttered at perceived bad calls or frustration when Yankee hitters couldn't come through.
Meece, at the game with Lococa, shouted (mostly) encouraging words throughout -- and with particular vigor for an unlikely target. Meece might well be Bubba Crosby's No. 1 fan.
"I get teased about it," Meece said. "When [Lococa] sees me at work, the first thing he'll say is, 'How's Bubba?' [Crosby] is living all of our dreams, whether he's playing all the time or not. In the worst-case scenario, he gets a front-row seat to the greatest game in the world every day. He plays hard, he works hard, he does everything he can."
The Yankee fans were occasionally harsh when catcalling the televised images of Angel players. A notable dig came after Los Angeles starter Bartolo Colon exited the game with what seemed to be back problems at the time (he actually suffered an inflamed right shoulder).
"He has back problems," Tajzler quipped, "because he needs to lose weight."
The fans began chanting and banging on tables during the commercial break and continued to do so all the way through Jeter's leadoff single. But when Alex Rodriguez followed by hitting into a double play, everyone in the room suddenly knew what disappointment sounded like: light, slow exhalations of air and the rustle of clothing that surrounds slumping limbs.
Singles by Jason Giambi and Sheffield re-energized the room somewhat, but with a nervous current that left people biting fingernails, clasping hands and soft-shoeing from foot to foot. With all eyes on the screen, Hideki Matsui grounded out to first, and the Yankees' season was over.
Fans swore, banged furniture with a frustrated fist or enacted the slow-motion spins of action movie gunshot victims simply because they couldn't express themselves any other way. They began the slow shuffle of the defeated, and Greg Packer knew that he would have to wait 'til next year for a Yankee championship.
"All we can do now is look forward to Opening Day," he said.
Ben Couch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.