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July 29 2000: The Quintessential Yankee Stadium Experience

(This column originally appeared at www.yankeesxtreme.com, Yankees Xtreme. Reproduced here by permission of Ultrastar.)
I have a dream sometimes. In this dream, a genie gives me the power to transport myself instantly to one place on Earth, any time I want. You know where I’d choose? Not my house or my job. I’d choose Yankee Stadium.

See, I don’t get to the House That Ruth Built often enough. I get down there maybe three times in a summer, if my car and my schedule are up for the two hundred fifty mile trek. But every time I go, I try to catch a little Yankees magic.

One chilly Friday in April, I found myself behind a barricade with a few dozen fans at the Press Gate, hoping to catch a glimpse of the players as they arrived. I wasn’t lucky that day–the Yanks were taking an early practice and were all inside by the time I arrived. But while standing there, I met one Dad and his son from California who were at the stadium for the first time. In fact, it was the kid’s first major league game ever. Here’s the advice I gave them on getting the most out of their visit.

A walk through Monument Park is, of course, a great way to soak in some Bomber history. I like to be at Gate 2 when the doors open, so I can be among the first folks to see the monuments.

You climb down a set of stairs to the bullpen level and walk along a long row of plaques that are the retired numbers. And then you come to the actual monuments–mammoth plaques set into either tall slabs of stone, or a large wall. I get a lump in my throat whenever I read the monument to Lou Gehrig, dedicated “by his teammates” shortly after his death.

Of course, not everyone who has a monument is deceased. For fifty years, Bob Sheppard has been the voice of Yankee Stadium. He was just honored by Baseball’s Hall of Fame this past week, but earlier this year his became the most recent monument added to the collection.

The last time I was there, the Yankees magic I caught was literal. As my family and I were exiting Monument Park, a Tino Martinez batting practice blast sailed over the left field wall, right to us. It was the day of the historic Roger Clemens/Pedro Martinez face off, a day which only fell short of being one of the greatest in Yankees history by one pitch to Trot Nixon. (If only Tino had been able to hit one into the retired numbers during the game that night!)

Before you find your seats, or when you need to stretch your legs mid-game, wander around and see the view from the upper deck, from the third base box seats, from behind home plate. Is there a bad seat in the house? Even the bleachers have their charm, and section 39 (right field bleachers) is the best place to get a lesson in Yankee fandom, from the folks who do the “roll call” (chanting of each position players’ name) during the first inning.

See those flags flapping above the outfield bleachers? There’s one for each team in the American League. If you look closely you’ll notice they’re in the order of the standings in each division.

And if you look into the gap between the right field bleachers and the grandstands, you’ll see New York City subway trains flash by from time to time. Okay, maybe that doesn’t have anything to do with baseball. But those trains have rattled past since as long as most Yankee fans can remember.

There’s lots more to discover about the Stadium, of course. Eddie Layton’s been playing the organ there since the year I was born (1967). Some traditions at the Stadium are common to other ballparks, like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh inning stretch, while others are unique. I don’t think I can explain “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”

Anyway, the next time you’re at Yankee Stadium, do me a favor. Sit back in your chair. Look around at the shimmering emerald of the field, the white facade crowning the outfield and the blue arms of the upper deck reaching around to surround you. Take a moment to bask in the history and the spirit of the place. It’s New York. It’s 25 World Championships. It’s baseball.

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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