April 14th finally arrived, the day of my first pilgrimage this year to the national temple of baseball, Yankee Stadium. (I was tickled to hear Michael Kay call it “baseball’s cathedral” on the radio the other day–seems I’m not the only one who holds the House That Ruth Built in such regard.)
Originally I had hoped to get tickets for Opening Day, and had scheduled myself to do a reading at Columbia University on Thursday the 13th. But I couldn’t get tickets to Opening Day, and I decided to try to go Friday, the day after the reading, rather than Wednesday, the day before. And a lucky thing I chose Friday, too, since Opening Day was postponed from Tuesday to Wednesday afternoon because of imminent rain and snow, and Wednesday night’s game was then put off to August some time…
The day of the game, I went into Manhattan to meet a film producer, who interviewed me on camera for an MSNBC documentary about tattoos (I have a couple of small ones I did for commemorative reasons — no, none of them are the Yankee logo!) Then headed for the Bronx around 3pm. Traffic on the West Side Highway and the Deegan was terrible, so it took me an hour to get from midtown up to 161st Street, but I can’t say that mattered to me much, since the gate didn’t open until 5pm, or so I thought.
When I arrived, I bundled up in my NY Yankees blue turtleneck (with interlocking NY tastefully embroidered on the neck). It was already down to 50 degrees, and windy. I wandered over to the press gate, where about twenty fans were standing behind a barrier exactly like the one at Legends Field along the walkway to the practice field. It’s that kind of waist-high, gray metal fence that looks a bit like a bicycle rack. “Seen anyone?” I asked a guy standing there. “Just got here,” he replied.
Another fan commented she thought the Yankees usually came in earlier, and she was right. Still, if we were going to stand around for an hour, might as well do it there, where we were out of the wind, in the sun, and might see something. I chatted with a Dad and his ten year old son–the son just flown in from California, and about to see his first major league game, as well as his first game in Yankee Stadium. The kid had on a Yankee hat that was so faded, he must have been wearing it every day since he was eight. I assured him he was going to have a great time.
About a half hour later, a bus pulled up and about a dozen Kansas City Royals came out. No one knew them by face, so they just went straight in.
I decided to take a walk around at that point, and came to the employee entrance, where a crowd of people waiting to get assignments as vendors that night were standing. I wonder how that works? There were already guys set up at the front with those rolling, multi-tier souvenir stands, about six of them. How did they assign staff to walk-around vendor jobs inside? The crowd at the door was about seventy five people, mostly black with a few hispanics, in their twenties, about half men and half women. They were laughing and joking with one another while they waited to be called.
I walked a few yards further around, to the left field gate, and decided I’d go in there, so I could see Monument Park once I went in. But as it turned out my surmise about gate time was wrong–they now open at 5:30 on weeknights when there is a 7 o’clock game. (But they open two hours before game time on Saturdays and Sunday, apparently.) Music started to come out of the sound system at about five, though, like a party host cranking up the stereo before the first guest arrives.
So I sat myself down next to a ticket booth, sheltered from the cold wind and where the setting sun could still shine on me, and got out a book to read. I’d picked it up the night before at my parent’s house. Graig Nettles’ tell-all book, BALLS. (I’ll let you know what I think of it after I’m done with it.)
The music suddenly stopped, and Bob Sheppard’s voice came on with a pre-recorded announcement about stadium rules and reminding everyone that there is no smoking anywhere inside the stadium. They don’t come out and say it, but I think it’s meant to be a polite reminder, so nicotine fiends can light up and smoke one before the gates open. A few minutes later, up went the gates, and we went in. The ticket-takers were giving something out, but only to the 14 and under crowd–I think they were packs of baseball cards, but I’m not sure. I may still be wearing the same clothes I wore when I was 14, but they weren’t fooled.
I bought a scorecard once inside, and was delighted to find that with it they gave me a blue golf pencil that says New York Yankees on it. It’s pretty easy to make me happy, I guess. I also noticed, as I walked around, that it seemed like all the “Hey, scorecard here” guys were forties-ish and older white men. The concession stands were mostly worked by slightly older black women. The guys who had been working the souvenir carts out in front had all been 25-35 year old black men. I gotta wonder what’s up with that–is it like on a cruise ship, where the Vietnamese are the laundry workers, the Greeks are the officers, etc? On the other hand the security guards and carrying vendors seemed pretty evenly mixed by race and gender.
I joined the line going down the steps to Monument Park. It’s a steep set of concrete stairs, down to a kind of back alley between the stands and the left field bleachers, where a couple of small forklifts were parked. And then you emerge along a brick walkway where the retired numbers are. Why look, they look exactly like the plaques they have at Legends Field–I’m sure this is no coincidence.
Then, as you pass the retired numbers, you come to the monuments. Some of them are slabs of stone, much bigger than a gravestone, with a plaque showing the player’s likeness, name, description, and who dedicated the monument, while for others the plaques built into the wall. Not everyone who is memorialized in Monument Park is deceased–there’s a plaque to Phil Rizzuto, for example, which I think went up the year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. But I am just guessing at that.
The one monument that really put a lump in my throat was the one to Lou Gehrig, dedicated by his teammates within weeks of his death.
A mustached guy in a World Series Yankee hat was telling his son, who looked to be about ten or eleven years old, about how the monuments used to be on the field in the old days.
When I came up from Monument Park, the Yanks were still at batting practice, and a lot of fans were standing along the walls in the outfield hoping to snag homeruns and fouls. I saw one fly within about twenty feet of me–no idea who hit it though, since we could barely make out the guy in the cage. He was the last batter, though, and then the Royals started batting.
I stood there about a half hour with my glove on, but not a single Royal was able to put one into the seats on that side (two or three did go over the right field fence though–always on a bounce…). Oh well.
I got a hot chocolate to warm myself up then, and as the last of the sun was retreating from the outfield, climbed up to my seat in the upper deck behind home plate. I have to say I really liked sitting in section U3. You can see everything and have a great view of the strike zone, except it’s hard to tell if the ball is too high or too low.
By that time, more fans were coming in, and I flicked on my transistor radio (bought that day in one of those ubiquitous mid-town electronics shops) and listened to the pregame show, filled in my scorecard, and waited for the rest of my party to arrive.
I was waiting for my brother Julian and for my friends Bonnie and Aaron (they of the Game One day wedding), and Bonnie’s brother Frank. corwin stayed home because of his business meetings, and my parents went to Bermuda, and I swapped their tickets for hot dog money. Meanhwile, I chatted with the guys in my section–one had bought a stuffed dog for his girlfriend’s kid, a Beanie-Baby-style white puppy, wearing a little blue t-shirt with an interlocking white NY on it. Talk about cute.
The stuffed dog wasn’t the only one wearing Yankee gear, though. It seems to me that fans are a lot more decked out than I remembered them being in the 70s and 80s. Maybe it’s just that with the World Series wins, people are getting more and more into it, or giving more Yankee paraphrenalia as gifts, or maybe the Yanks just market their stuff better now. But I’d say well over half the people I saw sported either t-shirts, sweat shirts, Yankee field jackets, or non-baseball style hats. Maybe a lot of the stuff was giveaway stuff (a lot of Yankee tote bags and gym bags, too), but not those nice-looking jackets! (Side note: this year’s model of the field jacket has a red piping on it that I really don’t like. They say the red is historical from the DiMaggio era, but I think it makes them look like the Texas Rangers or something. Bring back the plain blue and white, please.)
Bonnie, Aaron and Frank came up the steps just as the first pitch was being thrown. Aaron just flew in yesterday after a month-long business trip to Hong Kong, and was quite jet-lagged. Julian, meanwhile, was coming straight from Orlando, Fla. where he was on a last minute business trip for his new job, and expected to make it from the airport by about the second inning. He was right, for while he fought traffic across the Macombs Dam bridge, both Roger Clemens and the Royals’ Jay Witasick were pitching as slow as molasses, and the hitters on both teams were going deep into the counts. The game clocked in at almost four hours long in the end, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
OK, so I really am not going to try to recap the whole game here–you can get a better description off the Yankees’ web site or The Sporting News. The main source of drama was the way Kansas City had won their last four games straight with ninth inning heroics. Three in a row on walk of home runs, and the fourth on a an RBI single. They’re a young team, and very hot, but what would happen when their unstoppable force met the immovable object of Mariano Rivera?
Clemens was having a day typical of his outings thus far this year, where he finds himself having to pay for his mistakes. He hit a batter in the second and walked one, and both those guys ended up crossing the plate to make it 2-0 Royals. The rival pitcher, Witasick, reinvented himself as s strikeout pitcher during the game, too, getting all three outs in the bottom of the second via the K, and striking out two in the third and two in the fourth. Unfortunately for him, he also gave up five runs in his 3 and two thirds, so I guess we can say… he’s no Roger Clemens.
The rest of the Yanks started to look more like themselves, with Knoblauch and Jeter each getting on seven times between the two of them, and Jeter stealing twice. At the rate he’s going he’ll steal 60 bases this year… though maybe he’ll be happy if he just beats A-rod’s career high of 41 in ’98…
And in the ninth, Mariano prevailed, retiring three straight.
The game ended at about eleven pm (long game!) and I was on the road soon after, making the 250 mile drive to Boston. The game was so long, it took a long time to be been archived at broadcast.com, and then corwin began listening to it. When I arrived home at about 3am, he was still listening to it! I wanted to talk to him about the game, but I couldn’t, since he hadn’t heard it all yet! I hid my scorecard from him and went to sleep.
The next time I’ll be at the stadium will be May 28th, for the Boston Red Sox. Luck works in strange ways. I was supposed to go to Wisconsin that weekend to speak at a conference. But my cousin is getting married in Philly, so I cancelled my Wisconsin plans. corwin and I are going down for the wedding on Saturday, and staying over with my parents. Which means that we can all go to the game the next day. Funny how these things work out.