I'm an unapologetic, lifelong Yankees fan. A long-time season ticket holder. My 5-year-old daughter has been to Yankee Stadium three times already. I say this because I feel it qualifies me to counsel other Yankees fans on a truth many of us in the bleachers (and certainly in ownership) refuse to accept: the 1990s are over.
They're gone, they're not coming back, and the icons who brought us four World Series rings in five seasons (plus one for the thumb in 2009) are retired. No matter how many number retirement ceremonies we throw, it doesn't change the fact that the New York Yankees are bloated with ill-conceived, long-term contracts, inexplicably garnished with no-trade clauses to aging, faded stars from another decade.
And you know, what? That's ok. It might even be a great thing.
While ownership waits out the "regret" years on the contracts of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixiera, Carlos Beltran, and (of course) Alex Rodriguez, we can also take this opportunity to shed long-expired talismans of the Yankee Stadium experience. These include the odious hillbilly-meets disco "Cotton Eyed Joe," the groundskeepers dancing to "YMCA," and that annoying bar mitzvah-techno song that plays when the Yanks take the field in the top of the 1st. All are mid-90s relics that became traditions because as any baseball fan knows, when you're winning, you don't change what you're doing. But we're not winning anymore, and we should take the opportunity to finally free ourselves from the tyranny of crappy suburban faux-techno and tortured forced sing-alongs.
While we're at it, turn the volume down a few hundred decibels between innings. Though rough around the edges, we're sophisticated fans! We come to the ballpark for the ballgame. We like to talk baseball with the people we're sitting near. We don't need to be assaulted with Rihanna's auto-tuned warbling for the few fleeting moments when the ball is not in play. Ask around, no one comes to the ballpark for the Top 40 music.
Before this gets too "get off my lawn," allow an egalitarian suggestion that revives a tradition of the past, since relegated to the memory hole: bring back the rain delay upgrade.
In a time not too long ago (2008), in a stadium not too far away (across the street), the venerable New York Yankees organization allowed fans who braved late night rain delays to move into any unoccupied seat available. This meant that the few thousand (out of more than 50,000) fans who stayed through the misery of wind, rain and closed beer concessions could at least enjoy the end of the game from vantage points they normally could never afford. It meant the most passionate fans could be closest to the action, bringing energy in an otherwise almost empty stadium. It also looks better on TV.
Though the new Stadium improves the fan experience in a number of significant ways (standing sight-lines of the field throughout the ballpark, booze and stadium access returned to the bleachers, Lobel's steak sandwiches), Yankee Stadium III is endowed with an original architectural sin: the moat. A shameful, gaping barrier surrounding the inner ring of luxury box seats closest to the field, the moat makes such a benefit to superfandom impossible. It has two ticket checkpoints and is only accessible through it's own tunnel entrances. It's also a moot point, as the policy in the new stadium is to check tickets at every section (including the bleachers), to ensure no seat hopping.
I know nothing's going to change. In all likelihood, the obnoxious gimmickry and class warfare will only get worse. That's the price we pay for loving the Dark Side. Though down from its peak, attendance at Yankee Stadium III topped 3 million for the second year in a row in 2014, a number most teams never get near, and still far more than the average of the late '90s dynasty. We feed the beast, no matter how much we wish we could tame it.
But that doesn't mean that we, the Yankee fans who recall the dog days of Stump Merrill, who still hear the WPIX musical intro in our hearts and long for Phil Rizzuto's coke-bottle glasses to greet us on a balmy summer's evening, who still can't believe we beat the Braves in 1996, can't set the right example by exerting our influence as the most odious elements of bandwagon fandom recede during this rehabilitation period.
We should follow the team, contemplate the moves that would make this team a contender, keep a watchful eye for the next "Core" members and hope like hell the Steinbrenners don't trade them for Giancarlo Stanton.
But we all must lose the sense of entitlement, the "championship or bust" mentality that I never personally felt, but that the media and the Steinbrenners told everyone we demanded. It's bunk.
As long as we keep watching, the characters, the scrappers, the (forgive me) "true Yankees" will reveal themselves. There will be players, even on losing teams, to love. This generation of Yankee fans needs to find its Steve Balboni before it can find its next Derek Jeter. And in doing so, perhaps we can find new, annoying gimmicks for the present day and let "Cotton Eyed Joe" die a thousand deaths.
You were great, 1990s. Now go home.
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