This is a recurring series of recollections, where I will be marching though my old scorecards from my halcyon days in good old Section 39 of the Yankee Stadium bleachers. You’re invited to join me. Please bring beer.
Friday, August 17, 2001: Yankees host the Seattle Mariners.
Ah, Hawaiian Shirt Night. August means a lot of things in the Yankee Stadium bleachers including complaints about how it’s too hot, proposed pitching rotations for the inevitable playoff action and a night when a couple of dozen bleacher fans saunter to their seats in loud tropical wear. Here is today’s history lesson.
It had been weeks in the planning, as we were always looking for new and dumb things to do out there, but the fruits of our labor finally came to fruition as the first Hawaiian Shirt night commenced in Section 39, a full 11 years ago, on August 17th, 2001. My treasured scorecard from this evening is currently missing in action, which actually alarms me to no end, but I safeguarded a number of notes from this landmark event on an old bleacher message board and can put together this puzzle and recall this night, as I sip a tropical drink at my computer at 2:30 in the afternoon to keep with the theme.
A lot of the initial partakes actually showed up that night with tropical garb and a sense of trepidation, thinking it was all an elaborate gag on them, and they would be the only ones while the rest of us laughed. Feelings of joy, relief and good cheer were sure to spark in them when they noticed as they strolled up to the gates of Yancey Park across from the Stadium for some hot pregame action a dozen guys, beers in bags, bedecked in the ugliest collection of shirts since the 1970s Houston Astros. Palm trees, tropical drinks, boats, sand dunes. For some reason our buddy, 41, wore a shirt that had cars on it, but knowing him it could’ve been worse. It could have been the band KISS on the shirt. Walkman John, missing the point a bit, had an Oriental theme going on, though the colors were acceptable. Bald Ray was wearing a mesh Hawaiian shirt, something I had never even heard of. “Fat Rak” Scott topped all on this inaugural effort with a tropical shirt blasting with color, complete with nubile women playing golf on it. In one of the trivial oddities of the time “Mr. Make It Happen” Phil and Israeli Joe had the exact same shirt on. This was unusual because everyone who went to buy a shirt that summer and every summer could pick from literally hundreds of choices on every rack, and these two had a personal beef simmering at the time, so this was big news in our little world.
Strolling in that night we saw one of the legendary security grumps, “Old Man 200” ensconced by the rail. He got this monicker from wearing a navy blue cap with a big “200” on it for whatever reason (not the most stylish of headwear). Well, he actually didn’t wear “200” often since the number seemed to change without reason, but his dislike for our antics never did. On this night he was sporting No. 175. “Way to slide 25 spots!” we hollered in friendly greeting. He got me back an inning later, accusing me of “misdirecting people” who could not find their seats, only to spark a feisty exchange with Queen Bee Tina, who was in fine form and fighting with everyone like she did in my early days out there. Another well-known Creature of lore, Crazy Dave, was roaming around passing out photos he had taken of the group throughout the season, and was promptly dubbed “Johnny Photoseed.”
Just about 30 Creatures went with the theme that night, which oddly has remained one of the higher turnouts! This night is one of those that is derided by the grumpy (aside from me), those who don’t like all the bells and whistles and those who think that attire simply looks dumb. Ignorant Evan added to the fanfaronade by handing out lei’s, while MetsSuckBalls waved around the same Tiki statue that screwed with the Brady Bunch on those classic television episodes. Bald Vinny proudly proclaimed he had his “hula girl boxers” on and showed them proudly to people as early as his 4 train ride up to the Stadium.
Basically, according to my notes, these names will go on in posterity as participating on this landmark night (read through for a romp through memory lane and see who you can pick out of a lineup): Uptown Mike, “Mr. Make it Happen” Phil, Walkman John, Midget Mike, Big Tone Capone, Bald Vinny, Bald Ray, Milton the Cowbell King, 41, “POS” Diggity Dan, Navy Tommy, two guys I really didn’t know, me, Justin, MetsSuckBalls, Cuban Monica, Felix, Fat Rak and his friend Paul, Ignorant Evan, Water Girl Debbie, X-Pac Kenny, Kwik, Israeli Joe, Frankie Vybe, Laura, Rachel and Stacey. Of all people, Junior missed the boat on this one, although he seemed to wear a tropical shirt every other night he showed up. Big D also didn’t wear one, but I was too afraid to ask him why. And, of course, in one of the more amusing bon mots in bleacher lore, Mike “Donahuge” was not there even though this whole thing was pretty much his idea along with mine. Ironically enough, he was on the beach in Florida (possibly posing for pics from whale watchers back there in his now fondly remembered heavier days), but the show must go on, and without him it did.
The shirts themselves went over as expected from just about everyone else in the bleachers as they were met with disgust. I went over to Section 37 to rap with chicks and the consensus over there was that Midget Mike had the worst one going, a red-based anagram of putridity. My shirt was a pale orange hue, but had met my initial goal going in. Along with the requisite water and boats, my shirt featured some native folk climbing trees hanging with coconuts. Some were featured on the shirt holding this prized booty aloft with enthusiasm not even shown by champions holding aloft the Stanley Cup. One native was sitting behind a mound of coconuts, which looked more like a drum set. “Check out the guy rocking the kit!” someone shouted with glee as they pointed at my ugly shirt.
Late in the game the girls in 37 pointed out that one of the natives on my shirt, standing in a flimsy looking boat, had a strange protrusion extending from his shadowed self, and upon closer examination I must admit I managed to get a Hawaiian shirt for this event featuring a guy on a sailboat sporting a rampant boner.
Let’s salvage some funny notes from this one, shall we. I knew this was going to be “one of those nights” when the first thing I noticed when I walked up was someone eating corn on the cob. While discussing our shirts and how we procured these fine duds, someone mentioned a magical bodega-ish sort of place where you could get “a Hawaiian shirt, a dish of beans and rice, and an umbrella all in the same place!” Quite the fantasyland! Early on a pack of nerdy guys walked up and Midget Mike snarled, “Finish your math problems later and find your seat!” Soon after, Big Nose Larry sauntered over, extended his hand to little Mike and said, “Whats up, can I squash you like a grape?” Junior hopped up and yelled at Jeter as he came to the plate, “Come on, pretty boy, get a hit!” and the ever-surly Mike loudly added, “Hey, sorry you can’t order champagne out there!”
Some dopey fan had a plastic horn and was bleating along and annoying any and all. Head security honcho Sean (a dead ringer for Honeymooner’s era Jackie Gleason) stomped up to take the offending instrument away. As he walked the offending and now crumpled horn out with him people shouted, “Play us a tune, Sean!” to no avail.
Meanwhile, Grover was as usual the life of the party, pawing through his oddball collection of Bazooka Joe comics with all the jokes in Israeli. For some reason a “USA! USA! USA!” chant kicked off to which Grover hollered, “Booooo! We should have lost the Cold War!”
Some oddball stuff was going on over on the scoreboard, as Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly was asking Bad News Bears trivia on there. A Mickey Mantle tribute video played,with the background music of Toni Basil’s “Hey Mickie!” which was sorta sketchy. I loved Mantle, but I would rather have seen Basil in the cheerleader costume she sported in her music video that night up there. To top it off, San Antonio native and bullpen stalwart Randy Choate had to actually answer a dumb question about the Alamo some doofy fan sent in on the scoreboard. I’m not sure what Choate said in response, but I’d imagine it was something like, “Hey, I didn’t shoot anyone.”
Junior was feeling very vibrant, hopping up in the air every time a Yankee hurler got to two strikes, which was seemingly every hitter. It got so annoying he was promptly dubbed a “Jack-off in the Box.” And to top it all off, I noted an overzealous fan came over, asked me to take a pic with him and said, “You’re the best! I’m a huge fan of the Tom drum! Whats your name again?” Um, alrighty then!
I remember for years recalling the game that night “nondescript,” but that’s not totally fair. The Yankees shut out the Mariners 4-0, behind seven strong by Mike Mussina. After Mike Stanton ducked in and out, Ramiro Mendoza locked it down with his fifth save on the season. One Paul Abbott took the L for Seattle, which amazingly brought his record down to 12-3 (WTF?) The Tankees did all their damage in his four innings of work and this included taters from Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter and Shane Spencer. In another fun note, current Yankee Icihro Suzuki was nailed attempting to steal, which I’m sure was met with joy.
54, 616 were on hand that night, with approximately 54,586 not in Hawaiian shirts. The game clocked in at 2:51, which is actually short for the usually notoriously long Friday night games we are all accustomed to. Your umpires on the evening were Matt Hollowell (HP), Jeff Nelson (1B), the life-saver and perfect game shatterer Jim Joyce (2B) and Tim Timmons (3B).
So yes, this is a tradition that has lived on for over a decade now. And yes, it’s a tradition that will never die. Next Friday, August 31, look for that cluster of tropical color in the bleachers in and around section 203, as the mantle for organizing this thing and fighting the establishment has gone to our good friend Rocky as it lives on. I will indeed be in there, making merry, but probably not until the fourth inning. Beer is cheaper outside than it is inside!