Nick Swisher comes out to bat to music by Daft Punk, which is a shockingly good choice for a baseball player. I’m tempted to like him, and I’m not alone. He’s a second-generation Major League Baseball player who’s as comfortable in the madhouse of Yankee Stadium as he is anywhere else on the planet. He might even be most comfortable here, which is why he’s decided to turn his at-bats into a mini-dance party instead of trying to burnish one’s New York credentials, as the forever insecure Alex Rodriguez does by coming out to a Jay-Z song. In the pre-game introductions, Swisher gives a shout-out to his fans in right field when he’s done declaring his name and number. He has a mohawk that’s actually kind of endearing. Yes, I’m tempted to like Nick Swisher, right up until the point that I remember I was born in Boston and am therefore not allowed to do so.
I had not been to the new Yankee Stadium before last night. Call it an overkill on the old one. In 2002, fresh to the city, I made a friend who was also a Red Sox fan, and who liked coming to the local Red Sox/Yankees games with an obsessive/compulsive twist: he liked going to all of them or none at all. For three years, we chose “all.” It wasn’t overdoing it. It was hilariously overdoing it. I insisted on wearing a Red Sox hat to every game, because what are new New York transplants if not masochists? I took abuse, but not as much as you’d think, given that we almost always sat in the bleachers. The once untouched-by-justice area of the stadium had recently become a dry section, which meant its constituency had the strange effect of getting more sober as the rest of the park got more drunk. This led to more group chants of “ASS-HOLE!” in my direction, where everyone had to only participate a little bit, and fewer one-on-one run-ins with drunk, belligerent, unstable people, which is where the real damage happens. That never came to pass, and though I generally kept to myself, I probably deserved it at least once.
The year 2005 was as good a stopping point as any; the Red Sox had finally won the World Series, and I was experiencing a long bout of unemployment. When I finally got a job, I wasn’t eager to pour what little scratch I had into the Yankees’ pockets; the moment had passed. I tried sitting the bleachers a couple times for old times’ sake, and was just miserable. I had paid many dues in my life in New York, and I no longer felt the need to prove my true grit fandom at the ballpark. I would rather spend a little bit more on a seat and get to drink a nine dollar beer from time to time. I wanted to live the good life at the stadium, and was willing to pay the price for it.
When the new Yankee Stadium was built, though, it served as a natural inflection point to think about my relationship to the team and, more specifically, my relationship to money and baseball. I decided to stay away, influenced by the fact that my friend, the same one I went to so many games with, was frog-marched out of the Stadium in 2008 for trying to pee during God Bless America and told by police to “leave this country” if he didn’t love it, an experience which landed him on all manner of local news broadcasts and even The Colbert Report after he filed suit against the team for violating his first amendment rights. (He won, and the Yankees paid his legal fees and agreed to drop any policy restricting movement during the seventh inning stretch.) Curiously, by this point his compulsion had grown to the point where he was a full-season ticket holder during the whole ordeal, and he invited me to games when he had a spare, but our ballpark relationship had run its course. The problem was that I didn’t have any ballpark relationships to anyone else that transcended Shea Stadium and the old Yankee Stadium. Most of my friends are Mets fans, and cheap. Visiting the new Stadium never came up.
Then, on Wednesday, it did. My friend Nate asked a small group if we’d like to go to yesterday’s game against the Rangers. I pulled out my trusty Chart of Excuses and Deflections, and couldn’t find anything that matched up. I was in. I was kind of excited. I would be going back to Yankee Stadium.
Here were my observations from a chilly night in the Bronx: despite knowing where the new Stadium was, I kept looking for it on the site of the old one; you can actually get a beer for $6 now, albeit one that would be called “child” size in any other context; and if you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t be constantly aware by watching the game that you weren’t, in fact, in the old park. We watched Yankees second-year pitcher Ivan Nova struggle for a few innings while young Rangers lefty Matt Harrison, pitching without sleeves, went eight innings and gave up one home run, aided by the most effective double-play inducing night by a left-hander in the history of baseball (well, at least since 1974, when they started tracking this stat). He got six double plays. We saw history, for now at least. That’s the beauty of baseball. You never fucking know.
Toward the end of the game, no one cared about that. The Yankees mounted a comeback effort against Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, and it brought the life out of one guy in my section, who rushed toward the lowest seats to to start a “Let’s Go Yankees!” chant, and happened to do so right next to me. Between every pitch, he’d turn to either side of the aisle and yell, “Say it LOUD! And say it PROUD!” and then the chorus kicked in. I was reminded, as I often am in this city, of Frank Lucas/Denzel Washington’s observation in American Gangster: the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room. I said as much to my friends, within earshot of the guy, who would have heard me if not for his loud pride.
But I’m not criticizing him. Yes, Yankee Stadium is loud and overpriced and cloyingly obnoxious with its YMCA-dancing groundskeepers and patriotic bullshit. (I peed during the seventh inning stretch, per my right.) What I took for granted before is how into it everyone is, for baseball. It’s life or death every night, and everyone is rooting, loudly, for life, as if their yelling alone can and does make it happen. Despite the inevitability of death, especially in baseball, the Yankees keep winning, so the fans keep showing up and believing they make it happen. The Yankees win more and more, so they get louder and louder. When people cheat death, even through spending tons of money, we say it’s their right. We don’t say the same about the Yankees. They’ll probably get it in the end. But what if they never do? Don’t we have to learn to live with it? Isn’t that what those $6 beers are for?