A Mainer's baseball pilgrimage to NYC

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I visited three special, but very different major league ballparks this summer: Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Citi Field (home of the New York Mets).

Whereas Fenway will be marking its 100th anniversary next season, the two New York ballparks both opened in 2009. Still, there is a lot new about Fenway Park and a lot old about Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.

There have been many improvements at Fenway over the past few years including spectacular new seating areas and enlarged concourses.

The new Yankee Stadium is a modern replica of the original 1923 “House That Ruth Built,” while Citi Field evokes memories of Ebbets Field, abandoned after the 1957 season, when the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles.

The pre- and post-game festivities in the lively Kenmore Square/Fenway Park area offer much more than what is found around either of the New York stadiums. Yankee Stadium does have a convenient new train station, but one must cross a very loud and busy street to reach the entry gates. Citi Field has the most comfortable immediate surroundings of the three stadiums, featuring a wide plaza and an excellent exterior sound system.

I attended Maine Day at Fenway Park on July 24. The Red Sox played Seattle that day and I was permitted on the field before the game. I peered into each dugout, and was pleased to see the Mariners’ usually stoic Ichiro Suzuki laughing with a teammate. Ichiro, a native of Japan, is tied with Pete Rose as the only Major Leaguer to have 200 hits in 10 different seasons. With just 37 games to go as of August 21, the 37-year-old outfielder needs an almost impossible 62 more hits to reach the double century mark for the 11th consecutive year.

In the Boston dugout, Manager Terry Francona was chatting with Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick. McCormick is best known for being shoved to the ground in 2008 by the infamous Manny Ramirez in an argument over Ramirez’s ticket allotment.

I had a trouble-free, five-hour drive from Portland to New York on Aug. 10 en route to the Yankees-Angels game. Once past Hartford, I took the scenic, cars-only, Wilbur Cross/Merritt/Hutchinson River parkways. I parked in Tarrytown and took a pleasant 20-minute train ride along the historic Hudson River to Yankee Stadium.

The trip to Citi Field was much longer, having to travel well past Yankee Stadium and catch the “7 Train” to Willets Point. The train home from Yankee Stadium was full, but not uncomfortably overcrowded, as was the subway ride from the Mets game. Exiting Fenway Park is more relaxing for me, and I enjoy the walk to my usual parking spot around 1100 Beacon Street.

The Yankee fans were a pleasant surprise. They were friendly, down to earth and knowledgeable. Clothed in traditional Yankee navy blue, very few were wearing the fashion colored team apparel seen at Red Sox and Mets games. I enjoyed the “Roll Call” when the Yankees took the field in the top of the first inning. Fans in the bleachers called out the name of each Yankee until they were acknowledged, usually with a tip of the cap.

At one point, a group in front of me attempted to start the wave. “We don’t do that here!” admonished a young man. “Go to Queens and do that,” he said, referring to the Mets stadium. Later, a distant group launched a rather feeble wave, but ironically, I saw no waves at all the next day at Citi Field.

Ticket prices and availability at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium are about the same. Because the Mets are less successful and have fewer marquee players, tickets at Citi Field are not as expensive and easier to get. The Red Sox have sold out every home game since May 15, 2003, while the Yanks are generally at or near capacity. Seats in Fenway’s alcohol-free family section in the left field grandstand cost $76 each, while similar, somewhat more distant seats in Yankee Stadium were $57. Equally good Mets tickets were only $20 for adults and $10 for children.

Our experience was enhanced by arriving before the gates opened, two hours before game time. Early birds are permitted to get close to the playing field at each stadium to watch batting practice, warm-ups and collect autographs. My son Greg did well at Citi Field. Hanging out at third base, he collected half a dozen signatures. The day before at Yankee Stadium, he got just one autograph, but it was from the Angels’ gracious all-star pitcher Dan Haren.

I enjoyed the pregame time checking out the views from various parts of the stadiums. Of special interest were the padded leather box seats at Yankee Stadium and the bridge over the bullpens at Citi Field.

A positive at both New York stadiums was the listing of calorie counts for all food and beverages. Having that information influenced my choices. At Yankee Stadium I passed up the pizza in favor of tasty Boar’s Head sliced turkey on too-chewy bread. My son enjoyed his dish of Spanish rice and chicken. At Citi Field, my veggie burger and his chicken sandwich were bland, until improved by the sautéed onions and tomatoes from the condiment bar.

So which stadium did I enjoy the most?

This time it was Citi Field, the closest National League Park to Maine. I enjoyed the lower-scoring, small-ball, pitcher-bats game. The San Diego Padres, trailing 2-0, scored single runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings; and their All-Star closer Heath Bell shut out the Mets in the ninth for a 3 -2 win. And even Slugger the Sea Dog would have chuckled at the Mets’ grounds crew dancing in sync between innings to “YMCA.”

Seeing the three stadiums within 18 days was a terrific way to get immersed in the game and to share perspectives with three sets of baseball fans. The Red Sox/Yankee rivalry is well known, but I had no idea that most Yankees and Mets fans had so little regard for the other team.

All in all, the experience at each stadium was great, and just different enough to enrich my enjoyment and appreciation for the game of baseball.

Sidebar Elements

Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.

Dan Haren, of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, signs autographs prior to a game at the new Yankee Stadium.