The Big Apple served up a supersized slice of baseball history last week when the Mets and Yankees opened their brand-spanking-new ballparks, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium. ESPN SportsTravel went undercover to scout out New York's newest digs, eschewing the ease of media access for the authenticity of the fan's experience, right down to scrounging around for scalped tickets.
It didn't take long for either place to begin filling in the history books. In fact, it took exactly one at-bat at Citi Field, as the San Diego Padres' Jody Gerut bashed a home run -- the first leadoff homer hit in a stadium's first game. The Padres played the role of spoilers well, going on to win 6-5.
The Mets rebounded to win Game 2, beating the Padres 7-2 on April 15, when Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day and every player on all 30 teams wore Robinson's No. 42. The Mets paid special homage to the man who broke baseball's color barrier: Jackie's widow, Rachel, was on hand to dedicate the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, Citi Field's main entrance hall. Fans stream into this beautiful tribute to the Brooklyn Dodgers legend through a front façade that is modeled after the Bums' old home, Ebbets Field.
On Thursday, the Yankees were looking to extend their major league record of 11 straight wins in home openers. The past two American League Cy Young Award winners, Yankees free-agent prize CC Sabathia (2007) and Cleveland Indians ace Cliff Lee (2008), waged a classic pitchers' duel, leaving the score knotted at 1 entering the seventh inning, when both had exited the game.
But as is often the case on Broadway, a stunning reversal was lurking right around the corner.
The pitchers' duel devolved into a one-sided slugfest as the Indians slaughtered a slew of Yankees relievers to score nine runs in the top of the seventh.
The historic first round of boos rained down on Yankees reliever Jose Veras, who gave up Jhonny Peralta's two-run double that broke the tie and opened the floodgates. The boos grew more lusty when Grady Sizemore launched a grand slam off Damaso Marte to make it 9-1, and when Victor Martinez hit another homer two batters later, the Yankees faithful were reduced to sarcastically chanting "We want Swisher!" (Outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher had pitched a scoreless eighth inning on April 13 in mop-up duty against the Tampa Bay Rays, who had depleted the Yankees' bullpen en route to a 15-5 beatdown.)
The seventh-inning stretch morphed into a twisted conga line as disgusted Yankees fans began to vacate their seats and head for the exits en masse. It was hard to believe that a mere three hours earlier, it took a minor miracle for ESPN SportsTravel to even be in a position to witness the exodus that left the stadium all but empty by the bitter end of the 10-2 blowout.
At 11 a.m., two full hours before the first pitch, tickets were nowhere to be found. It was the ultimate seller's market, with insatiable demand dwarfing a seemingly nonexistent supply. But there were no sellers, no one willing to be separated from the precious ticket that would grant a glimpse of baseball history. Countless numbers of ticketless Yankees fans were milling around the stadium, searching in vain for an extra seat or two. Fans advertised their need by flashing signs, or holding two fingers to the sky, or simply asking every passerby, "Got tickets?"
Yet there wasn't a single scalper to be found. Not by the subway exits, not in the parking lots, not near any of the stadium gates, not in the surrounding streets. Hundreds were lined up at the game-day ticket-sales window -- a few fanatics having arrived at 1:30 a.m. to be at the front -- for a limited offering of seats, which weren't released until just after the game had begun. But the patient hope of many of these fans eventually turned to dismay, as the cheapest of the seats went for $500.
Just as your humble(d) correspondent completed his fourth or fifth fruitless circuit around the stadium, to the subway and back to the ticket windows, four F-16 fighter planes flew by overhead, signaling the impending start of the game. Suppressing the urge to storm the gates, I wandered over to McDonald's, all but resigned to failure. Desperate thoughts were racing through my mind:
Stupid authenticity why didn't I just get a press pass? What am I gonna tell my editor? A dog ate my ticket?
And, then, the tide turned in a New York minute.
I spotted a 20-something guy talking on a cell phone and holding two tickets. I asked whether he was selling.
"Well, no," he said. "They're already sold, but I'm having trouble meeting up with the buyer."
When I pointed out the game had already started, he grimaced knowingly. The first rule in scalping is that buyer's patience pays off: Tickets lose much of their value once the game is under way. He told me that if his buyer didn't materialize in another six or seven minutes, he would be willing to sell me the tickets -- not one, but both -- for $1,000 total.
At this point, I wasn't sure whether I wanted the buyer to show or not. Another fan had overheard our conversation and offered to go halves with me. I was just desperate enough to be willing to throw down $500, because the legitimacy of this story seemed to be at stake. I didn't have much time to think it over, however. As soon as my potential partner had scurried off to hit up the ATM, the buyer appeared. The broker handed him the tickets and disappeared.
"Hey, man," I said to the buyer, "I'm sure you're using both of those, right?"
"No, I'm by myself," he said, clearly annoyed. "I've been here for more than an hour, waiting for my ticket. I paid my guy $350 a month ago and he promised me a ticket for Opening Day, and now I missed the ceremonies."
"Do you want to sell me your extra?" I asked.
"Yeah, why not? Just give me a hundred bucks for it."
With that, I handed five $20s to my angel in a Joba Chamberlain jersey and a Yankees cap.
"You're a lifesaver, bro," I said. "Let me buy you a beer. I'm Dan."
"Nice to meet you, Frank."
"Nice to meet you, too."
We shook hands, then rushed to enter the stadium through Gate 6, barely glancing at the banners of Yankees legends hanging in the Great Hall. I bought the first round as promised on the way to our seats: Section 122, Row 27, Seats 1 and 2. Field level, just a bit up the third-base line from home plate, face value $375 each. Wow. We sat down just in time to see Robinson Cano single to lead off the bottom of the second.
As the game unfolded, we got to know each other.