Three average fans got an unexpected taste of luxury at Yankee Stadium. Was it all it’s cracked up to be?
My head rested against the train’s Plexiglas window. Looking down at my punched ticket, which read “POKIPSE—YANKEE-153,” my forehead rattled at the blue-red blur of a passing train. A cute young woman in a Yankees jersey and cap sat in the seat in front of me, her braid draped over her right shoulder. She looked back my way and winked. I smiled back at her. She turned and talked to the guy sitting next to her. I took the Nikon point-and-shoot from my pocket and snapped a few pictures of her while she wasn’t looking. Glancing back at me, she asked, “Are you taking pictures of me?”
“No,” I said.
She sat back down, and I leaned forward, propping my chin up on the back of her seat. Then we talked about our wedding plans. We’d been engaged for a couple of months and not much had been decided about the ceremony. The guy who sat next to her was our friend Carl, a lefty wearing a size 7.5 Yankees cap of his own.
It was almost 11 o’clock, but our day began many hours earlier, waking at quarter to four a.m. to drive from East Syracuse to Poughkeepsie. Now we were just about to enter New York City. One minute we were surrounded by tall trees on one side, shimmering water on the other, and the next the city had consumed us with towering grey and red buildings, billboards and graffiti.
From the train, it was a short walk to Yankee Stadium. When first seeing the stadium from a distance, I couldn’t help thinking of it as a modern-day Coliseum. We were greeted on our walk by hordes of young vendors shouting, “ICE-COLD WATER, ONE DOLLAR! PAY FIVE DOLLARS INSIDE! ICE-COLD WATER! ICE-COLD WATER!” Later, heading in the opposite direction, we would see Spiderman playing the saxophone, and a man playing the recorder while collecting dollar bills and change in a Corona box.
Once we made it inside, we felt the need to do two things: get as close to the field as possible, and take pictures. For Carolyn and me, it was our first time being in the stadium. We flirted with the idea of touring Monument Park, the mini-museum behind the center field wall with shrines for Yankee heroes of the past, but the massive waiting line deterred us. The game wouldn’t start for another hour and a half, but we hadn’t eaten since breakfast at six, so it was time for lunch. We split up to buy food and agreed to meet back by our seats, which were in a section of bleachers above the Yankees bullpen in right-center.
I discovered a delicious Cuban sandwich on the field level. That and a bottle of water set me back almost twenty bucks. I was the last one to make it back to our bleacher seats. Carolyn and Carl had almost finished their food. Our section, 202, was still mostly empty. A guy who looked to be in his early twenties sat a few spots down from us.
Halfway through my Cuban, a short man wearing a Ralph-Lauren polo and a black headset walked up to us and asked, “Are you a party of four?” I immediately worried that we’d done something wrong, broken some clearly posted rule about four-person parties that I’d failed to notice.
The guy sitting to our right said, “No, I’m not with them.”
The man in the headset was disappointed. “Well,” he said, “do you want to be a party of four? I’m looking for a party of four. Are you by yourself?” he asked the young man.
“No,” he said. “I’m with my dad.”
“That’s too bad. I really need a party of four.” And he left. My friends and I talked among ourselves, sure that we missed out on some great opportunity. But our spirits could not be dampened. We were at Yankee Stadium enjoying overpriced food and just waiting for the game to start.
Carl looked to his right and said, “Do you realize that that’s a restaurant?”
He was referring to the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar, an exclusive area for special ticket package owners and Yankee Club members. I stared at its looming, obsidian-tinted windows. It felt as though those windows existed specifically to create a barrier between us and the special amenities of the sports bar. “Yeah,” I said, “a restaurant we’ll never get into.”
No one disagreed. I kept eating. The sun was beating down on us, and the word around the park was that the heat index would hover just below one hundred degrees all afternoon. We were prepared to suffer the heat and the inevitable sunburns. The experience would be worth it.
With just a few bites left of my Cuban, a voice from behind us said, “I changed my mind. Come with me.” It was the man with the headset. We followed him without hesitation, and on our way I tossed the rest of my sandwich. “You might have to pretend that your fourth friend is on the way,” he said. “We’ll go live in four minutes.”
Live? We’re going live? What does that mean? We all thought something along these lines, but just nodded. Everything happened quickly.
With his direction, we bypassed the line outside the sports bar and stepped inside. If my skin can accurately remember temperatures, it was a cool sixty-seven degrees: air conditioning. The man in the headset led us near one of the bars and gave us exact spots to stand in. A reporter appeared holding a microphone. She said that she was going to hand us three tickets and read a message about how we’d won front-row seats in the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar, courtesy of Mohegan Sun.
“What do we say?” I asked.
The man with the headset: “Nothing. Just take the tickets and smile at that camera.” He pointed to a camera hanging on a pillar near the ceiling.
The reporter read the message, handed us the tickets, and we smiled our dumbstruck smiles. We were broadcast on the stadium’s massive JumboTron. It was over in a flash and we were led to our new front row seats. Adrenaline overwhelmed us. We began snapping pictures again and made phone calls, sounding like giddy preteens at a Justin Bieber Concert. Oh, Em, Gee was repeated. Carl said, at least five times, “I love you guys.”
The official attendance for the game was 46,188 (over 1,000 more than the stadium’s average for the 2011 season). I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure that 46,185 fans in the stadium that afternoon did not receive a free ticket upgrade in the Mohegan Sun Sports bar. The odds were astronomical.
Several minutes passed before I was able to really take in our surroundings. We had a brilliant, panoramic view of the stadium. Monument Park lay below our feet. Inside, there was a bar on each side of the restaurant, flat-screen TVs on every wall, and a full staff of waiters and waitresses. The bathrooms were clean, with marble countertops and stainless steel faucets. There were handrails by the urinals. Our seats were cushioned, with armrests, and we had enough room to stretch out our limbs at will. To my friends and me, such accommodations at a baseball game were an alien idea, something we could vaguely imagine, but that we never thought we would actually experience.
A few fat moths landed on the outside of the tinted glass. Baby birds swooped towards them with open beaks.
We didn’t want to leave our seats, afraid that if we stepped aside for a moment, the whole thing would turn out to be an elaborate joke, that we would be sent back to the bleachers. We could see our old seats from the sports bar, and section 202 had become incredibly crowded. A place where we were elated to be less than an hour ago now appeared extremely uncomfortable.
And as soon as the game started, it was clear that we would be having a completely different experience than the people on the other side of the glass, both for better and for worse.
There is a ritual at Yankees Stadium known as roll call. The fans chant each player’s name during the top of the first until each player turns and recognizes the crowd with a wave. Inside the sports bar, the roll call chant was muffled. We could see the players turn and acknowledge the crowd, but we couldn’t hear their names chanted clearly. There was certainly a lot of clapping inside, but I couldn’t help but feel separated from the enormous, excited crowd on the other side of the glass. And, in the back of my mind, I realized that any sliver of hope for catching a home run ball had been dashed. As if to underscore this thought, an Oakland player hit a ground-rule double to center field in the first inning. The ball travelled through the air directly towards us, bounced off the warning track and into the netting over Monument Park. There it sat for the duration of the game, so close to us, yet impossible to reach.
The game was a great one. We watched David DeJesus rob Derek Jeter of a hit by making a spectacular catch along the right field line, then saw Jeter steal a hit from DeJesus with one of his iconic jump-throws. The Yankees took a brief 1-0 lead and we traded high fives. In all, three home runs were hit, one by Nick Swisher that nearly landed in the third level of seats, somewhere a homer has yet to reach in the three-year-old stadium.
It turned out that I’d have to venture outside the sports bar for a bag of peanuts, the everyfan’s snack of choice. After I was assured reentry, I walked out and through general seating areas. With the five-dollar bag of peanuts in hand, I decided to stop by section 202 before returning to our upgraded seats. I was not delusional enough to mistake section 202 for bad seats. It offered a great view of the ballpark, and the heat wasn’t terrible—since I was only there for two minutes—but it was undeniable that the level of comfort for the bleacher seat fans was less than modest. Many section 202 fans wore just undershirts and had wet towels tucked under their caps and draped down the backs of their necks.
It’s often said that the number one determinant of what people eat is availability. Back in the sports bar, I ended up with a Caesar salad placed in front of me. Carl stuck with the traditional burger and fries, while Carolyn opted for the mini corn dogs. The food was decent, but I surely didn’t feel like I was eating at a ballpark, like I had been with the Cuban between my jaws.
Come the seventh inning stretch, fans throughout the stadium rose to their feet for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I could see the classic lyrics scrolling digitally around the stadium, but the song wasn’t played inside the sports bar. On the other side of the glass, fans swayed back and forth, raised their beers in plastic cups and cheered, “Root, root root for the Yan-kees!”
This is where I should admit that watching the game from the sports bar wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be; I should say that it wasn’t like the authentic experience of burning up amongst the “real fans,” sweating and cheering from the bleachers, and being surrounded by all the sounds of the stadium, not lighting fixtures made to look like vintage baseball cards and women drinking vodka-lemonades. But if I said that, I would be lying. Those nine innings at Yankee Stadium were the best nine innings I could imagine. I had great company, a comfortable and exciting atmosphere, and an amazing view of the game. We were spoiled. And just as every man deserves his day in the sun, every fan deserves his day in the air-conditioned, full-service sports bar beyond center field in Yankees Stadium.
The Yankees fell behind, but made a game of it by the ninth inning. Down by one with a runner on third base and two outs, Robbie Cano at the plate, there might as well have been no tinted glass barrier between us and the rest of the crowd. A lone, deep voice bellowed, “LET’S GO YANKEES!” and everyone else responded, clap clap, clap clap clap. The whole place shook with energy, then froze with anticipation.
Cano swung, hit a soft ground ball to shortstop, and the game was over. The Yankees lost. The fans on either side of us stormed out as if their seats were on fire. Carl, Carolyn and I didn’t want to leave. We didn’t want it to be over. We’d been hoping all day to see Mariano Rivera come running out of the bullpen, “Enter Sandman” blaring throughout the stadium. Now Mo walked out of the bullpen, glove in his offhand, chin tucked to his chest, as Oakland celebrated on the diamond. Carolyn was happy to get a picture of his back.
Photo–Thomas Michael Duncan