Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Spring of Their Discontent

Ah, what a glorious time to be a Yankees fan at the new Yankee Stadium. No, wait, that isn't it. Here we go: ah, what a glorious time to be a Yankee-hater watching all the fans at the new Yankee Stadium getting frustrated, pissed off, and totally disillusioned. Yeah, that's the ticket!

The Yankees have won two of their first four games at their new venue, and that's about the only good thing that can be said on their behalf. The victories were ho-hum, while the defeats were as nightmarish as they could be from the Yankees' point of view. It all began on Thursday, April 16, when the Yankees and Indians were tied 1-1 through six innings. Enter Jose Veras, who faced only three Indians, allowing two doubles and a walk, putting the Yankees behind 3-1. Joe Girardi's next brilliant move was to bring in Damaso Marte, who had a 5.40 ERA with the Yankees last year. He poured gasoline on the fire, and by the time Girardi could send in a helicopter to remove Marte from the scene of the disaster, the score was 10-1 (thanks largely to a grand slam by Grady Sizemore), and the natives were restless. No, they were more than restless, they were booing loudly. This was the prelude to the 7th-inning stretch, that time when the Yankees like to trot out opera stars and overblown pomp to lift the fans in the stands to new heights of Yankee patriotism. Not this time, P.T. After witnessing that nine-run explosion, the fans loosed a hailstorm of boos and abuse on the hometown nine, as Yankees legends Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford watched the carnage and felt their blood curdling.

The Yankees rebounded on Friday, hitting five solo home runs to prevail 6-5 in what was already turning into batting practice in the Bronx. On Saturday, a paid crowd of 45,167 filed into the Stadium, suspecting they'd see more home runs but not knowing what they were in for. Already, in their third game, Yankees management could see the problem with the exorbitant prices being charged for the prime seats. People simply weren't buying them. The bleacher seats--many with obstructed views, but at least reasonably priced--were full, while there were plenty of empty seats down by the field and empty suites halfway up. Fans had complained on Thursday that late in the game, with the Yankees trailing 10-2 and the Stadium rapidly emptying, they were barred by security guards from drifting down to the seats near the field. How are the Yankees going to sell those seats if they refuse to let their customers have a look at the view? There isn't a ballpark in the majors where fans are prevented from sampling the good seats for the last inning of a blowout when the park is half-empty. Excuse me, there's one: Yankee Stadium, where those seats are going to remain unpolluted by the touch of a human ass until some sucker ponies up $375 or more to pay for the privilege.

So let me tell you how I experienced the historic Stadium blowout on Saturday. That afternoon, my wife and I headed for Albany and environs, for a little shopping, dinner with her daughter, and a Stephen Lynch concert in the evening. We listened to the end of the Mets game (a 1-0 thriller at Post-Shea Stadium--but that's another story) and then turned to the Yankees channel. It was the top of the 2nd inning, with the Yankees up 2-0 and Chien-Ming Wang trying to duplicate a 1-2-3 1st inning, his only unscathed inning of the season so far. He didn't duplicate anything except his disastrous previous outing, in which he allowed eight runs in one-plus innings of work. We listened as he gave up a handful of hits and the Yankees announced noting that he was throwing way too many pitches over the heart of the plate. The carnage began to mount, and as we made our first shopping stop, the score was 4-2 with a couple of runners on base. That was a quick stop, but it was long enough for Wang to be gone when we got back in the car. Instead, the Yankees were serving up Anthony Claggett, making his major league debut. He gave up a hit that made the score 9-2, with Wang saddled with his second straight eight-run debacle. Claggett wound up matching Wang with eight runs allowed, etching that debut in his subconscious for life. Welcome to the bigs!

We made another quick stop, and this time we hit the road again and heard the far-from-dulcet tones of John Sterling noting that "the roof has caved in." Nice! A moment later we heard that the score was 14-2, the 14-run inning representing the biggest single inning ever against the Yankees. That was some roof! It was still 14-2 when we got to the restaurant, and about 90 minutes later, when we got back in the car, I smirked to my wife, "I wonder if it's 22-3 yet." I was so close! It was 20-4, and moment later 21-4 on the Indians' sixth home run of the game. Over the traffic noise I could hear the boos cascading from the Stadium stands, and I knew the magical day in the Bronx was not over.

The final score was 22-4, not quite matching the 22-0 pasting delivered by the Indians to the Yankees in 2004, the worst shutout in their history. The Indians also scored the most runs against the Yankees in one game, in 1928 with a 24-6 drubbing. Something about the Indians brings humiliation to the Yankees. Indians may have given away Manhattan for $24, but they apparently still own the Bronx.

The Sunday New York Post summed the experience up with the back-page headline: STINKEES. Their coverage of the game focused not so much on the carnage on the field as on the disgust expressed by fans who had paid exorbitant prices to witness the massacre. Here's a sampling of fan sentiment from the Post coverage:

  • "You can't afford to buy anything at this Stadium, and the players are going to go out and have $50 steaks when it's over."
  • "I paid $10 a beer to see this chop-shop team? They suck!"
  • "I'm not going to pay twice as much for crappy seats."
  • "Families can't come together any more. Fuhgeddaboutit."

The article also quoted disgusted fans who were prevented by security from moving down in the 9th inning. "There were 2,600 unsold seats down by third base," complained one fan, "and they wouldn't let us sit in them. It sucked." Worse than that, during batting practice the security guards wouldn't let fans wandering the bleachers go down by the railing to have a chance to catch a BP home run. If you didn't have a ticket for that BLEACHER section, you couldn't stand there TWO HOURS before the game. Yep, the Yankees are going all-out to make their park fan-friendly, aren't they?

It gets more absurd than that. Sitting in the lobby before the Stephen Lynch concert, we overheard the complaint of a man who had been at the Stadium for the Friday game. He was telling friends about the surreal moment at the concession stand when he ordered nachos (we didn't catch the price, but you can bet it was exorbitant) without meat. It seems that they serve their nachos with meat, but he didn't want the meat. They wanted to charge him an extra $1 for meatless nachos. As the guy told his friends, "I couldn't believe it -- I turned around and said to the other people in line, 'somebody help me, this is crazy'. How can they charge me extra for getting less food? The guy said it was a 'special order,' so I said 'there's gotta be hundreds of people here who don't want meat on their nachos. Are you gonna gouge them for a buck apiece, on top of the ridiculous ticket prices and the $10 beers? You have to squeeze every dollar you can out of us? Somebody help me!'" Alas, there was no help for him, and he wasn't Jack Nicholson from "Five Easy Pieces," telling the waitress where she could stick the chicken.

So that's life in the Bronx these days. I was going to include a tribute to Wang, "The Taiwan Torch," but I think I'll save that one and close with the plight of Nacho Man, who actually saw the Yankees win but still came away from his New Yankee Stadium experienced pissed off and disillusioned. Apart from the fact that it's a long-standing Yankees tradition to assume that merely winning will suffice for keeping Stadium fans happy, why are they seemingly going out of their way to antagonize their fans? I think it's because the new Stadium was designed, priced, and marketed to an affluent society of business executives who regard the Stadium as a place not to watch baseball but to schmooze clients. Why let fans near the field when they're marketing the park to people who don't even care about the game or its history? Whatever the reasons, stay tuned for more discontent in the Bronx, win or lose.

3 comments:

cheeseblab said...

My Yankees-fan-friend Donna, a traditionalist who saw no need for a new stadium to begin with and is boycotting the damned joint over the Bronx-abominable price-gouging, is taking a certain perverse pleasure in the place's "playing like a Little League park."

Incidentally, in the 84 years of Real Yankee Stadium, visitors scored 9 or more in an inning 11 times, never more than 13; so in the first 3 games at the new joint, the Sockalexis Tribe gets a 9-spot and a 14. Also, Wang's career ERA coming into the season was 3.79; he needs to go scoreless the next 48⅔ innings to get from his current 34.50 to that figure. Any bets on whether he even gets 48⅔ more innings? In his career?

jiminy said...

They protect the seats at Oriole Park at Camden Yards quite well also. I have seen fans get escorted out when it is the bottom of the 9th and there seems to be only 100 Oriole fans left in the entire park. You would think these teams would learn that filling the seats that can be seen from TV looks so much better. I understand that they don't want to upset any of their high paying customers by letting us poor folks sit in those seats, but as long as we are not causing trouble, what is the harm. I'm watching the Yankee game right now, (because the Red Sox games is in rain delay) and there sure are a lot of empty seats.

cheeseblab said...

Front-page story in the Times today about the New York teams' imability to sell all the pricey seats. As a Mets fan, I take comfort in the knowledge that my team has been significantly less jerky about this--plenty jerky, yes, but less so--than has the team in the Bronx.