“A Yankee Curse” by Steve O’Connor

With warm weather forecast for the next few days and spring training underway in Florida, Steve O’Connor shares a baseball story:

I have a cousin several years my junior named Michael Stirk who moved to Chicago after college. I rarely see him, since Chicago is way past Worcester, and since I got married I don’t get around much anymore. Or, to paraphrase Henry Thoreau, “In recent years I have traveled a great deal, in Lowell.” I am kept informed of Michael Stirk’s adventures by another cousin, though, whom I do see regularly, because she lives about fifty yards from me. Michael seems to have had quite a few adventures, and is apparently somewhat of a raconteur. My little cousin Mike is a civil engineer. I hate it when my younger cousins are smarter than I am. He’s also a rock and roller, in a band called Windows Nine. My cousin’s band was booked to entertain the crowd at Cummisky Park, before a game seven that was never played since the White Sox swept the Astros. I hate it when my younger cousins are more talented than I am. He said that that was one gig he was happy never to have played, because the World Series sweep meant more to him.

Oh yeah. He’s a big baseball fan. His loyalties are divided pretty evenly between The Boston Red Sox and The Chicago White Sox. They’re both American League, right? What I know about baseball would fit in a thimble and you’d still have room for a gallon of water, but I believe they’re both American League and so they could never take to the diamond as World Series opponents, but if that could happen, I believe that Michael would come down as 51% Red Sox fan, and 49% White Sox fan.

You get the picture? It was in October of 2004, as the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees were preparing to square off in what many believed would be the final game of the ALCS championship, because the Yankees were up three games to nothing in the seven game series. Mike and two of his business associates went to meet a client to discuss some project that my cousin’s firm had been hired to plan and direct. One of those things engineers like to do, build a bridge or a tunnel or a tower. I can’t believe my little cousin can build a bridge. Notwithstanding, the client came into the meeting wearing that most dreaded article of apparel, a New York Yankees jacket. My cousin’s eyes narrowed. A shiver of disgust tinged with abject horror traversed his spine. His palms began to sweat, and he asked himself just what kind of a person he was dealing with.

His two associates cast nervous glances at Michael, hoping that he would not run out of the room, but my cousin had already donned the polite mask of the frozen smile, a mask which became even more inscrutable as the prospective client, wasting no time on the weather or their health, launched into a speech which he seemed to know by heart. “Big game on tap, guys. Get the broom, eh? You know, there is nothing like sweeping the Boston Red Sox in a championship series. There is just nothing like it for a Yankees fan. They are the biggest bunch of whining babies. I never saw a team that has so many excuses year after year. You guys Yankees fans at all?”

“Well, you know…” someone muttered, as my cousin’s frozen smile began to crack.

The client directed them to step into his office and said he was going to get them some coffees. When he was gone, my cousin’s business associates asked him, “Are you ok? Stay calm! Don’t say anything!” Only gradually did they follow the look of indignant horror from Michael’s eyes to their surroundings. The man’s office was a shrine to the New York Yankees. There was a massive photo of Yankee Stadium behind the his desk, framed Yankees baseball cards, banners, programs, a photo of the client himself in the Yankee dugout with Derek Jeter, and most chilling, a poster sized framed and autographed photo of Bucky Dent. Michael Stirk had entered the Temple of Doom. “Mike! Take a deep breath!” his colleagues urged him.

“I’m all right! Let go of me!” he said, shrugging them off. And then, a flame kindled behind his blue eyes, and he told his brave companions, “Keep a lookout!” At the same time, he drew his wallet out of his suit coat pocket, and extracted a large chip of green paint from behind his driver’s license. “What are you doing?” they asked nervously, looking out the door and along the corridor, because Michael had opened the center drawer of the client’s desk, and was crumbling the chip about inside amid its contents. “It’s a chip of paint from The Green Monster,” he said, flinging the remaining crumbs about, and dropping a few between the frame and the glass of Bucky Dent’s smiling image, which seemed for an instant to grimace. Continuing his impromptu exorcism, he mumbled a fantastical prayer which was not strictly in accord with Catholic theology, though it did contain a reference to St. Patrick, and a sorrowful mystery, and was accompanied by a cross made in the air. However, Michael also invoked the spirit of Ted Williams, and ended with the words “ill winds buffet all Bronx bombers and an eternal kaybosh on this and all temples of pin-striped idolatry.”

The client came back with a tray full of coffees, and found my cousin and his two friends smiling and in high spirits. Their business concluded, he stood, and a look of inexplicable anxiety passed over his features. Then he smiled again and said, “Do you know that the Yankees have never lost a championship series after winning the first game? Isn’t that amazing? Of course in this series, they’ve won the first three, so the fat lady has sung. World Series, here we come!”

The rest is history, ladies and gentlemen. Red Sox nation watched in breathless glee as over the next several days, the mighty Yankees imploded, giving up four games in a row, losing the series and gaining the title of the greatest chokers in the history of sports. Now, I don’t say that my cousin’s incantation in the heart of an enemy camp had anything to do with this, that it somehow upset the equilibrium of karmic vibrations on which the eternal order of things is based. I’m sure it was just a coincidence. Michael Stirk himself would not take credit for the sudden and inexplicable reversal in Yankee fortune, but, as Hamlet once said, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.” Maybe Saint Patrick and Ted Williams were listening, and tied up the Bambino, but I think it more likely that God himself thought it over, and summoned with divine imperative that angel that hovers in the outfield, because in His infallible wisdom and in his implacable eternal justice, he decided that the Yankees had it coming. And yeah, verily the little Yankee office shrine in Chicago was soon draped in bunting, and there were tears on A Rod’s pillow, and the will of the Lord was done.

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