April 12, 2004
Improbable Bronx tale is catching on
By Bill Madden
One of these days Bubba Crosby is going to wake up from this dream and when he does, likely find himself riding a bus in Columbus, Ohio. It could happen as soon as this weekend when the Yankees go to Boston and Travis Lee, to whom they owe $2 million for this season, is ready to come off the disabled list.
The Yankees' accidental rookie sensation knows he has no control over these matters, just as he had no control over being traded to a team that holds rookies in about the same regard as it does the batboys. But if Bubba has to go, at least he knows now he has a constituency here. They made themselves loud and clear yesterday every time a Chicago White Sox batter hit a ball to center field.
Welcome to Bubba Country.
As Joe Torre summed it up, after Crosby's three-run homer off the upper-deck facade in right and four sterling (one stupendous) catches in center field electrified the chilled Easter crowd of 37,484 at the Stadium: "He could be a fan favorite, no question. People in New York appreciate someone who comes home dirty."
You got the feeling as Bubba trotted out to center field to start the game and instinctively acknowledged the bleacher bums' roll call that there was already a carryover effect from his ninth-inning homer Friday night in his first at-bat as a Yankee. (On that one, he'd raced around the bases, Pete Rose-style, if only because he wasn't sure it had gone out.) But when he tore out to the wall in right-center after Magglio Ordoņez's shot leading off the third and made the catch slamming off it, the chants of "Bub-ba! Bub-ba!" filled the Stadium.
To be exceeded only by the ones that rocked the place after Bubba's three-run homer off White Sox starter Dan Wright in the fourth put a struggling Mike Mussina back on track for his 200th career victory. For that one, they had to push Bubba out of the dugout, where he could see with his own eyes how much New York loves an underdog.
"It was awesome," he said. "I didn't know New York was going to accept a 'Bubba' who lives so far away (Texas is not exactly Kuwait, but we understand what he means). It's kind of a redneck name, but they've made me feel like I'm at home."
Maybe that's because Bubba has played as if he is right at home. Certainly, he's brought a refreshing blue-collar style to this team that is otherwise laden with golden superstars. Bubba is a new kind of matinee idol, one we didn't expect when spring training began in Tampa seven weeks ago and hordes of media descended on Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and the rest of the new "Murderers' Row."
The 27-year-old Crosby got his start in center field yesterday because Kenny Lofton's quadriceps muscle is still barking but it has been a long time since anyone had a game in center like that for the Yankees.
It kind of reminded you of the famous line Ralph Kiner had about Garry Maddox, the defensively gifted center fielder of the Philadelphia Phillies: "Two-thirds of the world is covered by water and the other third is covered by Garry Maddox."
Bubba covered just about every inch of what constitutes center field in Yankee Stadium. Nevertheless, Torre asserted that this is not some "Wally Pipp" situation here and that when Lofton says he's 100%, he'll be back in the lineup.
But the fact is, Lofton is only here because someone put a bug into George Steinbrenner's ear about him. If Steinbrenner is listening now, he should know that those same fans who made him cry on Opening Day are now urging him to give Bubba a chance.
"When you're a baseball fan and you lay in bed you dream of these things," Bubba said about his remarkable surge onto the Yankee scene and into the hearts of the fans here. "I'm still in awe just making this team. I look around on the streets in other towns and see all these guys wearing Yankee caps and girls wearing Yankee shirts and I'm saying: 'I'm part of this!' I also know how serious Yankee fans are and how they appreciate it if you move a runner and do those little things. They understand that."
But does the principal owner?
"I'm sure he knows everything that's going on," Crosby said. "I haven't really met him other than to shake his hand the other day. But I'm sure he knows there's a Bubba on this team."
All of Yankee Nation knows now, and if Bubba still has to go when Lee is activated, we know something else too: He'll be leaving us dirty.