Arrival at Yankee Stadium
Baseball is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it.
New York is like Marmite – you either love it or hate it.
Put those two together and you get the Yankees (Sorry Mets fans).
Stepping off a busy train at 161st Street Yankee Stadium, we were surrounded by Yankees. American accented hordes of pinstripes. I felt like I had gatecrashed a party – it was another world. This was America and these pesky limeys had turned up unannounced.
My excitement levels were through the roof as we handed over our tickets and entered ‘that hall’. I had no idea what I was stepping into. With extremely limited knowledge of the game and no idea how much this game and this team would take their stranglehold – we made our way further into what many consider the nearest baseball has to a cathedral. Banners the size of a block of flats back home fell from the ceiling. Every bit of space was plastered with the Yankees logo and there were numbers everywhere. 2’s, 3’s, 5’s and 23. Every second shirt had Jeter or Rivera – they were everywhere!
We liked this – a lot.
The sound of music (not that one), the buzz of the crowd, we followed the herd up the sloped ramp where fans spoke a different language to us. We went up and up until…
Heartland of the Yankees
The sight of the hallowed turf and packed stands as you stand on the concession concourse is like nothing you will find in any football stadium – hell, any stadium. And the concession stands! Americans know food. Baseball knows food.
It was wall to wall food. It was hard to decide where to go. Did we want a burger the size of a beachball (with fries the size of sausages)? A large bucket of chicken and a vat of syrupy cola? It was like there was nothing you couldn’t find.
We opted for a bucket of chicken and enough fizzy pop to fill your average sink.
As far as first impressions go, this was a winner. There was going to be a second date! I could see a future with this game.
It is when we sat in our seats halfway between 1st and the foul pole that we started to take it all in. The famous freeze atop the grandstands. The booming music that made it feel like an event and not just ‘a match’. We were surrounded by folk who bled pinstripes. Fans who lived in the shadow of the ground. We had travelled thousands of miles and had no idea what baseball was about.
To our credit, we did not do too much, ‘what is that?’, ‘Why are they doing that?’ or ‘This is just rounders, isn’t it?’ I did my best (when asked) to not sound like a complete and utter noob – which I was, boy was I. I knew more about black holes and quantum mathematics than I did baseball or the Yankees. As baptisms go – this was a biggie.
I knew then (but would not realise it for a few years more) that I would love this game. So, we duly stood for the national anthem (quite moving) and took in the pomp and circumstance of baseball. This isn’t a sport – it’s a performance. It’s a wave-your-hands-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care pantomime of sport. We loved it.
They have songs to walk out to? What the? This is amazing! The buzz of dance music when anything happened, the famous baseball organs peppering the proceedings when it felt like it. The crowd sang and chanted. Men and women shouted and hollered.
The phrase, ‘put him down’ would never leave us. Thinking back, we think it was in relation to the batter facing CC that night (yes – we were lucky enough to see CC).
The Yankees, Baseball and a New Fan
At this stage, I knew extraordinarily little of the teams or the players. I knew nothing of rivalries or double plays or grand slams. I did not realise until a few years later what we had seen. We had shared the air with CC, Texiera, Jeter and Rodriguez. We had been caught up in the game and cheered on Granderson and Cano. We saw a home run and too much in between to properly understand what we had seen.
We stood for God Bless America and felt at home. We watched grounds crew saunter elegantly around the diamond with balletic precision (alright, not quite but you often romanticize the past) while YMCA blasted out all around the ground. These Americans sure knew how to enjoy themselves, so we threw away our stiff upper lips and shyness and joined in. and we swayed and swooned to the baseball classic that needs no introduction.
9 innings (whatever they were) and almost three hours later we were hooked. We had no idea how long it might be until we returned (the next year it turned out), so we were taking baseball home with us.
We had no idea what to expect, we had no real idea about the game at all, but we both left as fans, not just of the Yankees, but the game of baseball.