The New York Yankees represent a great tradition that goes back more than 100 years. They are the pinnacle of baseball and represent a dynasty that is the envy of the professional sports world. The Yankees also perfected another long-standing tradition in professional sports: screwing over their own fans in a grab for cash so shameless it would embarrass Ayn Rand.
The company I work for had a group social outing to see the Yankees play the Boston Red Sox in what happened to be a somewhat historic game. Boston’s David Ortiz, known as “Big Papi” was playing his last game at Yankee Stadium, so there would be a special ceremony there to bid him farewell.
Our small office closed early on the appointed day and we took the subway to Yankee Stadium with many of my coworkers honoring the tradition of sipping beer concealed in coffee cups on the way up. Meeting up with our boss and his son outside the Yankee Tavern, we headed to the Stadium.
The Yankees won’t let you print tickets if you order them online from certain places, so the one coworker who had the tickets had to open them in an email on her phone. The rest of us stood there waiting while she tried to get reception on her smart phone and then we could all enter. Why can’t someone print out one of their own damn tickets like everywhere else in the civilized universe? I don’t know but someone in the Yankee organization figured that they’d make a few more cents per ticket making things miserable for their fans.
The real Yankee Stadium was torn down years ago. It was a historic place, though much of its historic innards were destroyed when the stadium underwent a poorly-done renovation in the 1970s. The new Yankee Stadium fails as a baseball stadium in just about every way possible. The entire field is not clearly visible from every seat.
This stadium was built to sell overpriced merchandise with watching baseball as an afterthought and it shows. This game was no exception. There were long lines for the expensive concessions. The one central concession stand that serves the bleachers was crowded and some fans waited on long lines only to learn that they would have to stand on a different long line at the same counter if they wanted French fries or chicken. A stand-alone hot dog stand had a grill full of foot-long hot dogs, but the woman running it told a long line of people that none of the hot dogs were ready yet.
Our group had left-field bleachers, which are not good seats. The right-field bleachers, in the old Yankee Stadium was a notoriously rough place with merciless fans. Life in the bleacher seats of Yankee Stadium, like life elsewhere in New York City today, is a soft-pedalled and safer version of what it was. It plays at being the old days but doesn’t pull it off.
However, the fans in the bleachers still insist on having their own fun and being the voice of irreverence that the game desperately needs. It brought enjoyment to the game that is dulled by the frustrating shit-show that is Yankee Stadium.
We got there early enough to see David Ortiz get some gifts. It was great to see Yankee great David Cone come out onto the field to congratulate Big Papi. Like many other Red Sox, Ortiz was fun to hate. He was a tremendous hitter though and was a nightmare for any opposing team. Like many other star players of this era, his abilities were supplemented by performance-enhancing drugs. Fans broke into chants of “Let’s go steroids!” and plenty of Boston fans were there to repeatedly chant “Let’s go playoffs!” referring to the Red Sox superior position in the divisional rankings that guaranteed them a playoff berth.
As the innings wore on and the beer continued to flow, the chants and backtalk between the Boston and New York fans got more colorful. One of the most popular concessions at Yankee Stadium today is the chicken bucket, a serving of eight chicken tenders with a large helping of French fries served in a plastic bucket. Into the fifth inning fans began chanting “Chicken Bucket!!” in the cadence of the traditional “Let’s go Yankees!” chant.
“CHICK-en BUCK-et!” —clap, clap, clapclapclap—
“CHICK-en BUCK-et!” —clap, clap, clapclapclap—
As the chant wore on, Red Sox and Yankee fans would take turns hoisting these buckets into the air for all to see and appealing to the crowd for applause. Though Boston fans were numerous, Yankee fans still had the upper hand and would win more applause with the proud display of this snack souvenir.
Some of the insane banter and shouting from the fans made it more entertaining than the game, and Yankee fans got bolder as the Bronx Bombers got the upper hand and took control of the game. What helped was that the star of the show that brought out so many Boston fans, David Ortiz, was taken out of the game after only a few at-bats with a poor showing. It was great to feel the energy when he walked off the field, as Boston fans surely must have felt cheated to see their hero play so little. These tickets weren’t cheap for them either.
I was also heartened that another time-honored tradition of baseball, sneaking into more expensive seats later in the game, lives on. This new Yankee Stadium was built to prevent that and has a much-talked about “moat” to separate the rich bandwagon fans from the rest of us hoi-polloi, but my boss is a baseball fanatic and knows how to beat the system. He managed to get along the first base line as the innings wore on, watching the action up close from a seat that would have cost him more than all of our bleacher seats combined.
Listening to the people around us restored my faith in Yankee fans and the game itself. No matter how badly the Yankee organization craps on its own supporters, they can’t kill the spirit that brings so many to the bleachers of their shitty stadium. Yankees Inc. may insist on being every bit the evil empire, but Yankee fans won’t let those bastards destroy the game entirely.
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.