NEW YORK -- You like New York stories? I'll give you two.
One's about a guy fighting to keep his life together.
The other's about a guy trying to make a life.
One's about pitfalls and mistakes.
The other's about hope and possibility.
In one story, the guy may go to prison.
In the other, the guy just wants to wear Yankees pinstripes.
You know all about the first story. It's an American tragedy. It's the story of a dream gone sour, then revived, then lost, then revived again, then lost again, and on and on. It never seems to end.
It's the sad tale, of course, of Steve Howe. He goes to trial May 5 back home in Montana on two cocaine-related misdemeanor charges. A judge in Missoula has ruled that a statement Howe made to police, one that amounted to a confession, will be admissible in court. The baseball part of Steve Howe's life may actually be over this time. Already the most suspended player in drugs-in-sports history, he now must face a judge and jury.
But while awaiting trial, the 34-year-old Yankees reliever keeps busy. He's so busy he's 3-0 with two saves and a 0.00 ERA. He has faced 23 batters and retired 20 of them. He retired five Orioles yesterday to get that third win. But now, a year after his career -- his life -- was rescued by the Yankees, he finds himself in the most serious jeopardy.
And life for him?
"Day to day," Howe says. "Day to day."
That's sort of what Andy Stankiewicz says. He's the other story. You know his story, too, except you don't know him. He's the 5-foot-7, 27-year-old career minor-leaguer, non-roster player who gets called up literally hours before the Yankees' season opener and is hitting .345 and just finished clobbering the Orioles in a weekend that prompted Johnny Oates to call him Stanka-Ruth.
"A spark plug," Howe says. "A fun dude. Everybody likes a story like this. In a town like New York, where they're for you or against you, where everything gets written about positively or negatively, a story like Stanky's is fun."
He reminds New Yorkers of Phil Rizzuto. The way he runs. The way his cap is pushed down on his head. Or he reminds them of Eddie Stanky, the old New York Giant. Stankiewicz heard of Stanky, but didn't know he played second base and didn't know they called him the brat, and didn't know he was one of the original spark-plug guys. He just knew about the name.
And he knows the fans are cheering for him.
"I guess it's because they like to see a little guy do something," Stankiewicz says. "I hit a fly ball, and I heard them cheering. It kind of surprised me, because it was just an out."
They were cheering because he's the kind of player a town can come to adopt and maybe just hang on your rearview mirror, too. He says he doesn't think of himself as a little guy. They never do. If you think of yourself as 5-7, you don't pop the ball out of the park, as he did in the first game of the series. And you don't drill a base hit in the eighth to set up the winning run. He was the guy to score from first on a Roberto Kelly double that put the Yankees ahead 2-1.
Earlier, he had doubled to right, flied deep to left and hit a ball hard but right at the third baseman. The Orioles didn't know what to do with him. He was 6-for-12 in the series with one walk. Of the 10 runs the Yankees scored against the Orioles, he drove in two and scored three. OK, Stanka-Ruth.
He's playing only because a couple of Yankees infielders are hurt. A month from now, he may be back in Columbus. For now, he keeps going on radio as Player of the Game.
"I keep getting dinners," he says. "All I want is a Wizard, and they won't give me one."
A Wizard is an electronic diary the Yankees radio team used to give out. That was last year's story.
"Maybe I'll get him a Wizard," Yankees manager Buck Showalter said. "He was a wizard today."
Showalter was proud of that little quote. A nice little touch. The Yankees are winning under a new, low-key manager, as the dreaded Boss stays in exile. The Yankees could use a lot more stories like Stankiewicz.
"He's not a tough guy to like," Showalter says.
Neither is Howe. That's the funny thing. Just a year ago, his was the ultimate story of redemption. And now. And now. And now, maybe, cocaine has beaten him again.
I like the Stankiewicz story better. That's the if-he-can-make-it-there, he- can-make-it-anywhere one. It's the player who says he's afraid to use his restaurant coupons in New York because he might get lost. It's the little guy in the big city. It's the story we want out of every game.