The man sitting across from me on the Uptown 4 train looked like an intellectual. A gray wreath of hair crowned his balding head. He dressed in a green shirt, a blue trench coat, jeans, and a Yankees cap. He read the New York Times on the train ride, shaking his head in disappointment as he read one story in the middle of the front page.
As our train exited the underground world for elevated tracks, he got up from his seat and turned toward the sunshine now beaming through the windows. His eyes caught sight of kids playing on a couple baseball fields in a park, then he turned to me and shattered my illusion of him.
“Pisses me off that the real thing isn’t there,” he moaned. “Fucking money.”
The man was complaining about the 2008 demise of Yankee Stadium; Heritage Field, the park that drew the ire of the man on the train, now stood on that land. Just a block north across E. 161st Street, the [New] Yankee Stadium that opened in 2009 waited for fans who would fill the seats for the April 16th matinee between the Seattle Mariners and the Yankees.
Although the man on the train despised [New] Yankee Stadium, the back of his cap contained a patch commemorating the inaugural season of the Bronx Bombers’ new home.
I followed the man out the doors of the train, down the stairs of the 161st Street station, and across the street into the ballpark. After spending nearly four years in the northeast and attending four soccer games in [New] Yankee Stadium, this was my first MLB game at the facsimile of The House That Ruth Built. In a convenient coincidence, April 16, 2016, also marked the seventh anniversary of the first regular season game played in George Steinbrenner’s palace. C.C. Sabathia, then the ace of the Yankees staff, started that inaugural match against his old club, the Cleveland Indians. The Indians won 10-2, but Sabathia didn’t factor into the decision.
In another convenient coincidence, Yankees manager Joe Girardi named Sabathia the starter for the game against the Mariners, who trotted out ace Felix Hernandez for the start. Although Sabathia is past his prime, the matchup still made for an enticing pitcher’s duel, two Cy Young winners trying to get their clubs back on track after some early season woes.
A sizable contingent of Mariners fans were in attendance for the game, including a loyal band of King Felix’s Court. The Court still wore their yellow shirts, still chanted “K” every time Hernandez had two strikes on the batter, still waved their signs as they chanted, and still sat behind the foul post in left field despite being in the opposite coast of the country.
Despite the support that the King had on hand, the Yankees struck first in the bottom of the third. After getting Alex Rodriguez to ground out, Hernandez walked first baseman Mark Teixeria. At the next at-bat, outfielder Carlos Beltran hit a standup double to left centerfield, driving home Teixeria for a 1-0 Yanks lead as the ball landed in a mess of outfield crosshatching and faded pitch lines used for New York City F.C. games.
The Mariners responded in the fifth inning with their only spurt of offense in the game. Centerfielder Leonys Martin set the tone for the inning with a leadoff solo homer to right field. The Mariners batted around until Robinson Cano — Yankee fans still booed him before each at-bat for trading in his pinstripes for solid Seattle tops — hit an RBI single (and advanced to second on the throw) to score Ketel Marte and put the Mariners up 2-1. In the next at-bat, designated hitter Nelson Cruz lived up to his job title and hit a double along the third base line to make it a 3-1 lead with the insurance run. Girardi gave Sabathia the hook, the fans gave their departing pitcher a kind applause for the effort, but the Mariners did all the damage they needed.
The game continued at a sluggish pace because each team kept getting hits — the teams combined for 20 — without capitalizing on the men on base. Beltran broke the monotony with a seventh inning home run to centerfield, but of course it was a solo shot. The score was only 3-2, but the game was already approaching three hours when Beltran hit his homer.
Drama managed to climb through the sludge of this game and make a grand appearance in the bottom of the ninth. After A-Rod struck out to complete his sterling 0-4 day at the plate and Teixeria flew out, the Yankees got two men on base behind singles from Beltran and former Cub Starlin Castro. The crowd was now on its feet, chanting pro-Yankees cheers, and giving their support to pinch hitter Brian McCann.
In the climactic at-bat, McCann hit an anti-climactic dribbler of a groundout. Third out. Game over, 3-2 Mariners. An audible segment of Yankees fans booed over the recording of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” as they headed to the exits, while the tiny army of King Felix’s Court remained standing in their section, celebrating their king’s first win of the season.
Yankee Stadium was my ninth stop in my MLB ballpark tour; having been there four times already for soccer games, I found it weird to see the pitcher’s mound on the field.
The ballpark is devoid of any aura because of its young age, except for a tiny museum stationed halfway up along the concourse ramp. This museum contains a number of the Yankees’ World Series trophies on display and baseballs signed by a number of players who plied their trade in the pinstripes, from Joe Borowski to Don Mattingly. The best items on display were a jersey and bat that Babe Ruth used as a player for the Yankees, which made the legendary figure a tangible human being.
On the flip side, relatively new stadium had plenty of concession stands and bathrooms, so that it was pretty easy to grab something or take a quick restroom break within the two minutes allotted between half-innings. I used one break to buy a pint of Turkey Hill Cookies and Cream ice cream. Although the game itself was a slog, eating that pint of ice cream under a sunny and spotless sky, planes above me buzzing toward LaGuardia or JFK, players below me trying to figure out how to score run made for a perfect day at a ballpark.