Monday, December 30, 2013

The Yankee Stadium Experience: The Bleachers

PART NINE: The Bleachers and the Creatures that Roam There

I have been to exactly one World Series game in my life.  Unfortunately it was Game 6 of the 2003 World Series against the Florida Marlins.  That night, Josh Beckett threw a gem shutting the Yankees out in the decisive game versus an equally competitive Andy Pettitte.
Have I mentioned my disdain for one Josh Beckett?
Beckett would be awarded the MVP while Pettitte would go on to take a hiatus from the Yanks by joining the Houston Astros for the next 3 years.   Let's be clear...seeing Beckett celebrate on the Yankee Stadium grass sucked...but the pain was muted just a little bit due to the fact that my Dad and I got to witness the game from the famous Section 39 with its infamous inhabitants: the "Bleacher Creatures."

Firstly, let's recap what the Bleacher Creatures used to be like in the Old Stadium since some of the traditions have changed due to the new dimensions in the New Yankee Stadium.  The founding of the Creatures is often attributed to Ali Ramirez aka "The Cowbell Man" who would sit religiously in Seat 29 of Row A in Section 39 during the dog-days of the 1980s.  He was one of the mainstays of the Stadium and when he passed away in May of 1996, the Yankees honored him with a plaque on his seat stating "This Seat is Taken."
Ali Ramirez's Seat (source: WikiPedia)

At some point in the early 90s fans in the Bleachers started chanting Tino Martinez's name while he played 1st base.  Surprisingly Tino turned around and gave the chanting fans a wave.  From this auspicious beginning a tradition was formed and since then it has become a top of the 1st inning tradition.  Of course the only players names that don't get chanted are the pitcher and catcher out of respect for their concentration.  If you have never seen a Roll Call at Yankee Stadium, it is something special to see and it's even better to be a part of while watching a World Series game.  My dad and I actually sat directly behind "Bald Vinny" during that game.  Hearing him yell "Yoooooo Ber-NIE! during roll call that day was classic. (Update: as per @baldvinny, we weren't behind him that night as he had to work that evening...not sure which of the Creatures led the Roll Call that was over 10 years ago and I've slept since then... :), but whomever did it was very convincing in their efforts.)

Some of the other famous "Creatures" include Tina Lewis aka "Queen of the BC", a "Bald Ray", which is how Vinny got his namesake...the new "Cowbell Man" Milton Ousland, and even a "Regular Ray".  If you get a chance to sit with the Bleacher Creatures (which is no longer Section 39), you can read their names on the back of their custom fit New Era Yankee ballcaps.  Each of the members has certain responsibilities during the game in terms of chants, etc.  Of course Vinny Milano aka the Bald One starts the Roll Call by yelling "Yoooooo!" and then the current center fielder's name (Ellsbury??).  The rest of the Creatures and seemingly the rest of the Bleachers chant that player's name until they are recognized with a wave or in Johnny Damon's case a Captain Caveman Salute...a the end of the roll call, they would then point up into the Right Field Box Seats and chant "Box Seats Suck...Box Seats Suck..." which isn't applicable anymore due to the Bleachers being raised to the same level now in Section 203 of the New Stadium.  In the cases of when the hated Red Sox are visiting, this may be substituted with "Red Sox Suck..."

The "Cowbell Man" will initiate any cowbelling within the Stadium with no exceptions...and this is customarily only done during a Yankees rally.  During the 7th inning stretch, several of the Creatures will usually roll out a large American flag to display over them during the singing of God Bless America.  In the case of that fateful day in 2003, I was able to hold a corner during the playing of our National Anthem.  Occassionally other chants will be hurled at opposing players in the outfield which wouldn't be appropriate to list here as this is a family show, but one of the most mentioned by "Bald Vinny" was that he used to sling out Japanese swear words at Ichiro in right field.  Now of course they chant I-chi-ro, I-chi-ro! after the center fielder's name.
I bet this guy really hates StubHub right about now...
On the rare occasion that someone is stupid enough to wear a Red Sox or Mets shirt, hat, jersey, or any type of clothing into the section, a new chant will be directed their way, which has resulted in many a fight in the Bleachers...the chant rhymes with "Bass Pole."  Perhaps for this reason, alcohol sales were banned from the Bleachers circa 2000.  At that time, the entrance was also separate from the rest of the Stadium as you had to access them from behind the outfield wall.

Some famous people have sat with the infamous Creatures including David Cone and Tino Martinez (in disguise).  Celebrities get their picture taken with Bald Vinny and there are dedicated websites for their fandom.  Additionally, the Bleacher Creatures have their own website which I encourage you to visit: .  Heck...a book has been written about these "crazy" people as Filip Bondy sat with them during the 2004 season and documented it in his "Bleeding Pinstripes."  But really, the Creatures are made up of down-to-earth people, blue-collar workers who sat there initially because it only cost $5.  A "true" fan if you will...not one of those $9 Heineken drinkers up in the Box Seats.

So really not much has changed in the Bleachers except for the name (now Section 203) and the general locale to the Box Seats but thankfully you can get to them without having to go in a separate entrance.  The Creatures can still be heard yelling loudly whether it be Roll Call or Bass Pole and it is quite the treat to sit amongst them...well at least if you are a Yankees fan.  The Bleacher Creatures have become just another tradition in Yankee Stadium, whether Old or New and hopefully it will be a tradition that lasts a long time.  I encourage you to take in a game once or twice in the vicinity and make sure to take part in every chant, every cheer, because sometimes the result on the field isn't worth the price of admission, but the atmosphere and the way you watch the game can make up for it.

Alex Rodriguez & Randy Levine Exchange Emails

Randy Levine and Alex Rodriguez have a lot of history, Levine was one of the major contributors to ARod signing his 10 year deal worth $275 million, and apparently have a lot to talk about. Emails between the two have been released to the public today, and wow, that's all I got.... wow. Spoiler alert, Randy Levine says that Robinson Cano needs steroids, and fast. Read below for some excerpts from the original article, seen HERE.

May 11, 2011
The Yankees lose to the Royals 4-3; Rodriguez, batting cleanup, collects just one hit in five at-bats.
Levine: Hey, tough game, I’m worried about your health, u sure u r ok? You look to me like you’re a little off. If just a slump, you will come out, but if more, let me know.
Rodriguez: Hey Randy, yes, tough game. Just a little jumpy at the plate. I feel fine. I’ve been working hard with Kevin Long [Yankees hitting coach]. I will start hitting soon. My team needs me. We will win tomorrow. Have a great night.

May 17, 2011 
Rodriguez hits two home runs, leading the team to a win over Tampa Bay.
Levine: Way to go, welcome back … enjoy start of a roll.
Rodriguez: Yessir!! Our team needs me to hit and lead us.
Levine: U are the man. I told u that for years. U can and will do it.

October 2, 2011
The divisional series against Detroit is tied at one game apiece.
Levine: u r the leader … Keep confidence strong, get us home.
Two years earlier, Rodriguez had carried the Yankees through the World Series; against the Tigers, Rodriguez hits justs .111 and the Yankees lose the playoff series three games to two.

March 25, 2012
Rodriguez is hit by a pitch in a preseason game.
Levine: Ouch. Feel better.
Rodriguez: Can’t hurt me.
Levine: It hurt me watching.
Rodriguez: HA!

May 21, 2012
The Yanks are shut out by the Royals.
Levine: My friend, I have always believed that in difficult times there r two ways to go. The easy way, which is to make excuses, be defensive, or blame others and shut it down. The better way is to take the challenge, get mad, get determined, and shut everyone up and perform to greater levels. I believe in u. I believe u will hit those levels. It has been a tough year in injuries, tough losses, underperformance, but we need a leader, that is you. Take the lead, get these guys going, put a chip on your shoulder. When u succeed it will be Yankees lore. There is nothing more powerful than that. I am here to support u. Tell us what u need.
Rodriguez: You are 100% correct. This is no time for blame or excuses. Is time for me to be a leader and rally the troops. I feel if I perform at a high level, put a chip on my shoulder and lead the way, then my mates will follow my lead. Is not how you start, but how you finish. Let’s get it going tonight. Thanks for the support and stay in touch.

May 23, 2012
Rodriguez homers twice against the Royals in an 8-3 Yankees victory, Rodriguez’s first home runs in 52 at-bats.
Levine: Breakout game. Nice going. Chip on shoulder attitude. Get us on a roll.

July 30, 2012
Rodriguez is out with an injury, having fractured his hand five days earlier when hit by a pitch. Levine makes a reference to performance-enhancing drugs that he later refers to as a “bad joke.”
Levine: How r u feeing since u left Robby [Cano] under 200, he needs some steroids fast!

August 21, 2012
With A-Rod still out, Levine again makes a possibly comic drug reference.
Levine: Hey, what’s up with Robby. This guy must not be using the liquid. U didn’t tell me what did Chris and Steve say your ETA is. Don’t rush it unless u r right. We need you. Nova looks like he may need a breather. What do u see.

September 22, 2012
Rodriguez gets two key hits in a fourteen-inning victory that keeps the Yankees in first place. The chip on the shoulder the two have spoken about has become a nickname: Chip.
Levine: Way to go best win of year. U had walkoff mesa nerves. U stepped up do it tomorrow. Chip. Proud of u.
Rodriguez: Huge win. … Very nervous. Need to win tomorrow. Chip
Levine: That’s what leaders do.
That fall, the Yankees win their division, but Rodriguez has another terrible postseason, managing just a single hit in the championship series against Detroit, in which they are swept. In early December, Rodriguez is diagnosed with a torn labrum—a left-hip injury. Even the Yankees seem relieved. Says general manager Brian Cashman, “The struggles we saw in September and October are more likely than not related to [the injury].”
At home in Miami, Rodriguez begins “prehabbing,” building strength before the surgery, which is scheduled for January.

The Luxury Tax Is Not The Only Tax The Yankees Pay

The New York Yankees have announced that they plan to spend big time money on the 2014-2015 International free agent market. The Yankees have thrown out a big number, $12-$15 million, which would result in $10-$12 million in penalties.

The figures have not been set for international spending for teams starting this June but the Yankees are presumed to be in the $2-$2.5 million range. The Yankees would have to pay a 100% tax on any spending higher than 10% of their cap and would lose the ability to sign any amateur free agents in 2015-2016 or 2016-2017 over $300K if they exceed 15% this coming season. Also it is worth noting that the Yankees risk losing top picks in the International Draft if MLB ever decided to go that route. Ouch!

Is it worth the Yankees dominating the international market for one season and spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million, all told, to feel the restraints for the next two seasons? The Chicago Cubs did it this season by signing the two top IFA's on the market by signing Eloy Jimenez and Gleybar Torres and two others in the Top 30 by signing Erling Moreno and Jen-Ho Tseng and still only spent $7.895 million. That remains to be seen as this years pool may look stronger than ever, or this may be the Yankees plan to rejuvenate the farm system, either way looks like we are in all spend mode no matter what so stay tuned.

Austin Romine Said To Be Available In Trades

The New York Yankees have made Austin Romine available in trades after singing Brian McCann and announcing that Francisco Cervelli would be tendered a contract. JR Murphy is slated to start the season at AAA Scranton even though he may have the most trade value of all the Yankees catchers, including McCann. 

Romine is 25 years old and is coming off of a .205/.255/.296 season and has some troubles behind the dish as Chris Stewart's back up last season. Romine was never given many at bats, 148 plate appearances all season, and was never given consistent at bats so I really think we have not seen all that RoRo has to offer. 

Unless we miss out on Masahiro Tanaka and/or Romine can fetch us either a big piece at the back end of the bullpen or in the rotation I say hold on to the young catcher. Having too much catching depth is not a bad problem to have and I don't wanna see the Yankees give up on yet another prospect, a la Mark Melancon, one or two seasons too soon.


Guess what! I was lucky enough to convince one of the YES men (named Lou DiPietro) to let me interview him about his AWESOME job. Any Yankee fan has to agree, working for the YES Network definitely has some perks! Ready to read about them...?! Here you go! 

Me: Do you or do you not have the best job in the world working for the YES Network? I am going to go with you do have the best job...  
Lou: Yes, of course I think I do! Seriously though, I get to pretty much watch and write about sports for a living, and as a lifelong Yankees fan, it’s especially a thrill to be working for their network and to have the kind of access that I do with the team. Same thing goes for things, like, say, this year’s Pinstripe Bowl, which lets me go to Yankee Stadium to watch a Notre Dame football game, which is an honor in and of itself.

Me: Being a big football guy do you follow the Temple University football team? Tough season this year.  
Lou: Tough is an understatement! Yes, I do follow TU football, and men’s hoops as well. The four years I was in school (1997-2000 seasons) we won I think 11 games total, so  it’s not like I’m not used to it! But, it made the few years Al Golden was at the helm that much sweeter; even in the MAC, it was nice to see my alma mater succeed for a change.

Me: Are you like most who say that "fandom" goes out the window after a while or are you still a Yankees fan at heart? 
Lou: Everyone is different, but for me, it hasn’t. Of course, you have to conduct yourself as a professional in public, and I will say that working in baseball has changed the way I watch a game, but that inner fan, the one that spent a night roaming the streets and bars of NYC in November 2009 so I could make sure I got a good spot on the Yankees parade route – is still there.

Me: If you had to choose... what would be your favorite encounter with an MLB baseball player (a Yankee or a player on another team)? 
Lou: I’m not sure if I could pinpoint a specific moment, so I’ll say this: perhaps the best feeling is seeing a guy come up through the system and getting to know him from trips to spring training or a minor league park, then seeing him in the clubhouse at the Stadium and they remember you. Our whole team feels that it is important to start a good rapport with guys early, and that’s the payoff. David Adams is a great example of that, and that’s how we’ve been able to create great content like our long form features on Adams and Preston Claiborne – because we’ve known them for years.

Me: Being what you describe as a "native New Englander" how do you like working for a New York based operation?  
Lou: I grew up in southwestern Connecticut and spent a lot of time in NYC as a child, so I’ve always been a New Englander by geography but a New Yorker at heart. I guess that means I like it?

Me: After working for the World Wrestling Entertainment brand do you consider it to be a sport, fake or not? 
Lou: Even WWE brands it as sports-entertainment, so I’d have to say no. I believe that those guys and girls are great athletes on the whole and what they do has a very athletic element, but it’s no more a sport by definition than a snowball fight.

Me: How many baseball stadiums have you visited in your lifetime? 
Lou: Counting ones that no longer exist 11: all four New York stadiums and both in Philadelphia, plus Tropicana Field, Joe Robbie Stadium, Comerica Park, Camden Yards, and Comiskey Park. I am one of many that has the dream of going to all 30 ballparks (or at least all 30 cities) in my lifetime, and that may end up becoming a reality in a little different capacity than I expected!

Me: What is your favorite sports moment? 
Lou: Wow. I’d have to say it’s one of these three: watching the 1994 Rangers skate the Stanley Cup (because that was the first of my “teams” to win a championship), watching the 1996 Yankees win the World Series (first time my favorite team won a title), or watching the 2008 Phillies win the World Series at Citizens Bank Park (first time I ever saw a team win a title live). All three were awesome in their own way and in a completely different way.

Me: What are you're thoughts on the departure of Robinson Cano, the "disagreements" with Joe Girardi, and the general reasoning that has a ton of Yankees fans jumping off the cliff? 
Lou: Robinson Cano has always been great with me personally and professionally, and he did what he felt was best for himself personally, so you can’t hate him for that – and if he really had issues with Joe, over batting second or anything else, then that’s his right to ply his trade elsewhere. I don’t agree with his statement that the Yankees didn’t show him respect, but again, that’s his opinion. As for Yankees fans jumping off a cliff…relax. Is a Kelly Johnson/Brian Roberts platoon at second base as good as Cano in theory? No, but with all the other improvements the Yankees have made, it could be perfectly fine. Remember, this is a team that turned scrap heap pickups like Scott Brosius into heroes. Let’s re-visit this in, say, 2020 when Cano is 37 and see how well he did in Seattle and how well the Yankees did without him.

Me: What are your day-to-day responsibilities like (during baseball season)? How are they different during the offseason? 
Lou: My official title is content editor, and there is no such thing as a “typical” day in my world, so I always answer this question with this statement: My day-to-day responsibility is to react to my surroundings and create, gather, or facilitate content for our website in any way I need to.
Some days, I’m at the Stadium or Barclays Center, where my main function is the same as any other beat writer but I may be called upon to help our video team shoot something, or do some research for our production crew, or anything else the team needs. Some days I’m in the office, where I could be writing, or cropping photos, or collating four sets of picks for the This Week in Football yearly pick ‘em contest, or recording podcasts/helping create video content with Doug Williams. And some days I’m on location doing various things. Such is life.
During the Yankees offseason the chaos dies down a little bit as we switch our focus to the Nets or the NFL or other topics, but as this winter has already proven, there’s still plenty of Yankees-related activity to worry about! 

Me: How did you get to where you are today? 
Lou: A lot of hard work, a good bit of talent, and a little luck! My boss at was my boss at a previous job, and even though I wasn’t the easiest person to work with at times, he knew my capabilities and asked me to come to YES when an opportunity arose. There’s a good piece of life advice in there too: even if you hate where you are, always try to make a good impression with your work and never bite the hand that feeds, because you never know who is watching.

Me: We now live in a social media world. How important is it to you to interact with fans/readers? 
Lou: Very! I always try to answer commenters on my articles or Twitter followers when and where I can. Obviously I won’t react to people who bash my work and there are some subjects I can’t or won’t discuss, but on the whole, I’m never averse to a good back and forth discussion or unwilling to answer questions/give opinions/etc. And, to me, it’s a trip that complete strangers actually care about what I say; I prefer to keep my private life private so I won’t ever necessarily open up my Facebook to people or anything (I might make exceptions), but if I put something out there in my “public” persona, it’s fair game. 
Really, I think that in today’s world, that’s an important part of building trust with the fanbase. You’re not always going to be the one to break news, but if you build a rapport with your audience, it will be easier to keep eyes on your work no matter what. 

Me: Do you think the Yankees have a legitimate shot, even as early as it is in the offseason, at the World Series in 2014? 
Lou: Of course. They still have some holes, but they’ve made a lot of big improvements offensively, and have guys in the system who may not be sexy but are capable of being back-end rotation starters.

Me: I do not know if you read the blog much but Daniel Burch has made it his life's mission, and the blogs mission, to forgive all steroid users. What are your thoughts on steroid users, their chances for the Hall of Fame, and Alex Rodriguez specifically? 
Lou: I know nothing more about any specific players, and won’t comment on A-Rod until/unless everything is known and his fate is decided. I think what MLB is doing with the joint drug agreement is good and a necessary step for the health of the game.

Me: Is Andy Pettitte a starting pitcher? 
Lou: Yes! And a darn good one, too!

Me: Who is your favorite Yankee fan? (There is only one right answer)
...I may have been fishing for compliments at this point  
Lou: There’s this girl who follows me on Twitter that’s a very passionate fan, and she’s pretty cute, too, so I’d have to say her. Or Billy Crystal.

Me: Can I Pettitte? 
Lou: If you ask nicely, maybe!

Follow him on twitter @LouDiPietroYES and maybe if you're nice (and lucky), he'll answer your questions too. 

Yankees Stadium Legacy: #92 Hideki Matsui (Again)

Hideki Matsui was considered a rookie in 2003 and he led all Major League players with 163 games played. Matsui actually played in 518 consecutive games to begin his Major League career which was a MLB record. Matsui's strong and clutch bat drove in over 100 runs in each of his first three seasons putting his name on the map for the New York Yankees.

92 games until Opening Day.

This Day In New York Yankees History 12/30

On this day in 2002 Roger Clemens signed a one year deal worth $10.1 million with the Yankees at age 40. Clemens was coming off of a 13-6 season with a 4.35 ERA and states that this would probably be his last season. The six time Cy Young Award winner was only seven wins shy of 300 victories for his career.