NEW YORK -- I'm not especially paranoid , but when one of the crew on the Yankee Clipper casually mentioned that the ferry picks up passengers in northern New Jersey en route to Yankee Stadium, I felt a chill.
All I could think of was some big fat guy called Bambino, with an accent from north of Newark, dangling me over the railing, threatening to drop me into a briny grave if I didn't renounce Big Papi, Manny being Manny, and Trot Nixon.
I've walked some mean streets in 21 years with the Globe, but absolutely nothing in my notebook could prepare me for the terror of stepping onto a seafaring vessel at the East 34th Street pier surrounded by Yankees fans.
``Hey, Bawston," one of them sang, having overheard my accent. ``Who's pitching for youse guys tonight? Jane Pauley?"
Actually, it was David Pauley, the rookie right-hander -- though come to think of it, Jane might have had a better chance at putting up zeroes, given her bank account.
If you are staying in Manhattan, there is no better way to get to and from Yankee Stadium than the Yankee Clipper, especially on a summer's evening. Getting to the Bronx for a weeknight game is no picnic. The ferry service, which began in 1996, lets you escape traffic or a sweaty taxi or subway ride. Instead, you can enjoy a cocktail and the Manhattan skyline during a leisurely voyage up the East and Harlem rivers.
And, not for nothing, if you're a Red Sox fan, it provides Yankees fans an excellent opportunity to insult you. Consider it a form of public service. For all their swagger, Yankees fans are still trying to get over their heroes, the Bronx Bombers, winners of 26 World Series, allowing the 2004 Red Sox to storm back from an oh-three deficit in the league championship series, thus to be forever remembered as the biggest chokers in sports history.
Chad Greiner , 25, and his girlfriend, Siobhan Foley , 23, donned their Sox caps and boarded the Yankee Clipper the night that Pauley -- David, not Jane -- took on the Bombers. Greiner, who hails from Norwalk, Conn., hometown of former Sox great Mo Vaughn, was wearing a Mark Bellhorn T-shirt, even though the Sox unloaded Bellhorn last year. Bellhorn, who sealed the Yankees' fate with clutch home runs in those 2004 playoffs, is to Yankees fans what Bucky Dent is to Red Sox fans: an object of derision, hatred, and creative obscenities.
``It drives 'em nuts," says Greiner, a financial analyst who lives in Gramercy Park.
Which may explain a common reaction among Yankee s fans.
``They throw peanuts at him when he wears that shirt," says Foley, a Chelmsford native who is a student at Brooklyn Law School.
That said, Greiner and Foley believe that Yankee s fans, in general, are more tolerant of Red Sox fans invading the Bronx than Sox fans are of New York interlopers at Fenway Park.
``They'll insult you, but it's mostly in good fun," Greiner said.
I was determined to test his theory. At the back of the boat, I spotted four guys who were out of central casting for ``The Sopranos." Two of them were big. The smaller guys looked more dangerous. Three of them had Yankee s gear on. The other guy wore a black windbreaker even though it was warm. Was he hiding a piece?
``Nah," said Dan Byrne, 26, a native of Malden now living in New York. ``I've got a Red Sox shirt on."
``We're watching his back," said Jerry Lavelle, 43, who looked like he could pick up a
``We're not saying it's not safe," added Charlie Kazak, 29, who wore a Derek Jeter jersey, and whose close-cropped hair made him seem mysterious. ``But, hey, you never know."
The fourth guy, Andrew Scudera, 27, the smallest one, had a Gary Sheffield jersey on and was silent. He just stood there behind me. Making me nervous.
``What's that?" I said, pointing to a small boat following in the ferry's wake.
``That's a police boat," Lavelle said. ``It follows this thing the whole way. In case someone falls overboard."
There was a pregnant pause, then Lavelle added, ``Or gets pushed."
As we talked, the men became looser, more friendly. They had willingly given me their names and ages, but balked at telling me what they did for a living.
After I asked for about the fifth time, Lavelle said, ``What do you think we do?"
``I figure you're either wise guys or cops," I said.
``We work out of Staten Island," Lavelle said, referring to the precinct, not the crew.
As we got off the boat, Byrne proved his valor by peeling off his windbreaker to reveal a Red Sox road jersey. The gangplank led to a fenced-off path to the stadium. Yankees fans behind the fence hooted at Byrne, chanting an epithet.
A 10-minute walk across a parking lot and an overpass and we were in The House That Ruth Built, a house that is supposed to be torn down after the 2008 season. Can't be because they're not charging enough for beer. The cheapest one is $7.75. A
Well, you probably remember the rest of my story. Pauley pitched a heck of a game. Chien-Ming Wang, the Yankees starter, pitched better. As a disturbing number of Yankees fans urged Wang to hit David Ortiz in the head, Big Papi hit a laser off the upper deck in right. Bernie Williams, the outfielder whose each at-bat is treated as a tribute to his long, classy career in pinstripes, homered to tie it, then his teammates scratched out a go-ahead run in the seventh. Manny Ramirez's bid to tie it up in the eighth ended with a sensational leaping catch against the outfield wall by Melky Cabrera. Fickle Yankees fans, who a couple of weeks ago were calling for Cabrera's head after his initial performances in the field suggested his hands were made of cement, demanded a curtain call. Cabrera obliged.
The Yankees held on for the 2-1 win, and the regulars who got back on the Yankee Clipper suggested we had just seen the best game of the year. As the boat idled, waiting the allotted 30 minutes before starting the return trip, the Staten Island cops came back on board.
Lavelle acknowledged they usually head for Stan's, the great sports bar on River Avenue, later grabbing either a taxi or the D train home. But tonight was different, he said.
``Look at this," he said, spreading his hands as the Empire State Building shone like a candle high in the skyline. ``It's a beautiful night, we got a full moon up there, the lights of Manhattan are calling us home. It doesn't get any better than this."
Which proves that, once in a while, even a Yankees fan gets it right.
Contact Kevin Cullen at email@example.com.