Sometimes, there is nothing as satifying as getting to the ballpark early. Last night, I went with Jay Jaffe to the Yankee game and he had cherce seats in the lower section of the tier directly behind home plate, possibly my favorite general location in the entire park. Until about 35 minutes before game time, the house organist played a string of older popular melodies: “Sunny,” “Groovin,” and even my sentimental favorite, “Angela’s Theme,” (more commonly known as the theme music for the show “Taxi”). Then Bob Sheppard announced the “dos and donts,” in his inimitable articulated and understated fashion. As he read the rules of conduct, a round consessions man who looked very much like a bloated toad, moved around the walkway in the upperdeck, leaning on the railing as if to keep his balance, and repeated Sheppard word-for-word.
At 6:38, the TV screen in centerfield showed Bruce Springsteen sitting in the front row next to the Yankee dugout. Sun-tanned and handsome, the Boss, wearing a blue baseball cap, green army jacket and organge t-shirt, smiled for the camera and spoke in a serious and unselfconscious way to a reporter standing over him. Two teenage girls wearing Yankee caps sat next to him and could not stop giggling as “Glory Days” blared over the P.A. system. The TV screen now showed the two girls and a message read “The Other Boss” (I assumed that one of the girls was Springsteen’s daughter). When the reporter left and the cameraman turned away, the Boss leaned forward and opened his program as his daughter held a camera out with an extended arm and took a picture of herself and the other girl.
By now, the calming sounds of the organ was replaced by the blaring sound of TV highlights and commericals. My section was populated with season ticket holders, many of them older couples, all of them eating. The early bird special. The first pitch was thrown out by Kathy Johnson Masser who in the early fifties (I missed the exact date) became the first girl to ever play in a Little League game. As she left the field, escorted by a younger woman in a business suit, Masser, a short woman wearing a oversized white jersey, was stopped by two of the Yankee players who were leaning over the top rail of the dugout. They said a few words to her and then she walked away.
The Mid Island Little League All Stars from Staten Island–dressed in red and white uniforms–were announced to the crowd and the kids got to stand with the Yankee players on the field during the playing of the National Anthem (the U.S. Army Band recording, which I find to be true and without pretension). The three middle infielders stood with Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Robbie Cano at the lip of the outfield grass near shortstop. Three outfielders stood around the Yankee outfield in short right field. Two kids flanked Jorge Posada at home plate. One kid stood next to Gary Sheffield at first and another with Chien-Ming Wang on the mound. All of the big leaguers leaned down slightly and talked to the kids. When the anthem was over, the kid standing next to Sheffield didn’t move. It was as if they didn’t know exactly what to do. I’m sure the last thing these kids wanted was for this moment, on a beautifully crisp and pleasent night in the Bronx, to end. The three infield kids were dispatched first and they sprinted towards first base. The kid at first waited for them to reach him before he moved. As Sheffield began to get ready to throw grounders to his infielders he motioned “yo” with his glove to the kid who was walking from the mound to the dugout. Big leaguers all the way.
As for the game itself, the Bombers were in fine form, beating the hell out of the Orioles 16-4. The Yanks are now one game ahead of the Tigers for the best record in the league. Chien-Ming Wang was not sharp but he pitched well enough to get his 19th win of the season. Jason Giambi returned and had three hits and 4 RBI (guess his wrist is feeling okay); Jorge had 4 RBIs as well. Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu and Cano all hit dingers as well. Rompalicious.
A fun, carefree night of it for Yankee fans. It was fun to think that in a week, the place would truly be packed, the weather a little colder, and the energy entirely different. For a drunk sitting nearby–“Hey, nine dollar beer guy, over here!”–booing the wave, and everyone who participated in it, was the highlight of the night. “Where are you? This isn’t Shea. We don’t do the wave here!” An almost impossible cute little baby girl held in her mother’s arms directly in front of us, cooed at Jay and me throughout most of the game. She had blond hair and big blue eyes and had already learned the art of flirtation. Two french kids in their early twenties, who like basketball far more than they like, or even know, baseball, sat behind us and told us about the World Cup and how excited they were to see Tony Parker play at the Garden later this fall. And, wouldn’t you know it, but in the ninth inning, fellow blogger Ben Kabak spotted me (he recognized my mugshot from SI.com) and he came by with his friend Ben for the final outs.
A nice, relaxing evening of it. The calm before the storm…