The sad plight of the baseball fan


Growing up in Mahopac, N.Y., my first best friend was a kid named John Faitakes, who has gone on to do great things as a high school teacher.

Earlier today John e-mailed me a letter his brother Ed wrote to the local newspaper. I thought it was extremely telling, and Ed gave me the OK to run it here.

For the record, this sort of thing isn’t exclusive to the Yankees or Mets or Red Sox. It’s the nature of sports in America, where the fan is charged more and more while being allowed significantly less access than ever before. I’ve seen it gradually reach this point, and it truly stinks.

Also, I don’t think ballplayers are required by any law of decency to always sign autographs. But I am sickened every time I see these guys jog into the dugout without even glancing toward the stands—a wave, a smile, a nod, a “I can’t sign right now, but I appreciate y’all coming out.”

Anyhow, here’s Ed:

In the 1970’s I used to go to a lot of Yankee games with my dad. He loved the stadium and the Yanks. We would drive to The Bronx to visit my grandparents or aunt Mary and Uncle Bill. We’d leave the car and hop the subway to the stadium. We would usually get there early for batting practice. The thrill for a child my age was when the players would come to the wall and shake hands and sign anything the kids could throw at them. They were good guys and role models. Dad’s been gone for a while now but some of my fondest memories as a child were with him at the stadium.

Fast forward to 2007.

It’s my turn to take my son to his first Yankee game and make our own fond memories. Leo is a BIG fan. Posters hang in his wall. Pictures and baseball cards of just Yankees fill the binder he cherishes and hides in the bottom drawer in his closet. The summers are filled with Yankees this and Yankees that. He is your typical boy from NY who loves his Yanks.

So in mid May of 2007 and with Jeter jersey on Leo’s back we go to the stadium early to see batting practice and get some stuff signed like I did as a child. The car ride is spent explaining why we are going 3 hours early so we can see batting practice and meet the Yanks like I did as a kid with my dad. Oh the memories we would make today. So we park our car for the usual $20 (ok no biggie). As we walk to the stadium we dodge into the various Yankee souvenir shops to shop the goods. Entering each threshold my 7 year old son’s eyes light up with the splendor of all the Yankee Merchandise. I tell him “Today is your first Yankee game. You can get whatever you want pal (like my dad used to call me)”. Mini bat, foam finger, ball, shirt …….the list was long.

All the merch in hand we head to the gate. Leo can’t stop talking about how he can’t wait to meet Jeter, Arod, Jorge maybe even Pettitte!!! I approach the gate and hand over $350 worth of tickets. Yep. Old stadium with new stadium prices. You see I couldn’t get tickets. So I had to go to ebay where I paid top dollar to a guy with season tickets who probably wasn’t even a fan; just a business man. No biggie. We were there to meet the Yanks and get autographs!!! This is going to be the best day of my son’s life to and proudest as a dad to take my son to meet his idols and get autographs. As we enter the stadium we go right to the wall between 3rd and home. Already there are a lot of kids watching practice. They eagerly wait for Derek to come over and say hi and sign the gloves, balls, hats or Jerseys that they paid $100 dollars for at Modell’s on the way to the stadium.

With wide eyes and a huge smile on his face, the boy watches as Derek, A-rod and all the rest of his idols stretch, hit and field balls. The sun is shining, a cool breeze is blowing and these larger than life figures have popped off the television and are now right in front of this overly excited child. He is in his glory. It IS a perfect day.

It’s getting close to game time so the “Boys of Summer” start heading to the dugout. It’s time. Here they come. Sharpies at the ready, all the kids with their proud and happy dads call out to the boys as they pass by. And that’s just what they did. Pass by. Heads down careful not to make eye contact with any of these kids. The same kids whose parents, no doubt, shell out thousands a year in tickets, dogs, parking, shirts, hats, calendars, cards and all the other items that their kids feel bring them a little closer to their idols. Nothing. They pass by without so much as a wave. Jete, A-rod, all of them. Ghost into the dugout and out of site. My son turns to me and says “Dad. I thought you said I was going to meet Jeter today and get his autograph.”

My memory flashes. Was I mistaken? Did I really not shake Bucky’s hand when I was a kid? Did Graig Nettles not sign my program? I was sure they did. Of course they did. I was baffled. These are kids. These are the people that pay the $27.5 million a year that A-rod makes. Surely he can stop and at least say hi. A wave while you pass by? Nope. Nothing. Nada. My boy was so disappointed. Sulking with his head low we head to our seats which, for $175 per ticket, weren’t that good. We had a great day non-the less.

Yanks lost but Leo ate lots of popcorn, leaned on my shoulder and filled out his program as only a kids could by coloring in the bases with every hit. All in all it was a sensational day.

I wonder how I could be so naïve. After about a second of thought it hit me on the drive home. Signing autographs is big business. They can’t just GIVE those things out. They need to get paid!!! I guess the millions they make aren’t enough. I guess disappointing children and shattering their dream of meeting their idols and getting their autograph is another cost of doing business.

So here you go people.

Here is why my son’s day was a little less than perfect as illustrated in today’s Journal News.

BTW: I spent almost $700 that day. To me it was worth every penny to relive my part of my childhood through my father’s eyes. Although I am now a little less of a Yankee fan than I was at the beginning of that day.