Game 049:at Manhattan 69, Fairfield 61 Sunday, January 30, 2005 Draddy Gymnasium - Bronx, NY
Draddy Gymnasium is a proud old barn on top of a hill in the Bronx, nestled alongside the other gold-hued brick buildings of Manhattan College's campus. Inside, just about everything has the same medium green color of the school's logotype. The dresses of the cheerleaders and dance team, the sagging lines of NCAA and NIT banners strung up from the low ceiling, the boxy overhanging scoreboard - all sport the same verdant and vibrant hue.
In amongst all that green, the crimson red of Fairfield's square-shirt uniforms just doesn't belong. I mean, it's just basic color theory. The Jasper fans who take up every available inch of Draddy's foldout bleachers let the visiting Stags know that they agree. They're noisy and passionate, and want this eyesore out of their house as soon as possible.
Each member of the partisan Manhattan crowd is eager to help sustain the success of a team that has crashed the Tournament for two years straight. A stellar athlete named Luis Flores led the Jaspers to within a single possession of Sweet Sixteen glory last year; he's warming the Golden State Warriors' bench now, but you can see more than a few dark blue lightning-bolt number six jerseys sprinkled throughout the crowd. Nowadays, Jasper fans cheer heroes like tough small-forward Peter Mulligan and four-position freshman C.J. Anderson, and they do so deafeningly. The raucous din is trapped and amplified by the low roof and compact seating area.
But listen closely, and you can just make out a tinny, clanging, banging in that loud jumble. It sounds at first like rattling water pipes or a bad car engine. But scan the crowd, and you'll quickly find the source - an older man with a bright white ballcap and white t-shirt, banging on a frying pan with a spoon.
The old gent slowly makes his way around the perimeter of the court during time outs. The kids jump from their seats and follow him, hoping for a chance to bang on the pan. Attached to that piece of metal cookware is a colorful hand-penned sign - it's worded in a vaguely apoclayptic fashion, but it's clearly a well-meant message. "FREDDY SEZ: JASPERS FACE A NEW CHALLENGE WILL WIN AGAIN!"
Who is this man?
"Freddy Schuman is a Bronx legend," says Michael Antonaccio, Manhattan's Sports Information Director. "He attends Manhattan and Fordham basketball games, but what he is most known for is attending Yankee games."
Indeed, Freddy's pan has two prominent add-ons: a Yankees logo sticker on top, and a painted shamrock below. During the baseball season, he's sponsored by Modell's and all the A friend of his even made him a website a while back, which includes his usual Yankee Stadium route and a gallery of past signs. He's sponsored by Modell's, and is often the subject of media attention for his pan-banging antics.
At halftime, outside the seating area on Draddy's green 200-meter indoor track, I see Freddy standing near the player's entrance - he's standing alongside the Manhattan players, hoarsely shouting encouragement for the upcoming second half. The Jaspers are locked into a tight game, so they're fixed in an intense and blindered focus - they pay Freddy no mind. But I take the opportunity to approach him.
"How's that work?" I ask Freddy, pointing to the pan.
He fixes me with a monocular twinkle (he's lost an eye along the way) and gives the worn pan-lip a couple of good ringing whacks with the spoon. He smiles, extends his arm, and hands me the implement. "Brings 'em luck," he explains softly.
The old spoon feels good and warm in my hand. I strike three hard blows on the shamrock, but they doesn't sound right - the spoon collides against the pan with a dull thud, thud, thud. I quickly realize that I'm holding the spoon all wrong, I've got the handle in a balled fist. I hand it to The Official Wife™, and she does much better with her three or four clamorous clangs.
My next question is far less idiotic. "How long've you been coming to games?"
"Few years," he says faintly, and smiles warmly. "Few years... I go to all the girls' games too... they did so good against Siena today! I also go to see Fordham."
"Who do you root for when Manhattan and Fordham play each other?" inquires The Official Wife™.
"Neither," he chuckles. "I don't like those games, I get too nervous!"
"I especially like to go to the Yankee games," says Freddy, proudly pointing to the logo sticker. "I love my Yankees. I'm really hoping they have a good season..."
It's time for the second half to begin - Freddy shakes my hand with the firm, solid grip one might expect from a guy who's spent decades banging on a pan. I walk back to our seats with the distinct feeling that I've encountered a living legend, that soft glow that you feel when you've paths with a Hall of Famer.
"I have heard stories of the [Yankees] flying him down to Florida for a World Series game in 2003," Antonaccio says. "He is an extremely popular character for Bronx athletics."
Fairfield has a tough inside game and makes a decent contest of it, but the Jaspers have Freddy's magic pan on their side and win the day. Later on, The Official Wife™ and I spot Freddy wearing a dusty 2001 World Series jacket, struggling up the 242nd Street subway station's tall stairflight. And even though the game's over, he's still holding that sign proudly.