Back when I worked as an educational tour guide, my bread and butter was leading high school trips to New York City.
It goes without saying that there are lots of awesome things to do in New York, so you can imagine that no two trips were ever the same. But there WAS one quintessential New York experience that groups requested more than almost anything else: a trip up to the Bronx for a Yankees game. I love baseball, and Yankee Stadium is so inextricably woven into the mythology of the game that I can’t help feeling a thrill of excitement every time I find myself under its big, bright floodlights.
On one trip, I took a particularly sporty group of Toronto kids to see a game. They were a great bunch, and I was thrilled to be able to share the experience with them. But this time around, I found my excitement clouded by a sense of unease.
For one, our tickets were for “The Bleachers”, the one area of Yankee Stadium in which you couldn’t buy a beer. I’m sure the teachers who booked the trip thought it was a great place to seat a bunch of minors under your protection, but unbeknownst to them, the Yankees fans who buy bleacher tickets generally get their whole night’s drinking done before they get to the stadium.
Combine that with the fact that the Yankees were hosting the Toronto Blue Jays that night, and you’ll understand what I was feeling. My uneasiness deepened as I brought up the rear and realized that one of the students had unfurled a Canadian flag. In the rest of the stadium it would have earned him some loud, good-natured ribbing. In The Bleachers, though, the ribbing took on a more sinister overtone.
The kids were too excited about the game to notice the rumblings around them, at least at first. I’ll spare you the details of what was said, since I don’t like to speak ill of those who are too drunk to know better. Suffice it to say that eventually the kids (particularly the girls) started to feel decidedly uncomfortable. I felt sick for them; they’d come here to experience one of the best parts of life in New York, and instead they were getting a taste of the worst.
I gave them what I thought was a pretty good pep talk about rising above the negativity, but I wasn’t sure that they’d take my advice. Not entirely convinced of the power of positive thinking myself, I went up for a chat with the very large security guard at the top of the aisle. I figured that if things got ugly, it would be good to have him on our side. He said, and I quote: “I effing hate Yankees fans. I got your backs.”
But to my surprise, the kids took care of their own backs. I saw a few of them put their heads together for a minute, then pass the word to the rest of the group. I watched in amazement as they rose to their feet, put their arms around one another and started singing “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” at the tops of their voices.
The drunken rumblings around us stuttered and then died. A chuckle from a few rows down echoed outward, and soon most of the crowd was laughing, and a few were even singing along. A skinny middle-aged woman staggered over to us, put her arm around me and said “You kids are ALLLLL RIGHT.”
And they were all right. They had a great time at the game, laughing and joking with everyone around them, all bad feelings forgotten. And our Canadian flag flew unopposed for the rest of the night.
As we walked back to our bus after the game, the aforementioned security guard (who insisted on accompanying us to our bus ‘just in case’) said “That was pretty cool. But I still effing hate Yankees fans.”