Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Two Days, Two Stadiums
This past holiday weekend, my roommate Dave’s father Pete was visiting New York from Grand Island Nebraska. Pete is good people. A real salt of the earth kind of chap.
I think he had a good New York City experience. Walking the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square in all her glory at night, biking around Central Park and the like. But the baseball gods were smiling on us and we were able to have one of the ultimate New York outings. In two consecutive days, we visited both New York baseball stadiums. Other than Frank Sinatra rising from the dead and playing Madison Square Garden, I don’t know if there is better way to feel the pulse of The Big Apple.
Day 1: Yankee Stadium – Yankees vs. Mariners
It was lucky for me that the admittedly rubbish Mariners were in town. Even though they are crap, it’s still my beloved M’s.
We – Dave, his girlfriend Amy, Pete and myself – walked across the North boundary of the Park to make it to the crowded 4 train that runs directly to Yankee Stadium. The 4 comes out of the tunnel becoming an “El” train as you come into the Bronx.
When you get into the Bronx, you see just how prevalent the Yanks are. Nearly every business has the familiar logo displayed in one way or another. When the train pulls into the Stadium stop, you walk down the steps to one of the most interesting streets in New York. Nearly every establishment is a Yankees souvenir shop or a sports bar.
Across the way is the new stadium. While I do not like the idea of The House That Ruth Built being abandoned for a few extra bucks from the luxury boxes, I reluctantly admit the new stadium looks pretty cool.
Walking out into the light from the tunnels reminded me of Billy Crystal’s “Best Day” speech from “City Slickers.” We could not have dialed up a more perfect day for a ball game. 80 degrees, clear skies and a slight breeze coming from the Southwest. And then there’s that perfect green grass. The color of summer.
Yankee Stadium drips of history. You can see Monument Park in left field. The busts of The Babe, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and others. It smells like baseball history in the joint. A mixture of fresh cut grass, infield dirt, stale beer, hot dogs and blood, sweat and tears. I wish someone would bottle the smell of the ballpark and sell it as an air freshener.
Looking out into the sea of Yankee fans, it’s a cornucopia of familiar jersey numbers. Mostly #2, but also 13, 25, 18, 55 and the growing number of Joba Chamberlain #62 unis. There’s a strong contingency of retired numbers knocking about. 3, 4, 5, 7 and so on. I may hate the Yankees and believe that rooting for them is like cheering for rain in a hurricane, but I revere and respect their history and tradition.
There was a classy ovation by the crowd for the surviving members of the incredible Tuskegee Airman of WWII. It was inspiring. Real history standing at home plate before the first pitch.
The Stadium itself has it’s own organically born traditions. My favorite is the bleacher bums greeting every Yankee player in order in the top of the first. In unison, the bleachers chant every starters name until they give a wave to the cheap seats. “Derek Jeter … clap, clap, clapclapclap.” Jeter doffs his cap and goes back to playing shortstop. I love the old fashioned organ that plays during the game. I hope they take the organ with them to the new stadium. There is the diamond vision subway race. I prefer the Seattle version with the hydroplanes, but that’s me. And then there is the amazing grounds crew “YMCA Dance Party” as they drag the field in between the sixth and seventh. It’s quite a sight. As they drag the infield, the chorus comes and they drop their tools and do the dance. It’s hilarious. Amy and I wondered aloud if there is any kind of audition to get the gig. “Okay Jorge, you can drag the thing behind you to manicure the infield dirt, well done. Now there’s just one more thing. Let’s see what you got. Kenny, cue up the music! Ready? 5, 6, 7, 8!”
Right after Ichiro smacked a laser into the right field seats, I noticed the Tyson Chicken sign in the outfield. I laughed to myself thinking of when George Steinbrenner traded George Costanza to the fictional “Tyler Chicken” for chicken dogs, chicken twists and – instead of beer – alcoholic chicken. Man that’s funny.
Overall we witnessed a good ball game. I didn’t like the outcome after the Mariner bullpen took a dump in the 8th and gave up four runs for a Yankee comeback. Objectively, it was a good baseball game.
When the final out was recorded and the Yanks won 6-5, the Stadium DJ cranked up Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” A fitting end to the day.
Day 2: Shea Stadium – Mets vs. Marlins
With a few subway service delays, getting to Queens to see the Mets was a little more tricky than the one shot to the Bronx. However, being the savvy urban veteran that I am, I deftly maneuvered to Shea in about an hour.
Here was the route; The 1 train from 103rd Street to 96th, the 2 to Times Square, the N to Queens Borough Plaza (Which is the stop that Cosmo Kramer raved about having delicious gyros being sold on the platform. The gyro guy doesn’t exist, by the way. Okay, no more Seinfeld references.) and finally, the 7 to Shea Stadium.
The 7 rolled steadily to Shea, passing the graffitied rooftops of Queens. It seems there is hardly an inch if the rooftops near the 7 line that is not tagged by local toughs. In fact, I would wager that it is difficult to find spray paint at any hardware store in the borough. It has to be frustrating to those actually need spray paint for household maintenance. As I approached the end of the line, out the right side of the train is Arthur Ashe Stadium and the US Tennis Center. Out the left side is Shea.
Now, Shea Stadium may not have the mystique of it’s big brother to the North, but there still is history there. World Championships in 1969 (The heralded “Amazin’ Mets”) and 1986. The infamous “Ron Santo black cat incident.” And the glory years of Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight “Doc” Gooden and Howard Johnson. There’s the illuminated New York skyline over the scoreboard and the “Home Run Apple” in centerfield. I like the guy with a customized Mets jersey that reads “Cow-Bell Man” on the back. He walks up and down the concourses banging his cowbell like Gene Frenkel. I wonder when it dawned on him that he wanted to become the Cow-Bell Man. Many are called, few are chosen.
Being Memorial Day, we had the Marine Corp band perform the National Anthem. That was followed with a fly-by from four F-14 Tomcats. Chills all around.
Jose Reyes committed an error in the first and was booed roundly. Then hit two dingers and was cheered. Shea is tougher on the home club than Yankee Stadium. Carlos Delgado continued to be hammered by the home crowd as he continues to struggle from the plate. He’s dangerously close to the feared Mendoza Line.
The Mets offense was asleep at the switch, their defense was rather porous and the Marlins prevailed, 7-3.
It’s odd to think that both of these gotham ball parks will be gone next year. Gone the way of Boston Garden, Tiger Stadium and the dodo.
So, for those of you keeping score at home, here is the final tally;
Stadiums attended: 2
Sunscreen applied: 1 tube
Hot dogs eaten: 7
Beers consumed: 11
Bags of peanuts devoured: 2
Subway lines ridden: 6
Good times had: 8
Thank you Pete for your generosity and for giving us a Memorial Day weekend to remember.
Outside is America.
Good night and good luck.