I have been a Yankee fan ever since I discovered baseball. Babe Ruth? Mickey Mantle? I wanted to root for THAT team. Even when I turned nine and realized they were no longer on the current roster, I stayed hooked. Despite the team’s persistent mediocrity during my 1980s childhood, I remained steadfast. Despite family apathy (e.g, “What do you want for your birthday?” “I wanna go to a Yankee game!” “What ELSE do you want for your birthday?”), despite spending so many years living in the American League West, despite the challenge of studying in Boston, where my Red Sox fan classmates routinely harassed me for my baseball affections, I’ve stayed true to my team.
And yet my loyalty has never been as undermined as it was this past June, when I made a pilgrimage to the venerable old Yankee Stadium to see my last game there — and was so disgusted by how the team treated its fans as to refuse to return to any Yankee Stadium unless and until things change.
The indignities are first encountered at the entrance gates. Immediately after September 11 stadiums across the country immediately invoked lots of onerous restrictions on attendees. Bags might be ok, but not backpacks. Perhaps in the immediate wake of the attacks that kind of overreaction might be forgiven, as we came to terms with what had happened and what our future risk might be. But security theater is security theater — pointless exercises of invasive authority with no actual correlation to any significant amelioration of risk. Fortunately many venues have since backed off from the most extreme and pointless interdictions. But not the Yankees.
While other stadiums have adapted to restrictions that more obviously bear on fans’ ability to enjoy the event (e.g., banning overly bulky bags but not all bags and backpacks altogether, or forbidding specific objects — like projectile-size fruit — that fans have been known to cause trouble with) the Yankees’ restrictions are calculated to have the most deleterious effect on fans’ enjoyment as possible.
All bags, at least those large enough to be of any utility, are banned. (Moreover, they’re banned arbitrarily. My friend was able to bring in her tiny handbag, while I was prohibited from bringing in my even smaller one because it didn’t look enough like a purse.) Sunscreen, another necessary item for a day out in the sun, has also been banned for no apparent reason other than to allow the Yankees to sell it for a premium inside the turnstiles.
Then, on top of all the inconvenience and invasiveness of these so-called “security” measures, there’s also the unlawful imprisonment when the Yankees prohibit their patrons’ movement during certain periods of the game. At the game I went to I saw them throw up chains across the aisles during the Seventh Inning Stretch to prevent people from moving about — you know, actually stretching — and now comes reports of the assault and expulsion of people who dared to anyway.
As a Yankee fan I’m familiar with the frequent grumbling by fans of other teams that the Yankees are some sort of an evil empire taking over baseball. I’ve shrugged it off because they were always my hometown team. It’s not anyone’s fault that it just happened to be a very large and lucrative hometown.
And, of course, as a fan of the *team* I’ve often not been a fan of the Yankees’ upper-management and its frequently team-destroying behavior.
But what the Yankees management is doing now goes way beyond bad team management. It’s an assault on its fans and the public, which is quite ironic given the way it tries to position itself as “America’s Team.” In the wake of 9/11 the country tuned into Yankee games as a tangible sign of New York’s triumph over terror, and joined in the singing of “God Bless America” at them as an exaltation of America’s healing. Yet now, years later, the song has become permanently installed at Yankee Stadium as mandatory dogma one must stand reverentially for, despite such a rule being completely anathema to the freedom America supposedly stands for.
Despite my long-standing love of the team, I love my freedom even more, and I will not subject myself further to the Yankees’ gratuitous abuse of it. I encourage everyone else, Yankee fan or not, to refuse to let them do the same to you too.