On Thursday night, during the fifth inning of the Yankees’ first game against the Red Sox this year, a beer vendor stopped by my seats in section 207, just beyond the right field foul pole, to have a chat with my friends and I.
I’d seen the man before in my trips to the stadium; his gruff, carnival barker’s cadence, his cobalt-tinted horseshoe mustache. This guy was a recognizable stadium lifer who could easily have been hawking Ballantine at the Stadium since the days of Bill Skowron, which made his parting words to us strike a definite chord.
“This crowd,” he sighed. “It’s the worst [bleepin’] Yankee-Red Sox crowd I’ve ever seen.”
It didn’t take a grizzled stadium veteran to see what he meant. The place might as well have been the city morgue.
Although the attendance for the game was listed at 42,821, one glance at the half-empty lower bowl and the smattering of fans in the nosebleeds told a different story.
Yankee fans, often hailed as some of the smartest in the sport, stayed in their seats on two-strike counts instead of rising to their feet to collectively will another strikeout from hurler Michael Pineda. When Pineda left the game in the seventh inning, after taking a two-hit shutout past the sixth, only a few of the Bomber faithful—who hadn’t run for the exits after the Yanks took a 4-0 lead—had the presence of mind to give him a standing ovation.
Heck, even wearing my Mike Napoli jersey into baseball’s new cathedral didn’t subject me to the scorn, derision and cat-calls I’d become accustomed to dealing with in the early 2000s.
It’s a whole new ball game, indeed.
Maybe it was the timing of the game. Maybe it’s hard to get fans—even Yankee and Red Sox fans—too keyed up for a meaningless early-April showdown. Maybe, since the explosion of HD televisions, watching the game from the comfort of your living room is a more enjoyable prospect than heading down to the stadium and paying $15 dollars for some stale popcorn.
I, for one, have turned down countless NFL tickets because the improved home viewing experience.
Perhaps when I go back to the stadium in August, assuming the race for the AL East is a close one, the atmosphere at the ballpark might be closer to some of the stressful experiences I had as a fan traveling in enemy territory during the last years of the old Yankee Stadium.
But maybe, just maybe, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry just ain’t what it used to be.
In the days before the Sox captured their first world title since 1918, the clearly defined roles of both fanbases certainly added fuel to the feud.
Red Sox fans, like myself, clearly envious of the Yankees’ stature and success in the game, saw the Bombers as the evil empire. In turn, Yankees fans saw Sox supporters as perennial losers and seemingly fed off the collective misery of the fan base.
But now, with Sox as defending world champs and winners of three World Series since 2004, the two teams are, for now, equals. Two rich organizations that are perennially championship contenders, both with exorbitant payrolls.
And maybe that shifting paradigm has also changed the way fans approach the games. No longer is a regular season matchup between the two clubs a life-or-death matter in Boston, and Yankees fans don’t seem to get as much joy out of beating the old town team like they used to.
To be honest, I miss the bully, I miss the rivalry and I miss the excitement.
It almost makes we want to give up those three World Series titles, just to have things back to the way they used to be.
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