God knows why -- I've been to dozens and dozens of games over the years -- but the very first thing I think of, when I hear the words "Yankee Stadium", is Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. I couldn't first remember some nice come-from-behind affair against the Sox, or one of those sharp Andy Pettitte LDS wins over the Twins, or my first game with my dad as a kid, or learning to keep score? No, I go back to a frigid and drizzly night, in the far reaches of the upper deck, sitting by myself because by the time I'd managed to log onto Ticketmaster, they only had single tickets left.
And somehow, it's actually a nice memory. I was wearing just about every item of clothing I owned in a futile attempt to layer for warmth, topped off with my ancient and oversized Paul O'Neill t-shirt, and using a garbage bag I'd brought from home as a poncho. This was my first Championship Series game ever -- I'd seen a few Division Series games, but that was it, I'd never been there for any ALCS or World Series moments in person. And so I was absolutely determined to enjoy myself, no matter what -- alone, freezing, damp, broke, watching the Yankees engage in one of the greatest chokes in sports history against that loudmouth Schilling... whatever. I wasn't about to let anything get me down. (Plus, I was so sure they were going to pull it out the next night. Way too sure).
There was an earnest, attractive young Japanese tourist couple on my left, wearing full-on plush Godzilla-head hats. They didn't speak much English, but the man did turn to me a few innings in and manage to ask why the crowd was booing Schilling for repeatedly throwing over to hold the runner on first. "That's his job, yes?" he wanted to know, perfectly reasonably. While I was trying to figure out the best way to phrase my reply, the man to my right, who turned out to be named Joey, leaned over and beat me to it.
"Because Schilling's a fucking pussy!," he explained, cheerfully.
Joey, a thick guy in his 40s in the classic old school Brooklyn Italian mold, was at the game with his buddy, who was also named Joey. They'd shared season tickets for just about forever, they said. The Joeys ended up buying me a couple beers, and we made friendly small talk in between Schilling's oozing bloody sock (which we couldn't see), that reversed home run call (which we also couldn't see, therefore we assumed the Yankees were robbed), and A-Rod's infamous slap play (which we also couldn't see, and so, of course, we were 100% certain the umps had blown the call spectacularly).
There are different kinds of hecklers at the Stadium; some guys are mainly trying to be funny, some get genuinely, alarmingly furious and need to vent their rage. The Joeys were another type, the kind who see heckling as a job -- part of their responsibility as fans, done seriously, with spirit but without bile. The Joey directly to my right alternated steadily between polite conversation and earsplitting obscene abuse directed towards the field.
Joey: FUCK YOU, DAMON, YOU SUCK! YOU BALL-LICKING ASSHOLE! GET A FUCKIN' HAIRCUT!!!... So, where do you live?
Me: Brooklyn, you?
Joey: Hey, yeah? Me too. What part?
Me: Park --
Joey: HEY UMP, WHY DON'T YOU KISS MY ASS, YOU MOTHERFUCKING PIECE OF SHIT! YOU HEAR ME ASSHOLE?!... Sorry, what was that?
Me: Park Slope.
Joey: No kidding, I got an aunt in Park Slope. Hey, are you done with that cup?
Joey: [Hurls empty cup onto field] GO FUCK YOURSELF, YOU BLIND SHIT-EATING BASTARD! YOUR MOTHER'S A WHORE!... Thanks. You ever been to Suzie's, over on 5th Ave?
It was around this time that the riot police rushed out to ring the field, which seemed like overkill to me; in the old days you had to pretty much mobilize a mob and try to tear players limb from limb on the base paths before security got involved, was my understanding, but those days were long gone by 2004. In any case, things settled down, the Yankees lost ignominiously, and it took me 50 full minutes just to get to the subway, the crowds were so thick. All the way out people chanted "NINE-teen EIGHT-teen!," the last time I'd ever hear that at the Stadium. When I finally got home, very late, I watched the highlights and was fairly shocked to discover that the umps had been completely right on both controversial calls (sorry, Randy Marsh! I made some very personal remarks in the heat of the moment which, in retrospect, were probably a bit uncalled for), and heard all about Schilling's sock.
I don't really know why that games sticks out to me -- I've had tons of similar experiences at the Stadium over the years, and often at better games, in better weather, with good friends and no riot police. But there it is. Probably the Yankees will not be using this treasured memory of mine in any of their brochures for season tickets at the new Stadium, but that's okay -- because as Aristotle once wrote, memory is the scribe of the soul. Or, as Joey might have put it: those bastards can stick their fucking martini bar right up their fucking asses.
Emma Span is a regular contributor to Bronx Banter.