Fans are as much a part of the game of baseball as stats are. Without the fannies (no pun intended) in the seats, the RBIs, ERA, and wins would mean nothing. Part of being a fan is having an emotional connection to the game and your team, and emotional reactions which don’t always reflect logic.
One of those is a sort of concept of fannish karma, in other words, did a team “deserve” to win? In particular, did their fans deserve it? Look at Oakland. Their fans were loud and intense during their stretch run, seemingly willing their team to overtake Texas and nab a berth in the postseason. Oakland has some of the most colorful fans, who make clever signs, wear wacky costumes/wigs, and have goofy and amusing customs (like the thing they do when Grant Balfour enters the game).
But although ten thousand A’s fans signed a petition asking management to open up the closed upper deck seats for the ALDS, management refused, citing two things: one, it takes two days for a specially trained crew to untarp the seating sections, and two, postseason tickets had been on sale for weeks already and the demand in terms of sales to untarp the sections was just not there. If those ten thousand fans had put their money down a few weeks back, they wouldn’t have to be signing a petition now. Sorry, fans. And in the end the upstarts were vanquished by the Detroit Tigers.
But of course karma is always in hindsight. We, as fans, yearn for a sort of justice to be at work, when in fact the exact opposite is probably more likely: random chance and statistical likelihoods rule the outcomes. But part of the whole point of being a fan is that is doesn’t FEEL like random chance.
Sometimes it feels like the universe is out to get you. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Tonight was ALCS Game One, Tigers at Yankees.
I arrived at the ballpark about an hour before first pitch. The friend who was supposed to take one of my tickets had back spasms and was unable to make it. I didn’t think it would be too difficult to sell the ticket for face value outside the Stadium.
I was wrong. A scalperpocalypse was taking place, in which dozens of scalpers mingled with dozens of fans, all selling. I circulated for a while, trying to test the market. Everyone was selling. Very few were buying. In the end I sold my $50 face value ticket for a mere ten bucks.
Inside, I took my seat for the introductory ceremonies, and I would say there were maybe ten thousand people in their seats. Everyone else was eating, walking around, or absent. The seats started to fill in by the end of the first inning, but it was clearly not a sell-out. The last section of the left-field upper deck and swaths of obstructed view seats behind the foul poles were empty for the entire game. Think about that for a moment. The night before the Yankees had beaten the Orioles in a beautifully pitched clinched by CC Sabathia, enlived by timely hitting in the clutch. Andy Pettitte, a fan favorite, would be taking the mound. Why why why would there be seats empty?
And if there were seats empty, did that mean we didn’t deserve to win?
The Yankees certainly acted like it for the first eight innings. The crowd was energized and ecstatic when the Yankees loaded the bases twice in the first two innings, then deflated when the Yankees were turned away both times, scoreless. The first one, the struggling Alex Rodriguez hit a ball hard, but a full-out dive by Jhonny Peralta snared it and he threw to second for the very very close force. Replays later showed… that Raul Ibanez was probably out. The second one, it was the struggling Cano’s turn to be robbed, this time by a bad umpire call, when he was clearly safe at first and replays clearly showed so. Frustration mounted. Doug Fister wasn’t supposed to be the second coming of… well.. Justin Verlander.
After that, both the bats and the crowd went largely into zombie mode.
Perhaps because I was there alone, I spent more time watching the crowd, or maybe it was just that the crowd was more interesting than usual. Yankee Stadium is always full of interesting cranks (to use the turn-of-the-last-century slang for “fan”) and I am a people-watcher, anyway. But tonight we had an exta amusing cast.
First, we have Donna and her brother. Donna is a season ticket holder with seats behind mine and is the only person in the section who yells more than me. She’s also louder than me, so when she yells something funny, a lot of people tend to laugh. Any game, good or bad, is better when Donna’s there. Tonight, the home plate umpire’s strike zone seemed rather biased in favor of the Tigers. His name was Jim Kellogg. So one would hear Donna yell, “Hey Rice Krispies, time to get your eyes checked!” and “Take your time, Corn Pops, we got all day.” (Kellogg is sometimes very slow to reveal his ball/strike call.)
To my left we had a group of four young guys. Let’s call them Pukey Kid and his Homies. Two rows in front of them we had three guys who came from Detroit to see the game. We’ll call them the Detroit Dudebros. Off to my right, in section 420c, there are a bunch of young, loud guys who often get chants going. The main Chanty Guy tonight looked like he might have walked right off the set of Big Bang Theory. Glasses, beard, plaid shirt. He was mostly successful with his cheers, which were mostly sensical things like “Let’s Go Yankees” and some chants for individual players like Ichiro and Derek Jeter.
In extra innings, drunk with power and tipsy from the ninth inning heroics, he went too far, though. When he tried to start up a “Sexy Texy” chant for Mark Teixeira, more than one of us gave him the hairy eyeball. The friend next to him just shrugged when a couple of people, myself included, mouthed or said back, “No way.”
I should tell you about the ninth. In the sixth, you see, the Tigers had nicked Pettitte for two runs, which seemed huge because none of the big guys, Cano, Alex, Swisher, Granderson… seemed to be able to come through with a big hit. This turn of events made the Detroit Dudebros very happy. One of them was in a Cabrera jersey, one in Verlander, and the other in a green cap. They had the nerve to stand up and cheer when their guys scored. I’m being sarcastic here. Of course they cheered.
There is a lot of talk about how Yankee Stadium isn’t the same nowadays. It’s not as intimidating because the tiers are recessed back so much more. It’s not as loud because there is so much more open space… and perhaps also because too many people are eating filet mignon in luxury suites or in line for concessions instead of on their fannies, in their seats, cheering like they’re supposed to. All those things are probably true. It’s not just less intimidating to other players. It’s less intimidating to other fans. Generally speaking, in the old Yankee Stadium you didn’t dare wear the cap of another team to sit in the bleachers unless you expected to be booed and heckled mercilessly until you took it off. In the upper deck, on the other hand, it depended if you were an asshole about it.
Tonight, though, the Detroit Dudebros were not assholes. The assholes were a pair of bitter guys in the last row. One of them, a youngish fellow with dark hair and a sort of young-Snape demeanor about him, in a Paul O’Neill T-shirt, would give the Dudebros a full on glare and middle-finger treatment each time he went down the stairs to get a beer or hit the can.
Then in the eighth the Tigers tacked on two more runs, off Derek Lowe. This caused Bitter Guy to snap. On his way down the stairs, this time ostensibly to leave, he winged his empty souvenir cup right at the Detroit gang. He was immediately booed by most of the people right around us, and a Yankee Dudebro in front of me threw his beer cup at the guy right before he disappeared down the stairs. Yankee Dudebro received many high fives and congratulations, and one fellow made the amusing comment, “Jeez, and I used to like Paul O’Neill.”
It was about this time that Pukey Kid got pukey. He was really quiet about it, sort of gradually spitting into a cup over the course of the inning, and then passing out in his seat. His three homies just kept him propped up there, while having fun with the rest of us.
The Yankees apparently were waiting for Bitter Guy and some fair-weather fans to leave. (It was 49 degrees at gametime. Brrrr.) As soon as they did, boom, Ichiro hit a two run homer, and then Teixeira walked to bring up Raul Ibanez, who did exactly what every yankees fan was hoping for: another miracle game-tying home run.
When the homer flew into the right-field seats, it touched off an explosion of euphoria unlike any I’d been in before. People leaped from row to row and danced and sang and screamed for a full five minutes. I was in the stands for Teixeira’s walk-off home in the ALDS in 2009, but that felt different. This went on and on, no on ecalming down for quite a while. There was much hugging of total strangers. The Detroit Dudebros got hugged a lot. They looked rather chagrined.
What I said to them was, “Welcome to Yankee Stadium!” Someone else told them, “Don’t be shocked. That sort of thing happens here all the time.” Dudebros believed it. One of the three homies had landed in the row below in the raucous chaos. The guy in front of me lost his wallet. Quite a celebration. It was like a workout in and of itself.
But that wasn’t the end. That just send it to extra innings. As the innings dragged on and became more tense, another Bitter Guy in the Last row made himself known with hurled invective (but no physical missiles this time). He decided when the Detroit guys weren’t responding to him to change his target to beer-throwing dude. Beer-throwing dude yelled back as good as he got. Eventually Bitter Guy #2 decided to leave and actually tried to get Beer Thrower to “take it outside” for some fisticuffs. Beer Thrower refused, saying to one of his buddies, “The whole point is that we’re at a baseball game, and it isn’t worth getting violent over. Jeez. That’s my point.”
The Yankees looked like they might break through and win the game when Granderson walked in the tenth, and Brett Gardner came in to pinch-run and stole second. The Detroit Dudebros held onto each other in solidarity, expecting defeat. When a reprieve came in the form of the Yankees not scoring–again–they shared high fives with some Yankees fans around them, who were amused.
Pukey Kid slept through all of this.
All the good-natured ribbing going on between the various groups of friends and foes stopped dead, though, when Jeter went down. I should say: when Jeter went down and did not get up. We didn’t have the benefit of replay, but it looked bad. It always looks bad when I guy can’t get up. Eventually Joe Girardi and Steve Donahue got him on his feet (or, on A foot since he clearly wasn’t able to put any weight at all on the other one) and while they hobbled him to the dugout a huge DE-REK JE-TER chant broke out stadium-wide.
The last time I was there for a playoff game where the whole stadium did that was in Game 5 of the ALCS in 2001, when Jeter flipped into the stands making a catch on a foul ball. That time, he saved the game and was banged up but still able to play.
This time… not so much. The Tigers took the lead, and Jeter is out for the rest of the postseason. Fracture, out three months minimum, came the eventual word, but at the time it just looked like a worst case scenario. Detroit Dudebros offered sincere condolences. A few minutes later their team won, and we offered them sincere congratulations. There’s no justice or karma in Jeter breaking his ankle. It’s just a horrendous happenstance.
Did their team deserve the win more than the Yankees did? Well, maybe they did, but it wasn’t because of anything we in the stands did, or didn’t do. If Yankees fans of the “new breed” are less “something” than the old ones, then why did we win in the first year of the new stadium? So much for that “rule.”
I do still miss Freddie the Fan, though, on cold October nights. And I miss the way the old place used to shake like a drum. The new stadium sometimes moves like that… but, it seems, only in the World Series. In the ALCS, there are empty seats. We can only hope that we’ll get through this round and reach that stage of ultimate passion.
I found a penny on my way back to my car tonight. I put it into my Yankees cap. I wonder how many more people have to do that to guarantee a Yankees win? Or will my lucky penny be enough? Tune in tomorrow to find out. I get to be a fan again for that game, too.
(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)