No. 7 train doesn't care about Rocker


NEW YORK - Went to a riot and a baseball game broke out.

John Rocker pitched at Shea Stadium last night and lived to tell about it, contributing a perfect eighth inning in the Atlanta Braves' 6-4 victory over the New York Mets.

Four objects were hurled at Rocker as he sprinted in from the bullpen. The fans at Shea booed him and serenaded him with an expletive. But other than that, peace and a pennant race prevailed.

Maybe New Yorkers finally are figuring out that one of the game's best rivalries is more deserving of their attention than a relief pitcher who amounts to so much hot air.

"Sure I'm relieved that this hurdle has been cleared," Braves president Stan Kasten said. "I'm not naive to think it's the final hurdle. But it's an important one."

Rocker declined to comment afterward, and his continued silence would be welcome. He has no one left to insult or confront. Maybe he, too, finally is out something: That it's time to resume his career.

Riding the now-famous No. 7 train to Shea yesterday, it suddenly hit me: Half the people in my subway car didn't know who Rocker was. And the other half didn't care.

In my subway car, people chatted quietly in several languages, listened to music on headphones, even closed their eyes, catching a moment of rest on a hot summer day.

The train left Manhattan, then climbed out of the East River tunnel onto the elevated tracks in Queens, lurching through some of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city.

Rocker, of course, was nowhere to be found - he took a police van to Shea rather than follow through on his vow to ride the No. 7.

And in my car, no one even mentioned his name.

This was at 2:30 p.m., around the time that Rocker could be found inside the Manhattan offices of the Major League Baseball Players' Association.

Perhaps he visited the union to check on his eligibility date for salary arbitration. More likely, he was getting assistance with the statement he read before last night's game.

Rocker apologized for his offensive comments to Sports Illustrated last December, apologized three times in a statement that he supposedly wrote in his Manhattan hotel room at 2 a.m.

It wasn't the first time he had apologized, but it probably was his most heartfelt attempt at remorse. Rocker still doesn't get it, thinking all of this is the media's fault. But he's right about one thing: He deserves to be ignored.

"I'm merely a baseball player, guys," Rocker told an intimate gathering of 350 reporters. "In the great scheme of things, my thoughts, opinions and attitudes are of little importance."

Truer words have never been spoken.

And maybe now this sad, ridiculous story finally will start to fade.

The Mets showed Rocker's statement on their video scoreboard just before the start of the game, and the crowd of 46,998 - nearly 10,000 short of a sellout - responded with a collective shrug.

If anything, the early arrivals seemed more upset with former Met (and Oriole) Bobby Bonilla, who played cards with Rickey Henderson while the Mets faced elimination by the Braves in last year's NLCS.

"We don't care about Rocker!" one fan screamed, waving an oversized deck of cards at Bonilla. "You bum, you cost us a Subway Series last year!"

Bonilla issued a weak retort - something about how the fan paid good money for his seats, and shouldn't risk losing them - then took turns with Rocker bantering with fans in left field.

Doesn't anyone get it?

The best retort to Rocker is to deny him the attention he craves. If the fans cool it, maybe the media will cool it, and vice versa. Truth be told, most reporters couldn't figure out what they were even doing at Shea.

The assignment was half riot- watch, half idiot-patrol. It had virtually nothing to do with sports. It was, quite frankly, the dumbest thing most of us have ever covered.

Which isn't to say that Jeff Pearlman, the SI reporter who wrote the original story, was wrong to print Rocker's comments. What Rocker said was news: Any reporter would have done the same.

Still, when does it all end?

Why do New Yorkers care what John Rocker thinks? Why do boxing fans continue to pay to watch Mike Tyson? Why are the games no longer enough?

Train-wreck personalities are compelling, but sports has disintegrated into one carnival sideshow after another, with only an occasional Tiger Woods surfacing as welcome relief.

Sports today is Anna Kournikova instead of Pete Sampras. Dennis Miller instead of Boomer Esiason. Rocker instead of Andres Galarraga. Tyson-Lou Savarese instead of Shane Mosley-Oscar De La Hoya.

It all hit me again walking off the No. 7 train, something I did many times growing up in neighboring Nassau County and Queens.

Circling the stadium, I passed the ticket windows where I used to line up for general-admission Mets tickets. I passed the gate that I entered a vendor for New York Jets' games. I passed the spot where someone once handed me two box seats on the field level and said, "Enjoy."

I remembered my excitement when my father would ask me an hour before a game, "Want to go to the Mets tonight?" And I remembered my mother missing the Bud Harrelson-Pete Rose fight in the 1973 playoffs because she was buying my sister and me refreshments.

That fight was about as ugly as it got back then, and Rose was showered with far more debris than Rocker endured. In New York as in Baltimore, the good old days are never as good as we remember. But no question, the world is different now.

Seven hundred cops were in the stands last night. The Braves' bullpen was covered by a protective canopy. Rocker entered the visiting clubhouse surrounded by approximately a dozen security personnel.

To read the tabloids, one would think all of New York was laying in wait, ready to pummel Johnny Rotten. But Yankee fans wanted to know why their team traded for David Justice instead of Sammy Sosa. Rock 'n' roll fans gathered to see Bruce Springsteen at Madison Square Garden. Residents of all five boroughs enjoyed the cool summer night.

John Rocker was in town.

On the No. 7 train, no one cared.

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