Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 24, 2016

A Long Day Ends With Sunshine, Joy And A Toy

As the journey begins it is barely light. Hidden by the thick gray clouds that hang over the New Hampshire seacoast, the Saturday morning sun climbed over the horizon just a few minutes ago. But it’s no match for the cloud cover that brought overnight rain and promises more this morning. The dashboard clock tells me it’s a few minutes after six a.m., and fortified by a quick stop at a Dunkin Donuts on the route out of Portsmouth, the season’s first trip to the Bronx is underway.

Interstate 95 runs due south the short distance to the Massachusetts border, and immediately thereafter the great outer loop of I-495 makes its way around Boston. At this early hour both highways are mostly clear, long haul trucks constituting the bulk of the company. That allows me to make good time, and an hour into the drive the old Camry is just a few miles short of the exit for Interstate 290, which cuts diagonally through central Massachusetts until it joins the Turnpike. While on I-290 racing through Worcester the sky delivers on its promise of more rain. While never heavy, the precipitation will be an intermittent companion for most of the rest of the automotive portion of this morning’s travels.

On down through Connecticut, bypassing Hartford before swinging onto the historic old parkways to leave the truck traffic behind. The first is named for a former Governor. After thirty miles it yields to its twin named for a former Congressman. While this one, the Merritt, can take me all the way to the New York border, well before that the preferred route exits south to rejoin the same Interstate on which I began the drive. After I left it at the border between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Interstate 95 continued south until it ran out of land in Rhode Island, then turned west along the Connecticut coastline. By cutting across the heart of southern New England I’ve saved many miles and perhaps an hour of driving.

Now a final dash down I-95 from Bridgeport, and soon Stamford comes into view. With twenty minutes to spare the car is parked, and I buy my ticket for the 9:55 a.m. Metro North express train to Gotham. Forty minutes after pulling away from Stamford the line of red and silver cars comes to a stop at the 125th Street station in Harlem. Here it’s a change of trains, and the quick trip back across the Harlem River, then swinging onto the spur that brings me to the 153rd Street station built specifically for access to the Stadium.

And there it is. Last seen in person back in September at the tail end of the prior season, across Macombs Dam Park from the train station sits the imposing bulk of the new Stadium, its white limestone exterior brightening a still dank day. The gates have only just opened, and along with the other early arrivals I collect the Babe Ruth bobblehead that is today’s prize for the first 18,000 through the turnstiles.

Every season’s first visit mixes comfortable familiarity with ever constant change. As always the Stadium is defined by contrasting colors. At the top the white frieze hangs from the ceiling of the upper deck. Like an upside down picket fence, the sculpted bands are a symbol of this property as familiar as the interlocking NY is of the team that plays here. Below that the seats are all as blue as ever, and from them I look out on the vast verdant greensward of the outfield, hard by the rich tan dirt of the infield and the warning track that rings the field of play.

The most obvious new adornment is the massive advertisement for Delta Airlines. Not content with the large billboard that has been in place for years, the aviation giant has paid some unspeakable sum to have its name spelled out in huge letters that now sit atop the right field portion of the massive scoreboard. After years of imbalance, they now match the same size letters in left field that have always reminded fans this is “Yankee Stadium.” As with each new season there are also a variety of new concessions. This year the new food offerings seem to be competing with one another in a race to put the most calories into a single product.

All that is but background. The reason for my journey, to see the Great Game played live, is finally at hand. A color guard marches out behind second base and a high school chorus from the Midwest assembles behind home plate. Three score young voices inspire us with a lovely rendition of the National Anthem, and at last the Yankees take the field.

I have rooted for this team, in good times and bad, for as long as I have understood the very concept of baseball. Part of being a long-term fan is the compact with one’s favorite franchise to maintain hope even when reality dictates otherwise. Most neutral observers see this Yankee squad as a middling team, one that might squeeze into the playoffs if everything goes right with a fragile starting rotation and a lineup featuring too many aging players on the wane. The next era of Yankee dominance is widely regarded as being some uncertain time in the future. This season’s start seems to have offered proof of that. After winning four of their first six, the Yankees have dropped seven of nine to sit in last place in the AL East.

But in the stands we choose to believe otherwise, and we loudly cheer Masahiro Tanaka as he sets down the visiting Rays in order in the 1st. Tampa Bay sends 23-year old Blake Snell to the mound for his first big league appearance. The highly regarded rookie is visibly nervous at the outset. With two outs he issues a four pitch walk, followed by a single and a wild pitch that plates a run. But by the 2nd inning Snell has composed himself, and he strikes out the side.

The clouds that were supposed to be gone by noon are hanging on, and a brisk wind blowing in from left field brings a chill. Tampa Bay ties the game in the 4th, and Kevin Kiermaier’s fly ball to right in the 5th clangs off the foul pole, giving the Rays a one-run lead. But overall Tanaka pitches well, and Brett Gardner takes him off the hook in the last of the 7th when he singles home Brian McCann with a liner that caroms off the glove of the Rays’ pitcher, knotting the score at 2-2.

The stout back end of New York’s bullpen takes care of the Rays in the 8th and 9th; and so we come to the final chance in regulation. With two outs Gardner is again the hitter, facing reliever Erasmo Ramirez. The speedy outfielder may be thinking bunt, but the corner infielders creep in, making that play a longshot. Two fastballs miss the strike zone. Gardner takes another for a called strike. A changeup is high and away, so the count is three and one. Ramirez sends another fastball zipping toward the plate. Brett Gardner swings.

The sound that washes down from all three decks is unique to sporting events. It is the sound of forty thousand voices screaming in unison, a harmony far more raucous but no less perfect than that of the high school chorus. As the ball shoots towards its certain destination we faithful rise like a single organism, fists punching the air. Even as our hero starts his home run trot around the bases and his teammates stream out of the dugout to await his arrival at the plate, a lucky ticketholder in the second deck in right catches a game-winning keepsake.

The Yankees celebrate their walk-off win on the field, but my gaze goes to the sky, where the clouds have finally been replaced by unblemished blue. It is but one game early in the longest season. There will be another one tomorrow to end my trip, one in which the Yankees will find themselves in a deep hole before many fans can find their seats. More journeys and games will follow over the coming months, and as they do perhaps the pundits will prove correct in predicting a season of disappointment. But as I head down from the upper deck, cross the Great Hall and exit onto Babe Ruth Plaza, the only certainties are that my team has won today in dramatic fashion, and now the sun is shining brightly on a warm and pleasant afternoon. And should it all go bad, I’ll always have the Babe Ruth bobblehead.

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Responses

  1. Nice.


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