NEW YORK — You say: “What a nice day.”

I say: “Drop dead.”

You say: “Can I help with your luggage?”

I say: “Drop dead.”

I am practicing. I am rehearsing my lines. I am following the advice of every general from Napoleon to MacArthur. Know your enemy. Think like your enemy. My enemy is the New Yorker. From now until a week from Sunday. Ten days. Seven baseball games. I am practicing.

“Call if I can be of service,” you say.

I say: “Drop dead.”

I must become the enemy. His ways must be my ways. Ten days. Seven games. I have no choice. I must be rude and loud. I must push in line. I must buy my
“country” clothes at a 14- story department store. I must suffer a nervous breakdown. I must become the New Yorker.

“WHO ASKED YOU? BUG OFF! DIE!”

These are my lines now. It is all for the cause. The Tigers and Yankees will do battle for first place in the American League East. Ten days. Seven games. It should be top- notch baseball.

But here is the problem. For years, the Midwest teams that challenge the Yankees have been viewed here as bumpkins, rubes, dairy farmers. So have their fans. They are considered annoying little distractions by New Yorkers, who believe a pennant is part of their birthright, along with getting robbed once a month.

Not this time. This time we play by their rules. Fire with fire. Spit with spit. Ten days. Seven games. Walk like a New Yorker.

“Enjoy your stay with us,” you say.

“Get stuffed,” I respond. A brazen image

I stand before my hotel mirror. I practice the leer. The rolled eyes. I try to look as if the next person who crosses my path will be the last.

“Do you have the time?” you say.

“BLEEP OFF! WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?” I say. “WHAT’S YOUR . . . BLEEPIN’ BLEEPIN’ PROBLEM?”

I do not like this. It is part of the game. Think New York. Beat New York. This was not necessary the last few years in the AL East. The truth is, for the last few years, the Yankees did not play well enough to elicit the seething, venomous, nostril- quivering hatred that we all enjoyed in the past. The Mets took that role.

But now, the Yankees are back. Mr. George Steinbrenner is once again sticking his nose in the team’s day-to-day affairs. The manager, Lou Piniella, is quietly seething. The players are being shifted back and forth to the minors. In other words, everything is normal.

And now the Tigers are challenging.

And Tigers fans must be ready.

“I think your shoe is untied,” you say.

“AH, YOU DON’T KNOW NUTHIN! GET THE BLEEP OUTA HERE! YOU’RE A BUM! YOU ALWAYS BEEN A BUM!”

I’m getting the hang of it, I believe. Big-name marquee

So there it is. Think New York. Beat New York. Detroit fans will be put to the test in the next 10 days. Three games here. Four in Detroit. Yankees here. Yankees everywhere.

Every pitcher will know every hitter’s tendencies. Every hitter will know when to expect the fastball up and in. The rosters will become familiar. The names will become familiar. Tigers-Yankees will be the evening and afternoon activity. A limited engagement production. Ten days. Seven games.

We are talking here about a series that will help determine the pennant. We are talking about a big series, the last meeting between these teams this year. We are talking Trammell, Whitaker, Gibson, Madlock, Morris, Tanana. Big names. We are talking Winfield, Mattingly, Rhoden, Henderson, Righetti. Big names.

We are talking tough.

Every edge counts. Every tiny advantage. We cannot control what goes on between the lines. But there will be no intimidation in the stands. No, sir. Not this time. Dairy farms? Did they say dairy farms? Nuh-uh. Not in this corner, anyhow. Think New York. Beat New York.

I am ready. I walk down to the hotel lobby. I see a man in a Yankees shirt. I stand alongside him. I wait for him to say something. I wait and wait. He doesn’t say anything. I circle around him, in my Tigers shirt and Tigers cap and Tigers shoes. Nothing. What’s going on here? Finally I say,
“Excuse me–“

“Drop dead,” he says.

I gotta work on this stuff.

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