I am not a baseball guy. Never really have been. I played as a youth and I will follow the Razorbacks, and I may pay passing attention when the Major League playoffs roll around. Or not. But that’s about it. Too slow. Four hours of shaking off the catcher’s call, stepping off to check the runner, the manager trotting out to talk things over with his ace. All for just a handful of exciting plays that decide the outcome of the game. And to top it all off, single games are just too inconsequential. 162 regular season games? Seriously?
Nevertheless, in the absence of football, basketball, golf, and horse racing, baseball can serve as a serviceable stand-in, especially in person. And vacation in The Big Apple being no excuse to put my passion for sport on the shelf, I have to find a place to get my fix somewhere. What better place to do that on a beautiful summer evening than Yankee Stadium? What other options do we really have? Go to Flushing and watch the Mets? Or…take in the Liberty at Madison Square Garden? As MUCH as I truly, deeply desire to take in my first WNBA contest, that one will have to remain on the list for next time. So, it’s decided. Yankees. Rangers. Let’s do it.
First things first, we need tickets. Fortunately, we took care of this beforehand. StubHub. Roughly $60 for two seats on the third base line, way, way up high. As always, I am willing to sacrifice better seats for convenience, and these are the best pair I could score on the aisle, which is all important if you are a conscientious fatty like myself. As an aside, let me lament the self-print ticket phenomenon for just a moment. Yes, it is tremendously convenient. Yes, it makes monetary sense for the event host to pass the cost of the resources used in printing the ticket on to the audience. It’s just not very romantic. What kind of a crappy keepsake is a black and white printout of a ticket on plain computer paper?
The easiest way for Steph and I to get to Yankee Stadium from our hotel near Times Square is, of course, the subway. The B Train, to be specific, from Rockefeller Center to the 161st St/Yankee Stadium stop. Our car is relatively empty when we board, but fans in Yankee blue pile on at every stop. The overwhelming majority are wearing navy tee-shirt replica uniforms, which I find interesting because the ballclub very rarely, if ever, plays in navy. Though there are a few in the traditional pinstriped white, they are definitely outnumbered.
Our train is almost full when we reach the Yankee Stadium stop. As we exit the car, there is no need to stop and get our bearings. Good thing, because there is also no opportunity to do so. We just follow the crush of people funneling up stairs and ramps and through turnstiles. Progress toward the Stadium is measured in fresh air. As we ascend one last flight of stairs, we are met by sunlight. And Yankee Stadium. It’s, like, right there. Brand spanking new. Still pristine. And right across the street from its predecessor, which is covered up with mesh and tarps and the like. Very strange, old and new next to each other, especially with the weird veil covering the elder House. I cannot believe I didn’t take a picture of the old one.
In a city and region that Stephanie and I are completely foreign to, being herded into a large stadium as part of a large crowd is something that is comfortably familiar. We are used to this. Scalpers looking for tickets to buy and sell, piggyback rides atop Dad for the ankle biters unable to keep up the pace, vendors hawking their merchandise with their best pitch, and New York’s finest directing it all. There is no gate number printed on the ticket, so we are left to wonder exactly where to enter. I decide we should walk around a bit, and we make it roughly halfway around the ballpark before Stephanie is bored with this and directs me to go in. Two very pleasant gentlemen without a line beckon us to enter through their turnstile. They check Stephanie’s bag and look at my cell phone, scan our “tickets” and we are through. Section 428, Row 10, Seats 1-2 here we come!
But first I want to buy a program. Except it isn’t a program. It is an issue of Yankees Magazine with an insert inside containing information for today’s game. Rosters, updated statistics, that sort of thing. And it costs $10. Whatever, it’s a great keepsake, right? There is an old man selling them right in front of our entrance with no line, so I walk up to purchase one.
Me: One program, please.
Vendor: Which one?
(I notice at this point that in addition to the $10 program, there is a $25 “yearbook” or some such nonsense also available for purchase.)
Me: The $10 one, please. A game program.
Vendor: How many do you want?
Me: One. One program, please.
Vendor: That’ll be ten dollars.
(I hand the man a $20 bill. He takes it and looks at it.)
Vendor: Do you have anything smaller than this?
Me: I’m sorry?
Vendor: Do you have anything smaller than a twenty? You don’t have a ten-dollar bill? Or two fives?
Me: What??? No. I don’t. You are selling $10 programs and you can’t break a twenty? Are you serious? Just…give it back.
Me: Give it back. Give me my money back.
(I am out of patience at this point and snatch it out of his hand without asking again.)
Vendor: Don’t you want a program?
Me: Not from you.
My one bad experience in New York. We find another vendor in another part of the stadium, and I ask him beforehand if he can break a twenty. He, of course, looks at me like I’m from Mars and says “sure”. I explain that one of his colleagues lacked either the desire of the ability to do so, and he is as incredulous as I am. I feel vindicated. But more than that, hungry. We need to find our seats.
Three sets of escalators and many, many feet skyward later, we are making our way along the concourse toward our section in the upper deck. Or upper, upper deck. However many decks there are, we are in the upperest. We are way up there. We eventually get there and settle into our seats. Just like with Razorback Stadium, the greens seem a little greener here. All the colors are more vibrant. This is one gorgeous place. The field is immaculate.
There are ribbon boards EVERYWHERE. A massive Mitsubishi HD video board in center field. And in the distance, out past center and left field, the Bronx extends into the evening. Stephanie and I make guesses at the rent of the residential buildings in the distance. We come to the conclusion that we really have no idea. What we agree on is that we most certainly pay less, and get more. But, then, we can’t walk to Yankee Stadium, either.
After finding our seats and sizing them up, we turn our attention to food. We had peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, and we are both starving. The concession stand closest to our section serves typical ballpark food. Nathan’s hotdogs, and Johnny Rocket’s burgers and fries. A 12oz beer in a clear plastic cup is $6. We get a couple of dogs, a small order of fries, one small beer, and a coke in a Souvenir Cup. $27. After getting gouged everywhere in the city all day, this actually feels like a deal.
You may be wondering why I’ve used 1300 words to this point and haven’t even made it to the ceremonial first pitch (thrown by reigning U.S. Open Champion and huge Yankee fan Lucas Glover. How do you get to be a Yankees fan from South Carolina?) If you are, you’re probably also wondering how. I’m long-winded. And the game was excruciatingly boring. Joba Chamberlain is coming off of eight days rest for the Yankees, and it shows. As I mentioned, I already have a hard time staying interested in baseball, and this one apparently is a dud for even the diehards.
The Yankees start off fast, scoring four in the bottom of the first, thanks in part to a timely double from Matsui. Jorge Posada rips one into the right field bleachers, prompting a rousing rendition of “Hip Hip Jorge!” from the crowd. This will prove to be the highlight of the evening for the Yanks. Chamberlain suffers from some control issues, and displays a knack for getting himself into trouble with two outs. The final blow in his short outing is a five-run fourth inning after having two outs and nobody on.
Much more interesting than the baseball are the people. The dad and his daughter sharing a game in the seats next to us. The large and well-served man in the next section with the John Daly haircut and the custom made Yankees jersey that reads “Marlboro Man” on the back. He leads every chant and cheer, and does so with gusto. The city prosecutor across the aisle who shows up in the second inning with a thick manila envelope full of files to work through. Then there is the youngish guy two rows down wearing a Yankees tee shirt and cap, but also with a Rangers cap perched on top of his Yankees cap. Obviously one of those who validates the word fan being derived from the word “fanatic”, this cat keeps a book on the entire game. If he needs to make, or needs a beer, his friend in the next seat takes over. Every at-bat is recorded for posterity. Now, I know that this isn’t that out of the ordinary. But this guy doesn’t keep score on the scorecard insert located inside the program. He keeps his own book that he brings, and it is chock full of previous games he has scored. Lots and lots of them. Through Stephanie’s special talent for eavesdropping, we learn that he is a huge fan of both the Yankees and the Rangers, and HAS SEASON TICKETS TO BOTH TEAMS. That’s 81 games apiece. In separate time zones. And this dude is in his early 30s. Maybe. Where can I get that job?
By far the most interesting people to watch is the extended Jewish family in front of us. Two men in their 40s or 50s, obviously brothers. The wife of one, and their teenage sons. Some other, younger children down the row, parents undetermined. As far as I can tell, they are the quintessential New York Jewish family. Loud, pushy, argumentative, nosy, and extremely, extremely close. Watching them is at once familiar and completely alien. The dynamic of a tight-knit family unit is as Southern as you can get, but the words, the accent, and the attitude is all wrong. Truly enchanting to watch. And the yarmulkes. Stephanie is fascinated by them. Why do they wear them? When do you start? Why aren’t the teenage boys wearing them? And how do you spell yarmulkes? She needs to know this so she can update her facebook status from the stadium and comment on the family in front of us. Sitting next to each other, we text back and forth, arguing over the correct spelling of the word. I tell her that I’ll just ask them, and she asserts that we will have to leave if I do. In the end, we are both wrong. But, as usual, I am less wrong.
The Rangers are comfortably ahead now. 10-5. The Yankees bats have gone silent, and Stephanie is ready to go. I make a deal with her that if things do not improve for the Bronx Bombers, we will leave after the seventh inning stretch. But we HAVE to stay to stretch. She agrees this is fair. So we sing “God Bless America”, and we sway to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. We even stay for the bottom of the seventh, as New York has the meat of their order coming up. They, of course, get nothing, and we head for the exits. Most of the 46,000 in attendance have the same idea, as the subway is even more packed than on the ride up.
Later in the evening, after we take an elevator to the top of the Empire State Building and back down again, we walk into a random Irish pub called Foley’s and get plowed. Sitting at the bar, we catch the highlights and find out that the Yanks rallied in the bottom of the ninth only to come up one run short. We are simultaneously disappointed the home team did not win and relieved that we didn’t miss a successful comeback win. The bartender at Foley’s, Brian, is originally from Ohio, and naturally a huge Buckeye fan. Leaning on a wooden bar top, talking college football to a complete stranger, I am back in my element. This is my sport. My area of expertise. What I always come back to. But just for tonight, I allowed myself to be a baseball guy. And despite cheering for the losing team, and despite a boring game, and despite my first experience with a rude New Yorker, I had a great time. I needed my fix, and Yankee Stadium gave it to me. And it was good.