May 22, 2011
When going to Yankee stadium, most fans of opposing teams think "Be careful, Yankee fans are crazy." There aren't too many baseball cities people feel this way about, but Yankee Stadium, and their fan base, especially the infamous bleacher creatures, are well known as one of the most rowdy and raucous groups of fans in baseball. Personally, I have never felt threatened by Yankee fans. I've honestly never felt threatened by any group of fans (including a fan at a Cleveland Browns game that threatened to kill me due to wearing a Chad Johnson (Ochocinco) jersey). And especially since the Yankees have moved into the new Yankee Stadium, I feel the Yankees have alienated a large portion of their fans, as many fans are no longer able to afford to go to the new stadium. Aside from the fact that the cheapest "field level" ticket costs $85 for a "value" game, the cost a regular size ballpark hot dog and a 16 oz. beer is $19. I'm just glad I don't eat or drink at games.
On May 15th, the Yankees hosted the Red Sox on Sunday night baseball for the rubber game of a three game series. On this night, as I've done for every other Yankee game I've been to in the new stadium, including all seven I'd been to this year, I wore a jersey of the visiting team. It just so happened to be, that the visiting team was the hated Red Sox. Not to mention, the Yankees had lost the first two games of the series. So Yankee fans were primed to be a little more testy than usual.
I arrived at the stadium around 6:30pm for an 8:05pm game. Between batting practice, and the start of the game, I didn't hear a peep from anyone. Not one mean, nasty, negative comment about my bright red David Ortiz Red Sox jersey, and matching bright red Red Sox fitted cap. I was starting to believe the Yankees alienated their fans worse than I had thought. I also started thinking that Yankee fans have gotten soft since losing their edge to the Red Sox in 2004. I almost started to feel bad for them.
I started out the game sitting in the last row on the aisle between sections 135 and 136. This is out in left field, on the field level in home run territory. I sat there until the top of the 2nd, when the fans whose seats they belonged to arrived. Rather than moving in the row one seat, I decided to move down a few rows, so I could sit on the aisle. Skip ahead to the bottom of the 2nd, and Andruw Jones launches a home run in my direction. He really blasted it, and I realized it was landing behind me, but I was unable to move around a very large man to get to where the ball would ultimately land. And where did the ball ultimately land you may ask? IN THE EXACT SEATS I WAS PREVIOSULY SITTING IN!!
This to me, was devastating. Beyond belief. I was sitting there dwelling in self-pity. What bad luck! If these people had come later, if I had moved in...THAT WAS MY HOME RUN!!! I simply couldn't believe it. But then I have to ask myself "Do I really want that ball? It was hit by a Yankee. Even worse, Andruw Jones!" Ultimately, the answer was that I wanted it because it was a home run, but that would've been one of the worst home runs I could have personally gotten. I sat there thinking the baseball gods must have an interesting way of working.
Now, let's move ahead to the top of the 3rd. I'm alone at the game, waiting for a friend to arrive. He had just called me to say he was there and I needed to come meet him to give him his ticket. I said okay, but noticed Kevin Youkilis, a power-hitting righty was batting, so my friend was going to have to wait a few minutes. Two pitches after I hang up the phone, Youkilis blasts a ball deep in my direction. I move around the railing, and track the path of the ball. I arrive at the approximate spot of the ball as it arrives, except it is just barely out of my reach. I'm being blocked by someone and it's just over my head. CRAP! But the people behind me drop the ball! And it lands in a seat!! And I'm the ONLY ONE that notices!!! I immediately smother the ball with my glove, and cleanly wrap my other hand around the ball.
People then hover over me as they realize I have it. They slowly start to back off, and I'm thinking "YES! YES!! THIS IS MY HOME RUN!!! THE BASEBALL GODS HAVE GIVEN ME A HOME RUN!!! AND OF A PLAYER I LOVE!!!!" And after about 5-10 seconds, everyone has backed off of me. Except this one guy. And I start thinking, okay, let go, I have the ball. Except he doesn't let go. I even hear one fan say "Let him have it." And another one says "Give up, he's got it." But the guy doesn't give up. I have my hand wrapped around this ball, but he pulls on my arm. And he reaches into my glove and starts pulling on my fingers. One by one. I'm 5' 9" 160lb, and haven't been to the gym a day in my life. He's no taller than me, but about 150lbs. larger. And he keeps ripping at me, attacking my hand for this ball. This ball that is clearly mine. And all I can think is how everyone is seeing this, everyone sees I have the ball, where are the people on my side to help me?!? But no one does anything. And after about 35- 40 seconds, but what seemed more like an eternity, he left my hand bloody, and ripped the ball away from me, and left me stumbling, having pushed me away.
I looked up, and the first thing I saw was a cop. I pleaded to him "THAT WAS MY BALL!" He, just like all of New York's finest responded with "Calm down, unless you want to get kicked out of here." I couldn't believe it! I didn't do anything wrong. No, in fact, I was wronged. But he was threatening me. And then I heard the fans around me. And it occurred to me "Where is the ball?" And it was then that I realized everything that just happened all it once. This guy threw the ball back on the field. The ONLY reason he wanted that ball from me, was because I was wearing a Red Sox jersey. If I was wearing a white tee-shirt, this never would have happened. And the fans are hollering and applauding, and laughing at my disbelief and disgust. And the cop claims he didn't see anything, despite the fact he was incessantly cleaning off the blood from my hand that touched his uniform.
Ultimately, in my opinion, I believe I was robbed of a home run the way Barry Bonds was robbed by Torii Hunter in the 2002 All-Star game. It was mine to be had, and this disgusting creature decided that it was more important he pretended to show some pride, and less important that he act like a civilized human being. But it gave me a nice reminder of why I hated the Yankees with the passion I did for over 10 years, and put me right back on to that path that I had been derailed from, ever since their overwhelming failures of the past decade.
That ball meant more to me than any fan in that stadium. I was the only Red Sox fan in sight of that ball. I am a "ballhawk." I have never gotten a home run. And it was a home run by Kevin Youkilis, who I love, against a team that I hate. I may not possess that ball, but I believe that ball is mine. As a friend said to me, "If you got mugged for the ball 30 minutes after you left the game walking back to your car, you would still count it, right?" And I have to agree. I cleanly possessed the ball, before I was essentially mugged for it.
Please, with the information you have, I'd love for you to share your thoughts. I have not yet counted this ball in my stats, but I'd like to take a vote, and decided whether or not to count the ball based on your votes.
Ben Weil is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com.