FOR THE NEXT 10 DAYS, THE RUBES MUST BE RUDE

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

I say: “Drop dead.”

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

I say: “Drop dead.”

You say tomato. I say stuff the tomato. I am rehearsing my lines. It is part of my plan. I am following the strategy 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. Tigers versus Yankees. I seek a New York state of mind.

“What a nice suit,” you say.

“Drop dead,” I say.

I must become the New Yorker. His ways must be my ways. For 10 days. For seven games. Think New York. Beat New York. I have no choice.

I must be rude and loud. I must push in line. I must eat lunch in 14 seconds. I must buy my “outdoors wear” inside a department store on 34th Street. I must suffer a nervous breakdown.

“Would you like a lift to the game?” you ask.

“BUZZ OFF!” I answer.

This is not ordinary behavior. But this is no ordinary Tigers-Yankees series. This is for first place. This may determine the division crown when all is said and done. This is big-time baseball.

But here is the problem. For years, Midwest teams that came to this city to challenge the Yankees were considered rubes, country bumpkins. Dairy farmers. Ask a New Yorker about the Midwest: He thinks it’s the five blocks between Bloomingdale’s and the Russian Tea Room. Our Midwest teams and Midwest fans are merely annoying little distractions to most 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 the games,” 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.

I do not like this. But 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. A ready team means ready fans. You can’t have Walt Terrell out there, mowing down Yankees while a New York fan pours beer on your head, just for a laugh. Uh-uh. This is a call to arms. Think New York. Beat New York.

“Show you to your seat, sir?” you say.

“YOU’RE A BUM!” I say. Big-name marquee

Now, do not worry. In 10 days, it all returns to normal. In 10 days, we can go back to being the pleasant, polite, warmhearted people we Detroiters have always been.

But for now, the role must change. Three games here. Four in Detroit. Yankees here. Yankees everywhere. Think New York. Beat New York. We have to do it. You don’t win a gunfight with rubber bands.

All right, then, Tigers fans are forewarned. Within hours the rosters will be memorized. “Tigers-Yankees” will be non-stop conversation. Barrooms will be buzzing. Newscasts will begin with the score and end with the highlights.

Ten days. Seven games. Tigers versus Yankees. We are talking here about first place. We are talking about the last time these teams play one another this season. We are talking Trammell, Whitaker, Gibson, Madlock, Morris, Tanana. Big names. We are talking Winfield, Mattingly, Rhoden, Henderson, Righetti. Big names.

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. Rude? We can be rude. Obnoxious? If we have to be. Dairy farmers? Did they really say dairy farmers?

I am ready. I walk 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 says nothing. I circle 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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