There are no Bronx cheers for Little League Yankees

June 04, 2006|By RICK MAESE

Phil, are the Yankees ready?" the umpire asked the coach. "Whenever you guys want to take the field, go ahead."

Over by the dugout, the coach started barking the lineup. "Nick, first base. William, go to second. Nathanial, you're in left field, buddy."

"All right!" one of the players shouted. "I'm batting nine - and I'm 9 years old!"

The Yankees sprinted out to the field and for once there were no boos, no taunts, no Derek Jeter groupies and no obnoxious chanting. It's just parents clapping and cheering for nine Yankees getting ready for the first pitch, with one of the players dancing an Irish jig.

"We're not dancing," their coach, Phil Jacob, yelled from the home team dugout. "We're playing baseball. Down and ready."

That's right - the Yankees, the home team, right here in Maryland. If it sounds sacrilegious, it's because it kind of is. Does no one read the parent handbook anymore? Teach your kids manners, encourage them to study, give them chores, and, above all else, make absolutely sure they grow up to cheer for the Orioles.

The Yankees of Laurel Little League, ages 8 to 12, are barely learning the game. They wear the hated logo with blind pride, not aware of what exactly it means in these parts. It's the parents and coaches who better understand the rivalry between the big league versions of the Orioles and Yankees.

Yet somehow, there are still Yankees teams sprinkled throughout area youth leagues.

"It's so ironic that I have to wear a hat for the one team I despise the most," says Michael Dorsey, who coaches a 9-10-year-old Yankees team in the Liberty Road league. "My son teases me all the time. `Dad, you love the Yankees!' It's horrible. It really is."

Many coaches get stuck with the team name at a preseason draw. Dorsey's league rules require him to wear the twisted "NY" logo in the dugout. Fortunately, other leagues aren't as stringent.

"You catch me wearing something like that, it means someone killed me and put it on me," says Jesse Gates, who coaches 7-8-year-old Yankees in the Northwood league. "I hate them. I'm telling you - and I'm not lying for one second - I will not wear that."

In Laurel, Jacob actually had the option of playing as the Orioles or the Yankees. Though he's a lifelong Orioles fan, Jacob opted for the team he hates the most. You see, it's a bit of parental reverse psychology. His 8-year-old son is in a contrarian stage and likes rooting against Dad's favorite teams. So Jacob figured that if his son associated Dad with the Yankees, he'd start rooting for the Orioles.

"Is that bad that my husband is that competitive with an 8-year-old?" asks Theresa Jacob.

Whatever it takes to raise an Orioles fan, Jacob figures. It's a tough age to coach, but a great age to watch. They're learning to step with the left and throw with the right. They get lost chasing butterflies in center field, and they make diving catches even in the pre-game warm-up.

The Yankees fell behind early but their spirits weren't dampened for a second. Someone had just brought over some nachos. Ben danced an Irish jig, as Nick screamed out the "steal" sign, which had previously been classified as top secret. Several others sat on the dugout bench and swung their feet freely, a couple years and a couple inches away from reaching the ground.

"We're only down by five, guys," Jacob yelled to the bench, which was preoccupied with some serious licorice swirling. "We're still in this."

Anthony is a tall, athletic-looking kid who arrived to the field late. "Can I get in?" he asked. "I'm a star in the making."

The parents obviously have no problems cheering for the Yankees. Theresa Jacob even does so wearing an Orioles T-shirt. William's father, though, has threatened to burn his son's uniform. The household debate of the moment is whether or not to display the team photograph, which features a slew of Yankees logos, in the living room.

It's especially easy, though, for Robert Pineda. When he signed up his son, Robbie, the team name became a top priority. "Please not Orioles!" the New York native pleaded. "Please not Red Sox! Lord, if you have anything to do with this, please make us Yankees!"

Back on the field, the Yankees chipped away at the lead and trailed by only one heading into the bottom half of the final inning.

"Let's go Yankees!" Nick shouted. "Let's go!"

Behind him, Ben resumed his jig. The stage was set beautifully - an adolescent Murderers' Row due up. Before you knew it, the game-tying run was walked home and the bases were still loaded.

Anthony, the "star in the making," strode to the plate with confidence. He swung hard - ping! - and the ball disappeared into the sky. The left fielder looked dizzy - Is that a baseball or a butterfly? - and after several seconds, the ball fell to the grass. Ben raced home from third and started dancing with his teammates - not a jig this time. The Yankees pulled it out, 10-9.

"That's what you call a Yankee comeback!" one of the players yelled.

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