Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Yankee Upstairs

In hindsight, It’s probably better that I didn’t realize the guy living right above us was Yankees pitcher Scott Kamieniecki.

My wife and I had just moved into a new apartment in our sprawling complex, landing a better unit with two bedrooms and a washer and dryer. It had only two floors, and four units – two upstairs and two down -- shared a little foyer and an outside door.

I claimed the extra bedroom as my first “baseball room,” a place to hang the glorious life-sized posters of Tom Seaver, Frank Thomas and Harold Baines, the pennants I’d collected since childhood and other stuff.

In the six years we lived in apartments, I can’t say we really got to know any of the neighbors other than a “good morning” when we passed, only sometimes even knowing their names

So it wasn’t much of shock that I didn’t really formally meet the new family that moved upstairs in the fall of 1992. The guy had one of those nasty halo harnesses you wear after a neck injury, and he had a wife and young child.

I saw them a couple times as we passed in and out, even once in Meijer, which is a big store here in the Midwest. My wife was a little miffed after she helped the woman carry some boxes once. Julie introduced herself, the woman said, “We’re only here until our house is done being built” and closed the door on her.

My colleagues in the Flint Journal’s sports department did a good job keeping track of local athletes in the pros, and Flint’s got a lot of them. On the baseball side, Scott Aldred, Mickey Weston and Jeff Hamilton were from suburbs. Scott Kamieniecki was from Mount Clemens, which is closer to Detroit than Flint. But his wife was from Grand Blanc, a Flint suburb where we lived.

My friends at the local card store stayed on top of such things, too. Dave “Pop” Zittel was a retired school administrator who was active with sports programs and opened the store with his brother as a hobby. He knew everyone, and told me Kamieniecki was moving into the area. And we had read that he was having some kind of neck surgery during the off-season.

But I never thought that the guy living upstairs might be the Yankees pitcher. And we barely took notice when the family moved out after a short time. People moved in and out all the time.

A new family moved in, and one day they placed a letter atop of the mailbox in the foyer, and wrote on the envelope “Please forward to Scott Kamieniecki” and the address.

Finally, all the dots were connected…neck surgery…building a house…wife from the area…A MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHER IS LIVING RIGHT ABOVE ME! Or, more accurately, was living above me.

My wife said, “Oh yeah, when I helped the woman with the box I saw all kinds of bags with the Yankees logo on them.”

“And you neglected to tell me this why?” I asked.

“Well, when the woman closed the door on me, I thought ‘That’s not very nice' and forgot all about the bags.”

I was crushed. The guy was living right upstairs from my baseball room.

Looking back, I realize this could have gone one of two ways:

Scenario one: Me and Scott become tight buddies, he comes downstairs to hang out and tells funny stories about Rickey Henderson while I throw some brats on the Weber. Then he teaches me a devastating change-up so I can finally beat Will at Wiffle Ball. When the Bombers pull into Detroit during the season he sets us up with tickets behind home plate.

Scenario two: Overcome at having a Major League ballplayer live upstairs, I’m reduced to a stuttering, pointing mass whenever I see my new neighbor, who humors me once by accepting a tour of the baseball room and deeply regrets it when I retell the story of Reggie Jackson and the Hall of Fame ball for the third time. From that point on, Scott tiptoes past my door and up the stairs every time he enters the building to avoid making contact with me, who rushes to the window every time I hear a door slam in the parking lot.

Yup, I think we know which one of those paths we would have walked down.

Kamieniecki, who still lives near Flint, had a nice career in the majors, pitching 10 years with a 53-49 record and 4.52 ERA. He was with the Yanks from 1991 to 1996, spent some time with Baltimore from 1997 to 1990 and split 2000 with the Indians and Braves.

And let’s just say I’ve made it a point to thoroughly get to know any and all new neighbors – just in case.

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