I'm a to-the-grave Cardinals fan. I'm not a Yankees fan. Never was. I don't dislike them--in fact, I appreciate what they've meant to the sprawling history of this game. Mostly, I'm indifferent to them as a team. What I am not indifferent to, however, is New York City and the Yankees' indelible place in it.
I grew up in a small town in South Mississippi, which, other than the human elements native to all of us, had little in common with New York. When I was in second grade, however, I read a story about young girl named Frieda who lived in New York. The story told me about her walks to school, her rides on the subway, and her interactions with kinds and colors of people I'd never imagined. Frieda's life seemed impossibly different from mine, and this place she called home, well, I needed to know more about.
When I got home from school that day, I dragged down the "N" volume of our World Book Encyclopedias and looked up Frieda's home town. The foldout map of New York was like nothing I'd ever seen before. It was sinewed with roads, train lines, expressways, side streets, and all the rest. It was just a map, but you could almost sense the clots of humanity that made the map a real place. And the names in and around New York were just as fascinating--fascinating in their hard sounds and the hard places they evoked. Hoboken. Brooklyn. Bayonne. Canarsie. Nyack. Red Hook. Hell's Kitchen. Pelham Bay Park. Bensonhurst. Scarsdale. And my favorite name of all: The Bronx. It was the toughest, most perfect word I'd ever heard. It sounded like a punch in the gut. It grabbed you by the collars. Bronx. And what kind of place had "the" in front of it? Whatever it was, there could only be one. After all, it was "A Bronx."
I don't remember how old I was when I found out that the Yankees toiled in the Bronx--that place with the unforgettable name--but I do remember that my estimation of them increased dramatically. I was 19 years old when I finally made it to New York City, and I greeted it with wide, mystified eyes. I was 30 when I finally made it to Yankee Stadium (via the 4 Train, of course), and I've never paid less attention to a baseball game in all my life. I was too busy taking in the architecture, the perfect weather, the cold beer, and, from my seats in the distant reaches of the upper deck, the view of that perfect word: Bronx.
In the years between the time I first read about Frieda's New York and first set foot in Yankee Stadium, my fascination with the American urban experience consumed me. As it was for so many people drawn to the stew of the city, New York was it. It was everything, including those guttural names on the map. I'll always remember Yankee Stadium for bringing together two of my abiding passions, baseball and the city of cities, like no other venue--no other thing--could have. It's an urban game to me, baseball, despite its apocryphal origins in the countryside. It's always been about cities and energy and crowds and fathers and sons and those without fathers and without sons. Hell, the ballpark, in some regards is itself a city--people thrown together, haphazardly and at times uncomfortably, to feel and live. Some arrive late; some leave early; and some stay for the full nine innings, never thinking of going anywhere else.
On that day in Yankee Stadium, I didn't pay much heed to what was a damned fine game. But I stayed all nine innings, and I never thought of going anywhere else.