Notes from New York

Patrycja and I recently returned from our honeymoon, a 10-day trip to New York City. It was our maiden voyage to the US, after more than 20 years of fantastical daydreams, and the following is a raw download of my thoughts, feelings, notes and scribbles during the amazingly surreal journey, grouped under relevant subheadings.

New York City

  • We were fortunate enough to visit all the major New York landmarks during our stay, including the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory, Edge, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Trump Tower and the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • We also visited a few more obscure attractions ‘off the beaten track,’ including Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment from Sex and the City and the Friends apartment building. We also enjoyed breakfast at Tiffany’s, redolent of the Audrey Hepburn classic, and sipped coffee in the most spellbinding settings.
New York skyline by Ryan Ferguson
Statue of Liberty by Ryan Ferguson

  • Patrycja and I logged more than 150,000 steps during our trip, equating to roughly 100 miles of walking – the distance between Manhattan and Philadelphia, illustratively.

  • For all the astounding, once-in-a-lifetime, pinch-yourself experiences we enjoyed, a more complicated side of New York also revealed itself at every turn. Perhaps naïvely, I anticipated all the hyperbolic trappings of Big Apple lore – the hub of grandiose dreams portrayed in movies and books – but went entirely unprepared for the harrowing inverse. Undoubtedly, the utopian New York does exist, but so does another New York. A darker New York. A desperate New York. A New York ravaged by inequality and class polarisation. We rarely hear about that New York, deferring to its altogether more convenient mythology, but it is important to call this out and draw attention to a sad duplicity that grips this metropolis.

  • Sure, every large urban area deals with homelessness, poverty, crime and lawlessness. And yes, every major city struggles to meet the needs of its extrapolating populace. I have recently noticed a sharp deterioration in Liverpool, the nearest city to my rural abode, with a steady increase in tents throughout the city centre. But New York seems particularly afflicted, and its ailments must be discussed.

  • As a serial consumer of American news and culture, I have long been aware of the nation’s spiralling issues with drugs, inequality and homelessness. I have watched countless documentaries and listened to innumerable podcasts about fentanyl, tented villages and myriad housing crises, but living an ocean away, the problems have always seemed rather abstract. Such heartrending topics illicit strong emotions, but living among the chaos for a spell and seeing it with my own eyes provoked profound reactions.

  • Twice during our trip, I saw people openly taking drugs on the streets – one smoking from a pipe, the other injecting nonchalantly on the sidewalk. While exploring Washington Square Park – apparent inspiration for the Friends opening credits – we felt deeply unwelcome. Vast swathes of the Greenwich Village park have been commandeered by homeless addicts, some of whom took drugs within sight of laissez-faire police officers. We took a quick photograph by the once-iconic fountain then shimmied out of the park. In all honesty, it felt like a third world slum, not a picturesque enclave of the world’s most revered city.

  • I understand homelessness is a complex, multi-causal issue. And I do not have a sophisticated understanding of the local cultural and political machinations that led to such a dire situation. But I do know these issues sullied my impression of New York and tinged my introduction to the US. That is probably unfair, and it is likely politically incorrect, but it is the truth. It is how I currently feel. Something must be done to rectify a desperate conundrum.

  • Indeed, this week, the US House of Representatives voted to provide a further $95 billion of security support to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, continuing to fund proxy wars around the world. Though such an opinion is deeply unpopular, I find it asinine that US lawmakers would sanction such international spending – on top of the hundreds of billions already committed – while facing such chronic domestic issues. Anyone who voices such concerns is branded a MAGA protectionist, of course, when in reality everyone would benefit from a broader, more nuanced conversation about how the US allocates its vast resources and deals with its mounting problems.

  • On the whole, Patrycja and I prefer the quiet country life to the clattering rush of seething cities. Hooton, the suburban village we call home, had a population of 385 at the last census – roughly approximate to the average NYC subway car. Moreover, we are peaceful introverts who enjoy our own space. In retrospect, maybe New York was not the ideal destination for our honeymoon, but we still appreciate the privilege that allowed us to explore The City That Never Sleeps – warts and all. A lesson lurked around every corner, and that is often the true measure of a place.

  • It is strange how things work out sometimes. As a kid growing up on a Wirral council estate, an ocean adrift, I was beguiled by the entire concept of America. Baseball, in particular, was my saviour – a portal to another world. But the US in general became a cradle of my dreams. I yearned to visit the country one day, and have spent two decades waiting for those stars to align. There have always been more pressing priorities – from work and marriage to buying a house – but finally my dream came true this month. Except, well – it was tinged with disappointment, in all honesty. New York should not be taken as a simulacrum of America writ large, and I’m still fascinated by America, but baseball aside, I’m in no immediate rush to return to the Big Apple – and that is something I never thought I would say.
Ryan Ferguson and Patrycja Mitera New York
Empire State Building

Baseball road-trip

  • While in New York, Patrycja and I attended six Yankees games on six consecutive days – three each against the Blue Jays and Marlins, respectively. In retrospect, that was far too much, even for a degenerate baseball addict like me. But then again – if you had waited your entire life to visit a specific city and do a certain thing, how would you feel being elsewhere in said city while said thing was occurring? That seemed illogical to me while planning our trip. Hence a sickly sweet pinstriped overdose, as the Yankees won four and lost two of the games we attended.

  • Opening Day saw my first ever visit to Yankee Stadium. To any US ballpark, in fact, after decades relying on digital scraps and the London Series games for my baseball fix. Back in the day, I used to stay awake until 03:00 am just to watch static Gameday graphics – not even streamed video! Imagine my joy, then, upon seeing an American ballpark for the first time. Freezing temperatures and a stiff wind made it a rough day at the stadium, and the Yankees lost, 3-0, but just being there, among a crowd of 47,812, was a dream come true. I could barely believe it was real.
Ryan Ferguson Opening Day Yankee Stadium 2024

Yankee Stadium

  • Nevertheless, after rattling around it for more than 24 combined hours in a six-day window, I came away with a mixed impression of Yankee Stadium. Sure, it is initially impressive. The grand concourses and majestic gates are poignant, while the iconic frieze is a beautiful touch. However, there are some major drawbacks to the stadium that left me wanting more.

  • Firstly, it is a stadium, not a ballpark. Perhaps more accurately, it is a shopping mall with a baseball diamond in the middle. Yes, this kind of commercial emporium makes the Yankees stacks of cash, but what about the rough, gritty baseball that once made this team unique? What about reflecting the blue collar sensibilities of the surrounding area, rather than gentrifying everything into a squeaky clean, curated experience? Sometimes, you just want to eat peanuts and watch batting practice. All the Walmart-esque attractions make that increasingly difficult.

  • Alas, there is a clear divide between rich and poor Yankees fans, and the stadium is segregated by class. This is a well-known trope, of course, symbolised by the empty Legends Suite tickets – costing more than $800 per game – surrounding home plate, but I was shocked by how glaringly obvious the Yankees make their favouritism. It left a bitter taste in my mouth.

  • Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost infamously said the quiet part out loud in 2016 while decrying the secondary ticket sales market. “The problem below market at a certain point is that, if you buy a ticket in a very premium location and pay a substantial amount of money. It’s not that we don’t want that fan to sell it, but that fan is sitting there having paid a substantial amount of money for a ticket and [another] fan picks it up for a buck-and-a-half and sits there, and it’s frustrating to the purchaser of the full amount. And quite frankly, the fan may be someone who has never sat in a premium location, so that’s a frustration to our existing fanbase.” In other words, the Yankees do not recognise social mobility, and only those in premium locations really matter.

  • Without Legends Suite tickets, the closest a regular fan can get to the players – while trying to snag an autograph, for example – is 250 feet from home plate. Security patrols the Legends Suite entrances, and fan-player interaction is exceedingly rare. Oh, and when Aaron Judge did sign autographs before one game, he did so for Legends Suite ticketholders – probably at the behest of Yankees management. That sucks, quite frankly.

  • As such, the vast fish bowl of Yankee Stadium is considered one of the toughest places to land an autograph in the entire major leagues. Still, Patrycja and I came home with three signed baseballs for our growing collection. Giancarlo Stanton and Jesús Luzardo signed for Patrycja, while I convinced Yankees catcher Jose Trevino to splash some ink while warming up in the bullpen. A huge thank you to all three.
Jesus Luzardo Giancarlo Stanton Jose Trevino signed autographed baseballs
  • Particular plaudits to Stanton. He receives a lot of criticism from Yankees fans, and I get it. He signed a $325 million contract in 2014 and has underperformed for the vast majority of it. Yet in terms of comportment and carrying yourself as a headline act in the Big Apple – especially amid boos and jeers – Giancarlo has been nothing short of exemplary. I watched intently as he signed autographs along the right field line for 10 minutes before most of the games we attended. It was great to see him hit a mammoth grand slam in one of those contests, and I even caught the mighty swing on camera, having called his shot.
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  • Patrycja also had a security guard ‘bless’ a new baseball with Yankee Stadium dirt, in addition to snagging a batting practice home run ball during our tour of Monument Park. Pretty cool.
Yankee Stadium dirt ball
  • Monument Park was spine-tingling, and the saving grace of an otherwise poor Yankee Stadium tour. Again, it was a dream come true to pay my respects to a slew of sacrosanct Yankees immortals.
  • The Yankees museum also gave me goosebumps. I was particularly enthralled by the game-used trinkets of Jeter, Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, along with the awesome collection of Yankees World Series rings.
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  • A somewhat cynical realisation: the Yankees sell you history, but the people who created that history – with blood, sweat and tears through many decades – would probably disapprove of how their contributions are now packaged and monetised. Do you think Thurman Munson would order sushi at the ballpark? Do you think Joe DiMaggio would frequent the Hard Rock Café after games? No – me, neither.

  • Sadly, the Yankees number one goal is no longer to win the World Series every year. Rather, their top intention is to wring every last cent out of every last fan from the moment they step off the 4 Train across the street. As a conscious fan, I knew this, having heard it ad nauseam from old school rooters who feel priced out of the new stadium. But now, I have seen it and experienced it firsthand. Attending six games in comfort, eating regularly and visiting the team store, left little change from $1,000. That is why fans get mad when the Yankees do not spend in free agency. It has nothing to do with arrogant entitlement, but is instead a rather basic consumer equation.

  • How do you build a $2.3 billion stadium with obstructed views? It is impossible to track deep fly balls while sitting in the top two decks in right field or on the centre-field extreme of the bleachers. What a strangely myopic design.

  • The Yankees should only play New York, New York by Frank Sinatra after wins. Playing it after defeats makes zero sense.

  • One unexpected perk: hearing John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman natter while taking a leak. I did not see that coming, and I’m glad to have experienced it before John retired.

  • In truth, the highlight of my trip cost nothing. You see, prior to one of the weekend afternoon games, Patrycja and I walked across to Heritage Field, a recreational baseball diamond set in the footprint of the original Yankee Stadium, my ultimate cathedral. I never managed to visit the old place, but watching from afar on TV, and reading about its fabled history, gave it an insurmountable aura in my mind.

    As such, when I saw a father soft-tossing with his two sons – one hitting, the other fielding – I sensed an opportunity to fulfil another dream. Hanging my jacket on a nearby railing, I jogged onto the field and approached the father, a Spanish-speaking local who quickly grasped my enthusiasm. After explaining my journey from England and expressing my reverence for the old Yankee Stadium, I asked the father if I could take a few swings from that iconic batters’ box. He kindly agreed, shimmying one son behind the plate and the other out near shortstop. I was incredibly grateful.

    Standing in the right-handed batters’ box, roughly analogous with the bygone footprints of DiMaggio and Jeter, Lazzeri and Rodriguez, my hair stood on end. I whirled the bat and flailed hopelessly at the first three offerings, before connecting cleanly on two meatballs. I sent a tailor-made double play ball towards shortstop, but that did not matter. The crack of the bat was satisfactory, and my imagination took care of the rest. I thanked the sweet family and walked away, a spring in my step. A free Yankee Stadium memory nobody can take away.

2024 Yankees

  • There is rightfully much hype around the potentially historic fusing of Aaron Judge and Juan Soto in a rejuvenated Bronx Bombers lineup, and it was refreshing to have such a potent force in reserve, but I was impressed with the Yankees’ brand of baseball overall. They played plenty of small ball across the six games we saw – putting runners in motion, asking questions of the opposing defence, and manufacturing runs at the bottom of a stacked order. Yankees fans have been crying out for a change of ethos for more than a decade, and this iteration has shown early glimmers of doing things differently. Hopefully those changes are sustainable.

  • Indeed, of all the Yankees, one stood out the most to me: Anthony Volpe. I have already ruminated on his striking similarities to Derek Jeter, and that remains a lofty standard to hold anybody to, but Volpe’s progression continues to amaze. Watching him up close was impressive. The work ethic. The understated confidence. The preternatural talent. This kid has it all.

    Volpe enjoyed a decent rookie season in 2023, winning a Gold Glove at shortstop, but his altered approach at the plate is yielding improved offensive results this time around. Anthony went 7-for-21 in the games we attended, and he is currently hitting .288 on the year. Yankees manager Aaron Boone has even moved Volpe into the leadoff spot in his lineup. He will probably stay there for a decade or more.

  • One thing you can never criticise Brian Cashman for is building great bullpens. I cannot remember a bad Yankees bullpen, in fact. However, there are some serious question marks about this edition of the Yankees’ relief corps. There was plenty of disgruntlement in the stands as various home relievers laboured to protect dwindling leads. The bullpen coughed up a couple of games, and that will concern Cashman and company. Frustratingly, plenty of elite relievers were available this past winter, but the Yankees ignored that market. It may come back to haunt them.

Baseball fandom

  • This feels incredibly controversial and a little entitled, given how watching the Yankees in New York has been a lifelong bucket list item, but now I have done it six times in quick succession, there are some glaring drawbacks amid the general amazement. On the whole, watching baseball every single day, at the stadium, is not as easy or enjoyable as it seems in fantasy abstraction. At least not if you want to maintain a sustainable life as a functioning adult.

  • Baseball is a kid’s game. At times, I felt ever so slightly ridiculous wearing a jersey to the stadium, a few months shy of my 30th I also carried a mitt, intent on catching a few baseballs during batting practice. Those are the poetic trappings of baseball romance, and the game keeps alive the kid in all of us, but is there a time when you cut bait and grow up? When are we too old to care about autographs? Who decides when we have outgrown the game that illuminates our childhood? It is difficult to tell.

    I actually caught one baseball during batting practice, thrown by a nondescript Marlins outfielder, but I gave it to a kid sat nearby. After all, what am I going to do with a scuffed practice ball? Conversely, the kid was enthralled, and taking home that souvenir may ignite a lifelong passion for baseball – so much so, one day down the line, he may reciprocate my action, passing the torch to a new generation. There is a poignant symmetry to baseball fandom in this regard, but it morphs almost imperceptibly. It ekes along unnoticed, until we are finally confronted with the meaning of it all.

  • If I felt a little out of place wearing a jersey, what about the fully grown adults who dedicate their entire lives to baseball? The players, coaches, executives and broadcasters, sure, but also the groundskeepers, security staff, vendors and merchandise sellers. They often spend more than 12 hours at the ballpark every day, from March through November, and no matter how much you love the game, that has to wear thin at some point. The grind is almost inexplicable – even to diehard fans like me.

  • I have some sympathy for ballplayers who seemingly fall out of love with the game. Take, for instance, the controversial comments by beleaguered Angels star Anthony Rendon a few weeks ago. “We got to shorten the season, man,” Rendon said on the Jack Vita Show. “There’s too many dang games – 162 games and 185 days or whatever it is. Man, no. We got to shorten this bad boy up.”

    Some context is needed, of course, because Rendon ultimately earns millions to play a child’s game. But deep down, I kinda get his point. No sport comes close to the amount of regular season games dictated by MLB. And although 162 is woven into the game’s blessed fabric, such a gruelling schedule seems increasingly discordant with a fast-paced world hooked on instant gratification.

  • Long-term readers will be keen to hear how actually visiting the US and experiencing MLB in its natural habitat impacted my notoriously capricious team allegiances. For many years, I endured an identity crisis while attempting to select a singular team as the recipient of my undivided love. Born 3,000 miles away from the nearest big league ballpark, into a family that had no prior interest in baseball, I had zero geographical or traditional ties to a preordained ballclub, hence undulating relationships with several contenders. I even wrote a book about it, for those who are interested. You can grab a copy here.

    In recent seasons, I have mellowed into a resigned form of fluid fandom, enjoying various teams and players without being bound to leviathan declarations of loyalty and exclusivity. The Yankees always retain a special place in my heart, and can probably be considered first among equals, hence their prominence in my honeymoon plans. Moreover, meeting Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher in London last year affirmed my pinstripe infatuation. Yet even after fully immersing myself in Yankeeland for a week – living and breathing with every pitch – I still cannot declare myself singularly wedded to this team.

    Sure, I would be overjoyed to watch the Yankees win the World Series. I have enormous respect for the franchise and yearn to experience a renaissance of its unsurpassed power. I’m most definitely a Yankees fan. But I also like and enjoy other teams, and admitting that should not be heretical.

    I wore the interlocking NY every day during our honeymoon – with pride. I posed for photos wearing a new Juan Soto jersey and rooted for the Yankees to win every game. All of that is natural and genuine. It matched how I felt each day. But there may also be days in the future where I visit Fenway Park donning a Red Sox cap, or enjoy a game in Chavez Ravine wearing a Dodgers jersey. I may visit Wrigley Field in Cubs garb or watch the Pirates in their regalia. We need to normalise such fluid fandom and stop defining people by sole snapshots in time. After all, sports are supposed to be fun, and I will continue to do things that make them so.
Yankee Stadium Meet Me at The Bat Ryan Ferguson

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