Our next Pinch Hitter is Alex Bleiweis, a sophomore studying history at the University of Maryland. He co-hosts a sports talk show for the university radio station called Quahog Pizza, which can be heard at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays at wmucsports.com.
Alex says being a Yankees fan runs in the family — his grandfather was born while the old Yankee Stadium was under construction — but experiences away from the Bronx have left him questioning some of the Yankee fan experience.
I have been a Yankees fan all my life, however, after going away to college during the 2009 championship season and being exposed to other baseball markets, I’ve realized that there’s a lot to complain about as a Yankees fan. Sure, it’s always nice to root for a team that puts a great product on the field, but since the opening of the new Yankee Stadium, it’s become more and more frustrating to root for a team that treats its fans so poorly.
As a student at the University of Maryland, I have been immersed in the surprisingly boisterous fan base of the Washington Nationals. With a state of the art stadium and the prospects of slowly climbing up the ranks of the N.L. East, people in the area are oddly excited about the team’s potential.
Because the games are on TV locally and the stadium is so accessible, I’ve adopted the lowly Nationals as my team away from home. I still pay attention to the Yankee Universe on a daily basis but have found it enjoyable to follow another team and familiarize myself with the likes of Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina. I’ve also enjoyed going to a stadium where the employees are courteous and accommodating to their guests — the fans. After experiencing life in Nats-Town, I’ve become severely disappointed in the treatment of fans at Yankee Stadium.
There is no doubt that the Yankees and the Nationals are distinctly different teams. One has 27 World Championships and international fame while the other barely manages to make it onto SportsCenter. But they are still two Major League Baseball teams, and the Yankees should definitely take advice from the Nats when it comes to how to treat their fans at games.
Before I go into detail on my experiences in Washington and in the Bronx, I would first like to dispel some of the arguments that my friends have made when I’ve tried to draw the comparison between the two organizations. I always hear people say that the Nationals stink and pampering the few who actually show up on game day is the only way to maintain a fan base and make a profit. Others have said that since nobody shows up to the games, the employees are less strict and don’t really keep control of the fans like they do in New York. Both of these arguments fall short, as explained through these experiences.
• At a SOLD-OUT exhibition game against the Red Sox in Washington, my friend and I were in line to buy a pretzel at a concession stand. Just before we reached the front of the line, the stand sold out. Instead of sending us on a long search for food (which, by the way, is substantially less expensive than it is in New York), we were given a free bag of roasted nuts while we waited for more pretzels to be brought to the stand. We were perfectly content to wait, as we stood in the concourse with a good view of the game and had a bag of free food (every college kid’s dream). I could never imagine that happening in the Bronx, where the ultimate goal is to make money, more so than to make patrons happy.
• A week later when I went to Nationals Park for an opening series game against the Phillies, where 27,000 fans showed up, my friends and I were treated to another pleasant surprise. While walking around the stadium to explore it a little, an usher actively invited my friends and I to sit in the section that he was assigned to, which was two levels closer to the field than the upper-deck seats we had purchased. There was no need to get bodies closer to the field for TV or PR purposes, as some have suggested, because the stadium was already relatively full. It was simply a kind jester on the part of a Nationals employee who had a few empty seats and noticed a handful of eager baseball fans. Not only could I not imagine this event happening in New York, but I have, in fact, experienced the exact opposite treatment, as I’ll explain.
These are just two examples out of many of where the Nationals go out of their way to please their guests and show a great interest in making sure that their experience is as memorable as possible. They go the extra mile even when it’s not necessary. I contrast that with the following experience at Yankee Stadium and it has led me to become almost hesitant to continue going to games in the Bronx.
• At a game this past summer against the Angels, in which the Yankees were destroyed 10-2, my three friends and I felt mistreated by the Yanks. With the team trailing by 8 runs in the later innings of the game, the Stadium had emptied almost completely and only a small fraction of the 47,000-person crowd remained. A majority of these fans were in the upper deck, like I was, which is apparently where the true fans are relegated to sitting in the new ballpark. After watching our favorite team get clobbered for three hours, we decided to head down to the lower level for the ninth inning so that we could bolt to the train station as soon as Frank Sinatra starting blaring through the stadium. For the first time, I was grateful that the Yankees decided to build a stadium with open concourses so that I could catch the game while standing by the exits, but this was not to be. An usher, who was diligently guarding a literally EMPTY section behind home plate, made it her personal business to rid the lower level of the ballpark from the mere peasants. We were not even attempting the blowout ritual of moving up to the better seats when the fake fans left. However, this usher continued to harass us and attempted to move us out of the concourse. She was aggressive and rude, as were the ushers around her who swarmed in to support her cause. We were only standing next to the concession stands, not even in the ticketed section that she was guarding, yet she continued to push us away until Derek Jeter bounced into a game ending double play. This stood in stark contrast to my experience in D.C.
When an usher actively prevented my friends and I from standing behind a completely empty section while the Yankees were down by 8 runs in the 9th inning, I realized that I had been spoiled by the usher who actually invited me to move down to better seats in a crowded April game in Washington. Although I wrote a letter to the Yankees explaining my feeling that fans who are loyal enough to stay till the last out should be treated better, I never got a response.
Would it kill the Yankees to allow fans to move up when a section is completely empty? If they can’t because we haven’t paid for access to the section, could they at least let fans be when they’re standing in the open concourse? I thought the point of that architectural design was to allow this exact sort of access. As an innocent adolescent, I never cared about how the fans were treated at the stadium.
However, now that I’m older and I’m a paying customer, it has become more enjoyable for me to go to a ballgame in Washington than in New York, which is incredibly disappointing. While the Nats will trail the Yankees in wins for many years to come, the Yankees trail the Nationals in giving their fans a great experience. If the Yankees want to truly maintain greatness, they should aspire to be more like my adopted team, and be willing to go out of their way to improve the ballpark experience.
Associated Press photo