Baseball fans all talk about their “bucket list” of stadiums they would like to travel to for a game. Some even do a stadium tour throughout the country. Stadiums like Fenway, Camden Yards and AT&T Park in San Francisco(one of my favorites and I will always know it as Pac Bell Park) are on the tour list. But one stadium will always stand out to baseball fans anywhere in the world… Yankee Stadium. Yes, it’s not the original “House that Ruth Built”, but it’s still the Yankees and it’s still 161st Street in the Bronx. The signs still remind you about their 27 World Series Championships. Monument Park in centerfield reminds you of the Yankee legends like Ruth, Mantle, and Gehrig. It’s still Yankee Stadium, and I had the chance to take my family there for a game recently and it was an experience we’ll never forget.
How did we get there? Well, my wife and I took our 3 young daughters to the Big Apple to visit my sister and see the sights. I figured, it’s summertime, the girls have never been to a big league game, and of course, I’d get to go to Yankee Stadium. Add in one, not-so-small-or-insignificant detail, that a lifelong friend happens to play second base for the Yankees, and that’s how we ended up heading to Yankee Stadium one hot, July afternoon.
I handed the keys to the family truckster to my sister and let her navigate the craziness that is driving through the Bronx to get to the game. After getting a little lost we ended up right where we needed to be and after paying $30 we were parked down the block from the stadium and on our way down the street. As with any other hallowed ground in sports, it’s always those places where the little details of the day make them a must on people’s bucket lists. The first such detail for me was walking under the subway tracks towards the stadium and hearing the rattling of the train above as I held my daughter’s hand. Goose bumps and we weren’t even in the stadium yet.
As we rounded the corner at the main entrance behind home plate all of the sights and sounds of the pregame hit you. Street vendors selling peanuts and water. Ticket scalpers talking to anybody that will listen. And legions of fans in their Jeter jerseys, navy blue t-shirts, and of course, the hat with one of the oldest and most famous logos in sports. My family was no exception to this fandom as the five of us all had on Yankee shirts with “Mr. Brian’s” name and number on our backs. “Mr. Brian”(Brian Roberts) is who we came to see and cheer on and the girls were about to realize what that all meant when we entered the stadium and found our seats.
We made our way to our seats down the first base line right after the National Anthem finished and the grandeur of the stadium hit us all. It was not the original Yankee Stadium, but the look was similar; Monument Park was there and the trains were still visible behind right field. And of course, the famous pinstripe uniforms. The girls were wide-eyed and so was I as we looked around the stadium. We stood there for a moment, partly to soak it all in, and partly because it was a blazing hot NYC day and our seats felt like sitting on a hot grill. The Yankees were warming up before the first Tampa Bay Ray batter walked to the plate. I took this moment to point out “Mr. Brian” to the girls as he was throwing around the infield. It was then that the reason Daddy made us all wear the same shirt with some name and number on the back sunk in and they got excited. The looks on their faces when they made the connection was goose bump moment #2. Next mission? Keeping three girls under the age of 10 excited and willing to endure the blazing sun that only Clark Griswald wandering through the Arizona desert sun could relate to…for all 9 innings.
Luckily, when we finally got the nerve to sit down and burn our legs on the seats, the frozen lemonade guy appeared out of nowhere. In my mind it was another example of perfect customer service from a first-class organization. They knew the exact family to find with that frozen treat. Well, that’s what I told myself anyway. First pitch was thrown and we were off and running. At this moment my sister pointed out the sign in front of us warning us to watch out for flying bats and foul balls. I explained that when a right-handed batter was up we needed to have all eyes on the ball. Well, a few batters later, a foul ball is headed our way. I look at everybody and not one of them is looking at the ball. Heads up! Ball lands 3 feet from sister. Lesson learned. And if I didn’t have my 4-year old daughter in my lap I would have dove across them all in an effort to get that ball!
As we settled in the sights and sounds that make baseball so great started to present themselves. Add to that the fact that we were in the Bronx, and you feel like you’re in one of your favorite baseball movies. Thick New York accents were talking about current events behind us. If I was at any other game I might have been annoyed. But in this moment I kind of enjoyed it as the perfect background noise for a day watching the Yankees. Other fans were heckling every player by their first name as if they personally knew each other. And it didn’t take long for the loud Rays’ fans next to us to engage in a little trash talk with some Yankees’ fans behind us. A nice little dialogue that ended with the Rays’ fan saying, “You stay classy New York.” Every Ron Burgundy reference is welcomed in my book. Point for the Rays’ fan.
Mr. Brian came to the plate for his first at-bat. The girls perked up to see him. Decent at-bat, but ended in a fly out to right. My girls thought it was cool.
Ok, with his first plate appearance in the books, it was time for some food and refreshments. Water was a priority because I think my 6-year old was literally melting in her seat. I took my youngest with me and we looked at what choices we had for food. I will say that everything looked outstanding at the various concession stands, but in a city known for its fast pace, the service was really slow. And who was I kidding; I knew I was getting my usual baseball stadium meal, an Italian sausage with onions and peppers. The slow service was quickly forgotten because the sausage was outstanding and it may be the best one I’ve ever had at a game. The surprise of the day? At the top of our section was a nachos stand. But not just any nachos stand. Brother’s BBQ’s nachos stand. That’s right. At a stadium in the Bronx, this guy from North Carolina found a vendor selling “North Carolina-style BBQ” on nachos. Amazing.
As everybody chugged down their water I had a chance to enjoy more of the game and have discussions with my 9-year old on the rules and rituals of baseball. I asked her how many outs there were in an inning. She said six. I said, “No, there are three outs in an inning.” She replied, “No, there are three outs in the top of each inning and three outs in the bottom of each inning. Three plus three equals six, Daddy.” Touché. Not only did she get the terminology correct, which made me proud, she was mathematically correct. I reminded myself never to debate numbers with a “mathlete.” Being able to relax at the ballpark and enjoy a game with my daughters and talk baseball with them was priceless. Who said you need to have a boy to enjoy such things? Goose bump moment #3.
Mr. Brian came up for his next at-bat. We cheered again for him. Pop out. Oh well.
We were nearing the 7th inning stretch and I could tell our 4-year old was nearing her breaking point. Quick. Think. I’ve got it! Time for that timeless baseball tradition to keep her happy…Cracker Jack! Meltdown was averted. And just in time to hear God Bless America. There’s just something really neat about hearing that song sung at a sporting event in NYC. Next it was time for all of us to sing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” for the first time at a major league game. Another memory to record.
Mr. Brian came up for his next at-bat. Now the girls really knew what was going on and were on the edge of their seats to watch. Crack! A great single to right field and a sigh of relief from me. It’s baseball after all. It’s a game of superstitions. And I did not want us to be bad luck for him! The guys with the New York accents behind us finally asked us what the deal was with our shirts. In true form, “You know that guy or what?” We explained that we did and they complimented his play. He came up again in the next inning and smacked a double to right-center field. I was left wondering, considering they were Yankees’ fans, if they would have been complimentary if Brian went 0-4 in the game. Either way, the Yankees lost but we cheered loud for our friend’s success.
As we made our way up the steps I let the girls know that we had one more surprise after the game. I gave them each a baseball and told them we were going to meet Mr. Brian and they could ask him for an autograph. Big smiles all around as we waited for security to come get us. Just then a very large security guard came and asked, “Are you here for Brian?” He was so big all I could say was “Yes sir.” He took us to a specific elevator and went down to the bottom of the stadium. He walked us over to a section labeled as the “players’ family and friends area.” The Yankees’ locker room was a few feet away. I tried to act all cool and calm in front of my girls, but who was I kidding? I was excited to see Mr. Brian too! I mean, we’re sitting feet from the Yankees’ locker room in Yankee Stadium! Who wouldn’t be excited?
Our girls were just hanging out and doing what little girls do to pass the time. But then Mr. Brian turned the corner and was walking our way and the awestruck look in their eyes as he approached was awesome. We got to chat and catch up on life. And yes, after me asking, he confirmed that it is very cool to be wearing the pinstripes for the New York Yankees. At that point my oldest asked, “Mr. Brian, may I please have your autograph?” I was proud as she proved a little girl from the South knows how to politely ask a big-league ball player for his autograph. It’s also why they know him as and refer to him as “Mr. Brian.” But the moment also hit me that my 9-year daughter was asking a lifelong friend of mine for his autograph. Surreal. Goose bump moment #4.
After signing their baseballs the girls gave Mr. Brian a hug and took a picture with their favorite Yankee. A great game, an unforgettable experience, and the perfect way to end an outstanding family vacation in NYC.
Oh, and by the way, in his next game, Mr. Brian went 4-5 with 3 doubles and a triple! It was the most extra-base hits in one game he’s ever had in his 13-year career. So obviously…getting a hug from the Greenberg girls is the perfect good luck charm in a superstitious game like baseball.
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