WRITTEN: August 11, 2009
"If you build it, they will come."
Certainly one of the most revered movie lines ever, this quote symbolizes all that is important about the game of baseball. It symbolizes the return of players past, to lurk in the shadows of the game today, as "ghosts." Field of Dreams nicely conveyed the idea of the importance of what has already happened, in relation to what is happening today.
I think it's safe to say that the Yankees built it, and the ghosts decided to walk across the street to join in on their little party.
In March and April, many things were said about the Yankees' new home, located across the street from the 86 year old "heaven on earth," at One East 161st Street in the 10451 (Bronx, NY).
Barbara Aufiero said, "Much ado has been made about ticket prices and the strict rules limiting autographs to only those fans with tickets for the highest priced sections. The price of a ticket in these sections was so extraordinarily high that even though the cost has been cut in half, each seat still costs over $1000.00 per game! Fans are no longer prohibited from entering all field level sections during batting practice; however, they still cannot enter sections between the bases unless they have a ticket for that section."
Susan Slusser wrote, with help from visiting team pitchers, ""I'm not a mathematician, but that's a ridiculous pace," Oakland starter Dallas Braden said. "I can't imagine that will hold up, but if it does, any word on if they'll get a humidor in here? I'm sure the Yankees' pitchers wouldn't mind.""
ESPN commentator Peter Gammons has denounced the new facility as "one of the biggest jokes in baseball" and concludes that "[it] was not a very well-planned ballpark." Likewise, Gammons' ESPN colleague Buster Olney has described the stadium as being "on steroids" and likened it to his childhood Wiffle-ball park. Newsday columnist Wallace Matthews joined in the criticism, labeling the stadium "ridiculous" and decrying its cheapening of the home run. Former Yankee Reggie Jackson termed the park "too small" to contain current player Alex Rodriguez and suggested it might enable the third baseman to hit 75 home runs in a season.
The Yankees were also criticized for not making a move at this year's trade deadline. The Red Sox, the Yanks main competition in this 2009 season, acquired Victor Martinez, and did not even give up any of their top prospects. The Yankees, acquired Eric Hinske and Jerry Hairston Jr, rather than addressing their "need" of a 5th starting pitcher. It seemed, to Yankees Universe and Red Sox Nation, that the Yankees were just making one bad decision after another.
On, August 6, though, none of that mattered.
The Yankees sold out Yankee Stadium for only the 2nd time all season - 2nd since Opening Day. However, this crowd was not of the April 16th "Wine & Cheese" variety. The fans in the ballpark on August 6 were Yankees fans - and not afraid the mention it.
Joba struggled in the opener vs. Boston. He walked a career high 7 men, and surrendered two home runs through 5 innings pitcher.
None of that seemed to matter. The Yankees erupted for 8 runs in the Bottom of the 4th inning, and won the game, 13-6.
On August 7, 2009, the Yankees sold out again.
Again, Yankees fans flocked to the stadium. Something was catching on.
After 9 innings, not one run had been scored.
In the bottom of the 15th innings, the Yankees had two out, one on, with Alex Rodriguez up. When I tell you the place was still packed, I mean it.
When I tell you A-Rod hadn't homered in 70+ ABs at this moment, I mean it.
When I tell you that was the longest such streak in his career, I mean it.
When I tell you when he swung, Yankee Stadium erupted for this first time in it's short history, I mean it.
A walk-off HR over the LF wall, A-Rod jubilantly rounded the bases to the tune of "New York, New York."
The Yankees entered the series with Boston having lost 9 straight dating back to last season, and were 0-8 in 2009. Slowly, but surely, the Yanks were climbing back into the hunt, and expanding on their lead in the American League East.
I cannot mention Friday night, though, without commenting on A.J. Burnett's performance. To say he was phenomenal would be an understatement. 7.2 IP, 0 Runs, 1 Hit. Anthony James (if that is what A.J. stands for) was impeccable.
The great starting pitching would only get better, as Carston Charles Sabathia would take the hill on Saturday, for the FOX Matinee. Again, the Yankees would not allow a run, and some late inning hits fueled another victory.
Fans in Yankee Stadium (after it's 3rd consecutive sellout and 4th overall) were starting to realize something - this Yankee team is special. Let's keep going to games.
After Burnett & CC were taken off the mound in their respective outings, each commented on the crowd's intensity - the first time either of them had ever experienced such intensity in their entire careers:
"It was pretty loud, the loudest thing I ever heard," Burnett said. "I had goose bumps the whole way to the dugout. I'm just glad I didn't drop my glove.
"That was the loudest I ever heard anything. It was awesome, an environment I really can't describe. To come off the field and get that type of ovation, it was amazing."
"That was unbelievable," Sabathia said, "I had goose bumps walking off there."
The stage was set for the epic Sunday Night Baseball Matchup of two southpaws. Pettitte, who had struggled in his past two seasons, but was lights out of late, and Lester, a career 3-0 vs. the men in Pinstripes.
The game, again, held Boston scoreless - the longest such streak (31 Innings) since the 1980's!
A-Rod proved why he is CLUTCH this season, hitting a go-ahead, scoreless tie breaking homer to deep CF in the bottom of the 7th. The crowd was electric tonight, especially, giving him an early curtain call.
Unfortunately, the fun was short lived for the Yanks and their fans, as newly acquired Victor Martinez homered to deep LF to break Boston's scoreless streak, and give them a 2-1 lead.
The crowd was deflated. I could hear it now - the back page of the Post: Why did Girardi not use Hughes? Who cares if he pitched the last two days - we NEED TO WIN.
Let's take a step back though. Would criticism be on Cashman as well? Why allow Boston to acquire such a phenomenal hitter without doing something of our own? We need pitching, why was Chad Gaudin our top acquisition? Keep in mind, he was warming after Coke allowed this mammoth homer to Martinez.
Although the Yankees would still lead the division assuming they lost this game, things would not be right in Yankee Country. For some reason this Sunday Night Baseball game mattered, especially since it would dictate an attitude the Yankees would carry going on into the end of August.
Apparently the only people worried were the fans.
Johnny Damon homered to RF off a 98-MPH fastball from Bard, and the Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the 8th. Johnny received a curtain call.
The crowd was absolutely electric. I am getting chills writing about it now - as they say, you just 'had to be there.'
No sooner did Johnny walk back into the dugout post-curtain call, and John Sterling catch his breath, for an epic, record setting achievement.
For the 6th time this season, a Yankees franchise record, Damon & Tex went back to back. Teixeira lifted his bat high in the air in triumph as he rounded first base, before tossing it high towards the dugout.
For the first time in the stadium's short life, it shook. I tell you, it shook.
At this exact moment, nothing else mattered. The expensive seats did not matter. The dimensions did not matter. The homerun lenghts did not matter. The lack of trade deadline acquisitions did not matter.
Nothing mattered, other than the fact that the Yankees knew they were going to win, even when the crowd was deflated. The crowd was behind them the whole way, and propelled them to excellence.
Mariano came in immediately following their 4-run 8th. The crowd never looked back.
Yankees win, 5-2. Yankees sweep. Yankees lead Sox by 6.5 in the AL East.
As I exited work, twenty minutes following the final pitch, I was stunned at what I saw. 'New York, New York' was on its normal loop, following the game, but that was not what I didn't expect.
If you have ever seen the movie "Little Big League," where a young teenager inherits the Minnesota Twins after his grandfather's death, you might be able to relate, on a smaller scale. In the movie, the Twins lost in a playoff-qualifying game. Afterwards, security enters the Twins dugout, looking for the manager. Security says to young Billy, "Sir, they won't leave." When Billy, the twelve year old coach asks who, the guard responds, "Everybody."
I walked out of work, and everybody remained in the stadium. This was unlike anything I have ever seen before in my life. In unison, everyone singing "New York, New York," as if it were October.
Yeah, this team is special, alright.
"If you build it, they will come."
I think it's safe to say it doesn't matter who built it, how much money it cost, or how easy it is to hit homeruns. Between the days of August 6 - 9, 2009, the new stadium was christened, and, I'll tell you something - it's no different than the old one. When you walk in now, it screams 'Yankees.'
The new stadium was built, and it was lackluster for awhile.
However, when the "ghosts" were good and ready, they came.
The stadium was built, and the ghosts, fans, memories, and jubilation came - it just took a little longer than expected.