Coney Island is an endless summer draw for New York. It has a large beach, world-famous amusement park rides, and a seedy underbelly that gives it character. Coney Island has kept its lowbrow edge despite waves of gentrification and upscaling happening throughout New York but with particular intensity in Brooklyn. Williamsburg used to be a dangerous place to be. Now it’s only dangerous if you live in a rent-controlled apartment.
One of the attractions that has been added over the last two decades of revitalization is MCU Park, which opened as KeySpan Park in 2001. The field hosts the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones.
My wife, who is much more adept at sourcing and planning family outings, discovered a good value in the Flock, a children’s club that includes tickets to several games for the entire family.
We got to Coney Island and found an expensive pay lot close to the stadium. With low clouds rolling in, fogging the tops of the nearby apartment buildings, we decided to get something to eat before submitting to the amoral monopoly of stadium snacks. In the short distance between MCU Park and the original Nathan’s, we started feeling raindrops. Nathan’s was mobbed, but close by was Pete’s Clam Stop, which had large plastic bench-style picnic tables in a small dining area. We ducked in, found a seat, and ordered food.
Pete’s Clam Stop was a good discovery. Its hot dogs were just as good as Nathan’s with the same traditional snappy flavor and they also had large fries that were a bit big and unwieldly but were in the crinkle-cut tradition (they even served them with a small French fry fork.) Pete’s also has fresh clams and oysters on ice, and hand-painted signs encouraging customers to eat clams to help to have a child and to eat oysters if one wanted to have twins. I had not heard this bit of old wives’ tale wisdom, and since we already have twins plus one, we did not feel the need to sample the oysters or clams.
The rain picked up heavily as we ate our food, watched World Cup Soccer on TV, and enjoyed the camaraderie of other Coney Island visitors making a lunch stop to duck out of the rain. The picnic tables became filled with people sharing the space. A woman with her kids at the table with us remarked on two of our daughters’ red hair.
Before long the rain was gone and the sun was out by the time we headed back to the ball park.
We got to meet two of the players and got them to sign our daughters’ t-shirts. They all became too shy to get their photo taken with the players. The highlight of the Flock benefits was getting to go on the field near second base for the national anthem. Unfortunately, the field at MCU Park is artificial turf, so it feels as if you are walking on a cheap shag carpet with some extra padding underneath.
With three small kids, I spent more time herding them and trying to quell their tantrums than I did actually watching baseball. If I were a baseball aficionado or cared about seeing a future baseball superstar in action I might be disappointed, but I don’t really follow baseball and I’m a Yankees fan anyway (the Brooklyn Cyclones are a Mets farm team), and time is better spent with family. It is more enjoyable to share ice cream with a four-year-old than to watch someone throw a fastball. The Cyclones won the game 1-0, beating the Lowell Spinners, a Boston Red Sox farm team.
While our seats were in the last row of the stands, they were still field-level seats and comparable seats at a major-league ballpark would have been unaffordable for a family of five. Snacks were still overpriced, but the ticket deal that my wife found included some snack vouchers, so that allowed me to actually not spend money on overpriced stadium snacks.
Our seats were shaded so we escaped the worst of the sun. Still, it was an exhausting day. We drove home, buzzed from weariness, but also excited about having more Coney Island adventures.
The New York Metropolitans are currently in the playoffs and competing for the National League Championship and the chance to play in the World Series. New Yorkers, though divided among sports loyalties, are fully behind the Mets this year.
The New York Mets will always be New York’s other team. They could win every World Series for the next 20 years and they will still be New York’s other team. It’s not the Mets fault; they are a consolation prize for people who were fans of the Yankees’ two rivals that skipped town (it’s why the Mets’ colors are Dodgers blue and Giants orange).
Fans of the Bronx Bombers look at the Mets as the scrappy but well-meaning younger brother that needs to get a beating every once in a while. They’re friendly rivals but not a threat to our stature as legends of the game. All the reasons people hate the Yankees are why Yankee fans can’t find it in themselves to hate the Mets. A significant part of all Yankee hating is envy. The Mets can’t invent a time machine and play the Yankees in 1927.
It feels like New York City reached its zenith with the subway series of 2000. It was the point in time when things were the most right for our city. Crime had been cleaned up but enough of the old New York character was still there. That both our baseball teams were contending for the world championship made New York that much more of the place to be and that illustrated once more how quintessentially American New York is.
But now the city finds itself in the rare position of seeing the Mets in the postseason longer than the Yankees, and Yankee fans find themselves rooting for the Mets. They are, after all, a New York team.
It was significant that the Mets got to the National League Championship Series by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers, formerly the Brooklyn Dodgers of course, started the series off with a controversial play that injured a key player. If the Dodgers had won the series, any accolades they won would be accompanied by an asterisk.
And why shouldn’t Mets and Yankee fans dislike the Dodgers more than one another. They are the team that abandoned New York decades ago for the sunny climes of Los Angeles, a second-rate smog-shrouded sinkhole of a city that wears its desperation on its sleeve. But these pretenders are defeated now, and four teams now vie for the crown.
The Mets are currently playing the Chicago Cubs, which are an old and storied franchise with some of the most compelling bad-luck stories in the history of the game, so much of the country is understandably rooting for them. But whatever course these games take, most in the U.S.A. can at least agree we would rather see the trophy stay on our side of the border and not taken to Toronto with the Blue Jays.
But New Yorkers stand firm. Since the Yankees are unfortunately out of the running this year, the Metropolitans must carry the torch for Gotham. We wish them the best of luck until next April.
This past week found me with my family in Cape Ann, Massachusetts. We were invited to attend a wedding of two outstanding friends of ours, and decided to make a vacation out of the event and stay in the area for a week. It was the first vacation for the four of us as a family as our daughters are only 18 months old.
We drove up to the area on a sunny Friday and I was dressed for a day of sweaty luggage lifting and toddler wrangling. I decided I would wear a suit to our friends’ wedding but otherwise I was going to dress in “No Fucks Given” style the rest of my vacation and simply grabbed a stack of t-shirts I knew I didn’t mind getting dirty. I expected they would all be stained with sweat, sunblock, sand, lobster guts, butter, coffee and whatever my twin girls were playing with at any given moment.
So, not really thinking about it or giving a damn, I drove to the heart of Boston Red Sox country wearing a New York Yankees t-shirt. It is a lovely Yankee blue with the Yankees’ NY logo emblazoned on the left breast. It’s a classic t-shirt owned by millions of people.
The people of Cape Ann, Massachusetts are some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet. They are the complete opposite of the stereotype of the cold New Englander. Everywhere we went people were very welcoming and helpful. They approached each situation with a knowing sense of humor and shared camaraderie, even if the people they were talking with were harried tourists from New York who didn’t know what they were doing.
When we first arrived in Gloucester, where we were staying, we went for a walk before we checked in to our summer rental apartment and a woman struck up a conversation with us on the street. Walking around with two adorable twin girls tends to invite conversation, and this woman was very nice and offered us advice on where to go and things to do. She noticed I was wearing my Yankee t-shirt. “You’re very brave to wear that up here,” she said to me, not completely joking. I smiled and shrugged. We were not making a secret we were from New York.
We went to lunch at a pub not far from where we were staying and the grizzled men at the bar noticed my shirt and started talking amongst themselves. “Oh, they’re not from around here… “He’s even wearing that t-shirt….” The back of my t-shirt was emblazoned with the name and number of Yankee great Jorge Posada. “Well, at least he’s a good player…” The lunch was still pleasant at this dive.
As we were moving in to our rental with our girls, someone yelled “Yankees Suck!!” at me from an open truck window. My wife and I laughed it off.
New England differs from New York in this regard. In New York City, I see people wearing Boston Red Sox hats and t-shirts all of the time. New York receives lots of tourists from Boston and is home to many Boston transplants and others that just aren’t right in the head. When New Yorker Manny Ramirez was a top Boston slugger, Dominicans in New York with no affiliation to Beantown proudly wore Boston Red Sox baseball hats. Serious and fair-weather Boston fans are everywhere in the five boroughs; we don’t think twice about them or care. New York has people who are fans of all kinds of weird and terrible stuff. There are people here who pay women to put cigarettes out on them. You have to try hard to offend people here, and unless your baseball hat is made of human skin from the Holocaust, it just isn’t going to turn heads.
But New England sports fans have an inferiority complex. Red Sox fans chant “Yankees Suck!” at Fenway Park even when they are not playing the Yankees. Every store imaginable had plentiful stock of Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots regalia, even posters extolling the innocence of cheating pretty-boy Tom Brady. Boston is a fine city, but it does not have the size or impact of New York. And while the Boston Red Sox are usually a good team and the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is a storied one, the Sox will never match up to the Yankees’ rich history of championships. The Yankees have made it easy for others to hate them; the Bronx Bombers even treat their own city like crap.
We didn’t let any of this affect our vacation. We stayed away from sports talk, which is easy for us, and enjoyed the beautiful beaches, delicious lobster and plentiful ice cream.
I entered a haiku writing contest and was judged one of three winners. The haiku had to be about the World Cup.
Here is my winning haiku:
The American Way
We are new at this
Chant U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
But don’t know the rules
I am originally from The Bronx and I was raised a Yankee fan. My father went to high school not far from Yankee Stadium and I stood by the team even when they had the worst record in baseball. I quit watching the 1996 World Series after the Bronx Bombers dropped the first two games to the Atlanta Braves. They won the next four games and began their late 1990’s dynasty.
I had been to the new Yankee Stadium only twice before. Once for a game and another time for a Big 4 concert. The new stadium had not impressed me. From the cheap seats you could not see the entire field (Stadium Building 101: one must be able to see the entire field of play from every seat. They had the technology to do this in 1923). From where I was a few years ago at a game, I couldn’t see all the way to the right field wall even when I stood up.
There are numerous other reasons to hate the new Yankee Stadium. The upper deck is two decks, there’s a moat keeping people from getting close to the field unless they have expensive tickets. The Yankees, one of the richest sports franchises in the world, got a sweetheart deal from a broke city to build a luxury stadium on city park land. And it’s a leaky concrete slab with no soul.
So the chance to experience how the well-to-do take in a baseball game was something I wasn’t going to pass up. I would likely not have the chance to take in a baseball game from such a seat of luxury again. I made sure I could make the game and gladly accepted my prize.
I got to the stadium more than an hour before game time and met an attorney from the firm that hosted the contest. We chatted until the other two prize winners arrived. One was a media attorney and the other was a corporate restructuring specialist.
Once we were all there we entered the stadium through the special ‘Legends Suites’ entrance. We got special wristbands and were shown to a very nice restaurant area where waiters brought drinks to your table and there were several food stations for all-you-can-eat food. There was a special guest chef serving his take on a lobster roll (they were on small toasted hamburger buns and had a plastic Yankees flag in them). I got an obscene amount of food, even enjoying a big plate of sushi. I couldn’t finish my dessert. Overhead, TVs broadcast the pregame show, though one large row of televisions was broadcasting the current World Cup game (of the U.S. losing to Belgium). All the food and drink was free unless you wanted alcohol. Towards the exits to the seating area, there was a wall of shelves with baskets of candies and other snacks for the taking.
We got to our seats, which were amazing. We were the second row behind home plate. My family and friends saw me on television. I got to see the game from a perspective I never have before and I could see the entire field.
Baseball great Bill Veeck once said that a fan’s knowledge of the game is usually inversely proportional to the price of their ticket. My few visits to the box seats at Yankee Stadium have shown this to be accurate. I’m sure there are some knowledgeable baseball people among the well-off denizens of the luxury sections, but they would probably get their asses handed to them in sports trivia by your average Bleacher Creature with a bad hangover.
Of all the talk overheard among the other luxury seat occupants, there was a lot of talk about business and vacations and other facets of life, but there was not a lot of talk about baseball. There was only one person nearby who was acting like a real baseball fan, yelling criticisms at the home plate umpire with bellowing gruff wit, and he was looked upon askance by people sitting around him.
A group of four women arrived late and sat in front of us. The ushers seemed to know them, or know at least one of the women, an attractive blonde. One of them, the one sitting directly in front of me, appeared to be some kind of model. She was very young and unusually tall and thin. I saw others looking over at the group so one or more of them may have been celebrities. The blonde that the ushers seemed to know was friendly and told me where I could find complimentary hot dogs in the luxury dining area. While I had feasted on high-quality seafood, the thought of not having a hot dog or two at a baseball game was sacrilege.
These supermodel women actually tried to get the rest of our section into the spirit of the game and stood up at the very end. It was two outs and two strikes with the tying run on base for the Yankees. This is a traditionally a time when the crowd stands to applaud to help rally the team. The supermodels stood up and I stood with them (I also would not have been able to see the game otherwise). An usher came along and told us to sit down.
One of the more depressing aspects of following the Yankees in recent years was the press decrying the “aging” Yankee lineup, made of players who are my age and younger.
Shortstop Derek Jeter, the captain of the Yankee team and a fan favorite for a long time, is retiring after this season and is considered over the hill by many sports standards. He’s a year younger than I am.
While I was at the game, I got to see Jeter tie Lou Gehrig’s record for most doubles hit by a Yankee. I also got to see a great play by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is now my new favorite Yankee player. Ellsbury was caught in a rundown between first and second base, and let himself get hit by the ball—when a player is hit by the ball during play he automatically advances to the next base—turning what looked like a sure out into a stolen base.
Derek Jeter looked over in my direction several times during the game. I’m guessing someone told him about my awesome haiku and he was hoping I’d stick around to give him an autograph after the game. But because I left as soon as the game ended he probably had to make due with hanging out with the supermodels in the first row.
The game itself didn’t go like I wanted. The Yankees lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1. Continuing on the theme of luxury, I treated myself to a cab ride home, enjoying the sight of the New York skyline at night capped off a nice evening.