It was overcast, wet, humid, and a little too sticky for my taste, but I was not about to be deterred by a muggy, summer afternoon as I exited the D train into the Bronx: the New York Yankees’ turf. On Sunday, June 25, at 1 p.m., I was determined to park myself within the famed confines of Yankee Stadium and witness my very first Yankees baseball game, rain or shine.
To be honest, I personally abhor the “evil empire” that is the Yankees organization for the ridiculous amount of cash they spend to swoop up every excellent ball player in the league. I’m also quite jealous of the 26 World Series titles they have accumulated, which put my Dodgers’ six titles to shame.
However, personal bias and jealousy aside, I found myself becoming quite giddy at the prospect of attending a game at the legendary Yankee Stadium, “The house that (Babe) Ruth built,” as the fans say.
As I’ve said, I couldn’t care less about the Yankees. Win or lose; it made no difference to me. What I was looking forward to most was witnessing the allure of the stadium, to mingle with the notoriously critical and mouthy fans (so they’re passionate about baseball), and, of course, chowing on some hot dogs and washing them down with some cold Heineken beer. At the least, baseball is no more than entertainment while you eat.
Sunday was an especially good day to check out Yankee Stadium, because Friday’s game against the Florida Marlins was rained out, so a rare double-header (two games played within the same day) was scheduled.
If by chance the skies began to spring a leak, they were going to have to play the games anyway, because there was no possibility to make up for these lost games. Rains of biblical proportion could be coming down and it wouldn’t stop these two teams from slugging it out. A game was guaranteed.
So as I left the stifling air of the subway and entered the Bronx, in front of my eyes lay the colossal gull-gray walls of Yankee Stadium. Situated at 161st Street and River Avenue, the stadium is a sight to behold.
An oval-shaped monolith crammed amongst typical New York brick apartment buildings and a snaking overhead railway transit system, the ballpark and the cramped surroundings are bustling with the sounds of Yankees fans.
Right out of the subway, Yankee fans collect in droves in front of the stadium and in front of local bars and pizzerias adjacent to the park. They’re loud, jovial, drunk, obnoxious, and passionate about baseball-my kind of crowd.
As they filter in from the Manhattan subways and parking lots, they congregate at these establishments; no more than a stone’s throw away from the stadium, grab a few a brews, dogs, or a slice of “pie,” as I did.
With 10 minutes to spare before the game, I wandered back across the street after washing down a slice of pepperoni pie with some Coors and followed the current of fans as we approached the front gates of Yankee Stadium.
Aside from the awe of seeing the stadium walls rise up from the subway exit, there is not really much glitz and glam about the appearance of it. Unlike my hometown Dodger Stadium, with its massive pastel billboards advertising the stars of the team, the outside appearance of this Bronx ballpark is really quite drab. Void of massive banners, and any kind of stand-out architecture, it was very surprising to see such a featureless exterior.
The Yankees may have the most money to throw around at ballplayers, and the most successful franchise in Major League Baseball, but from the outside of this park, the bland appearance bears no testament to money or success. If you’re expecting to see massive electronic advertisements and all the eye candy that Times Square has to offer, you won’t find it in the Bronx.
Upon entering the park, the interior was no less surprising: a concrete cinderblock and brick void. Granted, there were your typical Yankees signs and an endless stream of vendors, but nothing too clean or fancy. I began to think that all the money the Yankees make was going right into the pockets of their players.
After weaving my way through a cluster of fans, I finally arrived at my seats: 250 feet out along the right field, fourth row; best ballpark seats I’ve ever had. Surrounded by the mouthy likes I encountered at the bars just over the wall, I immersed myself among some of the most respectful, and disrespectful, lot of New Yorkers. Derek Jeter ran by during warm-ups and gave a wave to the crowd in my area to a loud and raucous approval.
Alex Rodriguez briefly strolled by as well. but with less approval and more jeers directed at the Yankees’ third baseman. It’s no surprise these fans are quick to get on his case-the man makes more money than anyone in the history of baseball and is continually criticized for lackluster play. In New York, when you have a $250 million salary, you had better be the most clutch man in the clubhouse.
After the rah-rah fanfare of seeing some of the (I hate to say it) best players in baseball walk by my area, I stopped with the fan-boy gawking and took the opportunity to examine the confines of the ballpark.
Based on the magnitude of the perimeter walls of Yankee Stadium, I assumed that the interior seating would be much larger, but I found the park to be quite small. But then again, when you spend your summers at a very spacious Dodger Stadium, or the Oakland A’s McAfee Coliseum, Yankee Stadium pales in comparison. Like the exterior, there is an absence of advertising and display technology, and other bells and whistles money can buy. For a franchise that thrives on financial excess, they love to pack ’em into one gritty ballpark.
But that really is the allure, I found, about Yankee Stadium. After all, it was built in 1923, and though it has been modernized and retrofitted in many decades passed, it certainly bears its age. Look over the wall, and the surrounding Bronx burrow is no less gritty and old as the stadium that sits fittingly nestled amongst it.
From the brick walls, with almost a century’s worth of thick grey and navy paint, to the weather-beaten plastic blue chairs held together by paint-chipped, rusted steel frames, the ballpark displays the effects of 83 years of age, loyal fans, and major league success.
Taking all of this in, it’s unsettling to think that the Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner, wants to build a brand-new billion-dollar ballpark right next door and tear down the current stadium to make an adjacent parking lot. I had overheard many fans discussing this issue during the subway ride under the East River, many unhappy that the juggernauts of baseball would be losing their famed stadium and its history to a parking lot. One Yankee fan suggested that the current ballpark should become a landmark as a testament to the Yankees’ history and success.
I may not like the Yankees, but the park, for its sheer historical significance and Bronx grit, is a park that certainly grew on me during the course of the first game. It would be a shame to tear down the stadium.
Hey, Babe Ruth played there and even the Dodgers won a few World Series games in that park, so there is some impression on me to keep that old stadium around.
As for the game, it was a very slow-paced 2-1 victory over the Marlins for the Yanks. Johnny Damon hit a homerun that whizzed right out in front me into the upper-deck in right field. They lost the second game, 5-0, but no matter. I went to Yankee Stadium, I got my dog, and I got my beer. Good times.