Opening Day in The Bronx

It started so innocently. Back on the real First Day of Spring (i.e. the day that pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training), I sent a simple text message to Feesh welcoming him to another baseball season and informing him that it would be just 56 days before his Yankees and my beloved Angels took the field against each other for the first time this season. A rapid-fire exchange of boasts, predictions and insults ensued before Feesh sent this:  “U realize this game is Yankee home opener, don’t u? Want 2 go? If so, better RSVP fast.” Taking no chances, I entered my affirmative text reply and then sprinted the 2,863 miles to his Manhattan office to show him the message in my Sent folder. Just to be sure.

I’ve known Feesh since my very first day at Ithaca College, back when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. Being the up-front guy he is, he never attempted to hide his love for the Yankees. I figured everyone’s got their quirks and peculiarities, and being a Yankee fan was his. We roomed together harmoniously for years, along with Doc – a Red Sox fanatic, no less. But until today, I had never ventured into the belly of the beast with him.

We arrived early, in time for me to process the stimulus overload that the new Yankee Stadium serves up before getting down to the business of rooting for the visiting team. Feesh had just one rule:  “No public displays of being an Angels fan”. The Yankee Stadium suite that we’d be sitting in had been in his family for decades, and he wasn’t taking any chances on any creeping SoCal- ism. Feesh even sat down son Josh (aka The Phenom) ahead of time and explained that sometimes good people can grow up not being Yankee fans – “It just happens”, he told him. It was a teachable moment I was glad to inspire.

Cliché as it sounds, there is nothing in sports quite like the history and tradition of Yankee Stadium – both the original and the current v2.0 (or v3.0 if you count the renovation done in 1975). And no team does a better job of keeping their tradition alive and relevant than the Yankees. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you have to respect them. For example, there are dozens and dozens of pictures of players and plays from years past in the corridors that ring the suite level of the stadium. And not one of them contains a descriptive caption identifying the player or describing the moment captured. Why? Because Yankee fans just know who it is – and they take it upon themselves to pass that knowledge on to successive generations. Hell, I’m neither a Yankee fan nor a big-time baseball historian, and I could identify the inhabitants of well over half the pictures. It was clearly osmosis at work.

In the suite in which I was a guest there was a small stack of game programs, which the collector in me was glad to see. What really brought a smile to my face though was the small pile of official scoresheets, replicas of the one to be used that day by Official Scorer Bill Shannon. There were even small pencils with basic block lettering that simply read “New York Yankees”. I hadn’t seen a baseball scoresheet since I was a kid, and seeing these brought back fond memories of sitting in my room listening to radio broadcasts of Red Sox games and recording the action in painstaking detail in the shorthand endemic to baseball. It warmed my heart later on to see that The Pheenom was doing exactly that – for a few innings at least.

As game time drew nearer, I couldn’t help noticing the stark contrast between the in-your-face glitz and production value of the Lakers pre-game that I’d attended earlier in the month and the understated quality of the videos that were running on the stadium’s center field video board. Each one highlighted a different part of Yankee history without overly hyping the fact that, oh by the way, they’ve been the World Champions of their sport on twenty-seven different occasions. As “Exhibit A” I give you the flags.

Even the casual baseball fan immediately recognizes the iconic façade that rings the upper deck of Yankee Stadium. It’s there in grainy film footage of the Babe and the echoes of the Iron Horse – “Today (today) I consider myself the luckiest man (man) on the face of this earth (earth)”. Spaced in equal distances along the façade are flagpoles. I don’t know what flags occupied these poles previously, but it was with almost a casual manner that the pre-game announcement was made regarding what would be there from now on. The Yankees had decided to recognize their 27 championships by hanging dignified white flags, each bearing in blue text simply the year of just one of their World Series wins. This created a chronological circle of championship flags that stretched from foul pole to foul pole – the long way around the stadium. And while it was never stated out loud, it did not escape me that there were still a half-dozen or more available flag poles.

To be continued…

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