Wednesday, January 24, 2007

One Last Hurrah for the House that Ruth Built

The New York City atmosphere was sticky hot but not as oppressive as a day in New York summer can get. Baseball was in the air - baseball is always in the air in New York - it has brought more joy and more pain than in any other baseball city on Earth. That June morning was peppered with a fine mist that was not a cause of concern for those of us who were blessed with tickets to that evening's contest between the hated Yankees and the AAA Fish.

I had seen the Evil Pinstripes play only a week before in DC, their obnoxious fans with funny accents and funnier modes of dress dominating RFK. The noise was such that one could have mistaken the location of the game for the Big Apple itself, as half of the stadium's 45,000+ were cheering for Jeter and Co. It was the most fun I'd had at a baseball game in quite awhile.

This New York game would be different, though. This game would be held in the exalted Yankee Stadium, a sacred cathedral where the ghosts of legends amble across the cool of the grass and where October glory floats through the air, even in June. There is no escaping awe as you step off the 4 or the B or the D at 161st Street and River Avenue and see the stadium lights hovering like a mirage above the train station, an oasis shining magically above a bad neighborhood. An electric excitement races through you as you step outside of time and space to a place where only baseball, glorious baseball, matters, matters like religion or politics or love, or matters because it is those things, is life, a breathing, beating organism whose heart pounds a bit harder here in this house of spirits. (And a smile passes my lips as I think about how the only team to be better than the '27 Yankees, the Big Red Machine, took two games here on its way to a sweep of the Pinstripes in 1976.)

There it stood as it had for 83 years, as rapturous and as holy as Notre Dame or even St. Peter's, its enormous bat standing like a giant cross to be worshiped by those whose souls are moved by the sight of a screaming emerald diamond or the sound of ash or maple smacking a white leather sphere with 108 red stitches or by eating a hot dog under a July sun with forty thousand others cheering their hearts out. Ticket in hand, you enter to worship as a hundred million other pilgrims have, eyes wide, heart fluttering (unless you're carrying a backpack and have to go check it at the bowling alley. Stupid Yankees.)

It doesn't matter that the beers are $8 or that the concessions are in leaky old tunnels, nor does it matter that A-Rod jerseys - lucky number 13 - drape the backs of every tenth person. There is too much magic, too many spirits to be bothered by such trivialities.

Monument park was like a graveyard for gods, sacrificial temples to immortals like The Babe and The Mick and The Iron Horse, men whose faults and mistakes have long since been swallowed in the process of deification. I stood in line in eager anticipation to touch what seemed like headstones, and indeed, the spirits of those ballplayers roamed the stadium, but once I was there, I could not touch these shrines for fear they would dissipate and I'd be sent back to the reality of free agency, the designated hitter, and the Yankees payroll. It was one of the best baseball experiences I've ever had.

The pain of knowing that this stadium, the Kaaba of baseball, has only two seasons of breath is almost unbearable to those whose religion is baseball, even Red Sox fans. Steinbrenner should be tarred and feathered and then paraded around the Bronx on streets several blocks from Yankee Stadium, streets one would not roam alone at night. Major League Baseball did the right thing in awarding the 2008 All-Star Game to the Yanks. I'm going to do my damnedest to get tickets for it.

That being said, we don't need another World Series there.

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