Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 30, 2017

Power Surge Produces A Fun Bronx Weekend

No matter the venue or the team, the first visit of a new season to a fan’s stadium or arena of choice is always exciting. Two days in the Bronx were no exception for On Sports and Life. I’ve been making this trek since before the new Stadium was new, back in the days when the original edifice was still standing on the other side of 161st Street. Now that footprint is Heritage Field, a public playground with a regulation diamond where Ruth and Mantle once dug in at the plate, and softball and Little League fields occupying the old right field corner and the former location of Monument Park. It was a busy place Friday eve as fans made their way down the steps from the 153rd Street Metro North train station and along the broad sidewalk leading past that realm of hopeful kids and ancient ghosts. The Yankees were back from a winning road trip to face the division-leading Orioles, and freshly arrived from a drive to Stamford Connecticut and an express train from there, I was among the crowd scurrying to greet them.

On the first visit of a new year it’s important to arrive with plenty of time to scope out the place for changes from the previous season, and I had allowed for that. Time to walk the concourses of all three levels before settling in my seat in the upper deck and perusing the field; all to see what was different from my last visit in the distant days of the previous autumn.

Concessions at all major league parks have long since transcended peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and the Stadium is no exception. New this year is Bareburger, a Brooklyn-based franchise featuring organic and all natural burgers, sandwiches and salads. Not far from that is a stand selling gluten-free offerings. Then there are the changes. Gone are the stands selling Carl’s cheesesteaks and Brother Jimmy’s barbeque; replaced by cheesesteaks from Jersey Mike’s and barbeque from the Mighty Quinn chain. The giant sports bar that sits beyond the deepest part of center field, with its darkened tempered glass windows that serve as the batter’s eye, is no longer sponsored by Mohegan Sun casino. Now it’s the Pepsi 1893 sports bar, named for the soft drink that’s marketed primarily as a cocktail mixer.

Of course, what most fans want is a beer, and over the winter Yankees’ management figured out a way to help folks quench their thirst while also removing the Stadium’s great and glaring design flaw. On either side of that giant block of a sports bar are the outfield bleachers. But it apparently never occurred to the stadium architects that fans seated in the first sections of bleachers, hard by the walls of the sports bar, weren’t going to possess some superhuman capability to see around corners. For those fans balls hit to the opposite outfield disappeared behind the blackened glass walls near their seats.

After years of selling those obstructed view seats for as little as five dollars, the Yankees have finally replaced them with terraced bars open to all fans; no doubt having realized that ten-dollar beers and eighteen dollar cocktails represent a far better revenue stream than five dollar admissions.

But the real reason for being here is to cheer on the home team, and time now to take my seat in the upper deck, in the familiar location between home plate and the Yankees dugout. It may only be late April, but there is summer warmth in the air as the Yankees take the field. It is a team with a very new look, filled with youth and future promise if perhaps short on near term dominance. Other clubs would call this a rebuilding year, but such terminology is forbidden within earshot of anyone with the last name of Steinbrenner.

Soon enough it looks like rebuilding might be a charitable description. Baltimore pecks away against CC Sabathia, scoring two in the 3rd, another pair in the 4th, and one more run in the 5th. Young Aaron Judge homers into the Orioles bullpen in left to get New York on the board in the bottom of the 5th, but in the top of the next frame the roof falls in. Sabathia allows two more baserunners before he is replaced by Bryan Mitchell. Rather than stemming the tide, the reliever promptly walks Manny Machado and then grooves one to Mark Trumbo, who sends the pitch flying into the stands for a grand slam.

Just like that it’s 9-1 Orioles, and while the Yankees plate three in their half of the inning, thanks in part to another Judge home run, Baltimore adds two more in the top of the 7th, making the score 11-4 with the Yankees down to their final nine outs.

Over the course of the longest season, there are going to be games that get out of hand. It happens to even the most dominant of teams. If manager Joe Girardi decides that this is one of those contests, we may be about to see some substitutions. Whether it’s in expectation of that or just general gloom at the way the contest is going, some fans head for the exits.

But Girardi isn’t ready to throw in the towel, and neither are the players on his young team. Perhaps they aren’t experienced enough to know when they’re supposed to quit. Austin Romine leads off the Yankees 7th with an infield single, causing Orioles manager Buck Showalter to go to his bullpen. One out later Chase Headley doubles, sending Romine to third. Designated hitter Matt Holliday draws a walk to load the bases, bringing center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to the plate to face Baltimore reliever Vidal Nuno. Ellsbury looks at a strike, then two balls, and finally turns on a four-seam fastball. The spheroid soars into the night, headed for the seats, and we in the stands rise with a collective shout. Ellsbury’s homer is the 100th of his career and his first grand slam. Now it’s 11-8.

It remains that way into the last of the 9th, when second baseman Starlin Castro comes to the plate with one out and two runners on. The 27-year old wastes no time, swinging at the first pitch he sees and there it goes! Into the left field seats for a three-run homer that ties the score!

From deficits of 9-1 and 11-4 our team has come all the way back, and we who have remained are a rejuvenated and rowdy bunch now. One inning later our faith is rewarded. With two on and one out it’s the designated hitter Holliday who becomes the hero of the hour. Like Castro before him he pounces on the first delivery sent his way, blasting the pitch into the Yankee bullpen for the walkoff win. As his teammates stream from the dugout to greet Holliday at home plate we fans scream our approval and high-five total strangers.

Barely fourteen hours later I’m back, ready for an afternoon contest on a warm and lovely Saturday. The Yankees are ready as well, picking up right where they left off. As Holliday ended the previous game with a blast to right, leadoff hitter Brett Gardner starts this one in the same fashion. His solo shot reaches the second deck. One inning later and with the score now 2-0, Gardner steps in for his second at-bat with a pair of teammates on base. The 33-year old, the oldest everyday position player in the Yankees lineup, homers again. Gardner, who didn’t hit a single home run over the last two months of the 2016 season, now has two on the day. Before the game is over and the Yankees have concluded their 12-4 rout, he’ll be joined by Romine and of course Judge, because we fans are now thinking that maybe the 6 foot 7 inch, 275 pound 25-year old may just hit a home run in every game.

He won’t of course. Nor is it likely that the standings at the end of Saturday’s play, which show the Yankees with the best record in the majors, are an accurate forecast of the season. But one year after a dispiriting 8-14 April record left New York in a hole it could not climb out of the rest of the way, this April feels so much better. As I point the old Camry north on I-95 Sunday morning I know that even if in the end these new-look Yankees aren’t quite ready to contend, they’re going to be fun to watch!

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Responses

  1. What a fun weekend, Mike. I am worn out just reading about it. Rest up.
    Ω


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