It was the bottom of the ninth, and the Yankees were behind but with a bit of luck they could still take it out. Hope floated about the stadium as the crowds held their breath. I was just happy to have learnt what ‘bottom of the ninth’ meant.
Where I come from baseball isn’t all that popular, so being in America I figured it was time to get amongst the game known affectionately as America’s favourite pastime. However, I didn’t want to start at the bottom and make my way through the little leagues. I went straight to the top, buying tickets to see the big players.
In our own test, we put the New York Yankees at the massive Yankee Stadium in New York up against the Boston Red Sox at their beloved home of Fenway Park in Boston. Here’s how the stadiums and ballgames played out.
First, a little bit of history to put things into perspective. The sport of baseball actually evolved from an old English sport known as rounders, and when the English colonised North America they took it with them. Having no radio, television or internet, kids and adults alike would go outside with their bat, ball and glove and play baseball. It was known as America’s favourite pastime because it was literally what the people did to pass the time, and because of this, it was the country’s most popular sport.
In these modern times the title of America’s most popular sport is controversial, with football and basketball each claiming different numbers and ways to support their entitlement, but the fact remains that baseball sells more tickets annually than any other sport in the country. When you actually go to a game, it’s easy to see why.
So it was time to get in the spirit and sing the classic take me out to the ball game. Jessie and I went online to buy some tickets (StubHub.com) and soon enough, we were ready for our first real all-American baseball experience.
NEW YORK YANKEES VS BOSTON RED SOX
Yankee Stadium, New York
Wednesday, 8th of June 2011
Jessie and I had heard it was almost impossible to get tickets to a Yankees-Red Sox game in New York without paying a fortune, so we were very surprised when we came across seats in the back rows for around $30USD. However, before buying we thought it was a good idea to check with a friend we were staying with to see what this particular back section was like. Upon hearing that we had found tickets to this high profile game, he not only informed us that the back section would have us squinting to see the action, but he offered to buy us better seats. He ended up buying us amazing seats closer to the front as a gift, and indirectly he gave us the gift of baseball.
New York City was going through a heatwave and with the sun still high in the sky we were sweating before we had even boarded the train for Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Our train was filled with the blue and white colours of Yankees fans and there was excitement in the air. Arriving at our destination, we simply followed the masses from the station to the stadium.
As we approached the stadium, there were tons of guys selling baseball merchandise outside but mostly they were selling bottled water for $2USD. One lesson I learnt the hardest was that if you don’t bring in your own bottle of water, you should buy water from these guys, especially in a heatwave. The water inside the stadium is going to cost you a lot, and you’ll be kicking yourself like we were.
The original stadium which opened 1928 was demolished in 2008 to make way for the new, more luxurious Yankee Stadium that stands today, and it most certainly is luxurious. The colossal stadium is made out of Indiana limestone and resembled a giant marble masterpiece. As you walk inside, you first feel like you’ve walked into an upmarket shopping area rather than a baseball stadium, as you pass giant merchandise stores and a huge array of food options. The stadium even has its own Hard Rock Café and a fancy restaurant where you can dine and watch the game from a window beside your table. You’ll also find an old baseball museum and various hall of fame memorabilia such as a ball signed by baseball legend Babe Ruth – this stadium is more than just a place you go to watch a ball game.
As I said, the food selection is pretty good so it’s easy to find something you like, although the prices are pretty steep as you’re locked in for choice, and it is New York City, after all. Before going in, however, our friend had told us we must try the famous Lobel’s steak sandwich despite its $15USD pricetag. While wandering around in astonishment, we came upon a huge queue and at the end of it was a small food stand labelled Lobel’s. We quickly joined the crowds as many joined behind us, and after a while we had our famous $15 sandwich. We headed to our allocated seats for the game.
I could wait patiently for the game to start but I could not wait to eat this sandwich. I could feel its heat through its clear plastic container warming my lap and teasing me, with its hot brown gravy spilling out of its meaty steak centre. It was just thick slices of beef with a lot of gravy in a sliced bun but it looked amazing, and it tasted even better. The steak was perfectly tender and juicy, and it all came together in that now soggy bread, wet with meaty goodness. Again, it costs $15 but this sandwich is something you have to try at least once if you go to a game at Yankee Stadium. It is phenomenal.
I’m not sure if all standard seats (excluding the bleachers right at the back) have this, but our section had a food and drink order card tucked into the seat in front of us and you can tick what you want, give it to a wandering service guy, and he’ll bring over your order so you don’t even have to move. It’s all very New York.
When the game actually started, we were quickly brought up to speed on how the game works, and it was all very easy to follow. The only thing we didn’t understand was the player statistics, but we just figured we could pick the stars by seeing their names on the back of the spectators’ jerseys. As the game went, the Yankees struggled to get going while the Red Sox proceeded to score steadily, and despite a great start to the second half, the Yankees lost their edge to give the game over to Boston.
Highlights of the game included the singing and chanting, and also the little bonus performance by the guys that walk out to smooth out the pitch, as the speakers played ‘YMCA’ and the guys spontaneously began to dance with their giant rakes. Another thing that really stood out was the way the people deal with troublemakers.
We weren’t too sure how it started, but it sounded like there was a Red Sox fan in our section that had been leaning over the barrier and shouting abuse at one of the Yankees’ players. After a while, security showed up to take him outside but before they could do this, a Yankee fan said something to him and a scuffle broke out. The game stopped, with the players just wandering around throwing the ball to each other, and the entire stadium focussed on this one Red Sox troublemaker. The fight had been broken up and he was being held by the security, and the stadium came alive with booming chants of “ASSSSHOLLLLLE… ASSSSSHOLLLLLE…” This guy had to be escorted slowly up the stairs past angry Yankees fans while everyone, including Red Sox fans, called him an asshole. What’s more is that during this walk of shame, more people would walk out into the stairs to block him off and chest to chest they would vent their anger over him disrupting the game, and more fights would break out. After two more bouts of fisticuffs he had made it to the top and was out of there, but one Yankees fan had stolen his baseball cap, and waved it around then spat in it to the roaring cheers of the audience. The cap got passed around as people threw it to the ground and stamped on it, and then after a minute or two it was time to play ball again.
When people began to see that the Yankees were running out of time to get enough runs on the board to catch up, a lot of them left early but we left when the game was over, joining the thousands in the mass exodus from the stadium back to the train station. By the time we finally made it home that night, it was midnight and it was still 99°F / 37°C.
BOSTON RED SOX VS MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Fenway Park, Boston
Friday, 17th of June 2011
We had been to our first baseball game just over a week earlier, but now we had arrived in the sports crazy city of Boston, and we quickly armed ourselves with tickets to see a ball game at Fenway Park. We caught Boston’s underground metro system, known locally as the T, and simply followed the rowdy crowds of red and white to the stadium.
Fenway Park opened in 1912 and is currently the oldest baseball stadium still in use, and after its centennial in 2012 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Given its age and despite a few renovations over the years, it still has a classic look to it, with its old red brick walls and its scaffold steel to hold up its video boards, floodlights and its classic lettered billboard signs. This stadium wears its history proudly, and reminds you of the days when baseball really was the sport of the nation.
You call also see a bit more of the history by walking around inside the redbrick passages under the stands, passing displays of memorabilia and the history of the Red Sox and their logos, along with the story of the stadium itself.
As for a bite to eat, the food inside the stadium is mostly burgers, French fries and nachos, along with the famous Fenway Franks hotdogs, but you can also find cheap and really good quality street food in the stalls just outside the park and on Yawkey Way – a famous street next to the stadium that closes to traffic on game days and is lined with Red Sox stores and street vendors.
Jessie and I got teriyaki chicken rolls and they were cheap, big, and incredible. We were also happy to find the classic peanut guys, wandering around the seating aisles and yelling “peeaaanutttssss, get ya peeaaannnnuts, rigghhhhht heeeere!” until they get so drawly that you can’t understand what they’re saying anymore. They also sell drinks, popcorn and pizzas.
As for the actual ball game, we noticed that it was a special occasion called Red Sox Nation Day. We later learnt that Red Sox Nation is the name of the national Red Sox fan club, which includes fans from rival cities and shows just how popular this team is, and this very day was a celebration of that, with the fan clubs coming in from all over the country in big groups.
The seating at Fenway Park is simple plastic chairs with cup holders to hold your cold overpriced beer or in my case a decent chocolate shake. We sat near the back-right side of the outfield for our cheap tickets, and while we were quite far away from the action, we could still follow the game and soak up the great atmosphere.
If you have a bit more money, you could try reserving some seats up in the Green Monster – a large elevated section for VIP booths to the left of homeplate with a perfect view of the pitch. They also have tons of spontaneous competitions throughout the game to give away seats in the Green Monster, which is also strangely the name of the Red Sox mascot – a green, fluffy monster that looks like he’s come straight from Seasame Street.
After a lot of vibrant chanting and singing (we even got to sing the classic Take Me Out to the Ball Game), the Red Sox effortlessly sent the Milwaukee Brewers packing with an easy defeat. The crowds quickly dispersed from the stadium into the surrounding streets, and we walked back to catch the T amongst drunken fans dressed in red singing into the night.
While both the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox are two of the most popular major league teams, they have very different hometowns and their stadiums reflect this. Yankee Stadium in New York City is a huge modern shrine to New York’s history in the sport, created with bold showiness and the money of the Big Apple behind it, while Boston’s Fenway Park is a classic family stadium that points back to the modest and wholesome heyday of baseball in America. That’s why you get a $15 steak sandwich from a gourmet butcher at Yankee Stadium, and a $4 chicken roll off a grill in the street outside Fenway Park – Yankee Stadium pulls in the business types of the city for a bit of downtime, while Fenway Park attracts a father and son for quality time.
Compare the order cards at Yankee Stadium, where you get a menu of food delivered to your seat, to the peanut sellers wandering the aisles at Fenway yelling at the tops of their lungs to get your hot nuts. Boston shows you the classic baseball of old times, while New York mixes modern extravagance with the sport to bring it up to today’s standard and suit it to New Yorkers.
The one thing that is essentially the same between the two is the atmosphere. You can feel this from the train ride in to the stadiums, during the actual game itself, and the victorious or otherwise trip home. Everybody is excited, they’re chanting and singing together and they all know the words because whether they’re New Yorkers or Bostonians, this sport is something common in their bloodline. At the end of the day, and the beginning of the game, they’re still going to face that American flag together and sing the National Anthem. Then they’ll sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game even louder.