"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Without…Charge

I was invited to got to yesterday’s game by my friend Jared. His ex-girlfriend had an extra ticket and did I want to come along? I’ve never been able to figure out how people can remain friends after they’ve been lovers; I’ve tried it, and failed miserably. I used to think it was a mature-sounding thing to do. But for me, it was simply an exercise in masochism and sexual frustration. That’s just me, of course. To each his or her own. Obviously, whatever discomfort Jared and Abbey experience together isn’t enough to keep them apart.

The three of us met up at Jared’s place, which is on 174th street and the Grand Concourse. This is the heart of the Boogie Down Bronx, and the view from Jared’s sixth floor balcony may be the most dizzingly active sight I’ve ever seen from a New York apartment. The broad-lanes of the dilapidated Concourse sit just to the left, underneath which runs the Cross Bronx Expressway. Then over the Concourse, in the not so far distance, you can see the elevated 4 train. Standing on the balcony, I felt almost quesy, unsure of my footing. There was so much to look at, and even more to hear.

We ate lunch and made our way to the stadium, arriving shortly after 2:00 p.m. Of course, we soon learned that the Devil Rays were still stuck in Florida. Bummer. It was a gorgeous day, and there was a decent crowd of fans milling about, mostly suburbanites dressed in shorts and Yankee jerseys. We were about to bag the whole thing, but Jared convinced Abbey–who had gotten the tickets through her job–that we should at least go inside and check the ball park out.

We enetered the stadium on the field level out in right, and proceeded to walk toward home plate. This was cool as we past entire sections that I’ve never sat even remotely close to. We couldn’t stop too long though before stadium security humorlessly barked at us to keep moving. Passing one disgruntled guard dressed in a yellow shit, he announced to nobody in particular, “Welcome to Shea Stadium: enjoy the delay.” We made several stops along the way, plopping down in empty seats, taking in the sights and sounds; looking up and around at the vast stadium and thoroughly enjoying ourselves in that great New York City pastime: people watching.

Eventually, we settled ourselves in about 30 rows behind home plate, under the netting. It felt very much like being in a cocoon. A boy and his father sat a few rows in front of us. The kid couldn’t have been older than four. He was wearing a Yankee cap and jersey and he was swinging a miniature bat. His father took his picture; the boy proudly posed with his bat. He caught my eye and continued to preen, swinging and showing-off for his father. But though he continued to engage his father, the old man was no longer interested. The boy’s big, earnest eyes kept darting over to us. His dad ignored him, deep in thought.

Just after 3:00, the voice of Yankee Stadium, Bob Shepard, made the announcement that there would be no double-header. The crowd–maybe 5,000 people?–groaned, “Aawwwww.” Then Shepard added that, “Hot dogs and Coke will be available…”–great dramatic pause–”without…charge.” “Yeah!” That got the crowd buzzing. Literally. You’ve never heard such a thing. The three of us fell out laughing. Fast Food Nation, this is your life! Nothing like free food to shake people out of their seats.

Soon after, Jared, Abbey and I made our way around to left field–the Sheffield seats–and then up to one of the hot dog stands. Abbey wanted her free dog and Coke. The lines were already long and they weren’t moving. Apparently, nobody had given the good people working the consessions the heads up about free dogs, so everyone had to wait as a new batch warmed on the grill. A father in a Mickey Mantle jersey was ahead of us in line, carrying on a conversation with some very peeved guys just behind us. The dudes were upset about having to wait around all day for a game to be played. The father’s kid looks up at his old man and says, “So, we’ll just come back tonight, right dad?”

“No, we’re not coming back tonight.” The father looked up and winked at the peeved fan with great satisfaction, as if they were both members of a secret club. “It’s a school night.” Yup, the summer is finally over. Dude could barely conceal his delight.

Well, we stood on line for about ten minutes before some of those in line started getting restless. “Hey, I thought this was supposed to be free. How long we gotta wait?” Before you know it, a full-scale Jerry Springer-style shouting match broke out on the other side of the room between two heavy-set customers and about 18 black women working the consessions. The customers looked to be a married couple from the suburbs–shorts, Yankee jerseys. We couldn’t pick up what was being said but things were heated. One of the workers through a batch of napkins at the customers. The women sounded like a wolf had just invaded a hen house. They were making some racket. Abbey decided that she didn’t really want a hot dog after all. Leave it to New Yorkers to start a fight over free food. Beautious.

I ended up taking Jared and Abbey up to my neighborhood and got them a good pastrami sammich at a local deli. We didn’t go back to the stadium. The only thing I regret is that we didn’t stick around to watch batting practice. That would have been a treat. But I didn’t want to schlepp back down to the stadium in the evening. After all, it is a school night.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver