By Alec Johnson
At dawn the only person outside Yankee Stadium besides the street sweepers was one Chris McCably who waited for the ticket windows to open. He was from, of all places, Boston.
McCably, who co-owns a towing company, had left his home to catch a New York-bound bus at 1 a.m. By 5:20 he was in the city, and soon afterwards had planted himself on a bench between Gates Four and Six.
“I’m a Red Sox fan,” he said, “and I just wanted to experience an opening day and see them get the rings.”
So began the ritual that has taken place every spring since 1923: It was opening day for baseball in the Bronx.
By 7 a.m., McCably stopped chortling about his employees hard at work back in Boston to take note of the fact that he was still the only man on line. “I cannot believe it is this quiet,” he said, before adding the requisite Red Sox fan’s dig. ”In Boston a line would be wrapped around the building for tickets. I’m going to break down and buy a Yankees hat, just as a remembrance. But I won’t put it on my head.”
Soon, a teenage boy walked past and said he usually sells candy inside but because he didn’t have to work today he was hoping to get a ticket and actually watch the game without having to hawk snacks.
By 8 a.m. the Yankee Stadium support staff, numbering more than 2,000, began to assemble on the River Avenue side of the stadium. A line stretched the entire length of the building and cooks, cleaners and merchandise sales people shivered on the gray morning as they waited to go through metal detectors on their way to work. The delay, one said, was a result of everyone being issued new identification cards for the new season.
The Number 4 train rumbled overhead and the back-up beepers of a crew of forklifts echoed across the empty plaza. One deposited boxes packed with t-shirts, baseballs, pennants, pens, refrigerator magnets at a white tent near Gate Six.
The Yankee’s manager, Joe Girardi, zipped into the players’ entrance at 8:25. A few moments later the street sweepers made their last pass. A black Bentley Continental GT with smoked windows and black rims rolled in a few moments later. Joba Chaimberlain rolled down the window and gave a fan a fist bump.
Nearby, Tony Dipitero, who looked as if he had been attending Yankee games since the days of Babe Ruth and who keeps score of every game in a 99-cent spiral notebook chatted with a friend. Dipitero comes to about 60 games a year and usually gets tickets from cops or other people in the neighborhood who recognize him.
“I’ve got my book and my radio,” he said. “If I don’t get tickets maybe I’ll go sit in the bar and listen to the game.”
Derek Jeter arrived at 8:40 and the line of fans and stadium employees was four hundred deep. Jeter drove a shiny black Ford SUV He slowed down long enough to tip a Starbucks coffee cup towards those on line. From behind the tinted glass, it appeared to be a Venti.
“That’s got to be a record for him,” said Dipitero. “Write that down. He’s early today.”
Then, he told his friend, “There’s a guy from Boston waiting for tickets over there. He might get one.”
Over the next half-hour the remaining players arrived in sports cars, SUVs and pick-up trucks with mud flaps. Some drove themselves; some had drivers and others were dropped off by their wives or girlfriends.
Meanwhile, Paulette Williams was waiting to start work on her first day as a cashier. She is training to be a drug counselor and took the stadium job to make some extra money. “This is exciting,” she said. “I love the Yankees.”
Nearby stood Ray Basques, who had traveled from Minnesota for the opener. He is 60 and has been a Yankee fan since he was 10. “Life begins when the season starts,” he said. He held up a disposable camera. “I’m trying to get some pictures of the players.”
Around the corner at the ticket window things were still quiet. It was 9:30 and four men who’d been waiting on line had their tickets. They were not entirely pleased. “I was planning on paying $50,” said John Bruno of New Paltz who has been to some 20 opening days. “But $100, that’s ok. I’m in there.”
By 10 a.m. the smell of lighter fluid permeated the air around a parking garage on River Avenue. Tailgating fans had arrived and were spread thin across the upper level. Some barbecued. A father and son played Wiffle Ball. A group of girls played beer pong on the back of a BMW. A man from New Jersey admitted he was playing hookie from work and wouldn’t give his name.
Meanwhile the crowd was building on the stadium plaza in anticipation for the 11 a.m. gate opening. Swarms of men, women and children, many dressed for a warmer day, mingled and munched on street food as they waited.
Claudio Beltran, 64, wearing a ten-gallon blue straw hat posed for pictures with fans alongside the famed Freddy Schuman, 85, better known by his nickname, Freddy Sez, Freddy held onto his trademark shamrock-painted frying pan as a pack of people took their turns hitting it with a metal spoon for good luck.
At last the gates opened, six hours after Chris McCably had arrived. Fans in blue hats swarmed inside, moving like a school of tightly-packed sardines.
Tony Dipitero was nowhere to be found. He was last seen chatting up a police officer. “Hey Charlie, what’s up?” he had said Dipitero, adding “That’s the cop that hooks me up with tickets.”
(Slide show: Michael Ratliff and Alec Johnson for Bronx Ink)
(Homepage Photo: Michael Ratliff / Bronx Ink)