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Ridin' (yawn) rails to Subway Series

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2000


SOMEWHERE BENEATH N.Y. -- Woody Allen. Any minute now, Woody Allen is going to come on board. Isn't he?

The subway is hurtling through the city now, darned near the core of the apple, so to speak. Any minute now, the excitement is going to start.

After all, this is the day history begins. This is the trip to the first game of the Fugeddaboudit World Series, where Vito Corleone's Yankees will play Travis Bickle's Mets. This is the Subway Series.

And so, a few minutes ago, you ventured to the shadows of Shea Stadium, because it was somehow fitting, because it was somehow poetic, because it was somehow extremely close to your hotel, and you climbed aboard the No. 7 train.

Surely, you thought, there would be drama there. Surely, there would be color. If you were lucky, maybe a fistfight.

Wait. Was that Spike Lee at the far end of the car? Is that Joe Pesci talking behind you? Was that Neil Simon spray-painting the bubble-letter graffiti as the car passed Elmhurst? If this is the Subway Series, the You-Talkin'-to-Me? World Series, then shouldn't the celebs be piling on board any stop now?

Well, no.

The train clacked down the tracks, past 111th, past 52nd, past 33rd. No Woody yet. No Sarah Jessica Parker. No Billy Joel or Art Garfunkel or Regis Philbin. Not even a Hillary Clinton, who has been a famous New Yorker for hours now. Either the celebrities are wearing excellent disguises -- that mother of two over there could be Billy Crystal -- or they took the easy way out and rented limos. As for the common fans, well, they were busy resting up. Turns out, the reason this city never sleeps is that the natives dozed off while riding the trains.

I have to be honest here. I expected more. I expected Mets fans singing that annoying song about the dogs. I expected Yankee fans singing that annoying song about New York. I expected jawing and jabbering. I expected the Sharks and Jets breaking into that combat-dance number.

It didn't happen. The train rolled. People dozed. This is John Rocker's nightmare? Why? The snoring? I fought the urge to tell people about Auburn-Alabama.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Anyone who can afford a ticket to a World Series game in New York -- and scalpers, basically, want your car -- isn't going to have to take the subway to get here. And anyone who can't is going to watch the game at home.

Still, if you've been reading the articles I've been reading, then you get the idea this city is as excited as it's been since Godzilla came to town. Or, at least, since Ed Whitson left.

And maybe the excitement still exists, somewhere between the hype and the hyperbole. All I'm saying is the train jockeys seem to be, well, building up to it.

You change at Grand Central, and you hop aboard the No. 4 train. You can sense the spirit a little more there. There are a few more fans, a little more talk. In distance, in time, the game is getting closer.

Finally, you get to the Bronx. Finally, the game seems to matter. A young girl walks along with her father, her face painted white with blue pinstripes. The father is talking about the Subway Series of 1955. The girl tries not to appear bored.

Someone is dressed as Uncle Sam, perhaps because his Statue of Liberty outfit was at the cleaners. People along River Avenue are selling everything, including a small saucer with the Daily News emblem on it. Asking price: $30. Some places in New York, you can buy a Rolex for that. Or a cup of coffee.

Outside Stan's, a man in a Mets uniform is talking on a cell phone, bragging to a friend that he is actually on River Avenue in his uniform. He sounds as though he considers himself the bravest little soldier in the outfit. You wonder if he bought the saucer.

It's a little fun, a little zany. Still, it isn't what you expected. At the risk of offending the great many friends I have who work in New York, the newspapers around here have gone bonkers. To sum it up: Nothing else exists, nothing else has ever existed. And those who would disagree don't exist either.

For instance, maybe you heard about this other little rivalry that's being contested in the Middle East? The Daily News got around to it on Page No. 49 Saturday. And that was its first non-Series-related story. (The Post did much better. It got to the real world on Page 46).

Even the esteemed New York Times, the Yankees of journalism, put out a special section on Saturday. In it, Jerry Seinfeld compared this Series to the Civil War which, it turns out, was all about the designated hitter. You get the feeling that, when it's over, either Mike Piazza or Derek Jeter is going to go limping home to the mansion minus a limb or two.

What else? Oh, yeah. The Daily News, the very News that Frank Sinatra wanted you to start spreading, managed to get a quote from Salman Rushdie. How do you figure that? Those who were trying to hunt him down can't find him, but a hack on deadline can? And back to the Post, where Jay Greenberg, a very funny writer, suggested that if the Mets won the series, then Lou Gehrig died in vain.

So, yeah, people are taking the I've-Got-Your-Series-Right-Here Series kind of seriously here in New York. But then, that's the way of New Yorkers, who figure anything really important happens here, and it happens bigger and better and bolder and bawdier. It's a town that has its own pizza, its own steak, its own minute. People from here can't help themselves. You mention anything from Italian food to pickles, and it's better in New York. "You should see the car rust we have up there."

Because of this, for the past 44 years, the average New Yorker has looked at the World Series and figured that it was at best half-important, because at least one of the teams involved has come from Hicksville. There is no other place. To a New Yorker, Green Acres might as well have been filmed in downtown Chicago, because if the Empire State Building doesn't cast a shadow across it, then it's just glorified farmland.

Ah, but this one is all New York's, and if you do not pick a team, then one will be assigned to you. Supporting both teams is something like voting for both presidential candidates. Ask Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, who has ripped into those who wear these half-Yankee, half-Mets hats. "A coward's cap," the mayor said.

And so the train keeps rolling, picking up steam.

Next stop, passion.

After that, maybe Woody Allen. Who knows?

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