Special Opening Day

I went to my first Yankees Opening Day in 1978, at the ripe young age of 10. Since then, I have missed exactly two. I didn’t go to a game for the entire 1984 season because I was irate that the Yankees traded Graig Nettles, the No. 9 in 9nine9. And I missed Opening Day in 1995 because I had just started a new job less than two weeks earlier.

2009 Opening Day, Yankee Stadium

2009 Opening Day, Yankee Stadium

Opening Day is always special to me, and I sometimes think my butterflies are worse than whatever the players are experiencing. The date is stamped in my mind the minute the schedule comes out, and I always have trouble sleeping the night before.

Today was an extra special Opening Day. After all, how many chances do you get in your lifetime to be at the very first official game in a brand-new ballpark?

In true Yankee fashion, the opening ceremonies were over the top. Bernie Williams, who is delusional enough to think he can still play in the majors, played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the guitar, and did it well. John Fogerty, who looked about 81, did a horrible job lip-syncing “Centerfield.” Kelly Clarkson sang the national anthem, and she has apparently been living the good life, as part of her ass was in the right-handed batters’ box and the other part was in the left-handed batters’ box.

In between “Centerfield” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a plethora of former Yankees were introduced.

The all-time greats made sense: Yogi Berra (who threw out the ceremonial first pitch), Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Don Larsen, Nettles, Paul O’Neill, Willie Randolph, Mickey Rivers, Moose Skowron, Mel Stottlemyre, Dave Winfield.

The recent favorites also made sense: David Cone, Chili Davis, Tino Martinez, Luis Sojo, David Wells, Williams.

But the Yankees were apparently desperate to fill a quota. How else could you explain including John Flaherty, who does a decent job in the broadcast booth but was a marginal backup catcher for a couple of seasons? Or Lee Mazzilli, who was a Yankee for about 27 minutes and is far better known as a Met? Or Jesse Barfield, who was a very good player on some very, very bad teams?

As for the game, CC Sabathia struggled horribly with his command, but the Yankees still managed to get to the top of the seventh inning tied 1-1, thanks to some clutch defense and the new ballpark’s first home run, off the bat of Jorge Posada. Then, thanks to the horrific pitching of Jose Veras and Damaso Marte, 1-1 became 10-1 in quick and bloody fashion, and the final score was 10-2, Indians.

Still, despite the loss, Opening Day is always a great experience. I joke (and I’m not sure how much of a joke it is, because I’m actually pretty serious) about how Opening Day is my only religious holiday. It’s always been the most special day of the year for me, and breaking in the new Yankee Stadium made today extra special.

I’ll be back in the ballpark tomorrow afternoon, hoping that Joba Chamberlain can get the Yankees back on track.

God, I love baseball season!

2009 Opening Day, Yankee Stadium

2009 Opening Day, Yankee Stadium

Opening Day? Fail! Dinner at Waffle House? Win!

In my ongoing quest to take advantage of the free time I have due to being unemployed, I did something I’ve never done in my illustrious career as a baseball fan: I went to Yankees Opening Day on the road.

The good news is that I showed up. The bad news is that most of the Yankees didn’t.

Yankees and Orioles line up for Opening Day

Yankees and Orioles line up for Opening Day

The drive to Baltimore started in silence — one hour of silence, to be exact. It turns out that when I got the transmission fixed on my car, they obviously had to disconnect the battery. When the battery is disconnected, it activates an incredibly annoying security feature in my car stereo that requires inputting a five-digit code before it will work again. If three attempts are unsuccessful, the stereo locks up. My mechanic apparently tried three times, and the only way to unlock the stereo is to drive for one hour with the system on, so I had no tunes until I was nearly off the New Jersey Turnpike.

Lack of audio aside, I pretty much drove through car-wash-like sheets of rain for the entire trip, but on the bright side, there was very little traffic, as only a moron would drive from Hoboken to Baltimore for a baseball game in that kind of weather.

Weather.com was dead-on, though. It stopped raining literally seconds before I parked my car, and the precipitation held off, other than a half-hour shower right before game time, which delayed the start a bit.

My first stop was Pratt Street Ale House, an outstanding brewpub a couple of blocks from the ballpark. It used to be known as Wharf Rat. My visit there consisted of a pint of outstanding porter, a pint of decent stout, another pint of porter and some good-natured ribbing from Orioles fans, whom I affectionately refer to as Baltimorons.

Then I entered Oriole Park at Camden Yards and headed straight for Boog’s BBQ and the pit beef platter. I’m drooling just thinking about it.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Orioles fans are lucky. Camden Yards was built just before suites and luxury boxes became the top priority for a ballpark. As impressed as I was with the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, frankly, I’d take Camden Yards over either one of them. Of course, neither of the New York ballparks has something like the warehouse building to work with, and, as I mentioned in my blog about Citi Field, the Yankees were trying to keep attributes of both previous renditions of Yankee Stadium prominent. But Camden Yards set the standard for the wave of new ballparks, and it’s still a special place to catch a ballgame.

My seats were also in a great area that has no counterpart in either New York stadium. It’s called club seating, but it’s nothing like the various clubs and suites in Yankee Stadium or Citi Field. For $50, I sat in the first row down the right field line — very decent vantage point — and had access to a climate-controlled indoor concourse area with various restaurants, bars and its own bathrooms. I first sat there on a 102-degree Sunday a few years ago, so I welcomed the air-conditioning break. Of course, Baltimore is going to be cheaper than New York, but neither the Yankees nor the Mets offer anything resembling this value.

Anyway, everything was great until the game started. CC Sabathia had nothing and the Yankees’ bullpen had even less. In a mirror image of too many games last season, the Yankees stranded 10 base runners and wasted numerous opportunities. Final score: Orioles 10, Yankees 5.

Dinner, Waffle House-style!

I figured I’d break up the three-hour-plus drive home with a stop for dinner, likely at one of the fast-food restaurants in a rest stop on I-95. Then, a stroke of genius occurred: WAFFLE HOUSE!

I absolutely love Waffle House and would probably weigh more than a circus elephant if there were any locations in New Jersey. In fact, the woman behind the counter told me the company explored expanding into the Garden State but didn’t do it because the way they clean their dishes doesn’t conform to New Jersey’s regulations. This made me sort of nervous, but it’s been more than 24 hours and I haven’t dropped dead yet.

After a waffle the size of a small pizza, scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon and toast, I bid goodbye to Maryland and headed back home, defeated but full.

Mmmm … Waffle House!

Waffle House

Waffle House

How does Ticketmaster get away with this crap?

Ticketmaster has been in the news quite a bit lately, and for all of the wrong reasons. Yet, despite the rhetoric of performers, venues and lawmakers, nothing ever seems to be done about all of its wrongdoings.

Ticketmaster SUCKS

Ticketmaster SUCKS

When tickets for the upcoming tour by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band went on sale in February, potential ticket buyers, myself included, were left out in the cold. It seems that Ticketmaster conveniently decided to perform “routine maintenance” seconds after tickets to see one of the most popular artists in the world were made available for sale. But fear not, fans of The Boss: Tickets were available through TicketsNow, an online ticket broker selling seats at 10 times their face value. In a shocking coincidence, would anyone care to take a guess which company owns TicketsNow? If you guessed Ticketmaster, you are correct, but you win nothing.

Then, as if the entire process of trying to get Yankees tickets for the 2009 season hasn’t been enough of a fiasco, I read about this gem on a blog called New Stadium Insider. Apparently, a potential customer shelled out $900 for a ticket for Opening Day (don’t even get me started on the Yankees’ ticket prices), only to go through the Ticketmaster process and find that he was given a completely different ticket, nowhere near as good as his original seat, while the original ticket was relisted at $2,650. Someone spending $9 on a ticket should be entitled to the location they were promised, much less someone spending $900.

Then this morning, a good friend whom I had e-mailed information about a presale for U2 tickets informed me that Ticketmaster was pulling the exact same scam for U2 that it did for Springsteen — saying the site was down for maintenance and directing people to TicketsNow. Unreal.

Those three examples aside, anyone who has ever tried to get tickets has experienced the following scenario. Say, hypothetically, tickets to see Rush become available at 10 a.m. Why is it that upon getting through to the Ticketmaster system at 15 seconds after 10 a.m., the only seats available in a 20,000-seat arena are in the upper sections? Are we expected to believe that 12,000 or so of the 20,000 seats were sold in 15 seconds? Yet, should you surf to any online ticket broker, the prime seats that were never made available to you are mysteriously right there for the taking — at several times face value, naturally.

I really wish more performers, teams and operators of venues would follow the lead of Pearl Jam 15 years ago and fight Ticketmaster in every way possible. It’s sad that Pearl Jam tried to take a stand in 1994 and, 15 years later, the situation has gotten worse, not better.

Ticketmaster should be brought to its knees. Will anyone have the guts to do it? I doubt it.

Unemployment Nine: Taking advantage of my freedom

My frustrations with being unemployed have been pretty well chronicled by now. But with the approach of warm weather and baseball season, while my job hunt may still suck, things are taking a turn for the better in terms of fun activities to keep myself busy.

Riu Palace Las Americas, Cancun

Riu Palace Las Americas, Cancun

Naturally, I will stay vigilant on my search for a new job. And as much fun as the stuff I’m about to discuss will be, I’d rather be employed. But it’s time to start taking advantage of the kind of time off I likely won’t have again until after I retire.

Tomorrow, I will attend the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the first time in years. Thanks to a good friend, I’ll be in one of the viewing stands, which I’ve never done.

Next Thursday, my girlfriend and I leave for a long weekend in Cancun, at the Riu Palace Las Americas. I can already taste the tropical drinks at poolside.

Then, after arriving back in the States, hopefully with a tan, it’s time for baseball.

First, the Yankees will hold a workout at the new Yankee Stadium, open to full-season-ticket holders, April 2. Why not? I might as well make my first trip to the new ballpark.

Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium

The following night, I have tickets for the Cubs-Yankees exhibition game.

Then, if I can get a cheap ticket, Saturday afternoon, April 4, I may try to go to the Red Sox-Mets exhibition game at the new ballpark in Queens, Citi Field. I really don’t care where I sit, so I’ll take any ticket. I just want to see another new stadium.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

The Yankees open the regular season Monday, April 6 in Baltimore, and I was able to get face-value tickets via Ticketmaster, so I’m going to a road Opening Day for the first time ever. The game time is perfect: 4:05 p.m., which means I can leave at a reasonable hour and give myself plenty of time to enjoy Inner Harbor food (crab cakes!) and microbrews (Wharf Rat Porter) before gametime, and still get home at a reasonable hour.

Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium is Thursday, April 16, and the Yankees and Indians also have a day game scheduled the following day.

Barring lightning striking during this dull job search, I hope to attend all of those. I’d never be able to do all of this stuff if I were employed.

So I guess there is some good to being out of work, after all. But in a perfect world, I’d start a new job Monday, April 20.