Friday, October 20, 2000

The subway ride Rocker missed

        NEW YORK — The last game of the last Subway Series was played in a ballpark that no longer exists. A housing project stands where Ebbets Field stood, and 40 years have not brought forgiveness.

        “When the Dodgers left, they took part of my heart with them,” Robert Razukas said Thursday afternoon. “I left baseball. I don't trust the game anymore. What's the saying? Once burnt, twice shy.”

        Amid the gleeful madness attending New York's interborough baseball championship, Razukas reflects with a melancholy memory. Like a lot of Brooklynites, he has never completely recovered from the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles and he has never learned to love the New York Yankees. His enthusiasm for this Subway Series — the first since 1956 — is therefore tempered.

        “As much as I root for the Mets, I'm more of an anti-Yankee fan,” Razukas said. “I remember Sandy Amoros' catch (in the 1955 World Series, against Yogi Berra), but I have selective memory. Don Larsen's perfect game — I've blotted that out.”

Series predates Subway
        He is standing two floors beneath the Brooklyn streets, working a security detail at the restored subway station that now serves as the New York Transit Museum. Here, memories are carefully preserved, even the painful ones.

        Ninety-seven years ago next week, shortly after the completion of the first World Series, New York City's subway system was nearing completion.

        Clearing the way at 190th Street and Nicholas Avenue, 10 workers were crushed to death when a dynamite blast loosened a 300-ton boulder above their heads. One of the two victims who were identified was a man named Tim Sullivan.

        Philop Sparrock, a retired signalman, conducts tours and repeats the lines the tourists like.

        “Somehow, the trains don't hit the rats,” he says. “The rats have been down there so long, they know the train schedules.”

        In five hours riding the subways Thursday, I saw no rats and was hit by no boulders. This is not to say there were no strange sights to be seen.

        There was a man on the No. 7 train carrying a Pennsylvania license plate.

Characters with character
        There was a pair of white pants, abandoned over a handrail at Grand Central Station. There was a bicycle wheel hanging from a high-rise window as the train pulled in to the 82nd Street station. There was the homeless woman who boarded the B train at Rockefeller Center, soliciting spare change with a Styrofoam cup and perfect grammar.

        “I never thought I would be out here,” she said. “When it happened to me, I was terrified. Do not take your home for granted.”

        Nearly four million people ride this subterranean labyrinth each day, and some of them have no other home. The New York subway comprises 722 miles of track, 463 station stops and annually generates more than $100 million in electric bills. It is an engineering marvel to rival the pyramids and — at $1.50 per fare — an unbeatable travel bargain. I rode the B, the C, the D, the F, the 4 and the 7 Thursday, visited four of New York's five boroughs and both of its ballparks for a sum total of $6. John Rocker should try it sometime. Chuck Knoblauch, the Yankees' sometime second baseman, typically travels to work underground.

        Joe Hofmann, the Transit Authority's vice president in charge of subways, wants all of the Yankees and Mets to make at least one ceremonial trip during the World Series. He envisions people standing on the platforms and waving to their favorite players as they pass by. The Mets are officially leery. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is reportedly “intrigued.”

Will the Boss ride?
        Wonder how long it's been since Steinbrenner was a straphanger? Imagine how much he has missed.

        Had he passed through the 42nd Street station Thursday afternoon en route to the No.4 train to Yankee Stadium, Steinbrenner would have passed a woman guitarist singing in Spanish. In the narrow corridor, the acoustics were comparable to Carnegie Hall, and the woman's voice carried for close to 100 yards.

        On the train, there is little conversation and less eye contact.

        Periodically, some enterprising peddler will wander through a car, hawking batteries or toys, but the prevailing sound is silence.

        Many of the passengers nap between stops. Much of the mid-day traffic consists of weary blue-collar laborers and students. As the trains move out of Manhattan, there are fewer ties and more ballcaps.

School's out for Series
        At 59th Street, a high school senior wearing a Yankee jersey climbed aboard for a pilgrimage to the Bronx, carrying a video camera to record his first career subway trip.

        “I'm skipping school,” confessed Jason Kishbaugh, of Stroudsburg, Pa. “I've got tickets for Game 4. I definitely think the Yankees are going to sweep them. I'm bringing my broom to Shea. I'll probably get my butt kicked.”

        Given the proximity of the two teams (48 minutes by subway, on this afternoon), the passions they arouse and the combustible quality of alcohol, the Subway Series is bound to generate a few brawls.

        “I don't know if I want to go to the games,” said Cindy Sinkevitch, who works part-time for a model agency and full-time as a Met fan. “It's a little scary. But if tickets are $100, I don't think people will want to be thrown out.”

        She is sitting outside the players' entrance at Shea Stadium, collecting autographs, forecasting friction. Her boyfriend, Brian, is a Yankee fan.

One couple, two teams
        Their relationship, consequently, could be under intense strain. “We go to all the games,” she said. “And we sit there screaming at each other.”

        She smiles.

        “I'm louder than he is.”

        Their romance, she says, is fairly typical in the big city. Women, Sinkevitch said, prefer the Mets because they're “better-looking.” Men, who are more interested in the bottom line than men's bottoms, tend to gravitate toward the Yankees because they win.

        “I like the Yankees better, but I want it to go to a Game 7,” said Tony Diaz, a student standing on the subway platform behind Yankee Stadium.

        “I'm a New York fan. Either way, New York wins. As long as New York finishes first, I'm happy.”



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