Bronx, N.Y., January 27, 2007 — Yankee individual-game tickets go on sale Wednesday, a fact that brought to mind the annual January 2 birthday pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium I took almost four weeks ago. As anyone who has known me for any time can attest, I am convinced that minus the occurring-every-four-years February 29, my birth date is the year’s worst. Lost in the Christmas/holiday crush some years, far removed from the glorious baseball days of summer, it’s also usually the day one goes “back to school” early in life, and “back to work” afterward.
I took my first 2007 vacation day and luckily arrived at the Stadium via the elevated 4 train, because the construction site that formerly comprised much of Mullaly and MacCombs Dam Parks and will be the site of new Yankee Stadium in two-plus years is now ringed by 15- or 20-foot high clapboard fencing. From above, in the at-the-time still quite temperate winter, work seemed to be zooming along, with the focus much greater on below-ground efforts than in raising a structure.
Coming down the stairs to 161st Street and River Avenue, I originally set off to walk around the construction, but seeing nothing but ubiquitous “Post No Bills” signs every 50-100 feet on the huge walls, I abandoned that trek. Reversing my steps, I walked down River around the outfield side of the old (i.e., current) ballpark. The newspaper stand across River from the left field corner was open, as was the Apple Bank, one of Stan’s Souvenir stores, and the Bowling Alley Bar, with all the other businesses shuttered for the winter.
I paid my season-ticket bill at the outdoor advanced ticket windows, past the outdoor cafe on the Stadium’s first base side and near the huge bat that stands at Gate 4, where home plate is located inside the park. I was disappointed to see the sign indicating that individual game tickets would not be on sale until January 31. I traditionally purchase tickets to a random Saturday game this day. Back in 2000, I happened to choose an April Ramiro Mendoza start in which he retired the first 19 Royals, pretty exciting stuff coming off the David Wells and David Cone Perfectos. I’ve been trying to match my success (the Yanks won 7-1) ever since, with no luck.
I ventured into the Yankee Store that one has to consider the flagship in the chain, disappointed to discover the big fluffy Pinstriped bathrobes that had been a hot Christmas item were sold out. Understandably, there were plenty of number 11 Gary Sheffield shirts well marked down following the trade of the power-hitting outfielder to Detroit for three young arms. The trade of Randy Johnson was just a rumor at the time, but there were Big Unit number 41 shirts on sale much in evidence as well. Obviously, Randy’s performance had lived up to the hype in the marketing of club gear even less than it had on the field of play.
Leaving the store, I continued around the ballpark to the outside entrance to the Yankee offices located slightly down the third-base line, just across from the players’ parking lot. Years ago, I was allowed to enter here to pay the season bill, wandering unescorted past tunnel views of the uncovered field to the Gate Nine ticket office. In 1997, I was surprised when none other than Joe Torre himself entered as I was signing out and ready to leave. I treasure the warm handshake and “Good Day” more than the autograph I decided against requesting.
Continuing outside the third base side, I chuckled at the ever-more-elaborate signs detailing the many different kinds of bags and materials not allowed in Yankee Stadium. With the addition of liquids last year following an airport scare, the list grows ever more complex, as do the signs advising fans who enter that they face the danger or being injured by objects both “thrown” and struck, and twirling bats along with the baseballs that once warranted sole mention.
I always love looking at the Gate Two facade adjacent to 161st Street. This side of the Stadium looks most like it did when the park originally opened, from the weathered ticket kiosks no longer in use to the interlocking NY logos above the gate where the diagonal in the “N” curiously (and uniquely, in my experience) sits atop the vertical stroke of the “Y,” rather than beneath it.
Having come full circle now, I couldn’t miss the huge sign rising above the walled-in site declaring that the new park was being built by Turner Construction. The name evoked Turner Field to me, the Atlanta park opened in 1997 that has yet to hoist a World Series banner after the Yankees denied them one closing Fulton County Stadium in glorious 1996. I hope the Turner name does not grace the facade of our new palace when the doors open for play in 2009.
The middle lanes of triple-roadway 161st Street were closed and undergoing construction, with a backhoe parked among a huge pile of dirt and broken pavement just west of River. The stretch of 161st adjacent to the Stadium bears the designation of Babe Ruth Plaza, but it was now roped off. The scene was dominated by a spray-painted sign indicating it was serving as a parking lot for all police vehicles in the area.
With my partial plan paid and my visit complete, I shook my head sadly and headed to the subway for the return trip. But something pulled me to the Souvenir Shop on River Avenue that I had bypassed before. The first thing I noticed inside was that they had the Pinstriped Bathrobe, as big and as fluffy as I had heard. Someone was going to be very happy with a late holiday gift. I bought a picture of the old Stadium for $7, and perused the shirts on special. More Sheffield and Johnson, and several styles of Hideki Matsui’s number 55 too. It’s not hard to imagine that a broken wrist one month into a new four-year contract left them with a little unmoved merchandise.
And then I saw it, marked down to $10. The first emotion it evoked was disappointment, then a resigned shrug. But it slowly dawned on me that the absence of a printed year made this potentially my best sporting gear purchase in some time. Suddenly thoughts of tickets not bought and an old Stadium soon to be lost receded into the background. It wasn’t cold winter anymore, but dazzling summer.
It was baseball season, and my favorite player had just made another dazzling catch and throw, a play for the ages like he has before. Or gone 5-for-5, scored a couple, knocked in a few more. Or maybe it will just be weeks and weeks of consistent play, proving more valuable to his team (and mine) than anyone else out there.
And I’ll be at the next Stadium game, proudly wearing my new purchase.
- The Captain