Bronx Cathedral: The Pope Comes to Yankee Stadium
Growing up a New York Yankees fan 45 minutes from The Big Ballpark in the Bronx I have had the opportunity to attend many games throughout my life.
I have seen playoff games, numerous games decided in the final at-bat for the Yankees, many laughers (both in favor of the Yankees and in favor of the visitors).
I have re-fallen in love with the team just as many times as they have broken my heart. It is at the point where I can look around the Stadium and cannot find an area where I have not viewed a game.
However, in the 14 years I have attended games at Yankee Stadium the most monumental event I have ever witnessed took place on Sunday, April 20, 2008 and not one current member of the New York Yankees was at the Stadium.
If you have not figured it out by now, the occasion I am speaking about is the Mass, Pope Benedict XVI gave on April 20.
The most spiritual weekend of my life would also be the most hectic.
To start things off my ticket for the Yankee Stadium mass did not have my name spelled correctly, which means I may not get in to the Mass. My last name was spelled B-U-Z-Z-E-D, instead of B-U-Z-Z-E-O.
On Friday, April 18, the Quinnipiac University Catholic Campus Ministry went down to NYU where we stayed at their Catholic Student Center in the city.
On Saturday I was up for nearly 24 hours (about 4:30 am until 3:30 am). After a mass at 5 am we headed to Yonkers for the Seminarian and Youth Rally the Pope would be attending. We were the first group on the buses to head over from Yonkers Raceway over to Saint Joseph Seminary for the rally.
Before going onto the bus we devised a plan on how to get the best place to sit. We broke up into three groups to get the spots we wanted. Two groups of four which were devised up of the fastest people (which I was a part of even though I was always one of the slowest people on my team), our job was to be the first ones off of the shuttle and secure an area for us, while the third group would get there when they could.
The bus stops and lets us out at Dunwoody and the two groups of runners take off. As soon as the doors open we begin dodging, ducking, dipping, diving, and dodging (if I may paraphrase the movie) to get to the head of the pack. Once we got in front of the line we had to wait another 10 minutes before being allowed to go to the actual field where everything will be taking place.
During this time, I decided to take some control and split people up so that someone from Quinnipiac University would have a shot at being the first one in case one entrance opened up first. Once the gates opened we stampeded through security to get to the front of the stage. We were the first people inside Dunwoody and Elbows was congratulated for being the first person in. A point I would have left out, but I had to hear it several times over the next couple of hours.
At about 10 a.m. acts began performing, mostly local Christian- Rock bands, but the acts picked up as the day went along. After about seven hours of baking in the sun the crowd began to pick up emotion again when the Emcee said those two magical words, “Kelly Clarkson.”
Clarkson came out and did her thing which prompted an inappropriate text message from my friend St. Dominic. After Clarkson was finished, she left and all 20,000 knew who was coming next and were pushing forward trying to get a better view of the Holy Father. At this time I realized my strategy was stupid. For some dumb reason I thought it would be a good idea to stand all day until the Pope came out and then I would sit and listen to Pope Benedict XVI (a rookie mistake).
I needed to push back people trying to invade our territory (everything was planned out as if we were on a military operation, so the terminology fits). The only problem was my legs were shot and I was struggling to stand, let alone push people back. Somehow I mustered up the strength to keep at least enough territory that we were still in front.
Finally, the Pope-mobile made it out of the seminary and down to the field. Although, I could only see the top of it as it approached, I have never felt more in awe in my life. I did not know what to do. The people behind us began chanting, but I felt like it was inappropriate or something. When he got on the stage and began waving to the audience I was getting choked up.
When the Pope was finished speaking and well on his way back to where he was staying in New York we all sat down to let the crowd file out a bit. At that time our campus Chaplain gave me the car keys and told me to walk back to the car to pick up a few of us that are unable to walk as far, and that is when all hell would break loose.
The cops blocked off many streets for the buses to go from Dunwoody back to the raceway, so I had a difficult time walking back, not to mention I did not have the best sense of where I was. However, between following the crowd and asking a few cops I was able to get to the car with relative ease (even though I was freaking out).
Now, I had to drive back where I would not be allowed to pick up No. 4 and several other members of our group. You should know that neither of us had any idea how we would do it, we just knew that we would do it.
I began by calling No. 4 and said to walk towards the raceway the best they can and I would do my best to meet them there. However, Yonkers traffic control had other ideas for us, as traffic on Yonkers Avenue was at a standstill. To make matters worse, I turned on the Yankee game to find out that Ian Kennedy had been knocked out of the game in the third inning.
When No. 4 called again, he told me that he was on a main road that was past the traffic and all I had to do was figure out how to get there. OK, that wasn’t going to be a problem. I am in a town where I do not know the streets, I have a horrible map with most of the listed streets blocked off, and had to somehow find the group on a street not listed on the map.
The way I looked at it, I had two choices: one stay in bumper to bumper traffic until we met, or two, take a tour of Yonkers and hopefully run into my friends accidentally.
My decision came rather quickly and was not well thought out. I hate traffic and the Yankees were losing and could not find a good song on the radio. I also, looked at the map and thought I saw a path to where they could have been, so I decided to take it.
I failed to realize that on the map there was a parkway running through the path I was taking, so I could not just pass through like planned. So, I get on the parkway figuring I made the wrong decision I am going to get off get back on in the other direction and just sit in traffic until my friends meet up with me. However, finally my luck would change (sort of anyway) the next exit actually would let me off on the street they were at.
I called #4 again to figure out where they were, so I could head in the right direction to pick them up. They told me where they were and I stopped at a gas station to get directions. Of course I could take both directions to get to the street where they were, and when I tried to explain where my friends were at the gas station attendants looked at me as if I should have been on the short bus.
So, I said a quick prayer and hoped I was going to head in the right direction. At red lights I would ask my fellow drivers if I was heading in the correct direction, and the few times this happened I was always going the wrong way. After the third time I had enough and stopped at a different gas station hoping for someone who knew what I was talking about.
The guy was clueless as expected, but at least he showed me a map and from that I realized that I was on (as well as my friends) a road that was “C” shaped and met with Yonkers Avenue at two different points, so everyone I was talking to was telling me the truth, but not helping, and to make matters worse I started out in the right direction (just goes to show you God does listen).
After a good three hours I finally met up with them, and when I got out of the car No. 4 gave me a much-needed hug (in a purely heterosexual way) and sat in the back of the car where I let my mind turn off for about a half hour, until I saw it.
My face lit up like a kid seeing Mickey Mouse for the first time. As I stared out the window I saw big, bright, blue, neon letters saying, “YANKEE STADIUM”. I then somehow found the strength to keep going and not lose my mind over this pilgrimage (Also, this marked the first time I have seen Yankees Stadium without going to a ballgame).
I was so jacked up from seeing the stadium that instead of going right to bed like I planned to when I got back to NYU and I ended up staying up until about 3:30 talking about life with St. Dominic.
The wake up time for Sunday was not much later, 7:30 a.m. Then Mass at 8 am and on to the Stadium. Like every other thing we did that weekend, we rushed around in huge groups to get some place.
We got to Yankee Stadium around 10 a.m. and then had to push are way through the other 60,000 people to get into the House that Ruth Built. Our group got separated into smaller groups and we had to just keep pushing forward and try to stick in those groups the best we could. My group became Elbow, Auximatas, Berg, Hill, E3, and JC.
After we get through the thousands of people and security, it is the moment of truth. Will they allow me into the Stadium even though the name on my ticket is not my real name? I start getting worried as I hand my ticket to the guy who looks at it, scans it and lets me in no questions asked. Worried for no reason at all.
Now that the weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, I look at my group and none of them have ever been to the House that Ruth Built let alone know how to get to our seats, and Hill who is the leader of the group makes the best decision of the weekend. She turns to me and says, “Where do we go?”
Finally! I do not feel lost or confused this weekend. I take a quick look at the ticket and lead them up to the loge level of the stadium and to our seats.
Then at about 2:30, the Pope-mobile came out and the stadium erupted as if Mariano Rivera was coming in to close out the final game of the World Series (I made the joke several times that the Pope should come out to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” like Mariano Rivera). As the Pope-mobile was going from under the left field stands to the Yankees dugout every person in the stands was waving either a gold or white towel in honor of the Pope entering.
As Pope Benedict XVI started the Mass, a number of people continued to cheer for the Pope. For the first time in my life, I did not know how to act at Yankee Stadium. On the one hand I was in Yankee Stadium and felt compelled to cheer like I have so many times before. And on the other I was at Sunday Mass.
I figured it would be safe if I acted like I was in a church at Sunday Mass and not at an event at Yankee Stadium. My answer on the correct way to act did not come easy because people were still applauding for the Pope. During the second reading my answer was given. After one person shouted “Il Popa” St. Dominic leaned over to me and told me that it is ridiculous how people are acting and that they should act as if they are still at Mass even if it is Yankee Stadium.
I had two other questions about having mass at Yankee Stadium. The first was how were 60,000 people going to receive communion and the second was kneeling at the Stadium is going to be a problem.
In order for mass to be given and received all people must be acting in an orderly fashion and lets be honest, there have not been too many times in Yankee Stadium’s history where all 60,000 people were orderly.
There are several problems I have with kneeling at Yankee Stadium.
Obviously, the ground at the House that Ruth built is anything but clean. Between spilt food, vomit, blood and whatever else, it just can not be considered sanitary. Even though the maintenance staff does a wonderful job, I do not think I am alone in saying I am not going to eat off of the floor anytime soon.
Also, the Stadium was not built for people to kneel and there is very little space between each column and row of seating. Plus, to make the already limited space even smaller every person was given a bag with commemorative stuff. So, now I am sitting in my seat with the bag underneath and I am trying to figure out how I am going to kneel to pray during the Mass.
My final worry about kneeling during the Papal Mass is the way Yankee Stadium is constructed. To allow the fans sit as close to the action as possible the designers of the stadium made the stadium as much of a straight vertical line as much as possible and still permit 60 thousand people to fit into the stadium safely.
The problem with that is that usually while kneeling people lean forward and brace against something in front of them. So, if they act naturally and lean forward they can very easily fall a long way down. So, of course I am thinking that I am going to be the one idiot at Yankee Stadium that’s going to fall. It’s not that I am too clumsy; I just always think that this type of thing will happen to me.
Fortunately, for me and my nerves the people in charge of making sure the Mass went on without a hitch took care of both problems.
To take care of the distribution of the Eucharist problem, there were probably over 200 priests (not including the Cardinals and Bishops that were on the stage with the pope). With all of these priests, 60,000 people did not have to be orderly at once, but probably about 5,000 to 6,000 people at once. It went smoothly and rather quickly considering there were so many people there.
The kneeling situation was taken care of as well. The answer was very simple, do not have people kneel. Instead of kneeling we would just sit. Obvious, right? Well, apparently not to me.
Besides for the occasional moron who would begin cheering for the Pope randomly during the service the Mass was really peaceful, maybe a little too peaceful for St. Dominic and I. Naturally the highlight of the Papal Mass would be the homily Pope Benedict XVI would give, and unfortunately the part of the Mass where I would catch myself doing the, “head-bob” fighting to stay awake.
Somehow, I kicked myself out of the trance and was wide awake, only to find that St. Dominic was not as fortunate and was in a really deep self-reflecting state (a.k.a. sleeping).
I know that every person reading this who was not fortunate enough to attend any of the Pope’s events are cursing us right now, but give us a break we were on eight hours of sleep from the past two nights.
The crowd erupted again as the Pope ended the Mass and left the Stadium. Yes, I did joke about how the Pope should leave to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”. Several of us even tried to get everyone to sing it as we left the stadium, but it was to no avail.
Like the rest of the weekend, we were in a rush after the Mass. This time we were on our way to Sirius Satellite Radio Station where we would appear on the Sirius’ Catholic Channel to give our perspectives of the Pope’s visit and the events we attended.
After the show ended, we hopped onto a chartered bus and went back to Quinnipiac. On the bus ride back, we began reminiscing about the weekend and all of the craziness that took place.
With Yankee Stadium closing after this season, I have often thought about the stories I am going to have to tell my children and grandchildren about the Stadium.
I realized for the first time that the most epic event I have witnessed at the Big Ballpark in the Bronx did not include either Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera or any of the other great players I have seen in the past 14 seasons. The event took place April 20, 2008, when the Cathedral of Baseball really became a Cathedral.
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