I can only remember a handful of times over the last seven or eight seasons that I have been to Yankee Stadium and haven’t sat in the right field bleachers. Vinny Milano is responsible for that.
Milano, known as “Bald Vinny” to Yankees fans, has been the face of the Bleacher Creatures over the last few seasons, helping create an exciting environment in Section 203 (formerly Section 39) at the Stadium. The voice behind roll call in the Bronx and the leader of the “real” fans, Bald Vinny has become the most recognizable Yankees fan around.
Bald Vinny is also recognized for creating some of the best Yankees-related T-shirts (http://www.baldvinny.com) and for making his pregame home at his T-shirt stand on River Ave. before taking his familiar spot in right field. Vinny talked with me about the history behind roll call, his T-shirt business and the state of the Yankees. Here’s a transcript:
Keefe: As the leading voice of the roll call in Section 203, how did roll call come to fruition?
Bald Vinny: Roll call really came about out of boredom. As fans, we never know what players on the field can “actually” hear. We had always shouted out the outfielders (all the way back to the Dave Winfield days), but one afternoon in 1996, someone posed the question: “Hey, do you think we can get Tino Martinez to hear us?” At this point, we would regularly call out to outfielders Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill etc. From there, we just went around the infield, and we wouldn’t stop until we got some sort of response. It just took on a life of it’s own after that, and it became our way to let the players know we were in the house and that we were pumped up and ready to go.
Keefe: Who has been your favorite player name to chant since roll call was established?
Bald Vinny: My favorite player to chant has always been Bernie Williams. Since roll call starts with the center fielder, I got to yell Bernie’s name a lot. So much so, that I would often do a one-man roll call (for Bernie only) at road games. He knew my voice from the “Yo Bernie” intro, and would always tip his cap to me. He loved it so much, that he even asked me to help introduce him to the stage at the Nokia Theater for his album release party.
These days, I love that the guys all have their own responses. It started with Johnny Damon, who would get down on one knee and shoot out “the double-finger point”, and now each guy has his own wave (even if it’s non-descript, like Derek Jeter). It means a lot to me, and the other fans, when you read of new guys coming over and stressing over how to respond like Curtis Granderson did when he wrote a blog about it for MLB.com the day before Opening Day.
Keefe: Since you are the leading man of roll call, and therefore the official starter of the “slow clap” that leads into roll call, is it frustrating when people try to jump the gun and put the clap and roll call in motion before you do?
Bald Vinny: I only get frustrated with people who sit out there who have no clue what roll call is (Thanks, StubHub). As for clapping, I just try to be the one to keep everyone on pace. If people want to clap because they are excited, then they should go for it. Our whole atmosphere is built on making noise, so no one will look at you crooked if you jump on your bench and start screaming. If you try that in the box seats, they look at you like you have two heads! We start with the big yell then everyone follows in because, frankly, it sounds like a mess otherwise! As unruly as we are, even our group needs some organization.
Keefe: There seems to be a lot of “unwritten rules” to sitting in Section 203, like not talking on the phone, participating in “The Wave” or joining into the untimely and awkward chants from Sections 201 and 202. What would you say is the most important “unwritten rule” to follow when sitting in Section 203 among the Bleacher Creatures?
Bald Vinny: I think our biggest un-written rule is “don’t get caught”. The core group of creatures is there on a fairly regular basis (60-plus games a year). We do what we can to police the section so that newbies don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Without blowing up any spots, let’s just say that membership has its privileges, and we don’t let strangers give us a bad name. For the most part, chanting profanities is a big no-no. Our guys know not to do it because then it makes the cops and security keep more of an eye on us because we’re troublemakers. More security means you get away with less, so we do our part to make sure they don’t have more reason than necessary to watch over us.
Keefe: Being the face of the bleachers got you publicity in Filip Bondy’s book Bleeding Pinstripes: A Season with the Bleacher Creatures of Yankee Stadium when he chronicled the 2004 season from Section 39, and it also landed you on the Ultimate Road Trip on the YES Network during the 2005 season. What was the bigger thrill: having a book written about the Creatures or getting to attend all 162 games during the ’05 season?
Bald Vinny: Bondy’s book helped me become the face of the group. We certainly weren’t “big” back then and not many people would really know of us if it wasn’t for Bondy’s coverage, first in the Daily News for a number of years and then the book. That certainly helped get me on the reality show. Both were really great experiences, but going to the Hall of Fame and seeing a book for sale with your face on it is pretty humbling.
Keefe: What was it like to have to sit in box seats during the year and watch the show go on without you?
Bald Vinny: The absolute worst part of the Ultimate Road Trip was not being able to sit in the bleachers. I’ve known most of the people out there for 14 years and consider many to be like my second family. Missing out on the good times was tough, especially because my wife (then girlfriend) would still get to hang with the group while I did Ultimate Road Trip stuff. After the first month or so, they did allow me to work out a deal. There were a few mandatory times that I had to be with the rest of the group, but they would let me sneak into the bleachers for a few innings.
Keefe: Now that you have become a recognizable face around the Stadium through the book and the show, how has that helped your t-shirt business outside the Stadium? What kind of response have you gotten from Yankees fans?
Bald Vinny: The exposure from the book and show has helped my business tremendously. It’s tough for any small business to compete in a large market, and it’s even tougher to compete against the Yankees and Major League Baseball. Fans know that I am a real person trying to accommodate a niche market, and not some corporation trying to exploit the popularity of the group. The “real” fans know that I have put my time in, and have worked tirelessly to promote a positive image for the bleachers as well as my brand. Being on the show really taught me about how passionate Yankees fans are, and I try to capture that passion in my designs. Yankees fans have been very supportive over the years. Without their loyalty, I would have been out of business years ago.
Keefe: How does it feel to have players like Nick Swisher stop by the stand before games and also wear your shirts?
Bald Vinny: It’s even more special when I get the support from players like Swisher and before him, Jason Giambi. I think they realize that I’m trying to build a brand extension of the Yankees franchise, and they “get it.” They know I’m not running some sweatshop that cranks out bootleg tees. Everything is original, and I don’t use any logos or trademarks (which makes design a lot more difficult). When I hear that guys like Swisher wear my tees in the clubhouse or under their uniforms, it’s pretty flattering.
Keefe: Now for some baseball talk. Everyone misses the “Home run, Matsui” chants from Section 203, the Johnny Damon point during roll call and the excitement Melky Cabrera brought to the team. Do you agree with the decisions to not bring either of them back?
Bald Vinny: It’s always tough when the team you support doesn’t re-sign a fan favorite. I’ve followed baseball enough to know that it’s a business, and sometimes players you really like go elsewhere. There are 1,000 disappointed Melky Cabrera fans, but I bet if Javier Vazquez can ever get his act together, he’ll do more for this team than Melky ever could.
Keefe: Have you enjoyed seeing Curtis Granderson in center field and as the new leadoff man for roll call?
Bald Vinny: The good part about being a fan of this franchise is that you know they are going to do their best to replace guys who left. Curtis Granderson is our first legitimate center fielder since Bernie in his prime. It’s a shame he went down with this groin injury, and I hope it doesn’t keep him out too long because I think he’s really going to make an impact this year.
Keefe: How about the new Yankees (or second go-around Yankees) like Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson? I have been an advocate against both guys and so far neither of them has performed up to par, though there is still more reason to believe in Johnson than there seems to be with Vazquez.
Bald Vinny: Nick Johnson was a deal that really didn’t make much sense to me. He’s injury prone, and he’s not going to play first base all that often. For similar money, they could have had Damon back and at least had another outfield option. Ultimately, I think Jorge is going to shift to the DH role and the Yanks are going to get younger behind the plate with Francisco Cervelli.
Vazquez is a tough case. The guy can pitch in the National League, but I just don’t think he is suited for the Yankees. There are so many pitchers that just can’t cut it here for whatever reason, and I think Javy is one of them. Personally, I don’t think skipping his next start in Boston is the right move. He already has very little confidence in himself, and this shows him that everyone else has little confidence too.