This is where every schoolboy longed to be, playing hooky on a glorious autumn afternoon in Yankee Stadium the day before the Yanks and Dodgers start the World Series Tuesday (WJLA-TV-7, 8:15 p.m.).
The sun glints off the spanking white facade of the upper deck. The air is crisp, invigorating, anticipatory.
Thurman Munson, the first Yankee captain since Lou Gehrig, leans against the third base railing and greets the Dodgers with his buff walrus humor.
"Hey, Bozo, Yeah, you, Sutton," yells Munson at the Los Angeles Dodgers first-game starting pitcher Don Sutton. "You heard what I said.What are you going to do about it?"
Sutton, who will be opposed by the Yank's Don Gullet in the opener, stalk over , throws down his glove and begins a mock wrestling match with Munson.
"Yeah, I saw you," says the Dodger meal ticket, pointing his spikes at Munson's knee. "Tripping guys and comin' in high. You better cut that stuff out. We invented it in our league."
They continue their ritual banter until it begins to wear just a bit thin. Munson, dressed in jeans, tennis shoes and a floppy hat made of a hundred patches, walks toward the Yankee dugout.
"What da ya want on the first pitch?" Sutton yelled after him, one-two-three times. It was the old pitcher-vs-hitter mind game. Munson pretended not to hear, then finally turned around, grinned, and indicated with his hand a fast ball down the middle.
"You got it," said Sutton in his most sincere voice, the one he uses on national TV in hopes of landing a network announcing job.
Then Sutton turned to his catcher, Steve Yeager. Sutton's voice and face changed. "First pitch," he said to Yeager, "I throw him a spitter."
The Yankees and Dodgers have not met in a Series since 1963 when the New Yorkers swept in four to run their edge to 6-2 in their October swing-doings. But the rivalry remains as fresh as it was in the subway days of the '50's.
The players of this Series grew up on the Bums and Bombers of those black-and-white TV days. Sutton's boy-hood hero was Mickey Mantle and his dream was to hit a ball into the center field monuments heer.
Steve Garvey, L.A.'s star slugger, actually knew those men. "I was the Dodger bat boy in spring training. I remember the tone of voice the old Bums had when they mentioned the Yankees. They never called them by their real name. Gil Hodges would always say, "The pinstripes just went inside."
The players in the Stadium today sensed the piquancy and punch of this meeting. "We know we're completely different," said Garvey. "We swear by our manager. They swear at theirs," he laughed.
"It's more than that. We're like oil and water. You know something's going ot happen. The Yankee can't go a whole week without an explosion. We expect that. You've got Tommy Lasorda and Billy Martin." Garvey whistled and rolled his eyes. "They're friends but wait until they get into each other. We may end up with a Broadway play before this one is over."
No two teams in recent Series memory have had such opposite images.
The almost hysterical Kansas City Times gave the middle American majority viewpoint on the Yankees today when its lead columnist wrote. "Truth doesn't prevail. There is no justice . . . The Yankees are organized chaos - a team born of the dollar sign, nurtured by controversy.
"The Yankees are a zoo, the Bronx zoo . . . as an American institution (they) used to rank with motherhood and the flag. Now they are almost un-American."
Across America wire service photographs undeniably show the Yank's Graig Nettles kicking Kansas City's George Brett while he is on hands and knees. In another, tiny Royal Fred Pateks sits and cries in an empty dugouts, his uniform torn, his leg needing stitches where 210-pound Reggie Jackson spiked him.
The Yankees shake their heads at all this. They know they are just 25 players on a team with many problems. A wise and dispassionate person might even sympathize with the Yankee who said today. "We are like a chain that is being pulled at both ends by the whole country. It's like they're waiting for our weakest link to pop."
Classy southpaw Ron Guidry will pitch the third and, if necessary, sixth game. But Martin's choice for game 2 is pot luck.Even Catfish Hunter, thought a week ago to be out for the season, is being considered.
From a technician's point of view, the Yankees must get help from Mike Torrez, the silent hero of playoff game 5 with his 5 1 3 shutouts innings of midgame relief, and Ed Figueroa, who now has a dead nerve in his finger to go with the wrenched muscle in his side.
While the Yankees are tired, and angry at the playoff schedule-maker-the Dodgers are rested, content and hug each others more than the Waltons.
The joke in Kansas City when New York trailed was that the Yankees were going to call 25 separate press conferences after their defeat - one per locker - so each player could announce where he wanted to be traded, who he blamed for the loss or if he were playing out his option.
The Dodgers, by contrast, all play the same big-happy-family record. The Yankees have free agents, the Dodgers have fellowship.
"Instead of buying free agents," said Carvex, "this organization has spread its money around among the players who were already here. Almost all of us are on multiyear contracts. We're grateful. We know this is home and it's made a tight atmosphere."
However, neither designated hitters nor intangibles are alloeed to play in a World Series. Neither Lasorda's insistence on the Great Dodger in the Sky, nor Martin's feud with the Big Meddler in the Owner's Box, should influence this Series as much as the geography of Yankee Stadium.
Against Gullett's lefthanded pitching all four of the Dodgers 30-home run men hit righthanded. The Yankee order is stacked with lefthanded power against righty Sutton, a home run-prone pitcher who has thrown 23 gopher balls.
"It's like the old days," said Martin. "The Dodgers always seem to be built on righthanded power and they come to my park and hit nine-miles outs. The old Dodgers had one lefthanded hitter (Duke Snider). These guys have 1 1/2 (ailing Rick Monday, if he starts, and Smith)."
Then Martin leaned back in something like a trace of exhaustion. "I kept telling myself last night to "Sleep, body, sleep." But I kept seeing plays."
One in particular haunted Martin - Frank White's eight-inning dive behind second to force Jackson at second.
"That was one of the finest pressure plays I've ever seen. I thought it had beat us," said Martin. "But then I'd think of my guys fighting back. Paul Blair fouling off those pitches then getting a bit. Roy White, who hasn't said one word about being benched, drawing a walk. Oh, yeah, and I love remembering (George) Brett's throw into the seats. He musta hurt his throwing hand when he punched Nettles."
Martin was reminded that Brett generously praised Munson after the defeat. "I was at the bottom of the pile in that fight and guys were lining up to punch me in the face," said Brett. "Munson put his hands over my face so I wouldn't get hurt."
"George said that?" Martin laughed. "Who says we're the bad guys?"