Sitting in a bar in lower Manhattan last year my good friend Luge Pravda and I discussed what the greatest sporting rivalry was in the world. The conversation had started after a drunk Mexican guy who had been sitting next to us suggested that the Real Madrid v Barca game on the TV was for “p@ssies” and that the atmosphere was better “in my pants” (his, not mine I hasten to add). I asked him what he thought was the biggest and he suggested the Yankees v Red Sox in baseball. Whilst I am not a baseball aficionado, I have been to enough games to understand some of the nuances of the game as well as being able to observe close up the wonderful character that is the faux drunk American man and his random screams of excitement. Back in the day (well, when the Yankee Stadium was only home to baseball rather than the bizarre home of a major football side playing games at an odd angle) I actually went to a Yankees v Red Sox game with Boston running out 9-0 winners. I certainly couldn’t remember any shenanigans on a scale of West Ham v Millwall or Celtic v Rangers apart from the odd random shouts from fans of “Red Cocks Suck”, “No. Wankees suck” and so on..
As luck would have it I would be back in New York for a grand total of 26 hours for work just when the latest chapter of baseball’s greatest rivalry would be played at Yankee Stadium. Tickets for virtually every US sporting event aren’t hard to get these days. Despite this ticking all the boxes of a potential sell-out, over 4,000 tickets (8% of the capacity) were on sale on StubHub alone.
So here is where I simply do not understand Baseball (and a number of other American sports) fans. I arrived at the stadium at 7.15, ten minutes after the “start time” thanks to almost SouthEastern train-esque punctuality of the Metro North Line. There were thousands upon thousands of people outside the stadium. Whilst there were long queues to get into the stadium, there were also people still drinking in the bars and eating in the restaurants. I’m sure some will not have had tickets, but there didn’t seem to be any rush to get into watch the game.
With no time for a beer outside, we headed up to the 4th tier where our seats were. Queues for every concession stand were massive. Was anyone actually watching the game? We struggled in vain to find somewhere selling a beer that wasn’t Bud, Coors or Miller. The “Craft Beer” concession stand was selling Stella and Heineken, meaning for the sake of actually getting to watch some of the action, we went with New Castle Ale (aka Newcastle Brown Ale). Only two each mind, and no more after the 7th innings just in case you enjoy yourself too much. You can of course gorge yourself silly on cholesterol-loaded, heart-attack inducing fried food, served in massive buckets right up until the end of the game.
We got to our seats with the score at 1-0 after three innings. It wasn’t a thriller but crowd watching from our seats in the Gods was. I would hazard a guess that the average time a fan actually sat in his seat was less than 10 minutes judging by the constant coming and going. To keep them amused we had “kiss cam”, “hug cam”, “smile cam”, “strange not sure what it was supposed to be cam” and “YMCA cam”. One young lady in the front of the tier behind got a bit too excited at the “Y” action that she almost lost her top in Barbara Windsor style.
The location was perfect for a night of sport though, with the sun setting behind us and the planes leaving Laguardia passing overhead more than making up for the stalemate being played out in front of us. Luge had been here a few weeks previous (see here) to watch New York City play and the pitch markings were still visible. With the Yankees being as close to a national treasure as you can get, it is still amazing that “soccer” is allowed to be played here.
In the fifth innings we had some excitement as the Red Sox scored two runs. Pockets of fans stood up and cheered without reprisal. Had that have been Messi scoring in the Bernabau or Rooney at Anfield I would dare to suggest their celebrations would have been cut very short. But the Yankees came back in the next innings, scoring three of their own. We had a game on, especially when the Red Sox scored again at the top of the 7th (see I do know some of the jargon) to make it 4-3. However, with the big hand approaching 30 it was time for me to leave for my trip back up to the suburbs. We’d seen the best of the play, had a couple of English beers, a good chat and nearly seen a girl embarrass herself. What more could you want for $33?
Of course it turned out to be one of those memorable victories, with the Yankees scoring 9 (NINE!) runs in the time it took us to walk from our seats to the train station, giving them a 13-3 victory and the bragging rights for, let me see, 24 hours until the teams met again (Red Sox gained some revenge with a 2-1 win).
I’m not sure this would rank in my top 20 (50?) rivalries that I had seen in the sporting flesh. Whilst the opposing fans may dislike each other, it was very rare in US sport for it to ever boil over into violence. Rivalry is perhaps too strong a word for it. Mild irritation possibly. It’s still a great way to spend an evening though.
That comment about US sport rarely boiling over into violence? Well 10 days later, it did.