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April 2 2001 – Opening Day: Part One: The Day Of The Fan

For those of you who had to miss Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, I decided to bring you a minute by minute recap of the entire day. It’s in two parts, one that’s just about the actual game, and then this one…

9:05 am — I woke up to the smell of bacon cooking in my mother’s house. Mmm. This has nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with how great my mom is. She made sure corwin and I ate a hearty breakfast before venturing out into the frozen tundra that is New York on April 2. She also made us tuna sandwiches to eat at the game. Did I mention my mom is great?

9:20 am — My father calls from work to wish us luck at the game (while wishing he was there) and to remind us to wear our long underwear. He wants to know if I want to borrow his ski jacket. No, dad, it’s okay, we’ve known all week it was going to be freezing and we’ve brought appropriate clothing. But did I mention my dad is great?

9:30 am — Suiting up. They say you should wear layers when it’s cold, so here are my three New York Yankee fan layers. Long blue turtleneck with white NY embroidered on the neck. Over that, blue t-shirt with Yankee top hat logo. Over that, blue button down World Champions 2000 shirt that Dad bought me at Legends Field. Over that, knee length black winter coat. Okay, it’s got nothing to do with the Yankees, but damn it’s cold out there.

9:50 am — We decide to check the Weather Channel to find out if we should bring garbage bags with us, too, as rain ponchos. After watching several minutes of irrelevant weather and commercials, we still haven’t come to the local forecast. But, it doesn’t matter because on Opening Day the whole world revolves around the Yankees. Weather Center A.M. anchor Bob Stokes starts the national weather outlook with a piece about how cold it will be in New York for Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. Mid-40’s, no rain expected. We leave the garbage bags behind, say goodbye to Mom, and hit the road.

10:45 am — feeling paranoid about potential traffic, I switch on the radio to find a news station. Today’s top story, there’s been a plane downed in China, and it’s Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. We hear a sound bite from Joe Torre where he says Knoblauch will be fine in left field. We hear the weather–mid-40’s, no rain. We hear the traffic–just as we’re coming to a serious backup in the road. Accident on the George Washington Bridge.

10:50 am — the traffic warning signs on the road toward the GWB read “Yankee Stadium Traffic: Delays on Major Deegan, Use Alt. Route.” Fortunately for us, we always take Harlem River Drive to the Macombs Dam Bridge, because the Deegan is ALWAYS backed up like that on game days.

11:15 am — still deep in GWB traffic, feeling very anxious that Yankee BP has just ended and we’re still not there yet. We hear several more news stories about the downed American spy plane, and game day.

11:45 am — finally, we edge our way around the Stadium on River Street, trying to get to Lot 8, where we have a prepaid parking coupon because we are using someone’s season tickets for today’s game. It’s a Yankee fan street festival out there, with people in midnight blue jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, you name it, walking everywhere. As such it takes a long time to get around to the lot, but by then I’m happy. We’re here, we’re with fifty thousand like-minded souls, and we’re going to have fun.

11:50 am — We discover the season ticket holders’ entrance, and are greeted with “Welcome to Yankee Stadium!” while the greeters check our bags for cans or bottles. We find our seats without difficulty. They are showing the 2000 World Series Video on the Diamond Vision. corwin goes to the men’s room. I am entranced.

12:15 pm — Sometimes I worry that I’m a little too much of a fanatic. OFten the people sitting around me aren’t as fanatical as I am. But hey, it’s not only Opening Day, we’re sitting among all season ticket holders! I show my photos from Spring Training to the lady behind me. She shows me her “Yankee Schedule Watch.” Yes, it’s a wristwatch that say New York Yankees on it, and every year for $14 she can buy a computer chip to put in it that has the year’s game schedule. The only reason I’m not tempted to get one is, I never wear a watch, as you’ll soon see….

12:30-ish — I’m losing track of time now that we’re here. You know what they say: in baseball there’s no clock, and that suits me just fine. But around half past, a marching band from Norwalk, CT marches out onto the warning track, and plays a song. It being a baseball stadium and not a football stadium, the acoustics aren’t really right for it, but nothing adds a little pomp and circumstance to a ceremony like a bunch of drums and brass.

12:45?? — Bob Sheppard announces the crew who will hoist the Championship Flag: newly retired Dwight Gooden, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, and new Hall of Fame inductee Dave Winfield. As you would suspect, all get a warm welcome from the crowd, before they begin the “ceremonial golf cart ride to Monument Park.” Not kidding, those were the exact words. The golf cart draws cheers and waves from the crowd as it makes it slow way down the first base line. The “Let’s Go Yan-kees” cheer breaks out spontaneously at various points.

1:00 — while the golf cart is still rolling, Bob Sheppard announces the lineups and rosters of both teams. There is not even obligatory polite applause for the Royals, although Jason Grimsley did get a few cheers. The crowd is on its feet for the entire Yankee lineup, from header trainer Gene Monahan to Scott Brosius.

1:02 — The golf cart has reached its destination. The players turn to face Monument Park. The Championship Flag is white with blue and red letters on it, and it flutters in the cold wind as it makes its way slowly up the flag pole. Some of the players’ faces the camera shows on the Diamond Vision are somber, others are gleeful. Pettitte stands like a soldier, Knoblauch can’t contain his smile, and Joe looks like maybe he’s got another tear in his eye.

1:05 — Robert Merrill (wow, he’s still alive, too? Bob Sheppard, Eddie Layton, and Robert Merrill have got to be some kind of holy trinity as far as Yankee history is concerned) comes out to sing America the Beautiful. I think it’s a little odd we’re singing America the Beautiful instead of the Star Spangled banner — I mean, I know you an do one instead of the other officially, but it still seems a little odd, but maybe Merrill has a sore throat and the anthem is too tough? No idea. It doesn’t seem to make a difference to Challenger the Bald Eagle, who repeats his performance of the postseason with his flight to the mound from the center field bleachers. We all hope the Yanks will repeat their performance as well.

1:08 — Mel Stottlemyre get the loudest ovation thus far on the day, when he throws the ceremonial first pitch to his catcher, Joe Torre. A strike!

1:10 — Roger Clemens throws the actual first pitch of the game–also a strike!

1:11 — The loudest, most raucous Roll Call from the Bleacher Creatures I’ve ever heard goes up. We wonder if anyone has clued in Soriano about it–he’s starting at second base. He gets a huge cheer (as does everyone) when he turns to acknowledge the fans chanting his name.

Top of the third — No idea what time it is now that the game is going. With two outs, a ball is hit toward left field and a huge cheer goes up even before the ball starts coming down. I mean as loud a cheer as you’ll hear when a home run is hit! Chuck catches the ball routinely to end the inning, and is given a huge standing ovation as he heads into the dugout.

Four minutes later — Chuck comes to bat with a man on (Brosius) and no outs. The Bleacher Creatures start a loud chant with a cow bell. I never figure out what they are saying and Knobby grounds into a double play. Whatever it was, I guess it didn’t work.

Top of the fifth — While Rey Sanchez is at bat, the overcast sky noticeably brightens. Then a hazy glow begins. Then a full blown sun bathes the field in golden light, provoking a big cheer out of the audience, even those of us sitting in the shade.

Top of the sixth — Game tied at 1-1, Jermaine Dye goes deep on Clemens, hitting one into the new handicapped seating section by Monument Park. Some able-bodied fellow scampers after the ball. Under intense pressure from the chanting bleachers, he tosses it back onto the field and earns an ovation of his own.

Bottom of the sixth — Paulie has singled and Bernie is coming to bat, and everyone can feel that something is about to happen. The Yankees and the fans are riled up by Dye’s solo shot, and want to get Rocket a win. The cheering for Bernie is loud and continuous. Bernie goes boom, and fan ecstasy explodes. (For complete game details, read my recap in part two).

Middle of the seventh — Hey! From these seats we can actually see the Cotton-Eye Joe guy doing his dance!

Top of the eighth — I realize we haven’t seen Freddie the Fan today, or heard the sound of the good-luck pan being banged. Maybe he stayed in Florida? We saw him at Legends Field a week ago and they mentioned him on the Fan Marquee there, as if the Yankees had brought him down. (Though he didn’t have the pan at Legends Field, and we wondered if maybe he couldn’t bring it on the plane?) A mystery. What is Opening Day without Freddie?

4:07 pm — Ballgame over, Yankees win! We stumble out onto River Street where the party goes on.

4:15 pm — We are now at the pizza shop at #86 East 161st Street, just two blocks from the Stadium. I think it might even be called Yankee Pizza, but who can tell? The sign just reads: “Pizza Pasta Gyros.” This place is great. The pizza with everything is the Yankee Special, they’ve got NY wall paper, and the ceiling fans are catcher’s mitts with bat-shaped blades. And they have the tastiest New York style baked ziti pizza in the world. (Yeah, baked ziti on pizza. Mind-blowing.) Mmmm.

4:45 pm — we’re making our way back down River Street, where the party will go on for hours, to get to our car. If I weren’t so broke, I’d be tempted to buy those completely adorable small blue Derek Jeter beanie bears we see in the window. But I am broke, so maybe some other time.

5:40 pm — Pulled up to get gas at the rest area on the Hutchinson Parkway, half a mile from the Connecticut border. The entire place is packed with Yankees fans. Blue caps are everywhere. There’s an SUV in front of us with CT plates but the NY Yankees license-plate holder. There’s a giant white stretch limo with seven or eight guys in pinstriped jerseys standing around it, just having a pit stop before the ride home. One guy comes over to me and gives me a thumbs up. “My first Opening Day,” he says, “Decided to go in style…”

7:10 pm — I am in the passenger seat while corwin drives us up the Merritt Parkway. The radio is on NPR and it’s a news story about baseball opening day. The world really does revolve around us. I fall asleep knowing that all is right in my world.

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

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