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The Creatures

I really liked those early shifts at Perelandra Natural Foods; especially the ones in the summer when the Yanks had a home afternoon game.  I’d get up early, still dark out; and wait on the Avenue J platform for the D train, making its way from a deserted Coney Island (it being only 5am).  Depending on the time of year I could easily see the Big Dipper from the northeast side platform.  Whatever the time of year I’d look up and try to identify stars and the occasional planet.

This was the leafy, residential (houses) part of Brooklyn.  It was always pretty mellow out here.  Even with it still dark out, down below the subway station the guys at Di Fara Pizza were already firing up their ovens. The lights were coming on at Key Foods.  Finally the D would arrive, I’d board (seats were always available at this time) and ride the 11 or so stops to Court Street, usually checking a discarded Daily News (after gingerly checking it for subway cooties) for the days’ pitching matchups.

If I was early enough, when I arrived at my destination I’d climb out of the underground, passing the station’s long abandoned bank teller window (looking at the window always made me feel nostalgic for Court Street’s past, when one could actually do their banking down below – things seemed timeless at that station), and check in at the Roy Rogers/Dunkin’ Donuts hybrid on Court Street.  I’d only ever go in there before Roy opened for day, having been victimized by their elderly looking beef one or two times before.  And, it was just around the corner from my store.  Usually I’d find a couple of co-workers there nursing their coffees.

After a bit we’d pull up the shutters and file into the store. I worked with one other guy that I could really call a serious New York Yankees fan, a real Bleacher Creature.  His name was Dan and he worked at the juice bar.  He always wore a Yankees cap tinted Red Sox-red that he considered to be a constant taunt to the rivals up north.  Every once in awhile we’d go to afternoon games.  Going with him was fun, but what I really enjoyed was bringing the uninitiated, especially out of towners.

I’d go through my work day, not bothering to fret over whether I’d remembered to bring my tickets, because I could always get same day bleacher seats.  I don’t know if it’s this way now at the new stadium, but I always liked this egalitarian nature of ticket acquisition.  Rich people could have their box seats, but regular guys like me could come in off the street and line up at the bleachers only window and get a seat on the blue plastic benches for $8.

In 1998-’99, even after a couple of championships, the team still set aside same day tickets.

So I could afford to be a little casual; after work I’d stroll back under Court Street and take the tunnel to the Borough Hall platform and grab the 4.  The 4 would take me all the way to the 161st Street stop. It was like door to door service, because I could grab the D again at the Stadium stop and boogie all the way back home.

A glimpse into the Stadium from the 4

A glimpse into the Stadium from the 4

In between 149th and 161st Streets the 4 train would emerge from the underground and become an elevated.  This always afforded commuters a tantalizing glimpse into the stadium itself, if just for a second, then a view of the back wall of the outfield stands and the white overhang.

I’d disembark with the other fans and walk downstairs to River Ave, where it was always shady and a little cooler underneath the el tracks.  Glancing over from my watch to the Bleacher ticket line and then to Stan the Man’s Souvenirs, I’d calculate how much I could do before the game started.  If it was really early or there was a rain delay I’d go around the corner of 161st and grab some disco fries at Billy’s Sports Bar.

The cool old-timey look of River Avenue

The cool old-timey look of River Avenue

The $8 ticket did have its drawbacks.  After making my way through the line and buying my ticket, I was then restricted to a very small area inside the stadium.  Basically it was a holding area under sections 37 and 39.  There were a couple of concessions there for us but we were permanently segregated from the rest of the population (except for a short amount of time before the game when a cop would let us through to Monument Park).  This in part explains the ‘special behavior’ of the Bleacher Creatures themselves.

Like a species of animal separated long ago on a far away island, behavioral evolution, for us, followed a different path.  We were the kangaroo, or perhaps, more appropriately, the dingo of New York Yankees fans.  Because from what I’ve heard, kangaroos don’t usually turn on each other for fun.

Instead of entertaining feelings of inequality, we felt special; like we had to be separated from the rest of the fans because we were just THAT awesome.  I’d find my way to a clean section of bench, usually under the Utz Chips sign and wait for the Roll Call.  Starting at the first pitch, a bald guy up front would lead the way, chanting out the names of Yankee defensive fielders until they’d turn to acknowledge us.

“BER-nie WILL-iams! BER-nie WILL-iams!” high then low; over and over in a sing-songy fashion. “DE-rek JE-ter!”  The same.  Some were short staccatos followed by claps: “TI-NO!” clap clap clap! TI-NO! clap clap clap.”  Real fast.  When we ran out of players we’d all solemnly turn left and face the box seats, still standing.  Then, real loud,

“BOX SEATS SUCK!  BOX SEATS SUCK!”

We’d do that until we had at least one person looking (frowning) down over the edge towards us.

Roll Call in effect

Roll Call in effect

This was a good release from workday tensions and a great way to start a game.  Actually, if I’d had a really busy day at work the singing tribal chanting would send me into a dead sleep. It happened several times. Even today I can hear 40,000 people cheering and a few hundred chanting that something sucks and it makes me a little sleepy.

We’d sometimes banter with one another, a few times I ended up seated next to a self-described ‘Bronx Hustler’ who had the interlocking NY tattoo on his right arm.  It said “Highlanders” in scroll underneath.  If he saw anybody glance at it he’d unspool his story of his granddad going to see the team before they were called the Yankees, playing in Manhattan and called the Highlanders.

With all this pent up energy, and a little beer, fights would sometimes start.  I always imagined it was over some dispute like who had a game winning hit in some long ago game, or debating who was or wasn’t a “Real Yankee.”  But sometimes, romance could blossom, or try to.  Section 39 was fertile ground for the amorous.

One afternoon two rows back there sat two young 20 something gals.  Two rows in front of me was a 20 something guy, a guy on the make.  He’d look back around me at one of the girls, just getting his courage up to say something.  Finally he looked back and lamely yelled, “Hey, are you a Yankees fan?”  They ignored him.  But his game got better, oh yes it did.  Here are some examples.

“Yo, where’d you get that jersey?”

“Yeah, you like Derek Jeter, my buddy knows him!”  This earned him a quick glance.  And then the real ice breaker:

“Girl, if you come down here and talk to me I’ll give you a swipe of my Metrocard!”  Now she looked at him and her friend giggled.

“OK, two swipes.”

“C’mon, look at me, you know you want to!  Ah, I see that smile, yeah you like me!”

“We already have something in common, look, we love the Yankees!”

He was pretty incessant and at first it annoyed all of us within earshot.  But eventually he had us all laughing too.

“Baby you’re so beautiful, if I bought a 9 piece McNuggets I’d give you five, maybe even six.”

This all started in the third inning, by the seventh inning stretch they were talking.  I didn’t see them later.  But I like to imagine that these days they are married with a couple kids, maybe living off Jerome Avenue.

My favorite thing was bringing people I called “the uninitiated” to games.  Especially if they rooted for the other team.  This way they could get a quick immersion into the culture of the Bleacher Creature, and I’d look like a guy who was really in the know.  It would be like they were attending a recital.

There was this guy I worked with named Kevin, he was from Kansas City.  He liked the Royals of course, so we went together to the Stadium one Thursday afternoon in ’99 when the Royals were wrapping up a series with the Yanks.  I told him to not forget his cap – very important.  He was very Midwestern-tourist, just taking in the sights and loving his first ever trip to the stadium.

He earned a couple of snickers as we sat down.  He was very impressed by the Roll Call, and also by some guy getting ejected in the second inning.  During a slow moment in the top of the fourth, the people around us suddenly stood up, facing Kevin.  Pointing with their right hands chopping up and down slowly (like the tomahawk chop) they chanted “ASS-hole!  ASS-hole!” while looking right at Kevin.

He was just delighted, grinning and a little embarrassed.  Because of his reaction they stopped after about twenty of those and sat down.  He was a good sport and though that didn’t go unappreciated the Royals still lost.

Later to be abused, a Mariners fan is isolated from the herd.

Later to be abused, a Mariners fan is isolated from the herd.

At various other points in games, whenever things were slow or the home team was losing we’d mix it up.  In later years we’d curse Ichiro in actual rehearsed Japanese. We’d bring up embarrassing personal details about outfielders.  And there were always the box seat fans, excellent fodder.  Creatures would sometimes turn on one another if the team was being blown out; stuck there where we didn’t want to be ramped up some tension.  We felt compelled to stay no matter the outcome, after all the train was right behind us, we didn’t have to rush.  We wanted our $8 worth.

For relief from the noise I’d look over to the right at the pitchers black, which was a whole section where the seats had been removed and it was vacant and quiet.  It always gave me the same feeling I had looking at that subway bank teller window.IMG_2020

Things got strange after 9/11; we couldn’t bring bags into the Stadium.  I had to park mine once at Stan the Man’s and pay much more for that than for my ticket.  The chants and the rituals seemed just a little subdued, but it may have just seemed like that because I had become an out of towner.  I’d moved to the west coast and though I visited often, I always kinda wondered if I really belonged there anymore.

And now there’s a new stadium, I haven’t been there yet and I wonder if it’s the same.  I still hear the Roll Call during televised games, it’s now A-Rod instead of Brosius, but I’m glad to hear it nonetheless.  It means that even though there’s been a relocation to a new archipelago, the dingoes are still in residence.

3 replies
  1. kathcom
    kathcom says:

    Now I get why you always loved going to those games so much. I feel asleep at a Yankees game once–I’d like to think it’s for the same reason you did. If you’d been there with us, you could have taught us how to properly appreciate being bleacher creatures!

    Reply

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