Monday, August 25, 2008
My only summer vacation was spent in NYC. MY girlfriend wanted to go for her birthday and I needed one last trip to Yankee Stadium.
Man, when you're in NYC for just a few days, you have to go at it nonstop because you'll never do everything you planned.
And when you spent over 5 years living in NYC working in the restaurant industry, your basic welcome back tour consists of nothing but restaurant and bar hopping. I know hundreds of people from working in 2 different corporate restaurants (one in Times Square, the other SoHo). Nearly everywhere we ventured, we knew the manager or bartender. So our bills, if we had one, were always at a reduced price.
After 5 days of doing nothing more than eating and drinking heavily from 10AM to 4AM, your body tends to catch up with you. Throw in the constant walking and your body will shut down for 5 days.
I will forever long to move back to NYC. I will always say it is the greatest city on Earth. I owe the best 5 years of my life to the Big Apple (And it probably took more than 5 years from my life).
I really missed NYC when we journeyed over to Brooklyn for an afternoon. My girlfriend needed to go see her old "stylist" and get her $100 haircut, no kidding. And don't forget the $20 tip. And by stylist, I mean gayer than Smithers.
Spent part of the afternoon at a local pub with a fireman, writer, lawyer and a catholic priest. I know, that's a joke itself. Talking baseball, throwing down shots of Jack, watching the Cubs kill the Brewers to complete a four game sweep and pad a nice division lead cushion, all before 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Oh, can't forget OTB and the horse races on the back monitor.
If I were ever to move back to NYC, I would most likely want to live in Brooklyn. Manhattan would be great if you're making six figures. But normally in Brooklyn, you pay half the price for twice the room than what you'd get in Manhattan.
But dam! Nowadays rent in Brooklyn is becoming comparable to Manhattan prices.
Brooklyn is so much calmer. You don't have the hordes of people, tourists, or traffic congestion. The streets are lined with bars, restaurants, shops, etc. You can find a nice peaceful neighborhood in Brooklyn and be a 15 minute train ride away from Lower Manhattan.
OK. I'm done rambling.
The first time I went to NYC was the Summer of 2001. I immediately fell in love. Throw in the NY Yankees and all the professional sports franchises, I was hooked. I love the fact that on any given day from April to October I could jump on the Subway and have the train drop me off at Yankee or Shea Stadium. This was the first year since 2001 I didn't spend my birthday at one of these two stadiums.
From 2002-2006 I attended nearly 200 games at Yankee Stadium. For two years I lived a Spanish Harlem (Yeah, a white boy from Nebraska. That's another story in itself), a short 10-15 minute subway ride to The Stadium.
A group of us at work would always sign up for tickets. I'm not talking season tickets. I'm talking the 20 games for $100 deal. Yes, Upper Tier. It didn't really matter, especially since we never made the kind of money sit close.
There were always occasions when I would get offered great seats, and I never passed them up. In fact, I've probably sat in nearly every section of Yankee Stadium.
The very first game I attended at Yankee Stadium was August 17, 2001 against the Seattle Mariners. I spent a C-Note to sit in the Upper Deck in Right field.
One of the best things about Yankee Stadium is the strip outside on River Avenue. You want a baseball atmosphere, it doesn't get any better than this. The street is lined with bars and souvenir shops and is always packed before and after every home game.
The funny thing about Yankee Stadium that many people don't realize, the stadium is located in a horrible neighborhood. If the Yankees aren't in town, you don't want to be anywhere near Yankee Stadium, especially if your white.
The strip is an awesome experience but it will get pricey. Expect to spend around $7 dollars for a beer at Stan's or Billy's, basically stadium prices.
If you really want the true Bronx/Yankees experience, I have some budget friendly locations for you. You can walk up a couple of blocks on 161st Street and visit the Crown Diner. If you're looking to save money, this is the best place to grab a bite to eat before the game. They have a real killer Philly Cheez Steak with fries for under $7. You'll spend 5 times that amount on food and snacks in the stadium.
After you eat, walk over to Walton Avenue. You'll walk next to the famous Bronx Courthouse, the most recognizable landmark outside of Yankee Stadium. You'll also come across a few bodega's which are the cheapest way to wet your whistle. You can spend a couple of ducketts on a quart of beer and chill outside and kill it. There's also Franz Sigel Park right across the street up the hill. This is a good place for a bathroom break or any other extracurricular activities.
If you're really brave and feel like you want to experience the Bronx, get off the 4 Train at 149th St./Grand Concourse. There are two Old School bars here, Glackens and El Roy's. These are the type of places where if they had a jukebox, it would skip and everyone in the bar would turn and stare at you as you stood in the doorway.
Don't fret. Just a bunch of old people playing chess and drinking whiskey. Both of these fine establishments serve up a stiff drink at a low price. I would probably recommend El Roy's out of the two. El Roy's allows smoking inside, at least they did a couple of years ago. Also, if you're in a hurry and don't want to miss the first pitch, they'll give a "togo cup" to pour the rest of your drink into for your 8 block walk up the street to Yankee Stadium.
You'll know you're at El Roy's if the bartender's the only white person in the bar and there's a beautiful portrait of the very same bartender hanging up behind the bar. El Roy is a nice a guy and when he pours your drink he starts with the bottle inside the glass and lifts it up all the way to the top his head while pouring the poison of your choice. He's an old fashioned guy who's seen it all and doesn't shit from anyone. Be sure to give him hell.
For now, my last game at Yankee Stadium was Friday, August 1, 2008 against the Anaheim Angels. I spent around $100 ($25 face value) for an Upper Tier ticket. Overall, the game was horrible unless you're a huge fan of no scoring and no hitting. Sidney Ponson and Ervin Santana pitched lights out. I am still wondering how Ponson pitched 7 innings of shutout ball against the Angels' potent lineup.
I did get to experience what may be the most exciting entrances in all of sports, Mariano Rivera walking in from the bullpen to "Enter Sandman." That is the single most sweetest appearance in all of sports. It is something to be witnessed by every sports fan. It is pretty much the equivalent to Ricky Vaughn walking out to "Wild Thing" on "Major League."
When Rivera came on in the 9th, on every pitch the entire stadium lit up with camera flashes. Rivera got more flashes than Jeter or A-Rod. It may not be the equivalent to a Super Bowl kickoff, but dam, I don't think I've ever seen so many cameras flashing simultaneously. Mariano Rivera just may be the best player in the last 10 years.
Rivera is my all time favorite baseball player. He gets the slight nod over Don Mattingly, Reggie Jackson and Rickey Henderson. I love how Rivera is so cool, calm and collective as walks from the dugout to the mound. I sometimes wonder if MO even knows the words to "Enter Sandman" or who even sings it?
Of course Rivera came into the 9th inning of a scoreless tie and gave up the only run of the game.
And of course Yankee Stadium is the sight of the sacred Monument Park. Monument Park is basically a wing of the Hall of Fame. All my years in NYC and all the games I attended at Yankee Stadium, I never once made it to Monument Park. It's one of those typical New York sights where you say, "I live in NYC, I can visit that place anytime I want, I'll do it tomorrow or next week." Just like what every New Yorker says about the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square, etc.
Monument Park retired Yankees' numbers:
Other than Monument Park, the most recognizable characteristic of Yankee Stadium is the voice of PA Announcer Bob Sheppard.
Maybe the most hallowed corner of Yankee Stadium is the legend of the Captain's Room. Only the few chosen have said to lay eyes on the room. Legend has it, the Captain's Room is down the right field line and is somewhat of an initiation experience for "true" Yankees. The room is nothing fancy, consisting of a mural of the three Yankees' captains-Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson and Derek Jeter. Only the chosen are allowed entrance.
Yankee Stadium is home to some of the most loyal fans in all of baseball, the Bleacher Creatures in right field. These seats are pretty cheap, but it's a tough seat to land, pretty much the entire section is sold out to season ticket holders. The Bleacher Creatures also started the patented "Roll Call" at the start of every game. During the top of the first, the entire section calls out the starting lineup. They keep chanting the players' name until the player turns around and acknowledges the Bleachers. This is so freakin cool because it's unique and something I've only seen at Yankee Stadium. It also gives the fans a relationship with their beloved Yankees. I will admit the right field bleachers isn't the best view of the field. Plays at the right field wall are out of sight, blocked by the wall.
Half way through the game, the grounds crew comes out to rake the infield while dancing to "YMCA." I love how Jeter and A-Rod wait for the crew to finish the left side of the infield before they take their positions.
You also can't forget about the Subway Race between the 4, B, and D trains; and "Cotton Eye Joe" after the 7th inning stretch.
At the conclusion of every game, "New York, New York." You couldn't find a song more fit for Yankee Stadium. Every Yankees's win brings the Sinatra version. For a loss, we give you Kate Smith. Yikes!
There are probably many other hidden treasures.
Other memorable experiences at Yankee Stadium include; my first date with my future wife, Gary Sheffield hitting the winning 3 run homer to beat the Red Sox, seeing both, Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina getting their 200th career wins in a span of 4 days, the Yanks getting destroyed by the Indians 22-0! I actually stayed until it was like, 18-0.
I got to watch Jeter, A-Rod, Giambi, Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson, Moose, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, the Great Rivera, Alfonso Soriano, etc.
Maybe the most unforgettable occurred outside the Stadium. Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. I went up to the Stadium trying to get tickets. No way that was gonna happen. So I watched the entire game across the street at Billy's. The atmosphere was intense, electric. I couldn't imagine it getting even crazier after the Yankees had come back to tie the game. When Aaron Boone hit the winning homerun, total euphoria kicked in.
Definitely one of the most exciting moments in my life. I jumped into the arms of the nearest female Rican who happened to be twice my size, and the whole bar mobbed each other. It was New Year's Eve on acid.
Lou Gehrig's farewell speech defines the true Yankee Experience. It's impossible to not shed a tear watching this.
So many memories. I'm sure I forgetting a lot. My only question is with the new stadium, will the Bronx faithful still be able to afford season tickets. What will become of the bars on River Avenue? Will they be demolished? Will they get prime real estate across the new stadium or will they be shut out by corporate restaurants? Will the concession workers who have spent 30 plus years grinding away at Yankee Stadium still have jobs once the new one opens up? Will corporations keep out the true, loyal fans who can only afford to attend a few games?
What will happen when I bring my daughter to the new stadium in 20 years and tell her about all the memories and legends of the old Yankee Stadium? Will I have to point to a parking garage and inform her that is where one of the most historic baseball fields once stood? Where the greatest legends ever to play the game once called home.
I know what she'll say. "If it was so great and historic, why did they tear it down?"
I feel the same way now.