"You can almost feel the winning."
This was what I was always told about Yankee Stadium. Oh, there were plenty of other things I was told - some nice, some not so nice - but that was the only part that sounded any different from what people say about every team in sports. This past April I had a chance to find out if that was true.
I was in New York for a conference, and rather than attend the second day of panel discussions and workshops on topics that were (at the time) completely irrelevant to me, I took the subway ride up to the Bronx to watch the Yankees host the Blue Jays. As soon as you step off at 161st Street, you are greeted by the Yankee mantra: 26 Time World Champions. And you see that again when you walk up to the ticket windows. And again once you pass through the main gate.
And again when you wander through the concourse.
And on t-shirts.
And on programs and scorecards.
And on the concrete wall between the lower and upper decks. And on...and on...and on it goes.
Not really caring about the game (Yankees vs. Blue Jays), I opted for a seat in the upper deck, which in all honesty was one of the better set of cheap seats I've found myself in. Not that $20 for the nosebleeds is all that cheap. Still, it was a nice view of the whole park and, shockingly, a nice view of the Bronx. I made a note to tell everyone how that part of the city at least looks nice from way up high.
The Yankees were still taking batting practice, which in most parks means no one's there but at Yankee Stadium means everyone's there and they all want a piece of A-Rod and Bernie and Deh-rik Jee-tah.
All up and down the first few rows were people yelling and cheering, offering tips and some not-so-constructive comments. It was hilarious watching this. "Choke up Alex!" and "C'mon Bernie you're gonna hit three outta here today!" and "That's my Giambino baby! YEAH!"
Understand that I'm all in favor of kids coming out and learning a thing or two by watching the pros take some swings. What I can't get behind is grown men, out-of-shape and past their prime, trying to tell another man how to do his job. Or a guy and his girlfriend wearing the exact same Johnny Damon shirt, oohing and aahing when their shared fantasy male hits one into the left-field bleachers.
The whole scene was just creepy. I asked someone why people were so into this, and his response was a scream of "'Cause this is Noo Yawk baby!"
Whatever that means.
Once the game was underway, the real show started. Everyone around me was going on about how Moose is Loose, and Jason Giambi was back, and Johnny Damon was going to be MVP, and George is gonna get us some pitchers, and how dare those Blue Jays keep hitting to shallow right field even though Bernie Williams' knees don't work anymore. "The man's a legend. No respect," they said, and I couldn't help but laugh.
My favorite was the guy in the row in front of me telling the story about how his friend got hit in the head by a foul ball that Derek Jeter hit in batting practice. Apparently his friend took it in the cheek, lost a couple teeth, and had to be rushed to the hospital. Meanwhile the guy reached down and snatched the assailant baseball and kept it for himself, to which the guy next to him said (and I quote):
"You got a Derr-ik Jeetah ball? That's fuckin' awesome!"
If I could write humor this good, I promise I would be a very rich man.
After a few innings of all this, I started asking some of the Yankee fans a few questions, just to gauge their answers and whether or not they were aware of how the rest of the sports world views them. They were not amused.
Andrew: "Remember last winter when Randy Johnson said he wouldn't go to the White Sox because they weren't going to win anything, and instead he came to the Yankees and turned out to be not all that great and then you guys tanked in the playoffs? Joke's on him, huh?"
Random Yankee Fan: [momentary silence] "This year baby, Randy's gonna do it, George was right!"
A: "You know why you've got the best shot at signing Roger Clemens? Because no one else can afford him!"
RYF: "You got it! This is the Yankees, we get what we want!"
A: "You can't seriously think that Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano are going to be the back end that you need."
RYF: "We're gonna get that guy from Tampa Bay and whoever that guy is on Chicago. Boston can suck it!"
This was followed by my entire section busting out in a chorus of "Boston Sucks," which was extra-hilarious considering that the sum of Red Sox hats, shirts, players, keychains, pennants, and signs was zero. The closest anything in the whole stadium was to being Boston-related was that center fielder they stole away from their hated Carmines last winter.
In the end, the Yankees beat the Jays 4-1 and most of the stadium went home happy, except for the few Toronto fans scattered throughout the park, but even they looked a little tired. Perhaps it was the unseasonable warmth; perhaps it was the drain of sitting through three hours among that kind of sense of entitlement and self-absorption, the kind of centrism that comes along with your team coming out on top year after year after year after year.
It's not that you feel the winning; the winning just doesn't shut up.