Yesterday I attended my second NY Yankees opening day and third major league baseball game ever. It was my wife Danusia’s first ballgame ever. And we walked there.
You can see Yankee Stadium from the corner of 155th and St. Nicholas Ave. That’s as far as we got when we boarded the Bx 6 bus that would have left us at the front gate of Yankee Stadium. The traffic was so bad it took the bus 5 minutes to go one block, and he made the announcement that if “anyone is going to the game,” they’d be better off walking. It’s a short bus ride, about 7 minutes, but it’s a good walk. We got off the bus and walked it.
I was afraid of being late, I’m not going to get into why we left late, suffice to say I wasn’t happy about the prospect of a mile-and-a-half forced march to Yankee Stadium with my creaky sixty-year-old knees. But sometimes you have to soldier on.
We were not the only ones, a whole bunch of people were on the walkway of the Macomb’s Dam Bridge quick marching to the game. We caught up to some guy yelling into his phone, which gave me the impetus to walk even faster. It also prevented me from grabbing his phone and tossing it into the Harlem River.
We exited the bridge right in front of gate 4, and waded into the controlled chaos of the opening day crowd.
There were people of all ages, races, sexes, and income levels in the huge crowd. It was a very American scene, befitting our national pastime. That was a clue on last Thursday’s NYT crossword, baseball’s name.
The first Yankee opening day I attended was on April 10th, 1968. I was 13 and had been invited to go with my friend Carlos who lived across the street. His uncle, a Cuban guy named Arami had tickets, and we got in his car in front of our projects on Lafayette Ave. in Brooklyn for the ride to the Bronx. The thing I remember most vividly about that day was that when we drove on Bedford Ave. on our way to the highway there were rows of policemen in riot gear lining Bedford Ave. It was just days after the murder of Martin Luther King and the atmosphere was still tense in Bed-Sty. But I did see Mickey Mantle play that night. It was his last season with the Yankees, and I didn’t know who he was. I was never a big sports fan.
Which is why the next major league game I went to was 23 years later, in 1990. I was working at a shoe store in Queens making orthotics and fixing shoes when a grateful customer gave me two tickets to a Mets game. I went with my then wife and our three year old, Javier. We took turns with him on our laps, and he had a great time. He cheered the home team and stood to do the wave and even gave the Macarena a try. We saw Jesse Orozco pitch and Darryl Strawberry hit a home run. The Mets won, and we were all still riding high on the Met’s 1986 World Series win.
A few years later Javier and I returned to Shea after I won a baseball clinic ticket by stuffing the entry box with multiple entries at the local Key Food. Javier got a hat autographed by players I’d never heard of and got to throw balls around on the field.
In 1999 I took Javier to the Yankee’s World Series ticker-tape parade, and he was pretty excited. We’d watched the series together on TV, it was the first time I’d watched every game of a World Series. I watched most of the Met games in 1986, but I remember I was walking on Avenue B when they won the last game, and people threw open their windows to shout, “They won!” Nobody had to ask who “they” were.
I have to thank my good friend Ezra for the tickets to yesterday’s game, like I said I’m not that much of a fan but I never turn down free tickets, especially good ones to a stadium I can walk to if I have to. At first he said they were Mets tickets and I said no, there’s no way I’m taking the subway out to Willet’s Point. But when he called to say it was the Yankees I said yes right away.
When I asked Danusia if she would be interested in going to the game she said,
“Is that the one where they…” and then she made a swinging motion with hers hands, like a batter.
“Yes, that’s the one.”
“OK. But you’ll have to explain it all to me; I don’t know anything about it. My uncle tried to explain it, and other people, but I don’t understand it.”
After I sketched out how baseball is played a bit, she felt she could follow, so I guess I’m pretty good at explaining things. She always tells me I would have been a good teacher.
So after our long walk and slog through the crowd we got to our seats, section 228 row 6, right behind third base. I sat next to a rather large man in his late 40’s who drank FOUR of those big 20-ounce cups of beer. Yes, I counted. He kept horsing around with one of his buddies; there were three of them, a woman and two men. I wanted to ask them if they were still in grade school but decided to enjoy the game instead.
I did ask him to sit down once, I couldn’t see home plate through him. At one point he lost his phone and accused his buddies of hiding it.
Danusia had fun, she kept asking what everybody was cheering about, who was A-Rod, which one was he, and when Toronto hit a two-run homer she asked if that was good for them or for us.
“Good for them, honey.”
By the 3rd inning Toronto had 5 runs, and I told Danusia the Yankees were probably going to lose. There was hope after Rodriguez got a hit, and then Brett Gardner hit a home run in the fourth inning and Danusia said there was still a chance to win. But that was it for the Yankees, who replaced the starting pitcher Tanaka and then replaced the next two pitchers. Toronto made two calls to the bullpen as well.
When Encarnacion made his two-run homer, he trotted around the bases with his right arm cocked outward in a display of “How would this feel up your butt.” Crude, but effective.
Danusia got a big kick out of the dance the groundskeepers did at the top of the seventh inning, as a matter of fact she thoroughly enjoyed herself. Come to think of it, I had a great time despite the fact the Yankees lost. It’s something I’ve gotten used to in the past six years, so it’s nothing new.
We got to see Joe Torre throw out the first pitch, that was a treat, and I did miss Derek Jeter. I also found out my thighs got a pretty good sunburn right through my pants when I got home. Just another sunny day in the Bronx.