MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: An evening at one of sport’s great theatres - Yankee Stadium

Michael Moynihan took his place in the press tribune at Yankee Stadium in New York and in between gorging on the smorgasbord of free food, indulged in one of America’s great sporting pastimes: Baseball at Yankee Stadium.

Patience is the hidden virtue in baseball. The players learn that early on, but a visitor like myself gathered the lesson on the hoof.

Take the long trundle north on the subway through Manhattan. For much of the journey the only diversion was ticking off entries in the great American songbook — 59th Street, 110th Street — until the carriage was gradually pinstriped, tourists and ultras alike in the Yankee verticals when 161st Street, and The Stadium, came into view.

Immediately this visitor from a foreign shore relaxed, because the first person encountered on the platform was literally asking if anyone was buying or selling a ticket: the accent was neither Tourmakeady nor Newtownshandrum, but apart from that, one might be outside the Gresham early on a September Sunday.

Familiar territory. Yankee Stadium itself is sleek and accessible, but my early impressions of the venue were overshadowed by the generosity on show. In the press zone, I beheld what can only be described by a cynical hack as the promised land: a non-exhaustive listing from left to right would be pork chops, penne pasta in a creamy sauce, chicken thighs, fried rice, some class of a vegetarian option, an overflowing salad bar, coffee in every form, soft drinks on tap, and across the way, an array of cookies large and small, muffins and pastries, and a vast cake.

I purposely avoided one item, nestling in the corner, because I think it tipped the entire scenario into the absurd: an ice-cream machine.

All free. No supervision.

A friend didn’t believe me about the ice cream machine.

“You’re joking, right?”

“Have I ever joked about ice cream?”

I thought I was in some executive’s luxury box until I heard someone behind me complaining bitterly about the office and his schedule, and then I realised that yes, I was among my people. When I crawled out to the press box itself the game was a good half-hour away from its start, the build-up gentle. The players loosened out with no hamstring threatened by overuse. Scratch gentle: the preamble was ramshackle, endearingly so. While the players jogged gently, policemen stood at 10-yard intervals on the surrounding dirt track, with knots of suited people chatting amiably between them. But the policemen waved at the fans and stood for pictures, while the body language of the suits was punctuated by heads thrown back in laughter.

We had the anthems — both: there was a Canadian team playing, after all. Then a ceremonial first pitch from a large figure in black: Timothy, Cardinal Dolan (“Good arm,” said a reporter along from me, as he finished off a vast cookie.) Unobtrusively the cops stepped off the dirt track and the suits slipped into the stands, and the game was on.

It was a slow burner, the Yankees struggling to impose themselves on the visitors — even I could see that. Establishing the rhythm one wants is as important as being patient, but the Yankees couldn’t manage that. Even their famous fans weren’t on top form, chanting what sounded like “Odour... Odour“ at one Blue Jay, Jose Bautista, a curiously fastidious insult.

The pitching? To the naked eye, the ball didn’t seem to travelling at the speed of a well-struck sliotar, say, which can be invisible until the net ripples. The sound the baseball made landing in the catcher’s glove, however, testified to the force it generated: there were few slaps or crackles to be heard, but rather a heavy bark.

The hitting? There were a couple of false alarms as players connected with pitches and the ball took off for the stands, but the calmness of the fielders —waving off a team-mate, arriving at the landing spot in advance of the ball — told you immediately there was no great danger. The quickness of the fielders’ diagnoses was impressive: the crack of the bat was still audible and they were already parked and waiting, the ball curving down obediently. The contest enlivened considerably when the Blue Jays hit a home run. Russell Martin concertinaed himself out of his batting crouch and slashed the ball well over the boundary. The emphatic stroke isn’t guaranteed in a game, and anyone who leafed through Michael Lewis’s Moneyball — or admired Brad Pitt’s exercise regime in the movie — will know teams succeed more through gradual accumulation than heroic interventions.

But the drama of a homer accelerates the narrative. It’s an affront to the other team. Those calm fielders are by-passed, their pitcher deflated. It boosted the Blue Jays to hit one out, and they surfed their advantage to victory, 8-4. Waiting for the train back to Manhattan, I was struck by how many people were taking pictures of the stadium from the subway platform, until I started taking a couple myself. There were some innovations in the venue worth considering here: the stadium screens ran subtitles for announcements, while the official scorer made rulings through the game — announced in the press box— on how contentious plays were to be described. The latter would be an interesting development in Thurles or Clones.

Even without those takeaways it was well worth the trip, and my thanks to the Yankees for accrediting me. I’m well aware that to baseball fans in vast swathes of America, praising Yankee thoughtfulness is like complimenting Darth Vader on the clarity of his wheeze, but they looked after me well last week. A day or two afterwards I puzzled out the Yankee fans’ chant, too. Bautista had been in a fight with Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers before the Blue Jays had come to New York, and the fans were chanting Odor’s name. Not “Odour”.

The patience only goes so far, then.


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