Big Doings at the Big Ballyard


‘We’re waiting in line for tickets that may or may not go on sale,’ Myles Lewis patiently explains to the radio reporter from W-something-some thing-something in Atlanta.

‘Don’t listen to him, he’s a scalper, he’s been divorced three times, arrested I don’t know how many,’ jokes the bearish Peter Barrett, just behind him in the line.

The buzz on this early Monday Bronx morning is that a few of the tickets allotted to the Braves might be released to the general public at some point in the indefinite future. What could be sweeter? Sitting in a seat that had once been reserved for say, Chipper Jones’s maiden aunt, or Jorge Fabregas’s babysitter’s cousin. A chance to camp out behind enemy lines.

“Hey, why don’t you take a walk around the neighborhood?” suggests Lewis to the all-too-gullible man with the mike. “Thanks, that’s just what I’m going to do, man,” he drawls, striding away in search of the beautiful mosaic that is the South Bronx at 10:35 a.m. This impromptu production of Waiting for Godot—they’ll go on sale any minute now, Gogo, I’m sure of it—has generated its own mini media blitz. Ten minutes later, Doug Johnson from WABC-TV asks a few blasé questions, and then strolls off. He’s followed a few minutes later by a relief reporter, a perky blond better suited to working the crowd for some “Whooop-whooop/Go Yankees Go” footage.

“Four-and-oooh-oooh-oooh, four and oooh-oooh-oooh,” chants an obliging Jose Prieto, putting a four-fingered South Bronx spin on the Tomahawk Chop. Bedecked in a Starter Yankee windbreaker and a New Era fitted Yankee cap, he’s the official hard luck case of the line. Last Thursday, he called in sick, got on the ticket line at 2 a.m., and still got shut out of even a wristband. He spent the whole day dialing Ticketmaster. Tennessee. Buffalo. Florida. No luck. On a flyer he comes back to the stadium midafternoon. He works his way to the front of the line. Only $150 seats are left, two-ticket minimum. He’s got $280 in cash. Ouch.

After the camera crew leaves, he sidles up to me. “In the bleachers we’d say, “‘Fuck-the-Br-aaa-aaa-aaves,”‘ he says conspiratorially. “But you can’t say that on TV.”

This bunch is nothing if not media savvy. Barrett pumps out the one-liners like Shecky Greene—”How long will I stay? Until my wife calls or my boss finds out….All those people at Turner Field? They were all TBS employees….The Yankees are a seasonal drug and you can’t go into rehab until after the season”—recycling the same lines, but changing the delivery, tweaking the syntax like Jerry Seinfeld working a tough room.

“John Rocker? We’re gonna rough him up until he looks like the Corvette he crashed,” says Sebastian Korytowsky. The consensus on this one? It needs a little work from a sound-bite perspective.

Around the corner, pursuing a different angle, is a guy in a double-breasted Armani suit, with a pay phone in each ear. “Ticketmaster? They suck,” he howls. “They’re the worst. I’ve been on hold for a fucking half an hour.” He slams the receiver against the stainless steel casing, redials, and returns to the Land of the Blinking Light.

Around yet another corner, a different sort of kvetching goes on. “What’s going on here?” says the guy from FOX as he stands in a credential pick-up line that is, at least for the moment, as inert as the ticket line. “1996, 1998, 1999—three World Series and they still don’t have their act together. I mean, like, why can’t we park in that lot over there? And the cops, don’t they understand that we’re not a bunch of crazy fans? We’ve got a job to do!”

— Inside Yankee Stadium, it’s a different story. Groundskeeper Dan Cunningham is running around doing one of the million little things that turn the House That Ruth Built into the House That Costas Televises. His biggest concern? “The media.” He’s not just busting me. The wiry worker with the wild blond hair has spent the morning reporter-proofing the sidelines. He and his “YMCA”-singing crew are busy laying giant plastic welcome mats around the fringe of the grass and stringing plastic chains around the hand-painted World Series logos—a day’s work that could be ruined by a couple of muddy Warner Wolf footprints.

On the field itself, however, it’s pretty much business as usual. To Cunningham, who can tell who pitched the night before just by looking at the cleat marks on the mound, the eyes of the world are nothing compared to a monthlong drought or Hurricane Hugo. The Long Island Blue Eye turf thrives in these temperate days and cool October nights, and the forecast for the next three days is encouragingly uneventful. “This place pretty much runs itself,” he says modestly.

Any special mowing instructions? A special Fall Classic cut, per haps? “Nah,” he says, looking at me like Lyle Lovett might if I asked about his next hairdo. “Some teams do different funky cuts, but we do a traditional straightaway cut, nothing that’ll make your eye wander.” If you want the kind of moiré pattern that made Turner Field look like the Sea of Tranquility, you’ll have to wait for Game 6.

Cunningham does have a few tricks up his sleeve—some iron and micronutrient packs that will green up the turf without making it shaggy, a second coat of paint on the big interlocking NY behind home plate so it pops out better on television—but by and large the hallowed field gets basically the same treatment on the eve of the Fall Classic as it would for the middle contest of a three-game set against the Kansas City Royals. But foul territory is a different story.

“It’s mixed emotions,” confesses Cunningham’s boss, Kirk Randazzo, director of stadium operations, as he waits for the day’s next brush fire. During his seven years on the job he’s been in charge of everything from figuring out how to mount mikes in the bases (which work fine) to arranging for NYPD helicopters to dry the field (which didn’t work out so well.) “Every time they win a series, you know you have more work.”

As the last of the ropes are strung, the last of the mats secured, everyone looks up from the turf for a moment and seems to remember why we’re all here. El Duque casually trots out from the dugout, wearing tights, a windbreaker, and no cap—getting in his running for a start that might not happen. His leonine grace stands in sharp contrast to the grunt work that’s involved in preparing his stage. And yet the toil doesn’t go unnoticed. On his way back to the dugout, the Yankee ace stops in midstride and greets one of the guys from the grounds crew like a long-lost friend. Big smiles, hearty laughs, a lot of hand gesturing—the language barrier, you know—and finally one of those nice-game, good-job hugs that ballplayers have down to a science. And then it’s back to positioning the screens.

— For all the frantic activity going on in the stadium, by midafternoon inertia still rules in front of the ticket office. They haven’t lost hope completely; the feathers seem to be dropping one by one. “I’m done,” says Korytowsky, who has been hanging out here for the better part of seven hours. “The guy told me, ‘I guarantee there will not be a ticket sold here today.”‘ Barrett insists that he’ll stick it out for a few more minutes, but deep down he knows that he’ll go home empty-handed.

Is it worth it? “If you have to ask that, you’re not a Yankee fan,” he bellows. “You talk to people, you tell stories. It’s the closest thing to the old Dead scene. But even if you get frustrated, you were there.”