Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Stadium Experience

Yes, I know, yet more lagging on the updating. I apologize. It's almost summertime and then I will be free to soak myself in baseball to my heart's content, as I plan on doing. (Well, not really. There is the troublesome factor of having to, you know, get a job, and work, and make money, which I do need. Boo. Oh well, there will be plenty of time for baseball too -- I will ensure that). It's the last week of school, practically the last day -- I have two classes tomorrow morning and then I'm getting a ride out to LaGuardia directly afterwards. My flight leaves at 3:30 ET and gets in at 6 PM MT, after which I will be home for four months, enjoying movies, baseball, working, baseball, parties, baseball, and the company of my sister. Whoo, summer! Can't wait.

Yes, well, in the few days that my diligent reporting skills missed, the Rockies took two of three from the Reds and dropped two of three to the Cards -- I was really hoping they'd win the middle game of the series so that Adam could get the win in the third game and the Rockies could take the series. Adam did get the win, but the Rockies did not win the second game of the series thanks to another boneheaded move from Mensa candidate Clint Hurdle. He pulled Taylor Buchholz after six shutout, four-hit innings, during which time Taylor had racked up only 71 pitches. The bullpen blew it, naturally, and then yesterday, Jason Hirsh was in the 90-pitch range in about the third inning. Enter bullpen, exit a number of baseballs and the Rockies' chances at taking the series. At least Wainwright got the win. Oh well.

But the main story from yesterday is that I finally got to go to Yankee Stadium, a trip that has been long in the planning and difficult to actually work out. My friend Allison and I finally coordinated our schedules, met up, walked to the Bronxville train station, and took the Metro-North to Grand Central, talking baseball the whole way. I enlightened her as to the merits of the Rockies, A's, and Cards, we agreed that Alex Rodriguez is a total tool, and otherwise had a fine time. We got to Grand Central and, after some doing, located the entrance for the uptown 4 train, which was unhelpfully sequestered in a dark corner on the complete opposite side from the downtown 4 train, which was naturally the first one we saw. We waited for a couple of 5 trains to go by, then got on the 4 and packed in, getting awfully intimate with some of New York City's finest. I swear, being on that train made me not mind the traffic on the I-25 corridor so much, which I always have to drive to get to Coors, and which is always congested like a fat man's arteries. It was also the biggest incentive to wear deodorant that I have ever encountered, let's just put it like that. But I actually didn't mind that much. It was the "real" experience if you will, taking the subway to the game with a bunch of yokels in Yankees gear. (Side note: A dude in a Yankees jersey came onto the already packed car and demanded, "Move." When he turned around, I noted that the jersey was an A-Rod one. It figures).

At last, the train pulled up into the sunlight and clicked right behind the center field wall of Yankee Stadium. Everybody disembarked en masse and headed in. The subway tracks are elevated right by the stadium, so you get off and walk underneath them into a maze of sports bars, memorabilia shops, and such that make a long strip paralleling the Stadium. It was awesome... even I, a pretty staunch Yankee hater, thought it was just a great atmosphere. Death-defying cabbies, traffic jams, people milling around -- it was taking your life into your hands to cross the street, but Allison and I managed, and after some doing and consulting a helpful usher, we discovered the gameday ticket window. The bleachers were the only thing left, so we paid $12 apiece and headed into the Stadium, as the bleacher entrance was conveniently located nearby.

I didn't have a religious experience like I did when I walked into Shea, but I have to say that that first sight of the field was pretty damn special. The sky was brilliantly blue, the temperature was around seventy, and the sun was striping shadows on the immaculate green field. We walked up and looked right down into Monument Park, and up at the famous white facade. I took some pictures and called my dad to inform him of where I was, as I did when I was at Shea. Then Allison and I wandered into the right field corner to watch the Rangers take batting practice and the crowds in the bleachers beg the wandering pitchers to throw them a ball. If I were a Ranger, I wouldn't have given them one, knowing that they were going to be calling my masculinity and/or mother into question in less than an hour, and there were a few pitchers who, in fact, just threw the balls in whenever they caught them, acts which earned them loud razzing in Bronx accents from the Jeter and/or Mussina and/or Rodriguez-shirt clad faithful lining the railing.

However, there were a few who played along. Specifically, C.J. Wilson. He is my favorite Ranger (which isn't hard, as I don't particulary care about the rest of them) for a number of reasons: he writes a terrific blog (Scorpion Tales) was a writing major who's working on a novel, plays guitar, films movies with his teammates, and, well, he is a bit cute. He's also a short guy with a blue glove, so he wasn't too hard to pick out, and every time he got a ball, he would spin around dramatically and make a tremendous production of faking a throw, which would get the crowd all excited for nothing. Once he'd disappointed them all, he would flip the ball into the stands. He looked like he was having a lot of fun out there and made Kameron Loe (who, compared to C.J., is a giant at 6'8") laugh a lot. A few of the Creatures were yelling at him (mainly "dumbass!" and "halfwit!") until C.J. turned around, sauntered up to the right field fence, and shouted, "I love roll call, man!" This refers to the Yankee Stadium habit of yelling at their players until they get a response, so in other words, he was giving as good as he got. (I was tempted to scream, "I love you, C.J.!" at the top of my lungs, since he was conversing with the guy next to me and he definitely would have heard me, but I chickened out).

Allison and I were just hanging out in the right field corner, leaning on the railing, watching the end of BP and feeling totally happy. When they started dismantling the cage, we bought hot dogs and sodas and headed back to our seats, where we moved up about ten rows from where we were supposed to be and scooted out from behind an inconveniently placed flagpole so we could see the pitchers' mound. Nobody came to claim those particular seats, so we sat there all game and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. I have to admit that when they were playing the National Anthem, the banks of lights in the stadium on, the night beautiful, with that big white facade behind us, I got goosebumps -- it was just something a baseball fan needs to experience.

The game itself was a lot of fun, even though I wasn't rooting for one team or another. The guys behind us were talking a lot (it sounded like a couple of buddies, one Yankee fan and one Ranger fan) and they were very entertaining. ("Who's coming up? Wilkerson, Cruz, and the Double-A Player of the Year?" and "Second time through the lineup, they'll figure out Moose's curveball. Well, not Sosa. But the rest of them will.") They knew their baseball and were fun to listen to, and at one point when they couldn't remember where Ron Washington came from, I turned around and told them that he was the third base coach for the A's. I think they were impressed. Allison was too. When I didn't know who Chris Stewart, the rookie catcher for the Rangers, was, she remarked that he had to be new, otherwise I would have known him, since I knew every player in baseball. I was flattered. It's true, after all. Well, mostly.

C.J. got to pitch, hurrah, and recorded a clean three innings of work. I even convinced Allison that he was awesome, and since the Yankees were ahead 6-2 when C.J. entered, she started rooting for him. We were both happy when he got A-Rod out (another side note: his at-bat music is a ridiculously stupid rap song called "This Is Why I'm Hot." Um, ego much?) But the really memorable parts of the game occured in the ninth. Mo Rivera was warming up in the bullpen, which was right below us, and the Creatures yelled happily at him. I was hoping they'd bring in Rivera even though it was a non-save situation, and they did. It was pretty cool -- Rivera's back, number 42, trotting in from center field with "Enter Sandman" echoing out over the P.A. and Yankee Stadium screaming happily. I wish I'd gotten a picture, but I think I'd finished my camera by then. (I'm paranoid that the airport screeners will somehow screw up the film, and I'll lose all my Mets/Rockies/Yankees pictures. I will flip a wig if that happens).

Anyway, this was when the REALLY interesting part of the game happened. Some intoxicated fool leapt onto the field and started dancing around happily, zoomed past a very startled Hideki Matsui and attempted to give him a high five, then eluded pursuit by a horde of sprinting security guards and managed to get all the way into the infield before getting dogpiled. He was escorted off the field to a night in the slammer and Yankee Stadium cheered raucously; they loved it. (Not so much when Rivera gave up a hit to the next batter, as they grumbled that he broke Mo's concentration). Then the second fan of the inning took a dive onto the field right behind home plate, but security grabbed him immediately and escorted him out. Yankee Stadium loved that too, and I heard a few chants of, "One more fan!" The guys behind us remarked, "Jeez, what is it over there? Two-dollar beer night?" But Rivera finished off the game with no more baserunners or field-hopping bozos, and everyone was happy. Allison and I squished back onto the 4 train, disembarked at Grand Central, and waited for the 11:14 Metro-North back to Bronxville. I didn't get home until midnight and was so tired that I slept for 10+ hours on a bare mattress beneath my bathrobe -- everything was picked up and taken off for summer storage yesterday.

I'm going to workshop two last stories for writing class and pack eventually, after spending the afternoon running errands and cleaning up. Summer is SO close I can smell it (and feel it, as it's hot and sticky here today). And next Wednesday I'll be at a game too, Rockies vs. D-backs. Yankee Stadium was a lot of fun, but it made me desperate to get home to Coors and to my boys. So close now, so close...

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